Yes, that’s right. I am going to pedal my bicycle approximately 500 miles across the state on the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). My friends who sit at the beach in winter months or go to the lake to fish or water ski for the summer don’t quite “get” why I would want to spend seven days in July pedaling my bike. But, there are many reasons I ride, and not just on RAGBRAI.
Riding my bike I have made a whole new group of friends. I belong to the Tall Dog Bike Club which is a great group of people from Ames, Des Moines, Kansas City, and across the United States and Finland. During the months leading up to RAGBRAI I spend a lot of time in the saddle with central Iowa folks. These are great people to go on training rides with and to laugh with. I also ride and have made friends with members of other teams in the Ames area. During the week of RAGBRAI, it is like a homecoming week. I get to see my friends from across the country. We tent, shower, and live together for a full week. You really get to know people when you spend that much time together. We come from all different vocations, but we all share a single avocation…cycling.
Riding my bike also gives me a license to do silly things and laugh. On RAGBRAI we spend a whole week riding hard and laughing harder. Last year a group of friends and I stood on top of a big round hay bale that was painted like a pig holding pitch forks and shovels to have our picture taken – just a bit of American Gothic meets spandex. I also climbed to the top of a mountain of used bicycles and stood in front of a windmill made of bicycle parts just for a photo op. (The rule is pictures or it didn’t happen.) I saw grown adults and young children playing in a homemade “Slip’N Slide” on the hilly farmyard. While it looked like fun, I didn’t want to ride in wet bike shorts the rest of the day, so refrained from participating in that activity. I laughed at the town volunteers who get into the RAGBRAI spirit by making special t-shirts with slogans just for the day’s event. My favorite from several years ago was spotted in Nemaha. The front said, “Welcome to Nemaha.” And the back, “Now, get out of town!” That was Iowa honesty and straight forwardness at its best.
Riding my bike tests my endurance, both mentally and physically. Riding 70 to 100 miles is not just a challenge to push the legs, but also to keep the mind engaged and to take mental note of how I am feeling. I always do the Karras Loop on RAGBRAI which is a special additional section of the ride tacked on to regular route so that riders who want the challenge can achieve 100 miles in a single day. My friends and I usually complete at least one or two century rides each year just for the fun of it.
Riding my bike lets me really see the scenery. I notice the gradual, and not so gradual grades, of the Iowa landscape, which provide amazing vistas. My favorite views come in the early morning while riding a ridge of a rolling hill looking out over corn fields, pasture, or farmsteads. And while it is very old reference, these views always make me think of the question and response from the movie “Field of Dreams” – “Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.” On RAGBRAI I have often overheard people who don’t live here say something similar to, “I thought Iowa was flat,” as we are grinding up some really good hill or riding a set of rolling hills. I always smile to myself and think how lucky I am to live here and have such a great training facility right out my back door.
Finally, riding my bike is an activity to do all year long. My friends and I ride outside as long as the weather and the daylight hold out. This usually means when Daylight Savings Time arrives, we no longer can go out in the evenings. But there are still weekend rides. We head to the gym for spin class or put our bikes on trainers when long outside rides are no longer possible due to snow and ice. And, of course, we don our winter gear to ride the Bike Ride to Rippey (BRR) on the first Saturday in February no matter what Mother Nature gives us for weather. When the roads and trails start to clear of ice and snow in the spring, we head back outside again.
So, yes, I am riding across the state and I am excited about it. The friends, the laughs, the mental and physical challenges, the stories and pictures make it one of the best vacations anyone could take. But, don’t take my word for it. Try dusting off your bike, finding that enthusiasm and joy in small things, and start riding. If you don’t have a bike, Google local bicycle shops in your area and go talk to those folks. Most of them ride and can help you explore the possibilities of riding.
Hope to see you on BRR, RAGBRAI, the wonderful Iowa bike trails, or the open road soon!
Julie Rursch, Tall Dog Bike Club member