We’re back! This year’s group of nine included three RAGBRAI virgins on what has apparently become an annual pilgrimage. Like the rest of us the new riders survived the routine of early morning wakeups, quickly packing bags and tents, riding all day, stopping periodically to eat, drink, wait in long lines, wonder where your riding buddy is, check out what the locals have to offer, pitch the tent, go to bed, repeat seven times. Each day we pedalled about a hundred kilometers across Iowa, a state formerly believed to be flat (IT’S NOT, in a rather big way!) until our cheeks (both sets) were red. We were hot and tired, except when it was wet and cold, then we were wet and cold and tired. I know you wonder why we go back; why fifteen thousand or more people go back every year for forty-seven years. How can it be fun? Exhilarating actually? Part of it’s the success of accomplishment, part of it is the joy of riding on roads with like-minded people and without cars, and a big part of it is the atmosphere - a weird symbiosis created between the communities and the riders.
Atmosphere, of course, is created by people and I’d like to give you a little insight as to the people we meet at RAGBRAI, that bring us back for more.
The people of Iowa were very generous to share their towns, put on exibitions, build bike art, give up their roads, volunteer and make us welcome for the week of RAGBRAI. Many entrapueurs sold their wares, provided water, church dinners and entertained us... As we entertained them.
It’s a Small World
On this year’s ride I met a woman who was helped by Scott McPhee (owner of the Bicycle Shop) a few years ago. She had been leading a group of youth on a bike trip that included Southwestern Ontario from Niagara Falls to Sarnia. Shortly after London, where she purchased the Canadian jersey that led to our conversation, her fully loaded pannier began to fail miserably. She stopped in at the Bike Shop on Front Street to solve the problem. As she tells it, the good folks there basically rebuilt the pannier while her group waited, then they were sent on their way with smiles and best wishes, without charge. She wears her Canada jersey proudly, still has The Bicycle Shop sticker on the window of her car and is happy to share her story of Canadian goodwill.
Also this year we met Joe. He was riding groupless as his buddies had for various reasons all withdrawn from the ride so we made a point of including him when we could. Not surprisingly we had some things in common. Now, as misfortune would have it our companion Mike H. lost his wallet, including phone, credit cards and cash, on the last day of the ride. You can imagine the sinking feeling he had as he reached for it to pay for his lunch only to discover it gone. He happened to mention his loss to Joe at the end of the ride as they said their farewells. Two days later Joe called. He had located the wallet! He had contacted the local police where the found wallet had been deposited, confirmed that he knew Mike and arranged for it to be mailed back. Amazing!
Captain Jack Sparrow
Yup, as in Pirates of the Caribbean. No, not Johnny Depp, but verrrry close. Jack was hanging around charming all the girls, including Lori who danced giddily with him and was treated to one of those bend over backwards dips amidst his braids, beads and gold capped teeth. What a heartthrob!
Very Old Guy
Imagine you live in a town where one of your local treasures is a very old Rotarian What do you do when RAGBRAI comes through? You put him on display and share him! I had to stand in line for my turn to meet Paul Hassman and it was absolutely worth it. At 103 years old this gentleman still had his wit and charm. Three years later it is one of my favourite encounters.
Dean Matthais is his actual name and he’s famous. He’s called bareback because he rides a bike without a seat. Always. Amazing. And the story of the guys who make that bike work is another story. What he is at RAGBRAI is a guardian angel on wheels. He has been doing good deeds along the way so noticeably that the United States Air Force Cycling team even named an award after him and present it annually to their member who goes above and beyond in helping at RAGBRAI. And this year he won an award usually reserved for groups who promote safe riding, the RAGBRAI Rider Cup. Somehow, despite his uncanny ability to have the right parts at the right time along the ride, he comes across as slightly inept at camp, although maybe it’s an act. Regardless, our group has developed great affection for him and demonstrate such when we pitch in to pitch his tent from time to time and offer refreshments at the end of his very long day.
And then there’s us, a small band of Canadians. Cheryl sums it up well:
Well I loved the group I travelled with. The more time I spent with everyone the better it all got. Who knew everyone was so nice? Tents were up when we got back from long biking (beering) days and there was always ice and sometimes mixed drinks!! Help in the mornings and coffee all around.
My last day was focused on being nice and doing kind things. This meant I chatted up a storm (surprise surprise). I wore the jersey I had made up to recognize my son Luke and all the goodness he spread to me and pretty much everyone that met him. It was remarkable how many people rode beside me and asked about Luke. I think mostly though it was an opportunity for them to tell me about themselves and someone they loved or had loved. A wife with mental health issues, a son that was a heroin addict, a friend that lost a child. It was so easy to just say ‘just give all the love’ ‘give them a hug from me’ ‘just do the next right thing’ spread the word.
There was a mom with two young girls that were struggling up a hill so I rode as fast as I could to the top and ran down and took one of the bikes. The little girl thought I was trying to steal her bike, but the mom was so grateful and I ran it up the hill and came down and walked with them. This isn’t about me bragging (I hope) but about putting myself out there and even when it might be awkward (little girl yelling “‘mom that lady is trying to steal my bike!!!! In front of everyone) just lending a hand.
So I met a ton of folks, but the ones close by are pretty cool.
And Lori confirms it:
I really do want to thank everyone for all the kindnesses on the trip – setting the tents was easy after dragging all the bags – especially after 100 km days. And Dave P always going even farther to find ice and more cold drinks. I wondered sometimes where all the energy came from. Guess that’s why when we finally did sit down for a coolie it was hard to get up – and sometimes to get organized. Everyone always had a smile. Even offering help to others not in our group – QCBC and Bareback, Mary, Chattanooga, etc. Maybe we should join a foreign rayjohn project.
True group spirit – going with the flow, “always offering to help – What can I do”;’ courteous and respectful; lucky to be part of it.’
Maybe we love RAGBRAI because the people we meet are versions of ourselves reflected in others.
Compiled by Sharon Crowe, thanks to all for their stories