The key to a long ride is what they call SAG – Support and Gear – which is how all your gear gets to the next overnight town. Our SAG system is a rented RV which each of the riders drives one or two days. I am one of the two riders not driving because of Mass. state law that won’t allow me to drive without a separate policy. The effect of this is two-fold: I get to ride every mile of the RAGBRAI and I don’t get a rest so my legs get tighter everyday.
Life in the RV and overnight camp is a story all in itself. Three of us – Dr. Dave Johnston and his two sons, Matt and Sean, are sleeping in tents. The rest of us are in a 34-foot rambling RV with three beds between five of us. My roommate is my friend Mike; Steve and Bill bunk together while Dan is sleeping in the dining booth converted into a single bed. Even for our tenting Johnstons, the RV is at the center of our socialization. It is where we tell funny stories from our day’s ride with a cold drink to soothe the heat.
Our Thursday ride wasn’t as hot but was the longest of the week at 82 miles from Charles City to Waterloo. Midday found a couple us in Parkersburg which was roughly half our ride at just about lunchtime.
Parkersburg is the idea of the Midwest community where a Category 5 tornado rolled in two years and killed seven people. The high school coach was widely credited for getting the town back to the business of daily life by holding daily football practices to show a community on the rebound. A short while later an emotionally unstable student shot and killed that coach and the community went into another tailspin. It was the coach’s widow who reached out to the boy’s family and then publicly forgave him. When the coach’s family was honored with an ESPY award by ESPN, the boy’s family was invited by thje widow to sit next to her during the nationally televised awards show. The widow wanted people to understand what forgiveness looked like. My friend Steve told me that story while we stood in the litte town of Hudson listening to a rocking country blue- grass band and watching highly spirited contra dancing.
“That’s what people from the Midwest value,” said Steve as he finished telling the story about the coach.