Bix Weekend is Here!

The annual celebration of the music of Bix Beiderbecke is in full swing today and tomorrow. Be sure to get out there and participate, whether you’re running or walking in the nationally renowned Bix 7 road race or enjoying music of some of the world’s finest musicians at the Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Festival.

Just a reminder, because of the congestion in downtown Davenport today, the Main library will be closed. The Fairmount Street library will be open 9:30am-5:30pm. Both buildings will be open their regular hours on Monday.

Have a great weekend!

A Few of My Favorite Things About RAGBRAI

One of the things I love the most about RAGBRAI is that it shows the best of Iowa and Iowans. The people in the overnight towns are so friendly and helpful – they welcome the riders with open arms. People from all over the United States and even the world, get to see how genuine and generous Iowans really are. Townspeople open up their homes (for free!) to complete strangers, to people like me who are too lazy to camp.

The pass-through towns also go all out to welcome riders. Besides producing mountains of food to feed this onslaught of bikers (which must seem like a plague of helmeted locusts), many communities really get into the spirit. They have theme celebrations with free (or dirt cheap) entertainment, and many even sell T-shirts to commemorate the event. For instance, Tipton is literally “Rolling out the Red Carpet,” nearby Eldridge is sporting the theme “Happy Days in Eldridge,” and the final stop in LeClaire hopes their “Spokes and Ropes” theme will encourage visitors to come back for the Tug Fest in August.

The townspeople are also very tolerant. Try to imagine in a small town suddenly supporting a population 4 to 5 times its usual size. Don’t get me wrong – RAGBRAI is a great fundraiser and many towns lobby for several years to host it, but I have to believe that we bikers must leave a bit of a mess!

And finally, as anyone who’s ever ridden on RAGBRAI can attest, Iowa is NOT flat and boring! In fact, it is lush and green, with gently rolling hills which provide colorful, scenic vistas. It is, in short, beautiful!

For an affectionate look at our great state, check out the videorecording Iowa: an American Portrait, narrated by Tom Brokaw with historic and current images of Iowa.

Eat Your Way Across Iowa on Two Wheels!

Sometimes non-riders will ask, “How much weight did you lose on RAGBRAI?” They’re missing the whole point! Probably a more accurate question is “How much weight did you gain?” If nothing else, RAGBRAI is a food-fest. To really experience it, you have to sample it all. If you’re riding, or if you’re just looking for some vicarious enjoyment, here’s the top five RAGBRAI foods:

1) Corn on the cob. It’s put on a stick and dipped into a crock-pot of melted butter. This is Iowa – we grow corn. Those cornfields aren’t just for emergency potty breaks!

2) Grilled pork chops. These are at least an inch-thick and freshly prepared over huge grills made from livestock watering tanks. They can be served at any time of th day. I’ve eaten them as early as 8:30 in the morning – they actually make a pretty good breakfast!

3) Fresh, cold watermelon. Okay, we do eat some things that are healthy. This is a real treat on a hot afternoon. It is kind of messy, but fellow bikers don’t mind when you spit your seeds.

4) Beer. Kegs are readily available and a cold one really does taste good at the end of the day’s ride. Yes, there’s a party atmosphere, and some do overdo, but most riders want to make it to their destination first!

5) Pie. My favorite! I learned on my first RAGBRAI that if you didn’t hit the first town before 10am, the homemade pies would all be gone. Trust me, when you’re cycling this long, you deserve some extra carbs and nothing tastes better than a slice of freshly made apple pie. Or cherry, or peach, or….

