Monday, July 23, 2012


Today in the shade
I am often asked by people if I am crazy when I tell them that not only am I planning on riding my bike across the State of Iowa in July but that my family is going to accompany me both riding and supporting, along with a few hardy souls who we can still call friends…well today, although very, very, very hot – I still have the same answer – there is just something really special about challenging yourself to do something that is extraordinarily hard, preparing, training and then accomplishing that goal – no competitors, just Mother Nature, myself and that voice that tends to talk to me a little louder after 50 miles kicks in…(I lovingly call that my “altered state”). Well – I am pleased to report that once again, Mother Nature threw her best shot and I and the entire team, including the support crew survived – all a little tired but completely intact and we are stronger for that. We all did an exceptional job of taking care of ourselves, tucking into the limited shade, drinking, drinking and drinking and then pouring water for the coolers over our heads upon arrival at the overnight town – off to the pools, showers, dinner, and we are ready for tomorrow – which is supposed to be the most difficult day on the ride, especially for those of us who will be riding the 100 – it is supposed to be even hotter than today and we are becoming adept at really taking great care of the wonderful machines that are our bodies (oh and our bikes too…).
So with that update I want to share a little bit about yesterday, the first day of the ride, which was really a special day – we had both of our daughters with us and our oldest rode in her first RAGBRAI (our youngest rode a few years ago and is a terrific support crew on this ride) successfully completing the entire ride (54 miles)…with a little help from Al’s Oasis…which really wasn’t Al’s Oasis – that was actually 1 mile down the road but since her name is Alison and the experience turned out to be an oasis – we have renamed the site.  We had 12 miles to go and were really getting hot, okay we were beyond hot and looking for shade when off to the left we found some and joined other riders. A wonderful woman named Suzie came up along beside us and asked about the activity that we had been watching…a bouncy slip and slide…after watching a few more riders go through, she told me she would do it if I did, to which Alison said she would go and away they went…it was great, cooling, fun and truly a rejuvenating experience, they went over and over again and earned some beads from some passerbys (those same people had suggested that they would go faster if they took off their tops…but they earned their beads with doing that!) It was so much fun and brought our core temperatures down to a level that allowed us to finish in good shape – and today, Alison is talking about riding another day this week – very awesome.

I will share with you that we did see many more ambulances on the road going out on calls, and heard on the news that a rider had a heart attack but was revived an d kept alive by the riders around him until the paramedics arrived…with each siren, we worry, but that further instills in us the need to be very, very careful and take care of each other.

The food has been crazy good and I am embarrassed to tell you that the best thing I ate yesterday was a desert breadstick from Pizza Hut…some people sitting next to us apparently saw that we were hungry and almost as soon as we sat down, they delivered to our table half of their food order which had just been delivered to their table…I am almost embarrassed to say this but the food was devoured before we could even say thank you! I did go over to their table after wiping the frosting dripping on my shirt to tell them we had just finished the RAGBRAI ride…but I think they kind of figured that…gluten free was easy on the course – more difficult after the ride…but tomorrow Stan will sample 3 different kinds of gluten free pies in Luhrville, so will report tomorrow. We are working hard to stay cool, successfully so far, are injury free and the car is starting just fine. It is just so hard to eat in the heat, so we are drinking our way across Iowa right now. Still lots of fun, we are all feeling accomplished and looking forward to tomorrow. From our family table to yours…

Sunday, July 22, 2012, food and great people!

The garden at Tim and Mimi Kamp's
Casey's Almond Patties
I am sitting here writing this looking over Storm Lake in North Western Iowa after finishing the first day of RAGBRAI, one of the 2 short days on the ride – 54 miles – but this is Iowa in July and it wouldn’t be so without the HEAT which didn’t kick in until 11:00 but once it hit – we were deep into heat (the computer on my bike registered 107 degrees).  I could tell you about the crashes, the ambulances, the crazy funny costumes but I first need to go back to yesterday because for us RAGBRAI starts at the Expo – the day before the actual ride. The Expo is a blast – we get lots of freebies and a cool laminated daily map that fits into our biking shirts, there are local food vendors and the air is filled with anticipation and energy.  We got a chance to try a lot of food and talk to the vendors and I have to tell you about Casey’s Almond Patties which are a light crispy pastry wrapped around an almond marzipan type of filling and generously dusted with sugar. After eating one I wanted to know more so I went back to the tent and met Ryan who told me in answer to my question, “What makes these so good?” that they are a 3rd generation recipe that his Grandfather Casey brought over to this country from Holland in 1946 and that Ryan has worked in his family’s bakery since he was a little boy – it is fitting that the bakery is located in Sioux Center and Orange City – places that have a huge Dutch influence. We ate gluten free food at the Carbo-Hut and had an incredible gluten-free taco from a different vendor that I will write about once I get a better picture – they are not only delicious but also beautiful.

