Not Your Father’s Whiffle Ball… Better

By: Alex Barker

“Summer will end soon enough, and childhood as well.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
There is something inherently young about a summer night, no matter how many birthday candles you’ve blown out. The long, orange sunsets hold memories reeking of grass-stains, and the gentle flicker then hum of street lights, one at a time, used to be the go-ahead for dirty faces and hands to hop on mountain bikes and head on home.

This kind of magic, caught in that space between 75 and 92 degrees Fahrenheit, is a welcome ambassador, a signal of hope, for anyone whose had one sleepover with a friend, then thought, “Screw it. Let’s make this a two-dayer,” before staying a second night in a row. This weather is late night comedy central in a friend’s basement while wondering what your crush is doing at that moment. Those summer evenings are glimpses into paradise.

If you could capture this nostalgia purely, in one event, how far would you go to make it a reality? If you’re Jake Riepma, the Midland, Michigan native, you’d go pretty darn far.

For Jake, summer meant whiffleball in his backyard. There has always been an empty lot next to Jake’s house on Partridge Lane, and it was on this hallowed ground that Jake achieved some of his most memorable victories and agonizing defeats… all to the hands of his best friends. This was a place for sunburn and scraped knees. This space was crafted into a whiffleball field by Jake’s older brother, Zach, and became known as Partridge Park.

Easily the largest whiffleball fanatic in Midland (probably in Michigan), Jake created base paths and a pitchers-mound while hanging a sign on the tree in left field that bears the field’s name still to this day. Unlike building a big league stadium, Partridge Park wasn’t a done-all-at-once project. The field was built one small feature at a time. Each with the proper amount of attention and care you’d expect from a man obsessed.

Part of what makes whiffleball cool is, just like in Major League Baseball stadiums, the fields are all different, and must be played as such. At Partridge Park, any ball is playable out of the branches of the tree, so long as it falls fair after ricocheting around the knobs of the branches. A shot to deep centerfield into the pool is an automatic homerun.  The field is maintained like the Yankees are coming for a three-game series tomorrow.

In 2010, Jake and a number of his closest friends came up with an idea: The Partridge Park Summer Classic. This tournament could define and crown whiffleball legends, thus ending every argument that ever kept a kid from dinner. The tournament was to be an all-ages and skill-levels contest, March Madness bracket-style, with single elimination gloom hanging over each contest. That first year, there were 14 teams that registered and competed in the 4 vs. 4 competitions.

Organized whiffleball with bragging rights, and an actual title on the line, is the kind of stuff that makes you melt like a Hershey’s bar left on the dashboard of your first car. Needless to say, the tournament was a huge success, and in 2011 the opening ceremonies of the tournament honored and celebrated the 26 teams with 175 people in attendance. This is all taking place in a backyard.Think of how many competitions, of any kind, that you’ve been in that have had at least 25 teams. Where those small in any way? Neither was this.

This past summer, from July 12th-14th, the 2012 Summer Classic took flight, this time with 29 teams.  It was my first time attending, and I, frankly, was going so I didn’t feel like the only loser in town with no clue what a “Partridge Park” is. I’ve been to a lot of sporting events in my life, at every level, and let me tell you right now that Partridge Park is better than ice cream on your chin after a 50-mile bike ride. It’s the super bowl for whiffleball, only better because you know every local celebrity in attendance, including the commissioner, Jake himself.

“We just put so much time and energy into our field, just for our own fun, we thought it’d be cool to make it an official event,” Jake said, overlooking what has become a cultural event in the northeast corner of the city after a mid-afternoon game this year.

The park fences, which bear local business sponsors for the event, show a shallow right field in front of the bleachers and scoreboard that sit behind them. The pine trees along the first baseline give ample shade for a couple dozen people waiting to play, and the bleachers along the third baseline give the most comprehensive view of it all. On top of the backstop, the commissioner sits alongside official DJ, and Partridge Park VP of Advancement, Ben Marsh. The two commentate every game from their perch. Through the microphones, their voices are able to be heard from down the block. Sometimes they made small talk, and sometimes they offered statistics on individual players that only someone who has seen every game at the park would know. For me, the commentary was the best part of the entire experience, especially when they’d start heckling.

There is a concession stand in the driveway that has candy, sandwiches, and drinks of all sorts (including meal-deals!), and the pool is filled with spectators swimming as well as soaking up the sun on the surrounding deck. This year, if people smacked a dinger into the pool’s depths, they received a free ticket to a Great Lakes Loons game (The Loons are a minor league affiliate of the Dodgers that are housed here in Midland).