Mmmm, sounds like the perfect picnic. If you’d like other ideas for good old-fashioned Iowa farm food, try these country cookbooks available at the Davenport library:

Prairie Home Cooking by Judith Fertig

Up a Country Lane Cookbook by Evelyn Birkby

Favorite Recipes from Iowa’s Bed and Breakfasts by Ann Crowley

Bix Porch Party at the Davenport Library

Help us kick off the Bix Festival on Thursday, July 24, at 11:30 AM, at the 21st Annual “Bix Porch Party,” a block-party featuring live jazz music from Don Estes and The Prairie Ramblers, located in front of the Davenport Public Library Main Street location (321 Main Street). This free event is for people of all-ages. Bring your lawn chairs and blankets as we block off Main Street for a fun-filled free afternoon of music, popcorn, lemonade, and party favors! Hot dogs will sold at bargain prices as a fundraiser for the Teen Volunteer Council. Stop in the Library afterwards and visit the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center to learn more about Bix and to see the display of Bix Jazz Festival posters. It’s never too soon to start having fun!

Garbage Bags and Other RAGBRAI Fashion Tips

1) Garbage Bags. Forget your rain poncho? Grab a garbage bag (bigger is better), tear 3 holes in it – a big one for your head and two smaller ones on the sides for your arms – and you’re good to go! No, they don’t work very well if it’s windy, but it does keep you a little bit dryer. Don’t laugh – I actually worn this item, and was grateful to the guy who was handing them out!

2) Little lycra shorts. Everyone wears them, so who cares what you look liek? They actually are more comforatable. Plus, they come with secret padding and they air dry very quickly.

3) Helmet mirrors. Some people just can’t get used to them, but these little magnetic attachments can be a real life saver. Inexperienced riders tend to turn their whole bike (and possibly into oncoming traffic) when they move their head to look back. There are just too many bicycles (10,000 plus) on the road, so the only safe direction is straight ahead. Mirrors really help, even when you have no makeup to check…

For other tips on bicycles and gear, check out these titles:

The Ultimate Ride: Get Fit, Get Fast and Start Winning by Chris Carmichael

Bicycling by Peter Oliver

3 H’s of RAGBRAI

From personal experience, the three H’s (Hard Parts) of RAGBRAI are:

1. Hills. This year’s route is the 11th hilliest out of all the RAGBRAI’s since 1973. Most hills really are doable – you just need to remember to use all your gears, especially that granny gear. Plus, there’s extra motivation when most everyone else is also huffing and puffing (although for some reason, there’s also some who seem to zoom by me!) Mainly, I just don’t want to be humiliated by having to stop and walk up a hill! The good part is that, in most cases, what goes up must come down. The speed and the cool breeze that the downhill ride brings make it all worth the effort. Wheeeeeee!

2. Heat. Okay – it’s July in Iowa. It’s going to be hot – just plan on it. If you can go fast enough, you can create your own air conditioner. Also, if you get up early, it usually stays on the cool side until 8am or so.

3. Headwinds. In my opinion, these are the worst. There’s not much you can do, but just keep plugging along. It does seem to help to gear down a bit, and of course, pray that either the course or the wind changes directions – soon!

If you’re looking for bike routes – with hills or without – try these:

Biking Iowa: 50 Great Road Trips and Trail Rides by Bob Morgan

Biking Illinois: 60 Great Road Trips and Trail Rides by David Johnsen


RAGBRAI=Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa

Once again it’s time for the Des Moines Register’s RAGBRAI, held this week July 20-26th. Notice that the acronym stands for RIDE not RACE, thereby allowing old-lady librarians like me to participate. Fortunately, everyone is welcome and we can all go at our own pace.

RAGBRAI started in 1973, so this year will be the 36th year. Bikers will start on Sunday by dipping the back tire of their bike in the Missouri River at Missouri Valley, Iowa. Overnight stops this year are Harlan, Jefferson, Ames, Tama/Toledo, North Liberty and Tipton. The final destination is nearby LeClaire on Saturday, July 26 where the bicyclists finish by dipping their front tires in the Mississippi River. With the Bix 7 Road Race going on the same day in Davenport as well as the Bix Jazz Festival, there’ll be lots of visitors to enjoy our Quad City hospitality!

To read more about RAGBRAI check out River to River, Year after Year: RAGBRAI Through the Lens of Register Photographers and RAGBRAI: Everyone Pronounces it Wrong by John Karas.