Three of us needed to attend the driver safety training sponsored by the Iowa State Police and RAGBRAI so we stayed behind and ate a little more after the training. When we got back to the support vehicle it wouldn’t start…the battery was dead - so I put my daughters on the task of getting us back up and running and they made it happen finding some great resources for us - Team RADPAN’s (Ride All Day and Party All Night )Team Leader Aaron Gillman who had just arrived from Virginia came to the rescue along with jumper cables supplied by Marty Schubach from Davenport, Iowa.  Between the two we were back in business – back to the absolute best host family stay we have ever had. The food, the hospitality the details that were thought through on our behalf was second to none – Tim and Mimi Kamp assisted by our collective granddaughter were the best!  Cinnamon rolls, veggie stir fry with shrimp and chicken, my favorite frozen fruit cups with raspberries, pineapple, mandarin oranges – frozen goodness, everything was just perfect . It would be impossible to think about we would do without the kindness, care and hospitality of the people with whom we have come in contact, who have supported us and really sacrificed and given so much on our behalf. To me – that is the story today of RAGBRAI – people helping people, caring about people and sharing themselves with us. The travel across Iowa has been eventful and eating has been satisfying, but the people have been exceptional and really make me glad to be part of this fantastic family vacation – from my family table to yours.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

RAGBRAI...a fun family vacation?...Absolutely! From our family table to yours...

Our support crew ensures
 that we can find our support car
pie theme was a fun year!
For the past six months, every family gathering has focused on planning, strategizing, preparing and making lists for the first of several of our family vacations this year - RAGBRAI. RAGBRAI is a 7 day, 471 mile bicycle ride across the State of Iowa with 20,000 of our closest biking friends, and while it may sometimes be associated with lots of partying (which does exist) we are finding more and more families who are taking the time to spend with each other traveling and eating across Iowa during the last full week of July. Our family team consist of myself and my husband, a close friend, our two daughters and our oldest daughter's husband - but the family support does not stop there - our daughter's in-law's get to spend the week with our 2 year old granddaughter (who is too young to participate) and my brother's family are taking care of our house and pets. It always amazes me at the level of support it requires to safely ride across Iowa. With heat indexes predicted to be in the over 100 range, we will need every ounce of that support.

So what happens on RAGBRAI that requires an entire entourage? Our support crew is worth its weight in gold - they are a finely tuned machine and have worked many hours to coordinate the safety and support of the riders. The first responsibility of our crew is to help us get out the door by 6:00 am with all of the "stuff" we will need before we see them again at the meeting town. Some days are more difficult than others to get the riders up and out and usually by the 4th day, they are not as nice as on the first day in kicking our butts back out on the road...something about tired bodies and sore saddles.... After the riders are off and riding, the crew packs up all of the bedding, tents, chairs, everything and heads to the meeting town where they try to pick us out of a sea of 20,000 riders - so they have to remember what we are wearing to be able to find us - for me this is the hardest part of the job. When we check in at the meeting town they assess us, what do we need?, how are we?, what will we need at the end of the day?...I always feel so spoiled when I leave the check point and I have seen so many other riders come up to them asking them for help (which they willing provide). This year we got them a screened in porch to make shade at the pit stops and I anticipate quite a gathering of riders by the time I get to the meeting town each day.

And, my favorite part of what our crew does each day for us is they go to the overnight town and find our place to stay and set up our air mattresses and beds so we can crash or take a nap when we arrive at the end of the ride each day - my set-up includes a cold Starbucks coffee drink, a Beck's dark beer, a red Gatorade, and a cold bottle of water - everything I need to hydrate, stop and take a is heaven on earth and I love being pampered so. This year we have a variety of places to stay, some family homes, a church, a community center, 2 hotels, a host family and a YMCA...we think - housing is a great challenge and we work especially hard to find a place with air conditioning so that we can recover from the crazy heat. People along to routes have always been so kind to all of us and staying in people's homes is a highlight for all of us, it is humbling to see how gracious people are when they open their doors for our family.