The air was consistently filled with different kinds of music, or cheers, since each player is given a walk-up song of Ben’s choosing. During inning breaks there is music as well, but not even jock jams put the final touches on this mecca of fun. For opening ceremonies the national anthem is sang live, there are fireworks, and a smoke machine. I’m serious.

Still not convinced it’s worth the sweat? I decided to go back after watching a few afternoon games, and see a night game. The Park has sponsorships from NAPA Auto Parts, and The Midland Community Center, for floodlights, which surround the field on poles. You haven’t lived until you find yourself heckling a pitcher from the stands, along with the commentator/commissioner, at a night whiffleball game.

All of these descriptions can’t begin to explain the feelings that the park brings. It’s a certain happiness and excitement over little plays that are as satirical and oversized as a politician’s smile.  It is the intensity of a long trot and stare-down after someone’s plastic bat sends a ball to the pool for a Loons ticket… and the win. It is, everything you imagine when playing sports as a little kid, only, somehow, it has all come to life.

While it is only this huge event a few days a year, Jake is always ready for batting practice, if only you ask. Maybe he’ll even toss you a memory or two.

Follow along for entertaining updates on the field and how to get registered on Facebook, Twitter @Partridge_Park , or just go to www.partridgepark.com

 

Do you go through withdrawals between episodes of Breaking Barker? First of all, you’re not alone. Get yourself the medicine you need, follow @alexbarker763 on Twitter for daily insights and updates on the absorbing life of Alex Barker.

