A conversation at the beginning of April between myself and a good friend Ian Richardson went something like this:
Keith: “you riding much?”
Ian: “Not riding much but will be riding across Iowa in July! ”
Keith: “Iowa in July? Care to be more specific? Planning traveling south along the Iowa-Nebraska border, getting to Blair on 20th July. ”
Ian: “… I’m riding the Ragbrai (West to East) starting around the 25th. I’m in the state from the 17th. Hmmm…this is crazy. ”
Three and a half months, and almost 4000 miles later, crazy happened at the Ragbrai expo in the town of Glenwood, Iowa:
I also met the people he was cycling with Connie, Missy, Ron and the support team Jarrod, Brian and Connie & Rons dad. Missy also took this photo:
I can’t remember what Ian had just said – but “Keith, your legs – what colour do you call that?” or “Keith, your bike has a kick-stand: what’s that all about?” are quite possible.
The original plan was to meet at the campsite some 30 miles away, and I would carry on south the next day while Ian, Connie, Missy and Ron would return to Glenwood (where their bikes were stashed) for the first day of week long Ragbrai ride. Someone suggested that I join them on the ride – I could leave the bike in Glenwood and get a lift to the campsite and back. After cycling on my own for so many miles, the thought of taking part in a ride with these guys and 8000+ other people was a very appealing one. It would mean that I’d be a day behind, but given my success at making up time so far, there was enough time for me to make up the day it before meeting Mark, and then the lovely Sue Powell in Texas. There was also the logistical challenge that there wasn’t enough space in the car for all my bags (I really am carrying that much stuff!) so I had to work out what to take and what to leave for the first time this trip. With 4 of us in the back seat, it was a bit cramped – but I was greatful not to have to do the 60 mile round trip, and enjoyed the novelty of traveling in a vehicle for the first time in nearly 2 months! Leaving the bike in Glenwood also made this the first rest day in 3 weeks . The ride from the southern suburb of Omaha was just under 20 miles – the last time I had a day this short was when I left Beamont just south of Edmonton – back in Canada!! I realise that to most people, cycling a loaded bike for 20 miles would not count as a “rest day” – but its a good indication as to how well I’ve adapted to the physical demands of this trip.
I’d never heard of the Ragbrai (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) but it has been running every year for over 40 years. With the number of places limited to 8000, it is also huge – and at seven days long, a massive undertaking for riders and organisers. Every year the route is different, with towns in the state keen to be one of the start/finish points, or just to be en route. It originally started out as two journalists taking to the road on their bikes for a week in search of news for their paper the Des Moines Register.
Given that there was a good chance I’d cycled the furthest to be at this event (I did bump into a couple of cyclists who had ridden from Washington state on the west coast. Fortunately they didn’t seem unhappy that I’d trumped their journey!) I thought the organisers or newspapers might be interested. But given that I was only one of 8000 cyclists, infact worse than that, I hadn’t actually entered, it was with some trepidation that I approached one of the organisers and said “hi, my name is Keith and I’ve cycled here from Alaska. Do you know anyone from the newspaper who might be interested?”. An hour later I was chatting with one of the journalists and a photographer! Here is the resulting article.
The next day, after a super early start, we got ready:
and rode out of Glenwood as part of a continuous stream of cyclists of all shapes, sizes and ages – many in teams and wearing some sort of fancy dress so they could be picked out in the crowd. It was much more relaxed than a European sportif – no official start time or timing chips. And there must have been way more than 8000 people taking part – I wasn’t the only one who turned up on the day! It was unusual to be cycling in single file, and the line of cyclists stretching out into the distance along some of the straight rolling sections of road looked like a busy line of ants. It reminded me of the time I rode the London to Brighton ride in the early nineties. There were a couple of points where there were so many cyclists, a traffic jam formed, and everyone had get off their bikes and walk. But everyone was relaxed about it – i didn’t hear anyone complain, and nobody was trying to push through the crowd.
For me, the relaxed, slightly off the wall yet organised nature of event was best summed up in this moment – in one of the small towns en route someone was giving encouragment to the riders over a PA system that was also playing MC Hammer (Hammer Time) at a right turn where the marshal was dressed as Santa Claus:
Ian and Connie rode on ahead, and I rode with Missy and Ron. Ron was the only person in the group who had ridden it before – so he knew all about the iconic Ragbrai food stops – for example the Beekman’s icecream stop where the icecream is made fresh, and was very welcome on the hot sunny day:
Missy had never done a ride like this before, but she was doing really well, especially as she was more used to running and horse riding, and had only had her bike since February. I rode with them most of the way, but after I stopped to take some photos, I was behind them and trying to catch up when this couple rode past:
I had a great few miles drafting, then doing my bit at the front – hard work on the touring bike, but great fun! I met up with the othes at the end of the stage in Shenandoah. They stashed their bikes for the next day while I rode the 25 miles back to the campsite – by the end of which I was starting to wish I hadn’t ridden quite so hard with the two riders earlier!
The next day, the Ragbrai riders headed east, and I got back on ny ride south. It was a great couple of days, and one of the highlights of the trip so far – catching up with Ian, making new friends, and bagging a stage of the famous Ragbrai!
View from the campsite overlooking Iowa fields in the foreground and Nebraska in the distance:
Bidding farewell to Iowa, and hello to Missouri:
Then back into Nebraska:
Then south into Kansas:
PS Ian: I found my headtorch – I’d put it in my food pannier. Numpty!