Tuesday, July 30, 2013


The Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) is a peculiar event.  The one just concluded was the 41st edition - it was started by a couple of reporters for the Des Moines Register who set out to bike across the State and invited readers to join in.  They expected perhaps a few to show up, but hundreds came along on that first 6-day ride.  The next year they held what they thought would be the last one just to accommodate the riders that missed the first, and a couple thousand came along.  So an institution was born!  Every route is different, the overnight towns change from year to year, and the weather and route conspire to make each ride a killer or rolling party.  This year, rolling into Des Moines, actual counts of bikers tallied 35,000 riding at least part of that Tuesday!  Normally they try to cap participation to about 8,000, but since it is held on public roads, you can't keep out anyone who wants to join in.  At 410 miles, this edition was the second shortest, and most agree that the cool weather for most of the week made this one the easiest by far.

While traditions endure, like the dipping of the tires in the Missouri and Mississippi, the towns go to great length to ensure there are entertaining things to do both in the pass-through towns during the day as well as the overnight towns.  I remember an unknown town from decades ago where they ran "toilet races" - porcelain toilets on wheeled carts with each participant using plungers to push themselves along the route.  Or in Dutch-steeped Pella, contestants wearing wooden shoes used yokes and buckets to transfer water between tanks.  Never mind that most of the water ended being hurled at your "competitor", the fun was in participating. 

Sometimes, you bring your own fun...  In Knoxville, we weren't able to find a private yard to camp in, and we got assigned to the bowling alley.  It is always nice to have access to bathrooms and showers, and in this case, we camped on the small lawn next to the road and use of the facilities there.  In Knoxville, Grandma Maggie and Grandpa Dean got joined by their grandkids Becca and Linus for part of a day's ride.  And of course, a highlight for them was camping out with Grandma and Grandpa.  Curt brought along the perfect accompaniment for such a nice evening - a "balloon glow" as he called it, otherwise perhaps known as a Chinese lantern.  It is a little hot air balloon that used a small flame to heat the interior, floating off a half mile or more in the few minutes it burns.  BTW, if you know officially what these are called, I'd love to know to get some - Curt says they are available at Menards, but not here in the Chicago area!

In short, you light the wax-soaked piece at the bottom of what
looks like a clear trash bag.  Here Curt is assisted by Romy's daughter Allie.  As the interior fills with warm air, it gets lighter until it floats off.  The flame burns for about 5 minutes and in that time, I estimate it rose between 500 and 1,000 feet and went about a half mile down range.  Supposedly it is all made of biodegradable materials, so after a few rain storms there will be little left, so you can't be accused of littering.  It was fun to watch the little ones at their amazement as it floated off - and the adults were impressed too!  After describing it to Melinda and showing her the pictures, she wants some too!

While my friends Lee and Michelle had grown up in Iowa, they had never been on RAGBRAI.  This time, though they now live in Tucson, they combined a trip to visit family and their 30th HS reunion to include a couple days on the ride.  They joined us in Knoxville, and of course, when you are camping in front of a bowling alley, you need to go bowling!  I think they were the only ones from our group to take part in "cosmic bowling", complete with black lights, lasers and disco balls.  I might have joined them, but the outdoor balloon glow distracted me...  As first time riders - of course they had to take part in the tradition of labeling their calves with "VIRGIN" to identify themselves as newbies to the ride.  They took the labels in stride, though they were still visible as they headed off to their reunion 2 days later.  No word yet on reaction from their old classmates or their son who was staying at an aunt's...

The grandkids, Becca and Linus had fun spending time with Grandma and Grandpa.  In the morning they got put to work breaking camp.  Becca is just too adorable for words as she got the job of folding up the fiberglass  poles.

After camp is broken, there was time for a quick group portrait
(CW from upper left is Dean Maggie Becca and Linus), then the kids lined up for sunscreen coverage...

Then it was time to ride!  Of course, the adults were looking for traffic, but a few faced the camera.  Becca and Linus were on their tag-alongs, helping the grownups a little with the biking...  Also shown from our group is Romy, nearest the camera, with Allie next to her.  Our fearless leader Carl, recovering from 2 new hip implants, brings up the rear.  You can see our start at 7:53 this morning.  Pretty late by our normal standards...  I remember taking off at 6:30 back in the day, but this year we slept in and had a much more laid-back week than in the past.

Maggie commented once during the week to me that perhaps I'll be rewarded in a future life - trying to tell me that she appreciates the work I do in support of the group.  Well, my response is that getting to spend time with my friends on RAGBRAI is my reward.  I can't think of people I'd rather be with for a week every July with their friendship and generosity of spirit.  I'm only hoping to continue into the future!

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