Chip-N-Dip Episode 2

Crab Rangoon: Alright alriiiiiight, welcome to Chip-N-Dip Episode 2. This week’s show is brought to you (unknowingly) by Michigan Brand meat. It’s the best beef jerky, brats, and holiday hams around. Head on down to Jack’s and make the right choice for the upcoming week.
Beef on Rye:  Something about a Michigan Brand hot dog at a Davie Raegen bbq, that just puts me in the best summer mood possible. But right now we’ve got our hoodies and jackets out after some of this cold weather, I think it’s safe to say that fall is here and that means football!!! FOOTBALL!!!
Crab: Two things I’ve been noticing. First, there’s this huge debate going on regarding was Luck the better pick than RGIII. And I love the way sportscasters try to disguise “white” when describing Luck. “Well look, RG3 has the athleticism and that extra um, that extra you know dynamic, but I just think a whi– I mean, a prototypical, yeah, a prototypical pocket passer will long-term give your team a better shot at a super bowl.”
Beef:  Haha yes the whi— urgh, “pocket passing” strategy vs. that mobile threat… I think RGIII has more weapons at his disposal. RGIII I feel is more of a playmaker while Luck has that born and bred NFL qb flavor to his arm.
Crab: The other thing I find fascinating is the NFL’s firm stance on these replacement refs
Beef:  Right!!
Crab: We can complain all we want but I picture Roger Goodell in his office, smoking a cigar, laughing, saying, “What are you gonna do? Watch baseball?”
Beef: Well and it’s interesting how teams are just letting these refs be. Only a few are complaining about these new ref’s. Breaking James Demsky intel**** D’angelo Hall actually offered $2,000,000 to the NFL to bring back the old refs.
Crab: Have you heard of or seen this Gangnam Style song?
Beef: Oh yeah!!! Man, wasnt sure about it at first but it grows on you so fast. 200,000,000 plus views can’t lie, this is good stuff.
Crab: Just think of the magnitude of that number.
Beef:  Huge!
Crab:  It’s what, like a four-minute song? So multiply four by 200,000,000; combine that with Call Me Maybe and I feel like all 7 billion people on the planet have spent 10 seconds with those two songs.
Beef:  You know 100 views came from Turner dying from the late hits.
Crab: lol true. But I wanted to raise this question to you, more of a ranking, how would you stack up Gangnam style against other iconic song+dance classics i.e. Macarena, Soulja Boy, Teach Me How to dougie, and Cupid Shuffle?
Beef: Based on pure popularity, Gangnam style has to be top 3. But can it handle the test of time?
Crab: True, because Cupid Shuffle, that still gets any wedding reception going whereas I think only 1 in 100 people is ever thrilled at the Macarena being turned on in 2012.
Beef: Hahah well I did a quick Youtube search and Macerena has less than 20,000,000 views thru four separate videos. But that song and dance in its prime??? Everyone knew how to do the Macerena. Gangnam Style looks like a Korean version of ride the pony.
Crab: Right! And Macarena had just enough challenge in it but not enough to be overwhelming.
Beef: I think cha cha slide is a little more complicated but it’s so easy when you listen to the guy basically telling you how to do it.
Crab: The problem with Soulja Boy and Dougie is it didn’t promote the entire group unity. There was always one guy or girl who knew how to do the Soulja Boy and/or Dougie better than everyone else.
Beef: And group unity is what makes these dances great.
Crab: Plus it was hard for the wh– I mean the “pocket passers” to pick up on the Dougie.
Beef: Hey oh!
Crab:  Macarena had almost a factory-like mentality. Everyone was on the same page, you get to the “heyyyy-Macarena” and bam, rotate 90 degrees and do it again.
Beef: hahaha. Those where the days man. I think the Hustle needs to be thrown in there too. Not so much a song that goes with it but as a dance, that brings so much.
Crab: Like the disco Hustle?
Beef: Ehh wrong direction lol. Might want to edit that one out haha
Optional commercial break: Will Holiday Inn Express improve your rap battle game?
Beef: Let me tell you something tho. I bought the same record player as you and really got in touch with my rap records.
Crab: What?!? How long have you kept that secret from me?
Beef: Its been one month. I bought Nas: “Ill Matic” on Ebay, and that is my Chip-N-Dip recommended album to listen to for the week. Man oh man, so many raps are thrown down on that vinyl! Also got Abby road (Beatles) and Rush and Bob Marley, Kiss, Metallica, WU Tang Clan, best of Death Row records. Man I love record players!!
Crab: For those of you who don’t know what this specific record player is, here’s a link. it allows you to play records, CDs, even plug-in your mp3 player if you wanna go that route.
Beef:  We highly recommend it.
Crab: I think the record legitimately sounds better than any other format, and I know that’s kinda coffee shop of me to say, but I truly believe it.
Beef: Yes, it’s a much crisper/clear sound.
Crab: Well it kinda goes back to our mix cd discussion from last week. Artists used to have to present a whole album to their audience. With the record you can’t just easily skip around to the next song. Puts more pressure on each song delivering.
Beef: So true. The record player forces you to get real with each track. Well you can skip tracks, but come on guy! Don’t be that guy! Unless you really really need to hear a song. But I put on Rush Permanent Waves and get taken on musical journeys. No skipping, just flip that bitch and let side two take me away again.
Crab:  :’)
Crab: Do you feel more pressure checking out at a store with cd’s or at Family Video with DVDs? Pressure in terms of not wanting to disappoint the clerk even tho they could care less what you’re purchasing.
Beef: Man I can never decide on a DVD. I end up getting 4 or so when I go. I guess I can say the same in the record store except it’s usually 4 picks that I know I want. But I love to go with blind picks from time to time.
Crab: And that’s an essential part of the process. I hate that in 10-20 years there will probably be no movie rental stores. That was such an essential part of childhood. Riding to the store on bikes, having serious debates on which movies to rent. All the young frickers in the future will just stream everything to their game consoles and never have any accountability for their rental. Netflix or whatever else, there’s no consequence. There’s no putting a movie on the counter in front of another human being and having to say, “Yeah, that’s right, I’ve chosen to rent Pink Panther 2.”
Beef: Those were the days! I also loved deciding what flavor pizza rolls to pop in the oven.
Crab: I know this question is gonna challenge you, but Totinos pizza rolls vs. Bagel Bites, what do you got as the superior snack? While you think about it I want to remind everyone this is the kind of stuff we’d love to hear back from you on. So post on Facebook, send us an email at chipndipthoughts@aol.com, we want to keep the conversation going all week-long.
Beef: Man I have to give it to pizza rolls. Look, they are what they are, but Bagel Bites seem so half-assed to me. Its like you have the equivalent of the toppings in the pizza roll, so I’ll just take that in an easy to pop bite rather than a shitty bagel.
Crab: Hahah sounds like you’ve had worse experiences with Bagel Bites than I knew of?
Beef:  lol just every time I eat pizza bagels it sucks, but pizza rolls they are consistent; kinda bad but just good enough dipped in ranch to push thru 204. Woops typo, 20**
well you pick which number to use 🙂
Crab: I don’t know if there’s anything you could do to recover from a 204 pizza roll night.
Beef: Hahahaha! maybe a stomach pump but that’s about it.
Crab: I love the concept of that, of eating 204 pizza rolls.
Beef: No amount of money will get me to eat 200 of those damn things. I’ve learned my lesson after eating 36 hush puppies in high school.
Crab: I don’t see how that will ever drop further than #3 in the all-time most questionable eats you’ve ever done. How the hell did you get to 36??
Beef: Man lots of drinks. Worst night of my life after tho. That’s def top 3 worst eats.
Crab: Slightly off topic, but eh fair enough transition, what type of soap you working with these days?
Beef: Oh you know I keep the skin smooth with that Dove for Men with extra care.
Crab: I got you beat. I take it to the next level of sensitive with that Dove original.
Beef: Unscented???
Crab: No scent, just pure white Dove bar
Beef: You must use Old Spice deo then??
Crab: Well, that’s what’s weird, I use Dove for Men deodorant just not for the soap lol
Beef: So what do you smell like in the end?
Crab: Like a fresh piece of white bread.
Beef: Well for this week’s sandwich recommendation, I am going with one of my all time faves, the patty melt. I’ve had patty melts from all across town and the best one in Midland is the patty melt from Cafe American express in the mall.
Crab: Alright, and for this week’s movie trailer go ahead and spend some time with what I think is going to be one of the weirdest epic movie experiences ever. Here’s Cloud Atlas. As for the decent song, go out and re-experience Dave Matthews Ants Marching.
Keep the conversation going on Facebook and please contact us with your questions, thoughts, suggestions, angry rants or your own views on food, music, sports, bathing or whatever else you want to talk about at chipndipthoughts@aol.com

