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Biking across Iowa with RAGBRAI

Every July tens of thousands of bike riders slide into their padded shorts, fasten their helmets and set off for a fun week of cycling across the state of Iowa. RAGBRAI started off as a few reporters on bikes riding around doing small-town Iowa stories for the Des Moines Register. These days it has morphed into an amazing gathering of cycling, beer, pork chop, and fun enthusiasts.

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This is my third time doing RAGBRAI and I split it up doing a 2 different legs. While a legit rider would do all 7 days and 428 miles, I did 4 days total, 2 in Central Iowa (in and out of Ames), 2 in Eastern Iowa (in and out of Iowa City) because those routes put me in close proximity with family members and close friends.

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My Aunt did Day 3 and Day 4 with me in and out of Ames. Between each overnight stop are a plethora of tiny towns who bake pies for days, grill pork burgers and corn, and stock up on the beer for all the riders about to mob their towns.  My personal favorite foods on the route are the walking tacos and homemade pie.

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This year there was a coffee truck that met riders in the first town of the day. It was a daily occurrence to overhear bikers professing their love to the coffee truck people. One particularly rough start to the day also had me declaring the coffee truck as my savior.

Breakfast cold brew and toffee scone after biking the first 12 miles:

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My favorite vendor on RAGBRAI is the Iowa Craft Beer Tent. Most days they have about 15-20 rotating craft beers on draft for riders to quench their thirst. At some hot and tiring points during the ride, the Iowa Craft Beer Tent was what kept me going. Seeing those Iowa Craft Beer Tent signs pop up was a lifesaver.

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The truck usually found on a farm, outside one of  the small towns in both the morning and afternoon. They paired up with Brewer Family Farms to offer some brats. I split a cheddar bacon brat with my aunt one afternoon that was delightful.

This bike seems to have had one to many beers and it resting.  (not my bike!)

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Sections of the route can get crowded with bikes at times so careful riding and politeness is necessary. Following the rules of the road will keep you and everyone else safe. I saw one particularly bad accident at the bottom of a big hill. Iowa State Patrol helps control the route , directs cars to other roads, and is usually very close by if anything happens where assistance is needed. It takes a lot of people to make everything run seamlessly.

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My mom was nice enough to be our sag wagon when we finished riding that day’s route and needed a ride home. A sag wagon is the vehicle that picks up your tired/hurt/hungry self and your bike when you can’t finish the day’s route. Having a support team is essential to riding RAGBRAI. Some days it may pour rain, be 100 degrees, or your legs are just too tired to ride (especially if you do all 7 days). If you sign up as an official rider (most people who complete RAGBRAI are unofficial), RAGBRAI offers a sag wagon along the route to pick up you and your bike if your bike breaks, you are too tired, or the weather takes a turn.

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Strangely enough, I don’t know anyone who has ever legit signed up for RAGBRAI as a rider. I know a few people who do team buses but most of us just join in the fun. RAGBRAI probably would prefer we officially sign up but they really don’t care. Everyone just joins in, a great example of being “Iowa Nice”.

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Nights on RAGBRAI are what you make them. I am usually too tired to go out and experience the concerts, food tents, and partake in the mayhem. A good nap followed by dinner, which must include sweet corn is high up on my list of things to do. Since riding earlier in the day is cooler, my bedtime is early. Many riders will have a few beers, listen to the bands, and have a little party before going back to the campgrounds or someone’s house (if you are lucky enough to know someone in the overnight towns).

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RAGBRAI 2018 always starts on the Missouri River in Western Iowa and ends at the Mississippi River in Eastern Iowa. Dipping your front and back tires in the rivers is the signal of the beginning and end of RAGBRAI. 2018’s Mississippi River dipping spot was in Davenport a few short miles from my mom’s house. I made her come pick me up and take me out for recovery tacos after a few finish line photos.

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RAGBRAI 2018 was a lot of fun and something any bicycle enthusiast should do once. You will love the atmosphere and camaraderie of your fellow bikers and enjoy the small town hospitality and learn some things about small town life (and soybeans and corn) that you never knew before.

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