RAGBRAI Retrospective

Chris and I are now on the 40th day of our trip enjoying a relaxing day off after experiencing all that is RAGBRAI.  After a great nights sleep, I’ve had a chance to reflect on our time in Iowa that stuffed a years worth of experiences into a week.  Crazy hot days, a wild thunderstorm, wonderful people, great friends, corn, soy beans, beans, pigs, cattle ,our chance at 15 minutes of fame, beautiful country roads, great small towns and of course, THE FOOD!.  My initial conclusions about RAGBRAI are that if you are a cyclist, you have to come do this event before you die.  If you are not a cyclist, swallow your pride, stuff yourself into some spandex and make this the one cycling event of your life.  Also, don’t settle for another state’s version of this.   There is only one RAGBRAI and it is simply a must.  Also, if you are so lucky, have your trip organized by Kamstra tours!! Before sharing some of my observations of my amazing week in Iowa, I have to confess to a few preconceived notions I had about this state.  In general, I think its best to admit that I always thought Iowa was one of those states that was best to fly over rather than actually visit.  I mean, how interesting could a place be that has more pigs than people (3 million people and 22 million pigs) and doesn’t offer the spectacular beauty of the Pacific Ocean, the Sierras, Tetons, Big Horn mountains, etc.  Yes, I expected the event to be fun, but really didn’t expect much of the state itself.  Boy was I wrong and my ride this week only reaffirmed why I wanted to experience our great country by bicycle.

Iowa Hospitality:  To set some context, you have to know a few things about RAGBRAI and it’s impact on the towns it visits.  First, there are about 10,000 registered riders but on a given day, there are typically 15-25,000 riders participating in the event because many riders just show up for a day and quite a number of riders just “crash the party”and show up for the ride without registering.  Now understand that towns hosting the event can be as small as Nemaha with 80-100 residents but the average overnight town has about 6,000-8,000 residents.  Essentially, these small towns have to provide food, water, housing, restroom facilities, medical support and traffic support for a massive rolling party that usually includes people from all 50 states and typically 15 or more foreign countries.  Talk about a potential logistical nightmare and something that would strain the most positive of attitudes.  While RAGBRAI is a great revenue generating opportunity for these towns, it also strains every resource they have.  When you come into a town, it appears that every member of the town from elementary school kids to grandparents are involved in the event in some way.  Flipping pancakes, providing water, directing people to medical, camping and restroom facilities etc.  The amazing thing is that in every town, no matter what the circumstances, we were greeted with smiles, enthusiasm and a general sense of appreciation.  Our merry band of 7 was welcomed into the homes of people in Sioux Center (Randy & Jan), Cherokee(Marlin & Sherry), Marshalltown(Barbara), Cedar Rapids (Mark) and Anamosa (Paul) where, without request ,we were greeted with food, beverage and allowed to “set up camp” in their living rooms, basements or spare bedrooms.  We also spent a night in a community center in Sac City and a Day Care center in Webster city.  All this was arranged by the amazing and multi-talented Holly Kamstra of “Kamstra Tours” and supported by her dad, the uber phenomenal Pete Hamil.

One of the reasons I think RAGBRAI is a must is that I just don’t think this kind of hospitality and positive attitude can be easily duplicated and it’s just part of what is Iowa.  When I was growing up, my family moved across the country quite a bit when I was young and we had a chance to live on the east coast (Northern Virginia), in the Midwest (Wisconsin) and the west coast (Washington and California).  I remember my mom saying that after having lived in all these places, she found that in California, it mattered more about what you were doing than who you were with but in the mid-west, who you were with mattered more than what you were doing.  After spending a week in the great state of Iowa, I’d like spending time with them doing most anything because I know it will be done with a spirit of generosity and hospitality.  It will never again be a state just to fly over!

Many Ways to Ride RAGBRAI:  What is truly great about RAGBRAI is that it attracts every kind of rider you can imagine, avid cyclists, weekend warriors, kids, grandmas and grandpa and just about everything else you can think of.  Also, many people ride as a team or like to have some kind of theme so you see costumes, decorated helmets etc.  Here are some pictures that I thought captured the spirit of the event.