Breaking Barker – RABRAI

640,000 Spokes

By: Alex Barker

It’s late July and I’m drunk at a beer garden with about 4,000 strangers in the lovely downtown of Cherokee, Iowa.

To my right there is a man in Daisy Duke cutoffs and a striped referee’s shirt judging a push-up contest between a girl and a man she has just met, who is beating her by ten pushups and counting, with another girl sitting on his back. Everyone has glow-sticks dangling around their necks and limbs, like shackles of fun in a party prison yard. To my left a kid wearing a “party starts here” shirt lets me pet his ferret. The ferret is wearing a glow-stick around its neck too.

Look beyond this young man and you see hundreds more people, mostly ages 30-50 in t-shirts and spandex shorts, their hair sprinkled with grey. Their faces, complete with laugh-lines and crow’s feet are accented by sunburn. This is the night after day two of Register’s Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa, or RAGBRAI, as it is better known.

RAGBRAI is the largest bike tour in America, with over 10,000 riders registering each year
and riding across Iowa. It starts with a dip of your back tire in the Missouri River and ends with a dip of your front tire in the Mississippi. The route changes each year, with cities and towns bidding for the chance to have the major economic and social boom come through their limits.

My family has friends in Iowa, and when my mom insisted on finally visiting them years ago, a quick web search made the storied ride an obvious choice for my dad’s next adventure. Coming back with tales of excitement, manhood, and warm summer nights, my dad insisted that I one day ride alongside him, taking in the land, the people, and the cultural cluster-cuss that is RAGBRAI.

Naturally, we decided the summer after I turned 21 would be our safest, and most legal opportunity. After living out on my own for a few years, it would be a welcoming embrace of father-son time, and probably one of the last times we would truly have just to ourselves before I graduate college and start to see him less and less.

On the drive to Iowa, my dad, who doesn’t drink, and had to help raise his family of seven kids while growing up, is all smiles.

“It’s such a party,” he tells me. “Wait till you meet my friends.”

My dad, who was on his fourth RAGBRAI (having seen Lance Armstrong ride by twice in those four) had met people on the ride from Georgia and North Carolina, and met up with them to ride and hit the bars each time. We rode as a part of their team: Team Pedal Faster.

This is a bike tour, and not a race, but there are teams, mostly for camaraderie purposes, and for the purpose of getting into the ride period. RAGBRAI is so popular that each year they have hundreds more people register for the ride than can be properly supported with places to camp. For this reason, there is a lottery system just to get into the ride. If one person from a team is accepted by the lottery process, the whole team is in.

As soon as we get to the east side of Iowa we drop off our car in a parking lot with the tour
bus, and all of Team Pedal Faster, waiting to take us to up to the northwest corner of the state. The bus would drop us off there, and we could follow the route of the ride back to our final destination: our Ford F-250 majestically waiting by the Mississippi.

