29 July 2019
My first RAGBRAI is officially in the books. Two days of non-stop fun across ~130 miles of beautiful Iowa landscapes and overall an experience I won't soon forget. This last week was probably the best return to Iowa I could've asked for. 🌽
RAGBRAI is something else. For those that don't know: RAGBRAI, The Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, is an annual seven-day bicycle ride across the state. Heading into its 47th year, RAGBRAI is the oldest, largest and longest recreational bicycle touring event in the world.
I've done a few bike tours / riding events in my time, but nothing compares to the culture and intent of RAGBRAI. It's definitely not a race (it might even be an anti-race?), it's not about speed, it's not about charity or third-party causes (directly), it's not about fancy bikes or gear, it's not even about fitness. RAGBRAI is tens of thousands of people that enjoy riding their bicycle and drinking various beverages all doing so while meandering through and appreciating the small-town midwest culture. RAGBRAI is a literal sea of humans on bikes carving through quiet back-country roads and towns- meeting and conversing with all kinds of folks along the way. I just saw the new Lion King film so forgive me here, but RAGBRAI is very much the Hakuna Matata of the cycling world. Relax, ride slowly, meet new friends, enjoy the views and the weather, and support the local towns once you get there. Share stories, eat crazy foods, ask people where they're from; smile. You're on RAGBRAI.
Since it was my first year doing it, Chris (my friend and mentor) and I decided to do only two of the seven total days. That would allow me to spend the whole week in Iowa enjoying being back while still getting some great miles in and learning about RAGBRAI for the first time. The two days we chose were Tuesday and Wednesday. As it turns out, Tuesday was the shortest day of the seven (Winterset to Indianola) and Wednesday was the longest (Indianola to Centerville). We'll call them..
The 'play hard' day..
and the 'work hard' day..
Now, the thing I came to quickly understand about the dynamic difference between those two days centers around the fact that RAGBRAI is an all day event. It doesn't matter what the distance is for any individual day; the overall event is alive and kicking from before sunrise through to the wee hours of the next morning. So, when you have a day that's only 40 miles of distance total, you get a lot of time for shenanigans! We stopped just about everywhere, drank
just about everything Busch Light ('Iowa Water'), and ate plenty! The day was a glorious slow cruise on a bicycle. 😁
I also got to do the most-Iowa thing I've ever done at one of the stops on the Tuesday ride. Fire off a corn cannon while drinking some Iowa Water. I didn't know that what a thing either.. but here we are! Only in Iowa.
tl;dr: ears of corn don't fly very straight
The stadium concert RAGBRAI throws nightly at each resting town
Wednesday was a different beast. 91 miles is no joke and basically a century. We woke up and headed out from camp early for this ride. Chris ended up doing an additional optional loop totaling his ride at 121-122 miles, so we weren't having quite as much of a party-ride on Wednesday. We did catch some great views in the morning though!
Nothing like a few thousand riders coming out of the morning-dew of corn fields before 7am 🙂 I won't bore you with the rest of the details of a 91 mile journey (though I encourage you to take one for yourself!) but it turned out pretty great. I made it to Centerville with enough time for a few Tailwinds (the official brew of RAGBRAI 2019), got a sunburn selfie, had an açaí bowl, and called it a day.
RAGBRAI was awesome. I will definitely be back to do it again next year- hopefully for all seven days. Plans may or may not already be in motion to get an RV rented and have someone drive along the routes with us..
Until then, I'll miss these corn fields and peaceful roads. See you soon, Iowa!