March 2016 – Jalapeno 100 and how it became Cycling in Iowa – RAGBRAI 2015
Richard Cavin, is a technology professional who lives and works in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) of South Texas and is also an avid cyclist. He started cycling at the age of 57 and has ridden his bicycles over 35,000 miles in his four and a half years of cycling.
Previously I published a short commentary on some of the reasons I took up cycling and the need to be safe on the roads.
This time I’d like to discuss one of my “bucket list” rides I was able to complete in July 2015.
First, a little background:
A few years ago I rode in my first Jalapeno 100 bike ride that occurs every February in Harlingen, TX. During the event I met a fellow cyclist who was from Iowa. He was visiting some Winter Texan friends and uses the opportunity of warm weather every year to travel to South Texas and participate in the Jalapeno 100 bike ride.
Since we were about the same age we talked a little bit during the ride and he suggested I attend a big bike ride in Iowa sometime in the future. He even invited me to be on his team. That big ride in Iowa is called RAGBRAI. So why would I go all the way to Iowa to ride my bike for one day, are you crazy? Boy was I in for a rude but pleasant surprise. In February 2015 I again met the same rider from Iowa on the Jalapeno 100 bike ride and he insisted I go to RAGBRAI. I previously did some research and now understood that it was a full seven days of riding with camping. In my research I also discovered it was widely considered a “bucket list” ride for avid cyclists. So maybe it started to pique my interest.
So what is RAGBRAI? RAGBRAI is an acronym that stands for “Register’s Annual Great Ride Across Iowa”, quite a mouthful. Register is the name of the Des Moines, Iowa newspaper. It is a seven day bicycle ride across the state of Iowa that has been held for the last 43 years. Wow 43 years in a row! Since the route changes every year, mileage varies from 400-500+ miles and the terrain from very hilly to flat. Most of the cyclists will camp along the way during the event. This is a really BIG event, the longest running and largest in the country and possibly the world! Texas has nothing that even comes close to this for cyclists. Cyclists can opt for week long riding passes and are limited to 8,500 riders with the option for riders to purchase daily passes for one or more days. Depending on the yearly route there can be up to 40,000 bicycle riders on any given day, that is a lot of bikes on the road! Whew!
Early in 2015 some cycling friends from the RGV and Houston areas decided to form a team and ride RAGBRAI. I was invited, so I joined in, why not? Keep in mind RAGBRAI is not a race, it’s a ride. So we paid our entry fees and entered the lottery to see if our team would get in. On May 1st we received notice that we were selected to do the ride….now we had to start planning all the logistics. Camping gear, clothes, bikes, vehicles, etc. During the preparation and planning period there were times in the process where I wondered what had I gotten myself into. I had completed a couple of long tours in 2014 but still; am I crazy?
Now that I have completed the ride I will admit it was very challenging. Along with the many, many hills and daily camping of setting up and taking down camp every day it was very tiring for someone like myself, who is 62 years old. Did I ride the entire route of close to 500 miles, yes I did, and I’m proud to have done it. The weather was generally very good with some rain showers that were not a major issue.
Figure 2 – Sioux City, IA – RAGBRAI 2015 at the start with my friend Floyd from Huntsville, TX
Figure 3 – Rest of our RAGBRAI 2015 Team – Manuel, Anilia, Me, John, Tony and Lisa (the beast)
We camped at parks, on football and baseball fields and in pastures. Lines tended to be long at the port a potties (KYBO) and showers as well as the numerous places to eat and get refreshments during the ride. The Iowa State Patrol did an outstanding job of controlling traffic throughout the bike route. It was rare where I felt that traffic was an issue, a blessing for cyclists in today’s world of automobiles. Roads were great, clean and safe for the most part. I don’t remember being chased by a single dog in 500 miles of cycling…try that in Texas. Watching out for the rumble strips at intersections became a normal reaction after awhile…..just say “rumble”!
So why is this ride a “bucket list” event? Long lines, portable bathrooms, cold showers, camping, at the mercy of the weather, tired legs, hurting knees/joints (oh my my knees hurt!) and a pain of sitting on a bike seat for 7 days in a row. Crazy!!! Is that fun? Well yes it is…..the sense of accomplishment is amazing. The truth of the matter is the ride is about the PEOPLE you ride with, the PEOPLE in over 50 small Iowa communities we rode our bikes through and seeing those communities on a bike was special. All along the route we were welcomed with open arms; each community had a carnival like atmosphere with food booths, live music, water slides, corn eating contests, human foosball, dunking booths, petting zoos, a live camel, you name it I saw it all. There were often young kids in the small communities handing out free water bottles as we “high fived” them while riding by.
The people of Iowa and the small town communities are something to cherish in our world today. They all have a story and one of the more interesting stories was the community of Parkersburg, Iowa that suffered a devastating EF5 Tornado in 2008 that literally destroyed half the town. Today the community is a thriving, active community that has re-built and is moving forward. To be able to ride through that town and talk to some of the local people was inspiring to say the least, they really have bounced back from the tornado.
I saw cyclists of all ages on the route, some as young as riders with training wheels on their bikes. There were two riders well into their 80s. One 88 year old woman named Lucy and an 89 man with a sign on his bike that read “89 and doing fine!” What an inspiration! There were numerous riders on recumbent bikes that used only their arms to ride since they were paralyzed from the waist down. Riders with prosthetic legs/feet, all overcoming the odds. People on skate boards, uni-cycles, walkers, and even roller blades. Riders in all kinds of crazy costumes, music, what a variety. All were an inspiration to me.
One rider who was blind rode on the rear seat of a tandem bike for the full 500 miles. He could not see the beautiful countryside but still did the ride….all 500 miles. Just amazing, and he said he was having the time of his life.
Figure 4 – Tent City at RAGBRAI 2015 (one of Many!)
Figure 5 – RAGBRAI 2015 – Each Town Became a Bike Mecca
Figure 6 – RAGBRAI 2015 – Even the Farmers Helped the Cyclists – Yes that is what it looks like!
Figure 7 – My friend Manuel enjoying homemade rootbeer float in an Iowa cornfield. Does not get much better than that 🙂
Figure 8 – That’s me trying to stand on those sore knees 😉
So is the ride special, without a doubt. Anytime something of this size has been going on for 43 years makes you understand how special it is.
In summary, for me, the special parts were the people I met on the ride, in the towns and the first person view of all the towns. Driving through a community is not even close to riding a bike through.
This was my first time in Iowa and I look forward to the next time I visit this great area that is part of the great “American Heartland”. Iowa is well deserving of that title and I was truly impressed.
For more info on RAGBRAI please check out the following website as well as the town of Parkersburg, IA I mentioned. Spend some time on the websites, view the videos, photo galleries, route maps and read about the event and history of what is RAGBRAI and the state of Iowa and the “American Heartland”.
Until next time I hope you enjoyed reading about my RAGBRAI ride, I sure enjoyed the adventure. In the future I plan to write a more detailed article about my adventure in Iowa. Will I do RAGBRAI again…yeah probably so in 2016!
Remember that our region, the Rio Grande Valley of Texas is such a great place to cycle because of our climate, let’s all try to make it safer for everyone. Get out and walk, run or ride a bike.
If you’d like to discuss cycling, have any comments about this short article and suggestions send me an email. Hope you enjoyed reading along.
Until next time, Be Safe and Ride On!
South Texas Regional Brevet Administrator (RUSA)
Some websites mentioned in this article.