This year we have something very special happening , our crew chief and eldest daughter will be riding the first day and we will have the opportunity to support her as she undertakes a great challenge. I am honored to be able to support her. Our youngest daughter will become crew chief for the day and I have all the confidence in her - she put her time in on the RAGBRAI route a few years ago and I got to support her on that ride...she is 17 so how awesome is it that?...she is out there hanging and helping her family during summer break? I am so fortunate. My brother who has also been an extraordinary support crew is unable to assist this year because of work conflicts and so my daughter's father-in-law will be filling in for the day that she rides on the support vehicle side - then he gets to go home and spend the week with our granddaughter - fun fun fun! Not only could we not do this without this incredible support, we wouldn't want to...this is family vacation at its best, working together, supporting each other, eating together, playing games, cheering each other on, laughing and working it out together - I couldn't ask for anything more...

One of the times we all laughed a lot was on the day that this picture was taken. We had just settled in to the campgrounds on a church property and a little dirt devil came up and blew some of the tents from the row near us up, up...and away...we all watched in amazement as this tent got caught on the church steeple and the show was amazing as the fire trucks had to come and rescue the tent. I was standing under a shade tree watching as part of the Air Force Team pulled up and one of the riders recognized her tent as the one perched on top of the more reason to have a great support crew - to make sure that the tents are staked down before moving onto the next set-up....but oh my goodness, we all laughed and laughed...including the rider who watched her tent extricated from the steeple - it made for a great story which we told over and over again each night while sitting around, hanging out on our family vacation...RAGBRAI....

So today I am packing the cars, hoping that it cools enough to bake those incredible coconut flour cookies, am connecting with gluten free riders for interviews and am seeking out gluten free vendors on the ride to be blogging with. This will be a fun year on RAGBRAI - lots of firsts and lots of fun. Like all travel adventures half of the fun is in the planning and we have been having a great time with that - 5-6 phone calls a day, texting and checking things off of the lists. Looking forward to live blogging as my family travels and eats our way across Iowa on our family vacation...from my family table to yours...Mama Caruso

Saturday, July 14, 2012

RAGBRAI Countdown Continues...last long ride, oh, and hold the e. coli please!

Prairie flowers in bloom in Lanesboro, MN
The checklists are compiled, the tents are airing, supplies are purchased and the last long ride is under our belts before the 7 day bike ride across Iowa begins on July 22nd. Tomorrow we will do an easy 2 hour ride and then the rest of the week is really maintenance, easy and short riding...10 - 15 miles a day or so, just enough to keep our saddles in shape. Today was a good time to work out the bugs in the body and get a sense for what we will each need to do to take care of ourselves during the 471 mile ride. Food plays a huge role in that care and maintenance of our bodies and today I was aware of the things I need to do to keep my muscles from cramping. I don't usually cramp up - I have always been aware of the ebb and flow of the nutrients going in and out of my body and I love pickles, dates, Pepto Bismol, bananas and dark beer - all vital components in keeping my body fueled cramp-free. I am also sure to eat salty and sweet foods to make certain I am replacing what I am losing while riding for 4-10 hours a day...but today I did something I have never done before - I walked out of a restaurant, a diner really, when I hadn't eaten anything for 40 miles and got back on my bike and finished the ride on salted nut rolls and shot blocks which are a jelly type electrolyte replacement. I decided to say no to the e. coli...and yes to the muscles cramping...worse yet, my ab muscles were the ones that decided to rebel.

I have a set of guiding principles that I set forth about how I was going to conduct myself on this blog and being nice was one of the guiding principles - there is enough satire and sarcasm and meanness out there - I really want people to dive in and enjoy this site, finding surprises, laughing and discovering tasty treats and terrific tips - so I spent several hours trying to figure out how to frame this in a way that is nice. I have decided to keep the name of the diner out of this post...and have notified the health department so that I could be nice to all of those who in the future may be infected. As I mentioned earlier, this week is critical in the care and maintenance of our machines (our bodies). We have had week after week of training, hours spent riding, stretching and fueling and so we are vulnerable to all kinds of things - injuries, illness and stress induced everything. Just the sheer process of planning, preparing and packing is quite a production around here. Now would be the perfect time for something to slip in under the armor and set any one of us back and as a team we are only as strong as our weakest link.

