by Emily Beswick
Sag wagon, bicycle shop, repair vans, shower guys, and medical assistance were all foreign words as I began my cycling career during Ragbrai (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Race Across Iowa) 2005. I decided the route was starting 15 miles from my hometown, Sioux City, Iowa and I would bandit the ride for 1 day; after all it was only 65.5 miles.
As I pulled out of LeMars “the ice cream capital of the world,” I thought I was prepared with my free green Huffy that I won at my college health fair and my Camelback hydration pack. The first half of the ride was fairly easy with stops for food/drinks every 6-8 miles. As the temperature was pushing triple digits, and I made the turn north for the last 20 miles I ended up getting a flat tire without a tube or CO2 cartridges. The fun turned into tears. Even after I had help fixing my tire I was exhausted. My first big ride had me pedaling and crying all the way to the end.
Once I arrived in Sheldon a huge smile was on my face and a feeling of accomplishment overcame me. I couldn’t wait to celebrate with a beer.
How powerful a spell does RAGBRAI cast over the first time rider? After a few hours on the road I was hooked and promised to be back for the entire week next year.
2006 was the year I officially signed up for Ragbrai, it was 444 miles of adventure. I decided to experience it the real way and tent the whole week rather than stay in hotels/friends homes along the way. I also decided to upgrade and get my 1st real bike. I purchased a Specialized Rockhopper. My mileage/training was riding the mountain bike trails of Stone State Park and I couldn’t understand why I needed more than 1 bike much less a road bike. I thought at that time every bike was created equal. Now, I was ready for the journey with my foot cages, upgraded water bottles, and bike jersey/cycling shorts. Starting early Sunday morning I embarked on my journey with 30,000 other cyclists of all shapes, ages, and sizes. I began my ride with the long tradition of dipping the front tire in the Missouri River at the start of the ride across Iowa and again the back tire at the conclusion in the Mississippi River. The highlight for me at the time was riding on the same road as another Ragbrai virgin, Lance Armstrong.
In October 2008 I moved to Chicago. Once I completed my list of bucket items to being a “true Chicagoan”, Sears Tower stair challenge and the January bikini polar plunge with water temps in the low 30’s; I thought that finding a cycling team would be a good way to meet friends and also be less life threatening. I joined a newly formed women’s downtown team that was close to my work/home. We didn’t ride everyday but I enjoyed the long ride camaraderie and the mileage helped me to complete Ironman Wisconsin on 9/11/2011 as I was now a true “roadie” with my Specialized Roubaix.
After a few years with this team I was sick of being dropped on the “no drop” Saturday ride by the 4 boys that rode and frequently was the only girl. I started looking for teams during the Gapers Block Crit races this year. The 1st night I had inquired with Half Acre and found them to be cult/sorority like in their team selection. Night 2 I was packing my things into the car and Kelly Clarke/Michelle Moore were next to me. I saw the Spidermonkey kit and asked “how hard is it to find a team to join in Chicago that likes to ride bikes and drink beer?” She stated the next team ride was on Saturday and we exchanged numbers. A few weeks later we were riding a century up to Frank’s Diner in Kenosha, WI.
I am so grateful I asked them that question that day. I love being a Spidermonkey!! The numerous options to ride every day of the week and the variety of paces/miles is great. My favorite rides are Tuesday morning girls ride and the fast pace Wednesday nights (each week as the season progressed I was proud I made it further in the ride before getting dropped).
Furthermore, I love the social aspect and having beers with the team. What’s not to like about a Goose Island Dock party and various special beer release parties!!??!!
I’m looking forward to a great 2014 season with the Spidermonkeys. My first Vegas trip will be this year and Tour of Galena is on the calendar again. As I look back I am proud of my journey as a cyclist and I am grateful to ride amongst the best in Chicago who are on our team.
I am also proud that I’ve expanded my vocabulary to consist of saying….all I want for Christmas are size 42 Mavic Zxenon cycling shoes, a Seven Axiom SL, and a bike fit with Get a Grip Cycles (and actually know what that means)!! :)