Dr. Kirby's Blog

Return to RAGBRAI: My Experience Biking Across Iowa

iowa ragbraiEach year, over 10,000 people pedal their hearts out to make the trek from one end of Iowa to the other, all by bicycle. Put on by the Des Moines Register newspaper, the route typically spans close to a whopping 500 miles and attracts riders from all over. In the height of summer, through sweltering heat, occasional cold, heavy winds and torrential downpours, a determined group of people hammer down for a raucous time and lots of laughter. It’s the oldest, longest, and biggest bicycle ride in the country: The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI).

Time to Train
Having grown up in Des Moines, I am no stranger to this beloved bike ride. My father took me and my sister on our first RAGBRAI when we were teenagers in 1988. Until this year, I had not ridden RAGBRAI in almost 20 years. I turned 40 recently and thought it would be a fantastic time to introduce my husband to RAGBRAI. Previously, I had done the ride five other times and realized that each year there are new friends to meet and new experiences to have. I was excited to recruit my husband, a RAGBRAI newbie, and  show him the “real” Iowa. So, with my trusty teammate in tow, we began training along the Trinity Trails in Fort Worth, TX.

With busy clinic and surgery schedules, babysitters, pre-school, and life in general, I am proud to say we made it happen. We didn’t get quite as many miles of training in as we would have liked, but we still felt pretty confident in joining our fellow riders.

The Ride of a Lifetime
Before we knew it, the time for RAGBRAI had arrived. Not only were we able to take part in this amazing event, we were also able to ride with the same team I rode with in the ‘80s. One of my fondest memories from this year’s trip was being able to reconnect with my old teammates. It was wonderful having the opportunity to come full circle and see how everyone has grown.

Though some things stayed the same, others changed drastically. I was amazed at how much technology has advanced since my first RAGBRAI.  The last time I did the ride, the only “fancy” items I had were a photocopied map of the day’s route and an antiquated bike computer. This time around, members of our team showed up with high-tech gadgets, including a pedal-powered phone charger, a propane-heated and pumped shower, and a solar panel battery charger for the entire time’s electronic devices.

In our fast-paced world, it is easy to forget the simple things. I love that the only goal we had each day was to get to the next town, no matter how long it took and no matter how many pieces of homemade pie were consumed. We were able to meet friendly people from all walks of life. Bret Michaels and Warrant played in Mason City during our ride and I have to admit I was pretty excited about that. I’m fairly sure the last time they were popular was the last time I rode RAGBRAI. The energy of the show had everyone smiling, dancing, and pumped for more pedaling.

My takeaway from this amazing experience is this: no, the ride is not easy—we burned about 4,000 calories a day. Yes, my rear end was sore. No, I’m not ready to look at my bike again yet, but every minute, every mile, and every smile made it worthwhile. Iowa is beautiful!

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