As soon as we get on the bus it’s all hugs and handshakes before the bus driver, who is well-accustomed to, and fond of, Team Pedal Faster, says, “Who’s ready to parrrrrttttyyyyy!?!?” and everyone pulls out coolers. Beers all around. Eight AM. I look at my dad, who grins and hands me a beer.

Not only have I not yet had a beer with my dad at this point, but I also have only seen the man consume alcohol once, at a work picnic, on a hot day, after lots of the younger employees told him he’s getting old. You know how this goes. Someone (who I would later find out was our fearless team captain) pulls out a boombox, and “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash fills the artificial-smelling bus. We all lift our beers and sing like no one is watching.

Eight hours, and 11 beers later, we arrive at Sioux Center, Iowa, and the start of this 500-mile journey. We unload our bags and look for our bikes among the thousands that have been hauled by semi-trucks across the state, then set out carefully like all the crayons of a box laid orderly and flat on a table. We make our way across Sioux Center High’s 30-yard line and set up our tents.

After a recovery, the first beer garden (there was one every night) was a must visit. On the way, we stopped at the Specialized Bikes tent. All the major bike-makers have tents up to offer repairs, sell merchandise (as well as bikes) and let you test ride the latest models for a day period of the trip. We stopped and signed me up for a Specialized Roubaix, a bike that retails for around $12,000.

My heart fluttered like a little girl around a cute boy as I rubbed the sexy curves of a bike worth more than I had probably made in my entire life to this point.

At the beer garden, there were all the usual beer garden-culprits: $4 cans of beer, a couple cover bands playing their hearts out, and no chairs. I eyed the crowd. I took a sip of beer. This was beautiful. A play-place for grown-ups was the whole vibe, and this youthful, single, dumb 21-year old was ready to partake. I quickly met a 27-year old dance instructor from Los Angeles that was doing the ride with her brother for the first time. We sat in the grass, half-tipsy, and discussed our hometowns, our bikes, and the eclectic group we had found ourselves quickly falling for. She was nervous about the distance, and had, “only been riding about 20 miles a day for a few months.” I laughed and reassured my new friend that this would be plenty.

Growing up with my dad in and out of presidency of the Tri-City Cyclysts Club, I had my fair share of bike knowledge, and butt-to-bike-seat-knowledge. At the age of 1, as all members do upon meeting the mark, I received my patch for riding 1,000 miles. All of them, of course, were spent in a small trailer, being tugged by my enthusiastic
(insane?) father, but I’ll be damned if I don’t still find ways to brag about it, even to LA dance instructors.

After multiple inspiring performances by the band, the night wound down with fireworks
overhead. My dad, who had seen me talking to a bunch of local girls at 9 pm had politely made himself scarce and told me to make it back to the tent safely in time to take it down and ride. After handshakes, bent over laughs, and all-together pathetic dancing, I was invited out to the bar by two cousins that were born and raised in Sioux Center, the girl I was closer with (can you say that after an hour) acting as my tour guide. She was a local hair-dresser and Sioux Center is a small, gossipy place, so we couldn’t walk more than 10 feet without well-to-doers stopping her to give her the latest scuttlebutt, or tell her how beautiful she was and that they hoped she could do an appointment next week sometime.

Exhausted, I mentioned that I needed to get back to S.C. High pretty soon, seeing as how I
had to ride at seven AM and it was already 3:15. They laughed. They’d take me back, but only after a quick stop at Hardee’s. If you’ve never eaten at a Hardee’s in the wee hours of the morning, in a rural community, on a party night, don’t. Everyone was drunk, laughing, and getting orders wrong. My friend, who at this point seemed to be the Queen of Sioux Center, walks behind the counter and grabs our food. After eating what appeared to be double of everything I ordered (friends with the queen-swag) we tailed back to the high school for goodbyes. I hadn’t even touched a bike yet, and was having fun.

In the morning, with a headache and some serious stench, I tore down my tent with the rest of my teammates, re-hashing the events of the night while we all chuckled in the dawn’s glow.

The next day, with a fresh mile-free ass, I hopped on the Specialized Roubaix. I can’t really tell you what it’s like to ride a bike that nice. It’s not like playing basketball in Michael Jordan’s shoes, it’s like playing basketball AS Michael Jordan for a day.

We breezed through the fifty-some-odd-miles ride to Cherokee, stopping at a farm where
people were selling vodka lemonades and hamburgers with about 15 miles left in the day. Well, I guess they weren’t selling vodka lemonades… that would be illegal without a liquor license, so what I will say is that they were selling lemonades, and then gave as much vodka as one could want to any customers.

