The Flat Tire Lounge Ride Saturday, 5/12/12, on the paved High Trestle Trail was the "little RAGBRAI" it promised to be. The High Trestle Bridge stands 13 stories up from the Des Moines River, a winding, oxbow-lake style river in a green valley below.
My husband Jim and I arrived a day early to bike all of the High Trestle Trail, from Ankeny to Slater, through Madrid, and up to Woodward, Iowa, on Friday and Saturday. It's like being up on the Root River Trail in southern Minnesota, where people understand that a paved bicycle trail is an economic boon to urban as well as rural areas.
Everywhere we went, people were friendly and hospitable. A deputy and a police officer guarded a highway crosswalk on the trail. We visited restaurants and bars that had just opened. I had a terrific spinach and artichoke flat bread at Baldy's Bar in Woodward that could have been made at Red's Ale House in North Liberty. The beer was cold, the drinks were strong, the food was exceptional, and it was fun to engage both local farmers and fellow bicyclists in conversation. I had the best patty melt I ever ate at the Nite Hawk in Slater, a brand-new bar. Jim and I together couldn't eat all of the onion rings that came with it.
We heard two really moving stories from two riders who survived tough odds to become professionals in their fields. We made new friends and had a friendly chat with Banana Man, who was also riding the trail. Years ago Lucas Elementary School students used to call Jim "Banana Man" because he supervised their recesses and lunchtime in a bright yellow jacket. RAGBRAI Banana Man was fully clothed in a banana suit. He recognized our MelonHead jerseys and complimented my watermelon helmet.
In Slater, I left my debit Visa card on the counter at Sheldahls' antique store while Jim and I were deciding who would carry what. I got an antique cake carrier for my "Cake Doctor" cakes I make for birthdays. I also got a little antique apron and an antique "Madeyeine" book for our 23-year-old daughter, who took care of our cats, Gracie and Tigger, while we were gone.
"Twelve little girls in two straight lines."
As it happened, it was her favorite Madeleine book.
Martha Sheldahl, co-owner of the antique shop, wrote a big sign and taped it to the window of our Ford Taurus left behind in Slater in front of the bar. She told me she had my debit card and left a phone number where I could reach her.
On the phone later, Martha and I tried to rendezvous, but it was Mother's Day, so we were both busy. I had to get back to Iowa City for Mother's Day brunch with Jim and the kids, and she had to go to church. I asked her to mail me the card. I got my debit card back within a few days in a pretty little peek-a-boo card with a kind note. We'll definitely be back to Sheldahls' antique shop.
Jim told me I wasn't up to the bike trip after seven weeks of flu. I said I was. We were both right. I did 26 miles one day and 27 miles the next, and felt mildly ill each night, but it was a trip to remember, and I did it!
We found the High Trestle Trail in photos in the Des Moines Register when it first opened a few years ago, and found the trail itself on an unscheduled RAGBRAI detour out of Luther, Iowa, in 2011. We took a busy highway south, beautifully black-topped with a wide, complete-the-streets paved shoulder.
The Flat Tire Lounge had opened in Madrid the month before in June. A bicycle hangs from the ceiling with horns and an Iowa State Patrol hat hanging from it, unless the sun got to me that day and that's not what I saw. It was awfully hot. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of RAGBRAI-ers visited the Flat Tire Lounge that day, and soon the troopers showed up to shoo us out of there and move us along. They don't like RAGBRAI-ers riding at night, even when brightly lit with multiple blinking lights. The troopers didn't claim their hat, though. It was still hanging from the bicycle on the ceiling over the bar the last time I looked.
You could call the troopers' hat their calling card, a guarantee of sorts that they'll be back whenever RAGBRAI returns, however unscheduled and off route our stop might be.