Armchair Traveler – Iowa

Who knew there’d be so many interesting, funny, thoughtful books featuring our own backyard? Iowa might not make a lot of headlines (that’s a good thing, actually) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of some great books. There’s been a lot of national attention on Iowa this summer because of the flooding, but next week there’ll be some more positive news – RAGBRAIs annual bike ride (Starting on Monday be sure to watch this blog for a special series of stories from our own Tana on her RAGBRAI experiences) and of course, the Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Festival and Bix 7 Road Race here in Davenport. Keep the Iowa-vibes going with some great reads.

Niagara Falls all Over Again by Elizabeth McCracken. McCracken spent her childhood summers visiting her grandmother in Des Moines, so the first half of the book, set in Des Moines, is filled with authentic details. The story of a comedy team that makes it big in vaudeville and later in Hollywood B movies and the ties that hold the partners together. Funny and moving and beautifully written.

Moo by Jane Smiley. Set at an agriculture college in Iowa (read: Iowa State University) this satire is a look from the inside of the politics and intrigues of academia. Filled with sophisticated humor and clever storytelling. For a grimmer look at life in rural Iowa, don’t miss Smiley’s Pulitzer Prize winning A Thousand Acres.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. If you haven’t read Bryson yet, you’re missing out on one of our funniest writers. Born and raised in Des Moines, Bryson went on to travel (and write about) the world. Bryson waxes nostalgic about growing up in Iowa and memories unique to the Midwest (Bishop’s Buffet! the pneumatic tubes at the downtown Younkers!) and evokes a bygone era of innocence.

Shoeless Joe by WP Kinsella. Before it was a movie (Field of Dreams) it was a book. Much more complex and thoughtful than the movie, Shoeless Joe explores timeless American icons – the family farm, a father and son playing baseball, the power of memory and forgiveness.

Eleven Days by Donald Harstad. A series of strange murders tears a small Iowa town apart and leads sheriff Carl Houseman to a cult and the possible involvement of a local pastor. A hard-boiled mystery with droll details and an explosive ending. Harstad was a deputy sheriff in northeastern Iowa for 26 years, lending authentic details of small-town life.

TV on DVD

Want to take a walk down memory lane and follow the adventures of Sheriff Andy Taylor again? Miss a pivotol episode of Lost? Need a good laugh, something witty from Frasier or laugh-out loud silly from Home Improvement? The Davenport Library is the place to go for Television on DVD. We have all kinds of programs for all kinds of tastes – comedy, drama, action, science fiction. We have classic shows as well as the latest releases and best of all – there’s no cost to rent them!

All DVDs check out for one week and can be renewed once (so long as no one else is waiting for that particular season of Charmed!)

The Lincoln Highway by Michael Wallis

The romance of the open road (and our corresponding love affair with the car) has always been a part of America’s history and character. Maybe it’s the vast distances of the country, or it’s unending variety, or part of our make-up as a nation of immigrants but nothing says America like a road trip. How many of you remember childhood trips, packed into the family car, driving to see tourist destinations like Mt Rushmore or the Grand Canyon or the Great Smokey Mountains? Squabbling with your siblings, counting license plates, swimming in the motel pools – as American as apple pie.

The Lincoln Highway by Michael Wallis is a celebration of the heyday of car travel from the 20s to the 50s. Spanning the country from New York City to San Fransisco, covering more than 3000 miles through thirteen states, the Lincoln Highway was once a popular route for travelers. The modern interstate highway system, with it’s direct routes and smooth multi-lanes, has taken over most of the traffic, and in many places superseded the Lincoln Highway, but it’s still possible to follow it across the country. Wallis takes us along on his adventure; part travelogue, part nostalgia trip, this book is filled with pictures of vintage postcards, historical images and modern photographs. This book celebrates the iconic architecture of “motor lodges”, gas stations and diners, the stunning scenery of the countryside, the funky roadside attractions and most of all, the characters that still live along it.

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