If necessity is the mother of all invention, this is the reason bicycle gears were invented:

Some people can’t pedal with their legs so why not pedal 471 miles with your hands.  About 20 athletes did the event pedaling with their hands. Amazing!

20-year-old Nick Bassett was one of the hand pedlers.  We saw him several times throughout the trip.  He was a rock star!!

Let’s try a tricycle with some decoration.  By the way, if you look closely enough, you’ll notice this guy is actually smoking a cigarette.  RAGBRAI is cycling for all!

Now we have the Banana bike for those who need more potassium on their ride across Iowa!

Unlike Brenda and Holly, not all of the ladies riding RAGBRAI were beautiful.  This group was a little mannish if you ask me.

Holly found that she preferred a cyclist who took a more formal approach to his cycling attire and who was also interested in getting more tan on his drumsticks!

Scott found some folks raising money and awareness for breast cancer research in Springfield, IA.  Nice effort here!

Who knew that Santa lived in Iowa during the summer and that he liked to ride his bike.  I do know that his belly was less filled with jelly and more with Tender Tom’s Turkey, Pie, Beekman’s ice cream and Mr Pork Chops!

I think these two were clear about BBQing and drinking their way across Iowa but I guess they are more of the do it yourself crowd with a motto of always be prepared!

The star of the next big hollywood super hero blockbuster film – Captain Tie Dye Nylon Suit Man!

My son Shane loves Dragons and pie.  Saw this sticker while in Mt. Vernon, IA and had to include it!

This is a British guy, dressed up as a French onion delivery boy called an Onion Johnny, riding RAGBRAI in Iowa.  Ya think he might be a little lost!

Now these ladies knew something about how to decorate a helmet!!!

Ya gotta love a cow how helmet.  She was actually part of a traveling herd.

Team Spam – Simple but oh so fitting!

Pedal or run, pedal or run, pedal or run, I just can’t decide the best way to do RAGBRAI.  Dude, just get a bike, you’ll look way cooler in spandex!

I call this the family cycling approach with an opt out.  I can hear the discussion now.  Honest son, you will truly enjoy pedaling through the rolling verdant hills of Iowa and be inspired by the true fragrance of a fully functioning pig farm in 100+ degree heat.  Honest, it will be way more fun than hanging with your friends and playing Call of Duty on the X Box!!!!  This wise and experienced parent put the kid on a bike but just in case the kid’s happiness factor decreased by hill # 3,000 during the day,  the child had the burley trailer opt out.  I must say that I took this picture about 9:00 am in the morning.  Looks like the kid opted out!

Spike and Katie on the front porch of the farmhouse in Anamosa making sure all was ok on the homestead after the aliens in spandex invaded their space!

Final Iowa Agriculture Questions:

Just how many cows can this single bale of hay feed in a single day!




FINAL THOUGHTS:  RAGBRAI simply would not have been the fantastic week it was without such a great group of friends to share it with.  I don’t think I have laughed this much in one single week in years.  I will be forever grateful for the time spent with Chris, Brenda, Ed, Scott, Holly and Pete.  You all are the best!

Categories: Uncategorized | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “RAGBRAI Retrospective

  1. Mary Anna Swinnerton

    Great pictures and summary of your week.

  2. Matt Rester

    Glad you shared some of the circus pics from Iowa. Have always heard Ragbrai was a hoot. Now we can see for ourselves. Love Captain Tie Dye.

  3. Great to hear from you Matt. I think RAGBRAI would be right up your alley!! You should have seen captain tie die give a try at the slip and slide. Apparently nylon suits don’e slip so well on plastic. Not a great demonstration of his super powers. It was pretty funny!

  4. That picture which is captioned “Pedal or Run” is a shot of two Elliptigo bicycles. I hope to buy one so that I can run on two wheels, instead of pedaling. NO SADDLE SORES, but slower than conventional bicycles.

    • I’m the dude on the ElliptiGO. I’ve completed RAGBRAI four times, first on a mountain bike, second on a road bike, third on a hybrid, and lastly on the ElliptiGO. The only time I truly enjoyed the experience was on the ElliptiGO. Everyone who puts down the ElliptiGO doesn’t know what they are missing. I felt incredible after RAGBRAI, no pains, no soreness, ANYWHERE. When I rode bikes, I could never say that.

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