Monday, July 28, 2014

Ragbrai 2014

This Ragbrai was my sixth in a row.  Sometime after my fifth, I was seeking for a way to experience it differently than my previous five times.  It was early on that we decided to find a driver and experience Ragbrai without a charter service, but with a smaller group.  I didn't regret this decision at all, and had my best Ragbrai yet.  

Our team was composed of Erin and I, our friend Jonathan Vieker, his sister Becca Vieker, Becca's friend Rachel Gehringer-Wiar, and her father Dennis, who offered to drive.  Since three of us had never met Dennis before, he thought that meeting him through his Driver's Delight blog would be a good idea.  He was correct.  I knew instantly that we would be having a good time. 

Jason, Jonathan, Becca, Rachel, and Erin at the back tire dip site.
Ragbrai is a fantastic event.  Every year, they find a new route from the west side of Iowa to the east side, with a new set of overnight towns and a new set of pass-through towns.  This change is what keeps Ragbrai strong.  It is, however, a very long event.  At 7 days, many people have difficulty finding a way getting this much time off.  And on top of that, why would they want to spend 7 days of their vacation biking across Iowa during the hottest part of the season?  If you shorten it to a more workable 4 or 5 day event, then you would limit the event to the elite, who can handle 85-110 mile days every day.  Well, why not just have a "tour" of Iowa instead of crossing it?  Then you somehow miss a stronger element of accomplishment.  

Even though the ride began on Sunday morning, July 20th, the adventure began for Jonathan, Erin and me on Friday evening.  We loaded up the car and headed to Ankeny, IA, where we would be departing on Saturday morning.  Our trip to Ankeny found detours to the Albia Brewing Company and Peace Tree Brewing Company.  My cousins Davey and Glenda took us in Friday night in Ankeny and shared beers with us.  They sent us on our way after filling us up with coffee and an awesome breakfast.  

The bus ride to Rock Valley was long and we had to detour around the town because of Ragbrai traffic.  We ended up camping in a hay field that was extremely buggy.  Bug spray was a necessity.  That evening, at the 9 o'clock hour, Jonathan started what may be a new Ragbrai tradition by playing Taps to an appreciative campground.  

Off we went from Rock Valley, making our way across Iowa.  Dennis, new to driving for Ragbrai, was very in tune with each of his teammate riders, and learned very quickly what was important in a good campsite.  He could usually find us the best shade, and in close proximity to bathrooms, showers, and an outlet for recharging all of our technical gadgets.  One of our favorite nights, he bent the rules and found us a little private cove with many trees between the middle and high schools in Mason City.  It was our own little oasis.  

Leaving Rock Valley at the beginning of Ragbrai

Dennis and Jonathan talking at our Oasis in Mason City

My dad and his best buddy Lonnie were also on Ragbrai, using Lake Country Cyclists as their charter.  They are a great charter service, and dad was using them for the sixth time in a row.  After Erin and I went and visited with them after our fourth ride in Mason City, Dad came over to visit our camp for a while.  He was able to meet the team and observe our operation.  I was sad to hear that Dad and Lonnie had decided that this was going to be their last Ragbrai.  After seeing our operation and hearing our stories for the week, I bet dad could be convinced of another if he knew his driver would be a guy like Dennis. 

There were several pros of having a smaller group.  One of which is that it is easier to find shade for few than for many.  For a huge charter, it is difficult to find a campground where every tent can share some shade.  This isn't the case when your group has four tents.  Another is the control over snacks and beverages.  We could have Dennis pick us up specific food and drink from grocery stores between camps.  On the century loop day, he met us in the meeting town of Bancroft.  Jonathan and I found some really good beer at a liquor store in Bancroft that we were able to purchase because we had a driver at a meeting town!  These things can't happen with a charter.  

There were a few cons of a smaller group as well.  Showers were the pay-for kind only.  We didn't have a camp shower available although that could be remedied in future years.  This cost me approximately $22 extra for the week then it normally would have by using camp showers.  Really, that isn't that big a deal.  Another might be the larger social aspect that is missing.  I enjoyed the smaller group, as the bonds could grow tighter over the week.  I did miss, however, the larger social group.  With a larger group, you are more likely to run into someone within your group to ride with for a while if you happen to lose the one that you were with.  There is a less chance of that happening with a smaller group.  

