Thursday, July 17, 2008


This is not an education-related post, but more for fun. RAGBRAI, the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, is the nation's oldest and largest cross-state ride. I, along with a few other faculty, students and administrators from Palmer, will be joining 12,000 of our closest friends and riding bicycles from the western side of Iowa to the eastern shore. In fact, this year the ride ends in LeClaire, bring us back home after nearly 500 miles of bike riding.

RAGBRAI actually can be used to illustrate how a great idea can spread. This year will be, I believe, the 36th annual ride. There will be 10,000 riders registered for the complete 7-day ride, and an additional 2,000 riders per day who purchase day ride permits. And there are another 15,000 support personnel (truck drivers to transport gear, friends and family and others) who will move from overnight stop to overnight stop each day. As this mass of humanity rides acorss Iowa, they stop in small communities who over the course of an entire year will not see 25,000 people; thus, RAGBRAI is also an economic engine for these small towns. When it started, RAGBRAI had 36 riders in its first year; this grew over the years until the organizers capped the rider level at 10,000 full-time riders, plus day riders. So, in 36 years, it went from less than 50 participants, to 25,000.

And it is not a ride for the buff and fit; RAGBRAI attracts people of all ages and all sizes. I have been passed by a 76-year-old man riding a old fixed single-gear bicycle (with a sign on the back that read "Gears are for wimps"), by 8-year-olds and by grandmothers. I have seen 300-pound women riding mountain bikes with knobby tires for the entire trip, as well as seeing Lance Armstrong (who went by me so fast I thought my bike had stopped). I've ridden alongside the Reverand Robert Molsberry as he rode his hand-cranked bicycle on yet another RAGBRAI; Reverand Molsberry was paralyzed some years ago but refused to let that stop him riding. He even wrote a book about it, "Tour de Faith," which I highly recommend as a great description of the ride. In one of those bits of serendipity, I found out my son had coached his daughter during my son's stint as a student teacher at Grinnell High School. Small world!

It is in general a bit of an older crowd, but it is one that develops great friendships along the way. We will see the riders wearing cow costumes, the ones pulling huge speaker systems powererd by the sun behind them, the fellow who puts a large brick on his bike, and lots of people who otherwise would not be caught dead in skin-tight clothing wearing spandex. I am one of them. And we will eat lots of pie. In fact, the best proof of that was a cartoon in the Des Moines Register, which showed one bike rider talking to another: "How's the training going for RAGBRAI?" and the other answering "Great. I'm up to 4 pieces of pie per day." It's truth!

So I won't be posting until I return, which by that time I might even be able to sit down again. For some reason, we get asked a lot about how our butts are doing when we ride RAGBRAI... :-)

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