To the uninitiated, spending a week riding your bike across Iowa may hardly seem like an adventure. But RAGBRAI, the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, is a big deal in every way that counts for road cyclists—and it doesn’t get any more red, white, and blue than this.
Each year on the third Sunday in July, 10,000 riders start on the state’s western border (the route changes yearly) and proceed en masse, rolling east in seven stages in a traveling juggernaut that celebrates everything that’s good about the heartland. It’s a long queue of spinning spokes and endorphin-charged folks wheeling over farm-to-market roads that normally see maybe a tractor and a couple of cars a day. They ride into dot-on-the-map towns that welcome everyone with Fourth of July fanfare—bands oompah-ing, flags waving, and every school, church group, and Kiwanis Club in support.
Throughout the week RAGBRAI riders supplement PowerBars and Gatorade with three-inch-thick pork chops, corn every which way, and the race’s true lifeblood: homemade pies. There are as many as eight refueling stops each day, and cyclists put them to good use. Forget velodrome-flat rides: Some RAGBRAI weeks total more than 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) of climbing. (We did say this was an adventure.) Riders might camp in sorghum fields and shower in swine barns, but Hawkeye hospitality is guaranteed.
Need to Know: Register for RAGBRAI and view this year’s route online.
Originally published in the March/April 2009 edition of National Geographic Adventure magazine