The saddest part of this entire story is that I was so excited to eat where we had arranged to stop. We had tried to eat there last week, but it closes at 2:00, so we were sure to get there today in time, which is why I didn't stop at my favorite pie place, or gotten ice cream (not only do I read to eat, I ride to eat...) It is a cute little place, very inexpensive and serving exactly the type of food I was craving, hot dogs which I usually do not ever eat, french fries and pie. I was famished and sat at the counter where I could watch the cook, thinking apparently that a watched cook would cook faster. Well I was wrong on that count and watched as all of the tickets that came in after mine got cooked and served before mine even started on the grill...25 minutes later as my hot dog was finally hitting the grill I was getting excited at the promise of food...when it happened...the cook reached into a box on the counter, pulled out some raw hamburger, rolled it into nice sized patties, put them on the grill, wiped his hands on his apron and then....reached into the bread bag and grabbed my hot dog roll. Now I am not usually squeamish and I certainly do not have the cleanest kitchen...but the thought of e. coli leaving his hands and being distributed onto my hot dog bun almost made me sick on the spot. I got up and left just as he dropped the french fries. Over-reacting? Possibly, but I have never had that kind of reaction and knowing how vulnerable my machine is right now, I opted for muscle cramps over something potentially more destructive. I decided to write about this because I entered the diner planning on writing a story about it and had many really great photos ready to post. When this happened I just decided to write the story from a little different perspective. I do plan to call the diner and tell them why I walked out again - I did say something as I was leaving to the waitress but really want to make sure that this practice is stopped so that we could consider going back, enjoying the meal I was hoping to enjoy and I can write the story I was hoping to write before this incident happened....really, my photos are really great of the place. Okay 7 days remaining before RAGBRAI - will keep the food and travel posts coming during the countdown. From my table to yours - Mama Caruso

Friday, July 13, 2012

Everything AND The Kitchen Sink

Yes, that is a kitchen sink attached to a bike at RAGBRAI 2011, you can see the steam from the heat of the day fogging up the photo too...last year the temperatures hovered in the high 90s to low 100s daily and lowered to the low 90s at night. It was very difficult and really changed our eating and traveling strategies. When it is hot like that and you are riding an average of 70 miles a day for 7 days, it becomes very difficult to eat - I can't believe I am even saying that, but it is true - we had to force ourselves to eat enough calories to fuel our bodies and drinking became ridiculous...usually on RAGBRAI I will drink a minimum of 15 bottles of fluids, Gatorade, water, juice, coffee drinks, anything I can get my hands on, but when it is really hot and we are losing fluids as quickly as they are going in, it becomes a monumental task to stay how do we fuel? Our small family team all have different strategies for getting fuel in our systems and although we have a wide range of foods we like to have "at the ready" we all employ the strategy of eating small amounts frequently...sounds like a lot of weight loss programs advice. And like a lot of pregnant women, the foods we crave can be as immediate and unpredictable as our bodies send us messages to fill the minerals and nutrients that we are depleting.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Travel Tip for Riding Your Bike Across Iowa

The goodies in this town were delicious in 2011
Travel tips for riding your bicycle 471 miles in a week aka RAGBRAI...okay this counts as a food and travel blogging event because I will be traveling across the entire State of Iowa and eating every 10 miles or how how does our team of 6 prepare? We all have different training strategies that work for us individually, but the important part is that we have training strategies. At the beginning of the year, each of us looked at our goals for the ride (before we knew what the exact route would be) and we talked about, read about and then wrote down our individual training plans - very much like writing a business plan. Most of us have had some mid-course corrections but the goal was always the same - complete the sections and distances of RAGBRAI that we originally established. Some on our team will be riding one day, some plan to ride to the meeting town each day and some of us plan to ride the entire 471 miles.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lake Wobegon Bike Trail Caramel Roll Ride & Caramel Recipe

Lake Wobegon Bike Trail Caramel Roll Ride

“A Sweet Roll Along a Sweet Trail.” Whenever I travel I like to stop people on the street, the cab driver, or at the registration desk to find out what might be happening in town that day, or weekend that they are going to be doing – it is a great way to find local festivals, food, and in this case a local bike ride…the Lake Wobegon Bike Trail Association’s Caramel Roll Ride.  Bike riders can choose from a number of distances and routes ranging from six to twenty-three miles one way in three different directions. I choose the northern ride this year which featured the longest covered bridge in Minnesota at Holdingford (pictured). But the really great thing about this ride is the caramel rolls which are available to all riders at the beginning and end of the ride as well as a special stops in-between – 47 dozen in all!

Now the ride itself is really fun, the scenery changes from deep Minnesota woods filled with deer and small furry creatures scurrying across the bike trail, to wet-lands featuring sand cranes calling out for their mates and the turnaround point for the Northern route is at the Mississippi River, with small towns hosting refreshments and entertainment all along the ride showing off their towns with great pride. Albany, MN (population 2561) is where the Lake Wobegon Trail Association’s Caramel Roll Ride begins and is home to the Albany Home Bakery which supplies all 47 dozen caramel rolls devoured at the ride. And, I don’t use the word devoured lightly, the volunteers were working hard to keep the platters filled as the bicyclists came and went on the ride – I was lucky enough to snag a roll topped with nuts.
The bakery located