Healing is nearly complete and adventures are beginning again!! The last week of July I had the opportunity to fulfill a bucket list item. I biked across Iowa from the Missouri to the Mississippi River as a part of RAGBRAI (Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa). When I was in elementary I sat with my cousins at a juice stand in their front yard and watched all the bikes pass by. Since then the idea of participating has been in the back of my mind. Over the years I considered it at times, but I’m not a biker and was never willing to take a full week of vacation. This year my state of unemployment and knee surgery made the timing perfect.
Six weeks before the event I was cleared for start biking. A week later I picked up my bike from storage, eased into riding for a couple weeks, then hit it hard for a couple weeks. Things fell perfectly into place as a spot opened on my friend’s team two nights before the start.
I showed up at the event completely naïve. I had never biked the distance of the first day, didn’t know how to use all of my gears, had never biked in a crowd, or biked on big hills. Yet for some reason this sounded like a good idea. The team shared with me the basics safety instructions like what to yell to show my intentions. I rode the first day with my high school friend, taking in the crowds, and wondering if this really was a good idea.
Day two she had another friend join, so I found myself biking with some new friends. They showed me the best places to eat, how to bike faster, and even allowed me to draft behind them when we were traveling into a tough wind. They carried me through a 5 mile windy stretch.
Day three was probably my favorite day. Four of us had our tents packed up and were on our bikes at 5:15am with the goal of riding 100 miles. We started early and biked hard, only really stopping for food and water. It felt like we were cruising past people all day. We rode the extra loop and made it to the end town the earliest of any day I rode. It was absolutely fantastic, except that I crashed after we hit town. I’m not sure if it was a mental relaxation upon completion or improper nutrition, but I was useless for about 3 hours. After some downtime, a bus shower, and food I was back to my normal self again.
The remaining days included a lot of costumes and laughs, fast riding with groups, pedaling slowly by myself observing. It included encouragement from friends, a flat tire (requiring rescue from teammates), learning about town histories, pausing at beer gardens, and dipping my tire in the Mississippi. I rode with different people each day, and each one showed me how to experience Ragbrai differently.
Before this adventure I didn’t understand why people would ride it year after year. I assumed that I would ride it once check it off the list and be done. I learned that Ragbrai is not really about the bike riding at all. Most people can go out and sit on a bike all day pedaling from town to town if they really want to. What makes Ragbrai special is the experiences along the way. There are and endless number of things to pay attention to, people to meet, and things to try along the way. Each year these are entirely different since the route changes, the towns change, the weather changes, and the riders change. I highly recommend hitting the road either for a part or the entirety of Ragbrai if you have the opportunity. As of now I don’t know whether I will ride it again, but it is a definite possibility.