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February 2007
Finding Cold Weather Religion in an Iowa Cornfield

Finding Cold Weather Religion in an Iowa Cornfield
By Joe Metal Cowboy Kurmaskie
(AKA The Ice Cube Cowboy, The Ice Cone Cowboy, take your pick this month)
Never again will I whine about pushing silver into a Northwest winter - griping about a chilly little
Icicles after the BRR Ride!trek down to the library in January or slogging my two wheeled steed into the barometrically challenged elements to the store for St. Patrick's Day supplies in March.

Few realize how good we have it here on the Left Coast. Only a handful, in my estimation, have the appropriate appreciation regarding the flat out luxury, the absolute joyride that is a Pacific Northwest rainy season by bicycle. That, or maybe I'm the last slow learner who needed an object lesson in the relativity of suffering.

Consider me schooled.

There will be no more bemoaning the many ways in which rain is ruining  my morning commute or that, with the wind-chill factor, it 'feels like' 20 degrees F along the river during the Sunday morning loop ride with my club pals.

You see, I went to the promised land over the first weekend in February and came back a changed man - the cycling equivalent of Bill Murray's character metamorphosis in the film Groundhog Day... only the backdrop for my deep freeze drama wasn't Punxsutawney Pa., but Perry, 

'Cold enough for you?' This became the traditional greeting echoed by every taxi driver, waitress and desk clerk during my four day stay in Des Moines, Iowa. As the entertainment for the Iowa Bicycle Coalition Summit and Bike Night Auction (thankfully, held entirely inside the climate controlled confines of the downtown Holiday Inn Conference Center - love that Midwest buffet, but people, three troughs of breakfast sausages can not be FDA approved).

I could have laughed off the multiple feet of plowed snow along the roadways, and icebox temperatures, if not for the fact that I had agreed to pedal as their B-list celebrity cycling author on a weekend ride in neighboring Perry, Iowa. I'm told they phoned Lance first but he was off living strong and warm in the saddle somewhere near the equator. No doubt an umbrella drink sticking out of his water bottle.

Here's the Des Moines Register's quick take on the ride:

'About 500 cyclists from around the state braved below-zero temperatures to participate in the 30th Annual BRR Ride, a 23-mile bike ride from Perry to Rippey and back. (Bike Ride To Rippey forms the event's initials)

Yes, it was cold. The frost and icicles hanging on Bob Burnett of Norwalk show just how frigid it was Saturday. With the temperature around minus 5 degrees, negative 25 with the wind-chill, riders pedaled through one of the coldest organized rides in the country.'

What that sound bite neglects is that up to 3,000 people often turn out for this event, the unofficial kick off party of RAGBRAI. Cyclists; racers to commuters and everyone else in a 1,000 mile radius who decides to become one that morning, digs out some sort of wheeled contraption to 'pedal and party' around Perry. This year most of them stayed inside church basements, gyms and bars, waving while the stark raving foolish in search of frostbite took to the wind.

What was I thinking? I haven't been Catholic for several decades... and still I can't refuse requests involving voluntary acts of suffering with no good explanation... beyond the carrot of "Character Building." I'd rather build a fire over here for potential survivors, thank you.

The facts on the ground felt more like an assault on Everest or a suicide mission, than a bike ride. A few miles out of town, those who had thought it would make a great bar tale, were already turning around. I nicknamed them 'The Mensa Club Contingent." Shortly thereafter we noticed stray winter clothing and bike wheels littering the snow, people doing their best imitations of the Michelin Man in massive parkas throwing in the towel, or 'resting' along the shoulder 
while their lungs thawed out enough to call out for help.

My friends at Bike World set me up on a TREK 520, that was one of the lucky rigs not to have its lube and chain grease freeze, locking up the freewheel like a bank vault. I was sporting no less than eight layers - long johns, multiple River City Bicycle Logo winter tights, bibs and jerseys. Brian Duffy, the editorial cartoonist from the local newspaper took pity on me, not only lending me an extra ski mask - the one with a name that sounds like an expensive dessert, but allowed me to sit in his shadow for the headwind push to the turn around spot - a spit of buildings and three large silver silos gleaming in the morning sun. Less helpful was the number of times he told me we were almost there. Note to self: A grain silo in Iowa appears to be one mile way from anywhere - Houston, Montana, anywhere.

A local farmer took one look at my gloves and dug out a pair of camouflaged hunter's Gortex models from the back of his truck.

'What's with the index fingers?' I asked. While still insulated, this digit cover was thin and offered more mobility.

'That there is your trigger finger, son.' He mimed a shot gun blast motion.

Of course the only animals not holded up inside were us, so a bit of hunting was probably out of the question.

Another bit of advice; never wear metal rimmed eyeglasses in Arctic conditions. At least they kept my eyes from freezing shut, but visibility was reduced to periscope level. Which was all for the best
because I missed the Iowa girls gone wild lifting of shirts and opening of parkas. I'm a married man. Besides, the roadway, while plowed and salted, was dangerous enough without those kinds of distractions.

Every time I threatened to turn back, my posse from the paper and bike shop formed a protective pace line membrane around me. When I fell off the back I would make the sound of a Llama during childbirth. This caused them to slow just enough so I could latch on again.

I tried busying myself with a swallow or two from a shop provided water bottle. That futile act of kindness had frozen solid a few moments outside the town limits.

At the turn around we were treated to pork on a stick and firehouse chili.

'It's been dead this year!' the cute Tyson Foods volunteer said as we purchased our charity meat popsicles. 'I don't think more than a hundred of you... you guys... braved it the entire way.'

I noticed a woman trying to rub her feet back to life in the corner of the room, sobbing softly. Another rider was drinking lite beer served in a quart milk jug. Some of it had frozen to his beard.

That could end badly.

But foolish behavior has its privileges. Upon my frosty return, like a survivor from the Shackleton Expedition hollering into my cell phone for directions to the church basement gym party, I realized something.

Reflecting upon my ordeal while gazing across a silent little community, all glistening and angel winged white by snowfall, a weak winter afternoon sun and a cobalt blue sky, here's what I concluded.

I'd found my below zero, frozen field of dreams while pedaling through that frat boy dare-sized nightmare ride... and I'd never, ever bitch about bike fender season in the Northwest again.


Click here to see pictures from the 2007 BRR ride

*Articles, pictures and other works on this website are the property of Joe Kurmaskie and are subject to copyright law. Articles and excerpts may not be reprinted, published or distributed without prior and express written consent from Joe Kurmaskie, his representives or other duly noted copyright holders.
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