RAGBRAI! The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa is a weeklong bicycle ride across the state of Iowa. But to call RAGBRAI a bike ride is a misnomer. RAGBRAI is the grandaddy of all cross state rides in the country. It is not the oldest, longest or largest ride but at seven days, over 10,000 riders and an average distance of over 450 miles it is certainly the biggest long ride in the country. The ride is not a race, it is sort of a rolling community of riders unlike any other.
My first ride was RAGBRAI IV in 1976. I was 15 years old and had just finished my freshman year of high school. After a summer of de-tassling I had saved enough money to buy my first serious bike — a Schwinn Super Le Tour 12.2. I mail ordered a pair of (genuine Italian!) Detto Pietro cycling shoes and had a local cobbler nail on the cleats. I am pretty sure that I rode with a leather hairnet helmet. I rode with my friend John, he had a Raleigh Gran Prix and had only ridden ten miles before RAGBRAI. The thing I remember most about the first day was not the ride itself but the sandburs that got stuck in everyone’s tires and caused numerous blowouts. I think I had at least three flats that first day.
I was 15 and John was 14 so his dad agreed to drive from overnight town to overnight town in their Volkswagen with our camping gear. I am pretty sure that he didn’t believe we could really do the whole ride 🙂 That first ride was a blast. John and I had a great time and would go on to ride other RAGBRAIs together. It was an incredible adventure, for me it allowed me to do something that none of my classmates even dreamed of doing. I was not a typical high school athlete but I knew that on the bike I could compete with any of my friends.
Since that time I have ridden numerous RAGBRAIs. I think I have ridden about 12 complete rides and a day or two of several others. Over the years I have also enjoyed riding with my children. RAGBRAI is coming in a few weeks and I am hoping to ride at least a day with my daughter or a partial day with my wife.
When people ask me how many RAGBRAIs I have ridden, I usually tell them that I cannot precisely recall. In recent years I have also been able to say to many of them, “I was riding RAGBRAI before you were born!”