We recently ventured out to Iowa for the 44th edition of RAGBRAI: the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. For Jon, this was his second ride experience. I was a RAGBRAI virgin. I wrote an article about my experience for The Chainlink, an online Chicago cycling community. And–of course–I documented my experience with my camera.
If Iowa had a dating profile, a top requirement would be a love of hills: long, steep climbs; fast and exhilarating descents; and gentle rollers that provide an opportunity to test your shifting abilities. A trek through southern Iowa’s roads provides all of these opportunities in spades. It was the main feature of the 2016 RAGBRAI route, with almost 10,000 feet of climbing across 183 miles. And that’s just the first three days. See the full route and elevation info here.
These hills can feel like punishment. They test your love with every pedal stroke. But if you stay committed and keep showing up in spite of the weather, in spite of the headwinds, and in spite of the pain you will undoubtedly feel in your quads and your undersides, Iowa will reward you ten thousand fold.
The reward is time spent with Iowans who genuinely, earnestly want nothing more than to share their beautiful state with you. And it is a beautiful state, with green farm fields lining almost every road and charming downtowns arranged around tree-filled squares that are the perfect place to take a break from the road and take in some calories and some local music. It is quintessential Midwest America, and for me, there is nothing more rejuvenating than to take a respite from city life and live simply for a week: ride my bike, eat LOTS of good food, meet new people and breathe deeply.
Interactions with Iowans are good for the soul. On our shuttle bus ride into town, we commented on the signs on local lawns: “Free camping! Free shade! Free WiFi!” In Chicago, when someone is this overtly generous, they usually want something in return. This journey required a re-calibration of trust in other people. That said, don’t trust anyone who tells you that Iowa is flat. Those people standing on the side of the road at RAGBRAI yelling, “LAST HILL!” shouldn’t be trusted either. They are all liars.