RAGBRAI 2016: An Epic Ride Across Iowa

There aren’t many things in life that you can do with 10,000-20,000 people who share a common interest. In this case it is bikes! It was surreal seeing Iowa country roads flooded for an entire week with people of different age and size. I even saw kids doing it either on their own or on a tandem with their parents. The oldest woman I saw doing it was was 90 years old! The ride was 420 miles total with 18,488 feet of incline.

RAGBRAI has been on my bucket list for the last few years, but when I got my first road bike a year ago, I bumped up that goal pretty fast. I do Airbnb in Madison and rent out one of the rooms in my house. Back in the fall, a woman reserved my room for two weeks and who would have thought this is where our friendship would take us?! Angie and I did a few longer rides together when she’d come visit Madison to see her daughter and for work. She signed up for RAGBRAI right away when registration opened … it took me until February to commit to one of the most epic things I’ve ever done. I am glad I jumped right in not even thinking twice.

I’m the kind of person who lives in the moment. I don’t dwell on the past and I don’t think too hard about the future. Riding 50-75 miles a day was a dream. I thought about what was in front of me, the people around me and communicating like cyclists do to make sure riders knew where I was and if there were cars around us. I love how independent this sport is yet it’s about caring for each other and making sure the people were safe around me. It made me happy.

I couldn’t leave Wisconsin until later Saturday night since I photograph for Shadow Drum and Bugle Corps every year. I left Madison at 9pm and arrived in Glenwood around 4am. Not ideal, but I’m glad I got there safe and in time to start riding on Sunday.

I shared a tent with Angie, which was really fun! We got up around 5:30am each day (even though people were packing up and heading around around 4:30 each morning). We’d get ready, take down the tent, put our bags on the semi truck and head out for a full day of riding. I loved riding in the morning. It was cool and the light was so pretty. I stopped here and there to take pictures, but I really tried to enjoy the week without photographing too much : )

The most memorable day was Monday because it was h a r d. The sun was out all day, it was 90 degrees and we road up and down hills for most all of the 75 miles. It was definitely the longest and hardest days of the week. I stopped at a farm house 5 miles from the end town for pie and free wifi. I sat there in the shade for an hour before hopping back on my bike. After Monday, the rest of the week seemed like it’d be a piece of cake for the most part.

I left at 6am on Thursday to get to Ottumwa to see my parents. They are beyond amazing. They drove from Madison to Glenwood to pick up my car to drop it off in Muscatine so I could drive straight home after the week. THIS WAS A DREAM and something I never would have asked them to do. I was able to see them in Ottumwa before they left at 11am. I knew if I left at 6am I could ride 50 miles in about 3-4 hours. I got there at 10:30! Definitely my most impressive day of riding : ) When I finally found them in town, my mom was taking pictures of me non-stop. They were so proud of me.

There were a few small world moments along the way. Of course! I love those.

As we were going up a hill, I started talking to a woman who looked like seasoned cyclist. Turns out she was my friend from college’s high school cross country coach!

I was sitting in the watermark pool in Ottumwa talking to this guy named Jim. Of course in most of my conversations it would come up that I went to Iowa and worked for The Daily Iowan. His son’s best friend growing up happens to be another college friend of mine who worked as a photographer with me at the paper.

Waiting in line for a porta potty (aka kybo) I started talking with this couple wearing University of Hawkeye jersey’s. Their son also worked at The Daily Iowan during the same time I did. I recognized his name but since I didn’t take many sports assignments were didn’t work together very much. However, his dad immediately pulled out his camera, to take a picture of me I thought. He started taking a video and asked me to say hi to his son! haha! Little awkward but I loved it : )

The week flew by and I’m back in Madison. I love being home seeing family, friends, my dog Geoffrey and getting back to work. But there was something so freeing just thinking about the road and what was right in front of me. I met a lot of people who were doing RAGBRAI for the first time just like myself, but I met many who had also done it for 30 some years. I just blocked off this week in my calendar for next year. I can’t wait.

Thanks for reading! Now for a few photos!