Few annual events are as eagerly anticipated in Iowa as the influx of bicycle enthusiasts from all over the world who journey to that state to test their prowess and participate in RAGBRAI. For the uninitiated, RAGBRAI is an acronym for the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, so named because it was first proposed in 1973 by two columnists for the Des Moines Register, John Karras and Donald Kaul.
These two came up with the idea of the newspaper sponsoring an opportunity for bicyclists to come to Iowa during the second half of July each year and to ride across the state with other bike enthusiasts, beginning at a town on the west side of the state near the Missouri River and ending a week later at one of the communities on the east side of the state near the Mississippi River. Some participants dip their back tires in the Missouri before they start and their front tires in the Mississippi at the end of the week’s festivities. The Register, of course, publicizes and covers the activities and human interest stories discovered during the week. It has morphed into a signature event that gets the populace of the entire state involved.
The route is announced each year in January, and from that time on the excitement begins to build. Former participants who wouldn’t miss the experience contact friends they have made on previous trips to confirm who is able to go this year; city leaders of the overnight towns begin making arrangements to accommodate the participants and their families in parks, county fairgrounds, church fellowship halls, and in the yards of residents; and civic groups and church congregations on the route begin making plans for the water and first aid stations that will be set up, as well as pie stands, BBQ stands, fresh-picked corn-on-the-cob stands, and ice tea and lemonade stands.
This year, the route is 428 miles long, beginning in Onawa; ending in Davenport; with overnight stops in Denison, Jefferson, Ames, Newton, Sigourney, and Iowa City. One source indicated that this is the first year in its 46-year history that the organizers of RAGBRAI have granted both Ames and Iowa City the privilege of being an overnight stop. This will enable participants to see both of Iowa’s state universities and the communities they call home.
This year’s extravaganza begins July 22 in Onawa. Some years are exceptionally hot, some windy, some rainy. By the end of January, 2018, 10,000 riders were registered to participate. Best wishes to all; welcome to Iowa, and have a safe journey!