Buzzed, full, and burnt, my dad and I found shapes in clouds as we both fell asleep below a giant tree in the front yard for an hour.

Some of the best things about RAGBRAI: there is no hurry, there is no agenda, it is what you make it. The ride is known for being everything that a rider wants to make it. Some go for the people, some for the drinks, some for the ride, and some for all three.

While most of our teammates rode from bar to bar along the hundreds of miles, (“first bar on the left, unless it’s on the right!”) their were other riders who took cycling more serious, including one pro cyclist that would wake up and ride the route before 10AM, then swoop back to ride again with his friends and family.

Dad and I spent most of the trip taking things easy. We did, afterall have to find someway to haul our butts 500 miles. My rules were simple: always coast on down-hills, no matter what, pedal lightly up the hills, and eat food at every town we rode through on our way to that night’s camp destination. Vendors were everywhere, so that last one wasn’t too difficult, just expensive. You know you’re on a cool adventure when you eat ribs, steak, drink 5 beers, and eat three pieces of pie before lunch and still lose tons of weight while getting a tan.

My word of warning if it sounds appealing to tread the cornfields for an entire state: drink water too. I am a pretty athletic person with a large sports background in general, not just cycling, but I found myself dehydrated midway through. In the very middle of the ride, for three days in a row, we had our hilliest, and hottest days, with each breaking 100 degrees. The thing about Iowa is there is no shade. Like, nowhere in the state is there any shade. It could be miles from place to place without shade and water to the next one, and every time I got off my bike, I was sunburnt, sore, and had salt caked onto my cakes of salt, which where all over my clothing. You know those clinging and tinking sounds a car enginemakes on a hot day after driving an hour? That is how my arms and legs felt anytime I stopped moving.

Sure enough, that day I passed a man who was riding the whole ride on a unicycle, a man that rode the whole thing just standing and pedaling- he had no seat, and was actually passed by a 10-year-old while going up a hill. That night I drank two 32-ounce bottles of Powerade, took a shower, and went to bed at 8. If you party too hard, it will catch up with you, no matter the impressive mass of your youth.

Finally, you must take someone on RAGBRAI with you. If you take a new friend, prepare for
them to become a best friend. If you take a parent, be ready for them to become a friend and a hero. I had two absolute favorite moments on the 8-day ride.

The first was the morning after those three hot days, the ones that made me wonder if
hell was central Iowa. Dad started off the morning with a pep talk while taking down our tents.

“Alright, Alex, I’m tired, you’re tired, and we still have three days of this ride to go, so today we need to take it really easy and just enjoy the ride,” my dad said, as I vigorously shook my head yes and mumbled various thank-you’s to the good creator above.

Like clockwork, we get out on the road, and we just got in the zone. In China, there is a saying called wu-wei-wu, or “thinking without thinking, and doing without doing.” It’s safe to say that we had our wu on volume 11. As we are pushing up hills, around bends, and by sleepy riders, one after another hops on behind us, all riding very nice bikes and all very athletic. In cycling a pace line is a line of riders who ride single-file and very close to each other’s back tires that way, only the person in the front of the pace line is experiencing the full effects of the headwind. Dad “pulled” (led the line) for a little while before passing it to me, and I went apeshit. We were averaging about 21 miles an hour when you balanced the rolling downhills and uphills.

Rider after rider started hoping on the back of our pace line, which now was up to 20 people, all trekking behind at the same pace, just a foot behind our wheels. Dad gasps to me, “Don’t stop going or they’ll run us over.” The funny thing about pace lines and Barker men is that we only like to be in the front, pulling, because we are so large that no one else blocks the wind for us. Might as well help people out while setting our own pace, right?

Anyways, we get really cranking, and I pull almost the whole 16 miles before the first small
town, before, exhausted, I get to the final hilltop with the city, and a mile of winding road all laying before me. I coast and suck air like it’s going out of style while all the thankful, experienced cyclists whizzed by me, each patting my back, or saluting and telling me what a great pull it was. Call me dorky, but a glorious one-mile downhill, on a bike I was given for free, minus the front wheel, while surrounded by appreciative riders saying I was exceptional, all on the way to breakfast, is just my idea of a good time.

