Friday, August 13, 2010


I'm embarrassed it has taken so long to finish this writeup - I guess that is what happens when you are on vacation - things get put off!

RAGBRAI is hard to describe. It is virtually unknown outside of Iowa, yet is a true icon within the state. It is a bike ride with some friends, generally from the Missouri River to the Mississippi over a course of 7 days and about 500 miles. Oh, and did I mention that your group of "friends" run somewhere between 8,000 to 15,000? And that is just the bike riders - add another 5,000 or more support people and hangers-on and you've got quite the traveling side show! The pictures shown at left are from Register photographers, taken from their website above. Check out my pictures at my RAGBRAI 2010 page.

The ride was started in 1974 by a pair of columnists for the Des Moines Register, which has sponsored the ride from the start. Joined by 300 die-hards on that first trip, it grew quickly to it's current phenomenal size by media reports about the event. Maximum attendance for a single day was estimated to be 23,000 riders on the day in '88 from Boone to Des Moines. The Register officially caps the ridership at 8500, but unregistered "bandits" can't be kept off public roads, so generally many more than that ride. The unusual-looking acronym stands for the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.

While used by some as an excuse for a week-long alcohol fueled party, as with most things in life, it becomes what you make of it. For some it is a summer-long culmination of a goal to exercise and get into shape. It is used by multitudes of families and friends to spend a week bonding in the heat and humidity of an Iowa summer with a daily 75 mike bike ride thrown in. It is used to eat some of the best food anywhere (church basement pies and Pork and Beef Producers sandwiches in particular) guilt free after 8-10 hours on a bike. You can see silly outfits, silly bikes and silly local residents when the bikes come into town, and believe me, the ride takes over any town it enters, whether a pass-through during the day, or an overnight stop. Traffic stops, music blares, food offerings everywhere as hordes of hungry bikers descend. It is said a small pass-through town can generate $200,000 in a few hours (20,000 riders looking for a sandwich, slice of pie and a Gatorade), and an overnight host town almost 10-20 times that. Picture at left taken from Toad member Maggie Jessie.

When I was an Iowa resident through the 70s, I never had time in the summers to take a week off, though I joined the ride on it's last day in 1976, biking the 45 miles from Iowa City (where I lived) to Muscatine, then turned and rode back! It wasn't until the great flood year of 1993 that I donated a week and registered for the ride, knowing no one else doing the ride. Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately), the airlines misplaced my bicycle and I met my savior Glenn Losey, who was there to collect another biker that I had met on the flight. The airlines eventually got my bike to me the next day, but by that time, Team Toad had adopted me and invited me to join them for the week, and, in fact, ever since! I went on and rode the full length of RAGBRAI 9 times, then after my heart surgeries, have driven support 3 times now. It is a way to take in part of the fun without biking the miles, and it fulfills an important role for the team members who don't want to lose out on biking.

This year's ride was pretty good - not a lot of rain, not a lot of heat, or wind, but just the right amounts of each to appreciate when they left! Since the support drivers are purposely kept away from the bike route, I didn't get shots of biking multitudes, but I got some good shots of our overnights and team members. My favorites were of Rusty unpacking his bike, the postcard perfect sunset over Storm Lake, Iowa, and the final-day group shot of our intrepid leader Carl with Kurt and his daughter Anne. Stroll over to my RAGBRAI 2010 page for more.

It is always hard to think rationally so soon after the ride. I know on the most miserable years, when the heat index hit 120+F and the road's melted asphalt stuck to your tires, you wondered why you were subjecting yourself to such torture. Well, a few months later, the pain subsides and you can't wait for it to start again. With the fine year just past, I'm thinking I'd like to ride a day or two in the future as the weather and my dissected aorta permits. We'll see, and certainly, continuing to drive support is an easy way to live the ride vicariously. I suspect I'll be back!

No comments: