Next month, I’ll be slogging my way across Iowa atop a bicycle, pausing (I hope) for pork chops and apple fritters or whatever the kind folks there cook to keep cyclists pedaling.
Organizers bill the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, or RAGBRAI, as the oldest, largest and longest multi-day recreational bicycle touring event in the world. More than 10,000 cyclists will participate, riding between 50 to 75 miles each day, with the option of riding a full century one day.
Austin cyclist Ian Dille included it in “The Cyclist’s Bucket List,” his guide to 75 of the best cycling experiences on the planet.
From what I hear, it’s more party than athletic event, although I do have to propel myself up 18,488 feet of elevation gain and cover 419.9 miles during seven days of riding.
The route changes each year. This year’s path cuts across the hillier southern part of the state. (Oh no!) We’ll start July 23 in Glenwood, home of Alice Cooper (the sculptor, not the shock rocker), and end in Muscatine, nicknamed “The Pearl of the Mississippi.”
Two feature writers at the Des Moines Register, John Karras and Donal Kaul, started the ride in 1973. They loved to cycle, and decided to ride across the state and write about it. The newspaper’s editor suggested they invite the public to join them, and 300 people did. (Well, 300 started; 114 finished.)
The ride has grown into a huge rolling party. So many people want to join the fun that a random lottery is held to select participants. The cyclists camp or stay in gyms, hotels, churches, schools and homes along the way.
We’ll be stopping in towns that range in population from 5,000 to 25,000 residents. On this year’s list? Shenandoah, Creston, Leon, Centerville (home of the “World’s Largest Town Square,” Ottumwa, (hometown of Radar, the fictional character on the TV series MASH), Washington and Muscatine.
I’ll be tagging along with a small group of Austin cyclists organized by Velo Views Bike Tours. I’ve ridden with them before. A few years ago, I joined a Velo Views ride in Colorado, where we pedaled up Mount Evans, across Vail Pass and into some lovely ski towns.
Who’s done RAGBRAI? What’s the most important thing to know before I go?