My absolute favorite moment was abstract and delicious in every way possible. I can’t
tell you when it happened, and I can’t tell you the context, because over the days, Dad and I would get separated for little ten-mile chunks and just ride our own rides, but at the top of one particularly steep hill I caught up with the thick calves and back tire of my father’s bike. Grunting and sweating, with no words exchanged, we hauled our bodies and bikes up the hill. At the top, we could see for miles and miles around, over foggy farmland, and country roads that seemed to intersect like ships passing in the night… only for a brief moment before continuing on around the world. At the top, still in silence, my father and I shifted into low gears and just coasted down the much flatter, and longer side of the hill.

Looking around, the wind whipping by my face as our bikes descended, I found perfect peace. I’m not sure how to describe the feeling, but it was the closest I’ve ever felt to heaven on earth. We were rolling at a smooth 45 miles per hour that felt like 20, and when I looked up from the speedometer I saw an image I’ll never forget. My dad, leaning hard on the handlebars was smiling like a man who had been freed. The wind tossed his hair, his smile ate up the sun, and his happiness ate up my heart.

Somewhere in the middle of Iowa, I saw the exact image I knew I would remember through tears when he would one-day pass away.

With all of this being said, it should be known that no article could possibly sum up RAGBRAI… that would be impossible. Instead, realize that this is just my story, and that it is as different from the next person as how our evenings were spent in high school. I couldn’t even muster a way to fit in the quarter-mile long slip’n’slide, the dizzy-bat games at rest stops, the ride back to my tent on another team’s bus, or the active Air Force pilot that didn’t just help me fix my popped tire- he gave me a new one.

Alas, I don’t think RAGBRAI was intended to be remembered clearly and precisely, but rather like a hazy hill you rode with some friends after a few drinks in the late part of July some odd years ago.

 

Do you go through withdrawals between episodes of Breaking Barker? First of all, you’re not alone. Get yourself the medicine you need, follow @alexbarker763 on Twitter for daily insights and updates on the absorbing life of Alex Barker.

Chip-N-Dip Episode 1

Crab Rangoon: This week’s Chip-n-Dip is unknowingly brought to you by Pizza Sam’s. Stop in to Pizza Sam’s, mention our names and get a weird look followed by a delicious (regularly priced) pepperoni pizza.

Beef On Rye:  Dont forget to use the complementary parmesan and red pepper flakes

Crab:  I guess let’s go ahead and start there, if you had to rank parmesan, red pep, and oregano what order are you working with there?

Beef:  Well, from a taste enhancing stand point, im all about the parm. And when you think about it, parm is usually the topping you put on first. Most pizza places offer the parm red pep combo but pizza sams offers the oregano option which, when you get the big three combined (parm red pep  and oregano), you get a fully enchanced slice

Crab:  Now is this bad memory or mixed memory, I feel like in your younger days you were an anti-crust guy?

Beef:  That is very true but for one reason. See Dominos [back in the day] had bad crust..well lets face it, bad pizza and every pizza party I went to seemed to only have bad Dominos. Their pizza was tolerable but their cardboard like crust, game over. But this is where we share the same interest into the thin crust.

Crab:  Well I feel like being an anti-crust guy has a very specific window of being socially acceptable. Like pre-high school, maybe pre-16 it’s like, “Oh, that’s cute, he doesn’t like the crust.” Imagine doing it now at like a business meeting. Wearing a suit and tie saying, “Well no, I don’t do crust.”

Beef:  Whole different story. And i think you can judge a person’s mood on their pizza choice

Crab:  And day of week is a big indicator too. I feel like Tuesday night is the most depressing night to order a pizza. Monday it can be rationalized as this is the pick-me-up from long work day, but Tuesday night I think you’re forfeiting the week.

Beef:  Because we all know that Tuesday night pizza leads to a Wednesday morning cheap shot breakfast with no gym visit.

Crab:  That’s why I think the Pizza Hut Big Box is so dangerous. It’s just daring you to turn that into a two-day streak of breakfast-lunch-dinner

Beef:  And when you’ve hit the 3 meal pizza day, your week has officially hit rock bottom. I once had a back-to-back-to-back triple dip pizza stretch that left me eating salads all weekend and sleeping on the couch one of those nights.

Crab:  How do you feel about ordering a salad for dinner at a restaurant?

Beef:  That’s not how I, or any man for that matter should roll.

Crab:  Cuz a casual half-sandwich and salad at lunch I think is fair or a Ya Ya’s chicken caesar, but the $9-10 dinner hit PLUS you’re passing up on actual food.

Beef:  Exactly. Lunch I agree is fair game. But salad for dinner means you’re skipping a meal AND you’ll have to make up for it later, usually in the form of a “revenge dinner”. This usually means ordering a steak plus an appetizer rendering your salad ineffective at saving you money or keeping you healthy.

