I’ve been told many times: “You haven’t cycled the world until you’ve cycled RAGBRAI.” And, now I know why! It was a combination of Mardi Gras, Burning Man, the Iowa State Fair and a circus on wheels. 10,000 people signed up for the full week, and another 15,000 joined us on the days passing near Des Moines. I was also told that I would never see the end and I would never see the beginning of RAGBRAI. It was a river of cyclists as far as the eye could see, people never stopped bicycling on or off the road, day or night. One man rode a unicycle and another was jogging the entire 406 miles.
On day three at about 6 am, still not fully recovered from the shock of the first two days, and damp and disheveled from last nights thunderstorm and hail, I asked a man in a kilt if he was in line for the porta potty. “No, I’m just having breakfast,” he said referring to his beer. I believe he rode with Team Beer. There were lots of teams, like: Team Bagadonuts, Team Spam, Team Where’s Waldo. I rode with one of the rare inspirational groups, Team Mankind Project.
I joked with the man in a kilt to pass the time. “I have to ask: Do you wear anything under your kilt while you bike?”
“Come back and ask me that when I’ve had a few more beers,” he replies, then helps himself to another draught of beer from the spigot on the back of his Team Bus. Yes, there was a keg of beer inside the bus and a specially made tap so the members didn’t have to go inside. Moments like this helped prepare me for the unexpected; for example, one man while cycling down the road, unzipped his backpack and while reaching inside spilled full cans of beer onto the road, which rolled towards my bicycle like Donkey Kong barrels. Despite all the beer, a lot of it free, my breakfast was usually the Lion’s Club Flippin’ Pancake Breakfast with a half a stick of butter atop a raft of pancakes in a sea of maple syrup. And, they often did flip the pancakes sky-high onto my plate; I was glad not to embarrass myself by dumping my breakfast on the ground like some.
It is hard to summarize RAGBRAI, because every 60 seconds I saw something that I had never seen before. A short list that day’s highlights would encompass, being passed by Lance Armstrong on a bicycle, endless cornfields, all-you-can-eat watermelon and free guilt at the churches, hundreds of lemonade stands, cow pie bingo and egg tossing contests, firehouse showers, water slides into muddy farm ponds, pie, more pie, and even more pie, anything edible you can imagine made from corn and hogs, bicycles sculptures, and thousands of costumed riders doing things that adults aren’t supposed to do in their day-to-day life. RAGBRAI was a temporary license to be a hedonistic pagan, the opposite of why I ride a bicycle, but another experience of a lifetime to add to my collection. Good or bad, I feel an experience adds to who I am.
One highlight of the trip was Caitlin, a woman that claimed she had forgotten how to ride a bicycle, which is supposed to be impossible to do; I may not have forgotten how to ride a bike, but my aching body during this peanut ride across Iowa was a constant reminder of how amazing it is I rode a bicycle around the world. I don’t mean that in the egotistical way it sounds. I really am amazed. I don’t know how I did it. And I doubt I could do it again. Feeling impressed with myself is a rare feeling and a nice surprise gift from RAGBRAI. Equally amazing was how many times a day I thought: “I’d never imagined that person would or could ride a bike across Iowa.”
To summarize: my favorite reward for any adventures is coming home. My apartment has never looked so colorful. Of course, I have renewed appreciation for my hot showers, cold drinks, soft beds and clean clothes, but more importantly, is seeing the world from a slightly new angle, and feeling inspired to make an adventure out of every day.
Below RAGBRAI Slideshow with annotations. Also online my Around the World Radio Interview from the road.