In the wee early morning hours of the sixth day of Ragbrai (still dark) the thunderstorms hit Waverly.  Taking down a camp in rain is absolutely awful and is the worst part of Ragbrai if it has to happen.  Erin and I sat in our tent and got completely packed and ready to ride.  We found that the rain wasn't going to stop for another few hours, but that didn't stop Erin.  She took off for her ride in the rain.  I remained in the tent and researched some places that the rest of us could go.  Without breaking down our camp yet, we hopped into the truck and went to Duos Coffee and Ice Cream.  We drank coffee and played Battle of the Sexes with a few other riders until 10am.  The rain had finally let up.  We went back to dismantle camp and get riding.  Our official start time: 11am.  That was the latest I had ever started a Ragbrai ride.  

Being at the back of the ride meant larger portions and sometimes some deep discounts.  As service ending times neared, overstocked Gatorade started selling for $1 rather than $2.  Jonathan's and my breakfast burritos were overstuffed with all of the fixings.  It was a new experience.  Somewhere along the route, I broke ahead of Jonathan and I rode in a few pace lines to make up some time lost.  About 10-12 miles from our last overnight town of Independence, I had a horrible wreck. 

I put the tag they left on Bicycle after wreck inside the crack of my helmet

After release photo with cracked helmet
 The center of the road had about a 1 inch crack that is a danger for cyclists.  I was aware of it, but must not have taken it at the angle I needed.  It swallowed my bike tires.  Instinctively, I pulled my bicycle up out of the cracks, but I was already at a tilt that I could not correct.  The next thing I remember was waking up on the pavement.  I never did get to talk with a rider that could describe in detail my fall on the pavement or the aftermath that ensued.  All that I got was someone telling me I had been unconscious for 2 minutes.  They asked me a few basic questions that I couldn't answer right away, which let both them and me know that I had suffered a mild concussion.  Once the answers started coming to me, I wanted to sit up and get off the road since I was still lying in the middle of it.  They wouldn't let me.  I wasn't being stubborn.  I knew I was fine.  The ambulance took me away against my wishes to the hospital in Independence where I had an unnecessary MRI to tell me what I already knew: I suffered a minor concussion but was fine otherwise.

I learned something very valuable over the course of that evening and the next few days.  Some of the most difficult obstacles and challenges in life to overcome are those that nobody around you expects to overcome.  I think everyone pretty much assumed and even advised that I not ride the last day.  Erin had already made up her mind years before riding Ragbrai again that she wasn't riding the last day.  I could just ride with her.  My own mind was even trying to talk myself out of the ride.  

At camp that evening, I found a person to fix a broken spoke on the back wheel and found a new helmet.  I wanted to take all the steps so that in the event I wanted to ride, I could.  On the morning of Day 7, I got up and got my bike clothes on.  It seemed automatic.  I knew if I didn't ride I would regret it not only all day, but all year.  Day 7 was close to my best day of Ragbrai.  

Rachel, Erin, Jason, Jonathan, and Becca in Clear Lake

Jason, Jonathan, Becca, and Rachel dipping front tires in Mississippi.
Ragbrai is more of an adventure than a vacation.  Although it is both fun and a challenge, it is the struggle one goes through to finish that gives riders a sense of joy and accomplishment that lasts.  I learned that during Ragbrai 2012.  That year, I witnessed several of our team members stop riding during the miserable heat or after their stuff got soaked during a heavy wind and rainstorm.  I felt an overwhelming sense of pride having finished that ride.  That memory helped me put the bike gear on for the last day and finish Ragbrai XLII.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

My Controversial Questions

When I was a child, many questions would enter my mind that people of faith would tell me I shouldn't worry about or should not ask.  Today's atheist seems to portray the standard Christian as one who would be offended by the questions I ask, but that doesn't seem to be my experience.  It seems to me that many Christians with which I am familiar would be OK with my asking them.

Before I ask them, be warned that some of you may take offense or believe this blasphemous.  These questions I do not ask about the 'real God' in which you believe in your mind.  I ask these questions of a hypothetical God that doesn't exist in my mind.  If you choose to compare and contrast the two, and accidentally confuse them, you may get offended.  

1. Why would God lay out so much evidence that goes against his existence as the Bible portrays him, that a logical person receptive to this evidence like myself would than not believe in him, and thus banish this person to hell if he truly 'loves' them?

2. Why would God, whom my mother believes in and worships, and to whom is very devoted, reward her with a 'heaven' where her son is absent, and is burning forever in a lake of hellfire?  What kind of heaven is that?  Does this not contradict the idea of heaven?

