RAGBRAI is More Than Just a Colossal Bike Ride

You gotta dunk your tires if you want to do RAGBRAI right.

The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa began yesterday. It is the largest organized bike ride in the world, according to the Des Moines Register. On Sunday,riders dipped their tires in the Missouri River before they left Sioux Center, IA en route across the state to dip their tires in the Mississippi River in Clinton, IA by next Saturday. This is an intense event that means a lot to people, drawing everyone from native Iowans to international riders, many who take part year after year, riding anywhere from 50 to 80 miles each day.

For those of you not familiar with RAGBRAI, I urge you to check out event details here. I want to talk more specifically about the RAGBRAI-related conversation I was a witness to this evening. I was at a barbecue with friends and acquaintances, and RAGBRAI came up as we sat around in a beautiful, wooded backyard in Iowa City. Those who had participated in past years were talking about some of the folks they encountered on the 400-mile ride. I was so enamored with their stories that I had to take some notes so I wouldn’t forget by the time I sat down to my computer to write this blog post.

First, the talk was about how there is no single type of person that rides RAGBRAI. You may picture the ultra-athletic, die-hard cyclist that you’d expect to see in the Tour de France (of which there ARE many), but there are people of all body types, motivation and skill levels,  and people from all over the planet. Part of the population of riders are intense partiers, treating every night in a new town like  giant celebration – camping in tents, getting drunk and soaking up the rowdiness of rural Iowa. Others are very focused on setting and breaking personal records. Others are driving along in buses, cars and trucks with gear and supplies, and as support to their friends and family taking on this huge physical challenge.

During this backyard conversation, I remember and told everyone about a patient I once helped care for – a paraplegic man of middle age that did the entire race with a hand-pedaled cycle each year. You can find photos of tandem riders, people on custom bikes – one person even said there was a rider with a cycle modified from an elliptical exercise machine It’s interesting to think of all these people, so different from one another on all these crazy bicycles, riding Iowa’s highways together for a whole week.

I smiled when someone else talked about some friends who married and then immediately set off to ride RAGBRAI together, their “Just Married” signs hanging under their bike saddles, tin cans dragging merrily behind them. I thought about how cool it would be to say to people “Yeah, we got married and then, for our honeymoon,  rode 400 miles on our bicycles together”. That creates a bond, I imagine, that is unlike any other. Someone else in the conversation said that two of her friends met on RAGBRAI and later got married. So the message here is that you can find love going 50mph down a hill in a corn field after all. ❤

Love on Wheels

As the chatter in the yard got more lively, people started having mini-conversations with those in closest proximity to them about all the different “types” of friends that ride this event, and how they manage to keep it fun. Each of the towns they “camp” in at the end of every day plan to accept the riders with open arms, and plan events around the arrival of the riders. When they hit Cedar Rapids at the end of this week, Counting Crows wi ll be playing a big show for everyone. (RAGBRAI riders get in free, the rest of us have to pay.) I’ve seen photos of friends of mine “showering” in car wash stalls, all laughing and clearly having a great time despite being very sore and away from the comforts of home.

Community is about who your with and not where you happen to be at that time.

I can’t wait to see photos from this year’s trek, and I hope that one year I can jump in on the action, at least while those actually riding are camping out nearby.

I might hitch a ride with some friends up  to Cedar Rapids this week  to check out the goings-on that will roll in for the day. If I do, I’ll be sure to take my camera and an appropriate amount of awe and respect for these crazy people.