The tale of an ordinary citizen, a cyclist…..past, present and future. The benefits of cycling in this great country of ours.
I’d like to discuss one of my “bucket list” rides I was able to complete in July 2015.
First, a little background:
A few years ago I rode in my first Jalapeno 100 bike ride that occurs every February in Harlingen, TX. During the event I met a fellow cyclist who was from Iowa. He was visiting some Winter Texan friends and uses the opportunity of warm weather every year to travel to South Texas and participate in the Jalapeno 100 bike ride.
Since we were about the same age we talked a little bit during the ride and he suggested I attend a big bike ride in Iowa sometime in the future. He even invited me to be on his team. That big ride in Iowa is called RAGBRAI. So why would I go all the way to Iowa to ride my bike for one day? Boy was I in for a rude but pleasant surprise. In 2015 I met the same rider from Iowa on the Jalapeno bike ride and he insisted I go to RAGBRAI. I previously did some research and now understood that it was a full seven days of riding with camping. In my research I also discovered it was widely considered a “bucket list” ride for avid cyclists.
So what is RAGBRAI? RAGBRAI is an acronym that stands for “Register’s Annual Great Ride Across Iowa”, quite a mouthful. It is a seven day bicycle ride across the state of Iowa that has been held for the last 43 years. Since the route changes every year, mileage varies from 400-500+ miles and the terrain from very hilly to flat. Most of the cyclists will camp along the way during the event. This is a really BIG event, the longest running and largest in the country and possibly the world! Texas has nothing that even comes close to this for cyclists. Cyclists can opt for week long riding passes and are limited to 8,500 riders with the option for riders to purchase daily passes for one or more days. Depending on the yearly route there can be up to 40,000 bicycle riders on any given day, that is a lot of bikes on the road! Whew!
Earlier this year some cycling friends from the RGV and Houston areas decided to form a team and ride RAGBRAI. I was invited, so I joined in, why not? Keep in mind RAGBRAI is not a race, it’s a ride. So we paid our entry fees and entered the lottery to see if our team would get in. On May 1st we received notice that we were selected to do the ride….now we had to start planning all the logistics. Camping gear, clothes, bikes, vehicles, etc. During the preparation and planning period there were times in the process where I wondered what had I gotten myself into. Am I crazy?
Now that I have completed the ride I will admit it was challenging. Along with the many, many hills and daily camping of setting up and taking down camp every day it was very tiring for someone like myself, who will be 62 later this year. Did I ride the entire route of close to 500 miles, yes I did, and I’m proud to have done it. The weather was generally very good with some rain showers that were not a major issue.
We camped at parks, on football and baseball fields and in pastures. Lines tended to be long at the port a potties and showers as well as the numerous places to eat and get refreshments during the ride. The Iowa State Patrol did an outstanding job of controlling traffic throughout the bike route. It was rare where I felt that traffic was an issue, a blessing for cyclists in today’s world of automobiles.
So why is this ride a “bucket list” event? Long lines, portable bathrooms, cold showers, camping, at the mercy of the weather, tired legs, hurting knees/joints and a pain of sitting on a bike seat for 7 days in a row. Crazy!!! Is that fun? Well yes it is…..the sense of accomplishment is amazing. The truth of the matter is the ride is about the PEOPLE you ride with, the PEOPLE in over 50 small Iowa communities we rode our bikes through and seeing those communities on a bike was special. All along the route we were welcomed with open arms; each community had a carnival like atmosphere with food booths, live music, water slides, corn eating contests, human foosball, dunking booths, petting zoos, a live camel, you name I saw it all.
The people of Iowa and the small town communities are something to cherish in our world today. They all have a story and one of the more interesting stories was the community of Parkersburg, Iowa that suffered a devastating EF5 Tornado in 2008 that literally destroyed half the town. Today the community is a thriving, active community that has re-built and is moving forward. To be able to ride through that town and talk to some of the local people was inspiring to say the least, they really have bounced back from the tornado.
I saw cyclists of all ages on the route, some as young as riders with training wheels on their bikes. There were two riders well into their 80s. One 88 year old woman named Lucy and an 89 man with a sign on his bike that read “89 and doing fine!” What an inspiration! There were numerous riders on recumbent bikes that used only their arms to ride since they were paralyzed from the waist down. Riders with prosthetic legs/feet, all overcoming the odds. Riders on skate boards, uni-cycles, walkers, and even roller blades. All were an inspiration to me.
One rider who was blind rode on the rear seat of a tandem bike for the full 500 miles. He could not see the beautiful countryside but still did the ride….all 500 miles. Just amazing.
So is the ride special, without a doubt. Anytime something of this size has been going on for 43 years makes you understand how special it is.
In summary, for me, the special parts were the people I met on the ride, in the towns and the first person view of all the towns. Driving through a community is not even close to riding a bike through that same community.
This was my first time in Iowa and I look forward to the next time I visit this great area that is part of the great “American Heartland”. Iowa is well deserving of that title and I was truly impressed.
For more info on RAGBRAI please check out the following website as well as the town of Parkersburg, IA I mentioned. Spend some time on the websites, view the videos, photo galleries, route maps and read about the event and history of what is RAGBRAI and the state of Iowa and the “American Heartland”.
Until next time; hope you enjoyed reading about my RAGBRAI ride, I sure enjoyed the adventure.
Thanks to the friends I rode with, they all made the ride even more special! Thanks Floyd, Manuel, Anilia, John, Lisa Ann and our team El Capitan – Tony! I met all these great people just by riding a bike!
Remember that our region, the Rio Grande Valley of Texas is such a great place to cycle because of our climate, let’s all try to make it safer for everyone. Get out and walk, run or ride a bike.
South Texas RBA