3.  Why does the Christian God answer prayers with 'Yes', 'No', and 'Wait' with the same statistical frequency as the Muslim God, the Jewish God, and all the other gods, as well as with the same frequency as what would happen with random chance, or if you had just asked your lucky rabbit's foot?  What is the point of prayer?

4.  Along the same lines as question 3, why do bad things happen to Christians with the same frequency as bad things happen to Muslims, Jews, Atheists, etc?  Why do good things happen with the same frequency?  Shouldn't a higher frequency of good things happen to Christians than do other people?  Shouldn't a higher frequency of bad things happen to non-Christians?  (Are the happenings of September 11, 2001 a sign that the Muslim God wins?)

5. What is God made of?  What composes that which makes up God?  Is there an infinitude of Gods, each one level above the other?  (These questions are just as ridiculous as those that ask what are we made of, and so on and so forth, miraculously ending with 'therefore God').   For those of you satisfied with the idea that God has always just existed, why couldn't you accept, with how you understand the time continuum, that matter has always existed?  After all, the sentence 'before there was time' is nonsensical.  Think about it.

6. Why, when God makes decisions to take someone you love away from you too early (in a freak accident, say), do you still feel the need to worship and praise him?

7.  Why does God allow his followers to get cancer, aids, or suffer horrible deaths?  Why does God allow his follower's children to be raped by pedophiles?  How wise is this God that you so admire?  If I were God, I wouldn't have created pedophiles in the first place.  But here I am, being a Monday morning quarterback.

8. What kind of God requires you to worship and praise him?  Doesn't this seem strikingly familiar to a tyrant king?  I'm sure you don't believe me to be as wise or loving as your God, but if I were God, I wouldn't require you to worship and praise me.  I wouldn't require you to give any money to an organization that would than use it to build a temple or sanctuary in my honor.  Nor would I require your money so that you could pay for somebody's living expenses so that they could get up in front of you week to week to preach to you what they couldn't possibly know: my wishes (which would be to not waste this money in the first place).  On top of that, all tax free, and thus not helping the economy in the least bit.  If I were God (with my infinitesimally less wisdom than the actual God that you believe in), I would have you instead use your money and time each week for your own devices, hoping that you would naturally find it in your heart to give your time or money to charitable works and deeds.  Think of how much your city would gain in revenue just in the property taxes alone if there were something else in place of all of these churches.  This doesn't even scratch the surface of how much money is wasted.

9. Why do many of you think there would be no morality without God?  Why do you need someone looking over your shoulder with a reward for good deeds and punishment for bad deeds in order for you to do what is moral?  Isn't it more admirable for me to be good with no promise for reward and no fear of punishment for not doing good, than for the believer to do good?  

10.  Why, in your belief of an afterlife, are you constricted to believe that some entity can control whatever ethereal being you will become without your body?  What constricts you to the thought that you couldn't go where you please or do what you want?  If your name was not in some 'book' and you were told to go to 'hell', what could possibly stop you from just saying, "YOU go to hell!" and then doing whatever you wanted?

11.  The Bible is a single, solitary book.  Why do you need to spend so much time studying it?  Did you not get it on the third time?  When reading it the first time as a child, I remember filling in the large gaping holes and contradictions with some fanciful story that seemed to satisfy those around me (as long as I believed, that was all that mattered).  When reading again with a mind for critical thinking, I found that although much of the book had some great versus (and wisdom), much of it was repulsive.  How can you take a book that is pro-slavery and misogynistic so seriously?

12. Why are there so many versions of the Bible?  Did humans over the years feel the need to clean it up a little... fill in some gaps?  Why wasn't one enough?

13. Why is there little evidence and information of Jesus outside the Bible?  Why, with this little evidence and information, is there even less evidence that this possible Jesus character said or did anything remotely close to what is suggested in the Bible?

14.  Why do you put so much belief and faith in a book written so long ago by ancient people, and so little faith in the people right in front of you?

15.  Why does the answer that you provide for the question 'Where is God?' sound like it could also serve as an answer to 'Where is the magical and sacred Flying Spaghetti Monster?' or 'Where does the tooth fairy reside?'

16.  If God has a 'plan', then what is the point of prayer?  You will either pray for something that is or is not part of God's plan.  Since you are unaware of God's plan, are you just happy in your delusion that your prayer may change the course of his plan?

I encourage my Christian friends to comment with their answers, experiences, and/or questions.  I promise to be tolerant and respectful of your beliefs as long as you are tolerant and respectful of mine.