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
Never again will I whine about pushing silver into a Northwest winter - griping about a chilly little 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.
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
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
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
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.
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