Instead of Baseball, Hot Dogs and Apple Pie…..Try Bicycles, Pork and RAGBRAI
To say that this July ended on a high note, might just be the biggest understatement of the year. Just last week, a group of friends and I headed to the heart of the great American Midwest, for what has easily been the best week of my 2016 summer.
The Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, or RAGBRAI, is an event that has been taking place in Iowa for over four decades, and is steeped in rich American culture and history. Two editors at The Register newspaper challenged one another to bike across the state of Iowa back in 1973, as a way to generate original content for their publication. The pair invited the public to join them, and to their surprise, over 500 participants biked alongside of them each day. Check out this site to learn more about the birth of RAGBRAI.
As a seasoned racer, I have completed several marathons, triathlons, and other physical endurance events in recent years. None of that could have prepared me for the experience that I would have as a RAGBRAI participant. Rather than being competitive in nature, RAGBRAI exists as more of a community event that brings people together. This festival-like party on a bike introduced me to a part of this country I would have otherwise been naïve to knowing. The race is not comprised of elite athletes, or seasoned gym goers – but rather a melting pot of people who want in on this shared adventure. A comradery existed between us on the course as it wound through the state of Iowa, and we were somehow connected to the people who greeted us at each town along the way. It transported me to a simpler time, a time that younger generations may never fully know. A time when everyone was welcome, there are no judgments and people were proud of their towns. Everyone laid their bike on the side of the road to venture to the many booths of food, drink and support at each small town along the course. There was no worry of your bike being stolen or ever feeling unsafe, it was perfect.
This 44-year old event is a point of pride for the great state of Iowa, as it should be. Farmers along the route offered riders cold beverages, hot homemade pie, and an unwavering support that is hard to describe.
With up to 20,000 riders each day, the course changes each year. For 2016, the RAGBRAI course led us 420 miles through the beautiful southern Iowa rolling landscape, with a daily average of about 60 miles. Without any pressure to compete, or to get done before your friends, we were able to enjoy the scenery, take in the culture, and truly experience a unique moment in history. Check out these route maps!
We went with a group called Team Sherm which was passed down to the sons of the originators of the name. Our team leaders, Jon Castle and Brian Halm, have been doing this ride for nearly 30 years, both having joined in on the tradition as children. They handled all the logistics from getting a U-Haul and driver, to arranging for our sleeping venues. Many people camp every night, some even carrying their own supplies on their bike, but we only camped one night and the rest of the nights were either at a YMCA, host homes, or local businesses. The local businesses and host homes were especially nice, because these people welcomed us sweaty cyclist they have never met into their home for showers and at least a floor to sleep on and breakfast. This experience was what I envision backpacking through Europe would be like. Staying in youth hostels or host homes. Not the most restful sleeps, but sometimes these little inconveniences make you appreciate the things you take for granted, like a fluffy dry bed and an air conditioned home. Again, the hospitality shown to us every single day was unlike anything else. I have had the fortune to stay at the finest hotels in various spots all over the world, and not even the outstanding service provided by The Four Seasons can compare to this genuine Midwest hospitality.
Other logistics: My group drove from Chicago to Muscatine (the last town on the east side of Iowa this year), and caught a bus on the Friday before the event to take us and our gear to the start town in Glenwood Springs (the west starting town). We met Team Sherm in the start town on Friday. For this transfer from East to West, Our Team leader suggested OOS (Out of State Bicycle Club). This group also will move your gear from town to town, but you will be camping every night.
Don’t Hesitate! Make RAGBRAI a MUST for Your Bucket list
I can’t tell you enough good things about this incredible event. Even if you are thinking about participating next year, I encourage you to go for it. If you would like to experience RAGBRAI and Apple Pie for yourself, I highly recommend you contact Jon Castle: firstname.lastname@example.org. Get yourself on the list for next year.
Whether you can commit to one day, or the full seven, I promise you won’t regret it!