An ESPN sportswriter, Rick Reilly once wrote, “Iowa is so flat you can watch a train pull out for three days.” To flatlanders, a hill is an interstate overpass. But it is a myth that Iowa is flat.
Each year, twenty thousand cyclists come from all over the world to Iowa to be part of the longest, oldest and largest recreational touring bicycle event in the world. This is not a race, but a non-competitive ride with all levels of riders represented; from Tour de France veterans to unseasoned riders, and plenty in between. Each rider who has done RAGBRAI can tell you that Iowa isn’t flat!
RAGBRAI stands for “Register Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, an event sponsored by the Des Moines Register newspaper. This is RAGBRAI’s 44th ride.
Why Ragbrai? Marco Island resident Charlie Lamb, age 72, said he was “overdue for an adventure,” and “it was a desire to get out of the easy and gentle Marco Island living and experience the challenge of an arduous athletic event.” Florida is flat, and Lamb must have had the Iowa hills in mind.
For seven days riders rode for50-75 miles a day in the unbearable heat, from sunrise to sunset, on most days riding one endless hill after another. They rode through oceans of cornfields and soybeans starting from the western town of Glenwood, Iowa at the Missouri River and finishing at the eastern town of Muscatine, Iowa on the Mississippi Riverfront. The terrain consisted of 70-80% hills with a few flats in between. By the end of the 7th day, riders had a total 19,728 feet of climb. This year’s RAGBRAI was the flattest.
Each day the hospitality of the small towns along the way came out to welcome the riders into their hearts. At farmhouses and street corners, they had food stalls offering grilled pork chops, brats, burgers, turkey drumsticks, sweet corn, home-baked pies and yummy homemade ice cream, and at night, they had had a band and plenty of beer. This was the true spirit of the State of Iowa and the reason for the past 44 years, 20,000-plus cyclists return for the yearly hilly ride.
Charlie Lamb completed the 460-mile bike ride and is back on the “flatlands” of Marco Island for a “long overdue recovery.”