Crab:  Actually, speaking of appetizers, I want your verdict on a move I pulled over the weekend.

Beef:  Lets hear this!

Crab:  I was at a table with some friends, none of whom were big jalepeno fans, and I ordered a thing of jalepeno poppers for the table. Dirt Bag move or a Crafty Greasy Veteran play?

Beef:  Man, great play on your part! With a group of people, 1 app usually doesn’t cut it so I bet you ordered those and stepped up and ordered onion straws for the rest of the table.

Crab:  Yeah they were all working the nachos.

Beef:  Right, so you get plenty of poppers with little app competition.

Optional commercial break, check out this Long John Silver’s commercial from 1985.

Crab: And here we go!

Beef: We are back

Crab: So obviously the big news today, aka the big week old news when this goes online, is the announcement of the iPhone 5

Beef: Yes iPhone 5 is to stores in a few days and there is a lot of anticipation. Have you heard some of the new features?

Crab: I’ve heard its only longer battery, thinner, and controversial new cords

Beef: I’ve heard of projected keyboard. Like it projects a digital keyboard on a surface and you type with your fingers on the beams of light. But I think that’s just a YouTube rumor.

Crab: See i feel like there will never be an exciting iPhone announcement from here on out cuz you get all these YouTube videos before hand that get the imagination going. When you see the prototype that has the optional flame thrower, it’s hard to get excited for Siri answering in Spanish.

Beef: Hahaha “If Siri didn’t already give us enough problems, now here she is en Espanol!”

Crab: See I wish Apple would do a Dominos on Siri and just come out and say, “Look, this didn’t work as well as we thought but now she’s actually gonna answer your questions.”

Beef: I think they should do away with Siri all together, really she’s only good in the commercials. now if Siri could do stuff like, say wake you up after you hit the snooze button on your iPhone for the 5th time, you know, stuff you need. Siri for now, just a gimmick in my opinion.

Crab: I’ve actually been using Cha-Cha as my fill-in Siri on my dirt bag phone.

Beef: Cha-Cha? That’s still around? Back to the i5 for a moment tho, Marie told me today that Google maps is now in 3D so you can look around cities and see buildings and houses and streets. It’s crazy man

Crab: I can’t even comprehend that feature. Have you ever wondered how far will the iPhone go in terms of like will there be an iPhone 20, 30, 40? I guess why I ask this is I saw a Now CD in the store the other day and it was NOW 83. I just love the loyalty of that company to their fans.

“Look, you don’t need to get an iPod, no need for downloading music, let us find the top 10 or 12 songs every couple of months, we’ve got you.”

Beef: That has been NOW’s game all these years. I wouldn’t be surprised if they reach triple digits

Crab: Oh, there’s no stopping them now

Beef: Hey-oh!

Crab: It sounds easy, but very few people can master the art of making a mix cd on their own. I have no actual studies to back this up, but 97 percent of mix cd’s have a maximum life of 2-3 full play throughs before they’re thrown out.

Beef: There is definitely a strategy or a method to a playlist

Crab: The days of a mix cd and boom box was so much more pressure. Cuz an iPod you have the playlist option but always the fall back of like, “Well you guys can choose from my other 1000 songs.” A mixed cd you’re putting your whole self out there.

Beef: I love that. A cd you are bringing your best to the table most of the time. I loved the surprises your mixes always bought tho. Because you liked to make your cd a full-fledged mix; old-school, new-school, rock here, rap there, Rosemary’s granddaughter there.

Crab: Hahah well it’s my belief that every cd should have at least one questionable song. But we’re about out of time here on our no time limit, transcribed, unrecorded podcast. We want to end every show with a recommendation for a great sandwich, a good trailer and a decent song. For the sandwich, stop by North Side Deli in Midland. Fairly new-ish store with great sandwiches from some really nice people.

Beef: Check out the trailer for Looper. Looks like a fast paced flick with lots of twists and turns. Time travel that is controlled by the mob, I’m sure there will be a whole lot of action in the future, and the past.

Crab: Call Me Maybe is on its way out and Taylor Swift’s Never Ever is not the right replacement. Try out It’s Always A Good Time as the best of the bad “I’m-a-teenage-girl-in-America” genre.

Keep the conversation going on Facebook and please contact us with your questions, thoughts, suggestions, angry rants or your own sizzle scenarios at chipndipthoughts@aol.com