Thursday, August 8, 2013


I had the recent pleasure of biking my way across (part of) Iowa. It was my inaugural RAGBRAI experience, and I hope not my last. What's RAGBRAI you ask? Well, actually it's an acronym that explains itself, RAGBRAI stands for The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.  The annual bike ride bills itself as the oldest, largest and longest bicycle touring event in the world.
Beautiful billowing clouds on the first day of riding
RAGBRAI started in 1973 and in chatting with a rider who had participating in one of the first rides (and has been participating annually since 1991!), I found that there wasn't much support for riders on those first rides. It's hard to believe that now, as the hospitality along the route is almost overwhelming. On our first day of riding, I was dubious that we would reach the end of the 50 mile ride before dark (though we departed around 9:30AM) because the opportunities to stop for coffee, breakfast burritos, slip and slides, pork on a stick, pie, beer, and much more are plentiful. 
The charming buildings of Pella, IA
The full RAGBRAI route averages 468 miles, though this year we only made the journey for 4 of the 7 days of riding, so we weren't able to participate in the full tradition of dipping the back tour of your bike in the Missouri River at the start of the race and dipping the front tour of your bike in the Mississippi at the end of the race. I was stunned by the beauty of Iowa, at times disheartened that the rolling hills of Southeast Iowa contribute to that beauty (the roll of each hill is noted when riding a bike over them). 
Delicious key lime pie!
Our ride was marked by beautiful weather, mainly partly cloudy days with billowing clouds, warm sun, and mild breezes. We were a bit star-struck by siting and chatting with Don Gonyea and Scott Horsley names familiar to frequent NPR listeners (they kept a great Tumblr worth checking out). There was the opportunity to spend many hours with friends--talking and riding, laying in the grass along the route, and camping in the evening. And, of course, the great joy of riding a bike. I am often struck with gratitude, whether riding around Chicago or along a road in Iowa with corn fields for as far as the eye can see (a bit surreal) that I am able to ride a bike, the ease with which a bike can glide along and also the physical challenge of a long ride!
Bridge over the Mississippi on the way back to Chicago
And, of course, for me when I hit the road, be it by plane, train, automobile or bike, there is always the allure of making a painting. Stay tuned, for paintings made on my Iowa Odyssey in the next two weeks.
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