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If an event can be a Grommet, then RAGBRAI is a Grommet

Wendy Chandor

Why travel to Iowa to ride your bike from the West Coast to the East Coast of Iowa (between 50 - 80 miles a day)?  For the adventure! RAGBRAI was my adventure this year; a chance to experience something completely different, unplug (no access to work/email), and to challenge myself physically.

RAGBRAI stands for The Register’s (Des Moines’s newspaper) Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.  It started 38 years ago when a Register reporter bet another reporter to ride his bike across Iowa and report on the local people he would come across; to tell their stories.  They wrote about their bet in the paper and invited others to come along.  To their surprise, many joined along and now today RAGBRAI has grown to over 10,000 riders.  The route changes each year passing through small towns that jump at the opportunity to be a part of RAGBRAI.  

I realized that the people and the towns are what make RAGBRAI so special.  Everyone is so happy, friendly, and willing to connect.  We met a wonderful group of 8 (6 from CO and 2 from IA) who were fun to hang out with.  We all stayed at the same host house in Clear Lake, IA. This was our toughest biking day (extremely hot and turned out a longer distance than quoted on the map!) and so it was a treat to meet this gang of RAGBRAI alumni.  We shared stories, much laughter; this was like camp for adults.  Our host that night gave us a tour of the Surf Ball Room (this performance ball room is where Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens last performed before the fatal airplane crash) before we shared a wonderful dinner.  That night there were 15 people staying in this home and the host slept out on a couch in the garage!  Can you believe it?  Only in Iowa. . . .

The bike route is 2 lane highways that have been shut down to automobile traffic by state troopers.  One of the troopers had a microphone and would entertain us when we met up at certain road intersections.  The people who ride on RAGBRAI tend to be mostly in-shape cyclists — with personality.  There was a Team Cow (dressed up as cows), Team Pink (wore pink boas and one gal had pink hair, Team Good Beer, and the Air Force Team (as you can imagine, they flew by us often).  Some of the riders have unique bikes:  all different types, bikes with only one speed, a bike that looks like a banana, a guy rode one of those old fashioned bikes with a large front tire — and one guy was standing on an elliptical bike.  We met people from all over the world — the furthest away point that I encountered was New Zealand.

We biked past mostly corn fields that reminded me of oceans of corn, oh the beauty.  Soy beans, beautiful barns, horses cantering in fields, cows, pigs, homes with kids and families cheering us along.  Iowa is progressive with their wind energy turbines which are pretty humbling when you see one close up.  Occasionally, you will see a cluster of 20 of them and they are so peaceful --- sort of out there keeping an eye over the crops.

You bike along on the highways and eventually we would start seeing signs for the upcoming towns (i.e., “smoothies and burritos 3 miles”).  We enjoyed reading the preview signs.  Once all the bikers hit the towns (and we are talking Mayberry here), all the cyclists would have to get off.  So we get off, walk around, take photos, eat, drink, dance, see the sights, talk to others.  This was the special part — and each town marked an accomplishment along the way.  These towns come to life with music, entertainment, food/drink vendors, portable potties, and more.  The churches made the best food.  They have done everything to make us comfortable and fuel us for getting back on the bike.  Cartersville, IA was one town my sister and I won’t forget.  Normally only 15 people live in Cartersville — but today there were thousands stopped to watch the local feature set up on a corner next to the largest grain elevators.  One of Cartersville’s farmers built a crane and attached a swing to it that you could grab onto and swing across, then jump into the lake.  We arrived at Cartersville at 10 am — and the line was 30 – 40 people deep to get a chance at the swing! Cartersville may only be home to 15 people, but now thousands hold a fond memory of a unique, fun swing with the backdrop of a local farm!

My sister and I are proud of what we accomplished and will never forget so many moments from RAGBRAI.  Everyone looking for adventure should put RAGBRAI on their Bucket List.


  • Jen Says:

    My husband's hometown, Algona, has hosted a couple of times, including this year. We'd like to ride it someday, but then we think of summer in Iowa and remember why we moved to Colorado. ;) It's such a fantastic way to see Iowa. Perhaps we'll go with our boys one day.

  • BananaMan Says:

    I was poking around today and came across your blog. Thanks for writing down such great memories. It was fun to read and relive. Hope to see you on RAGBRAI this year.

    Cartersville was a favorite of mine too. A new friend sent me the video of my swing and I put it on Youtube. Search BananaMan Splash on youtube and you'll see my 10 seconds of fame! :)

    Be safe, Wear your helmet..


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