It’s that time of year again…time for RAGBRAI, the great bicycle ride across Iowa. Although we are not riding it this year, our friends are headed out there and it stirs up some great memories of past years. I’ve only ridden it twice, but the ride is so epic that it’s hard to forget. Funny how you remember the super fun times and the crazy things that happened, but it’s hard to recall exactly how uncomfortable it was trying to sleep in a tent in a midwest summer. You think Florida’s hot, pul-ease.
Anyway, I wanted to share one of our favorite memories of our bike rides across Iowa, and it seemed fitting to do it now as many riders embark on their annual RAGBRAI journey. First, it helps to understand RAGBRAI and IARBGAR. Organized and supported by Des Moines newspaper, The Register, RAGBRAI stands for the Register’s Annual Great bicycle Ride Across Iowa.
Every July for the past 45 years determined bicycle riders have dipped their rear bicycle tire in the Missouri River on the western border of Iowa and ridden across the state in 7 days stopping in towns along the way to eat, drink, dance, camp, and much more. Upon arrival to the eastern border, riders dip their front tire in the Mississippi River celebrating the accomplishment of riding 400+ miles. Oh, and by the way, the event has grown to 10,000 registered riders, and most likely thousands who don’t register. I can’t begin to explain the logistics, just understand that you either love this kind of ride or you don’t. Lots of people, often very hot temperatures, warm beer, stormy weather, etc. It’s not for everyone, but it can be life changing if you let it.
To make it even more fun, our group of friends heads to Iowa a week prior to RAGBRAI, parks their car at the finish town, loads up their bikes with their gear and spends 7 days riding the reverse route out to the start of the official ride (hence the term “IARBGAR” – RAGBRAI spelled backwards).
This ride is fun. Less people, complete reliance on yourself and your bike, air conditioned motels each night, a true bike travel dream. So, now that you have a basic understanding of this ride, back to my story.
In 2012, Mike and I met up in Dubuque Iowa with our group of friends from Tallahassee and began our journey across the state. It was a Sunday morning and we had a plan to seek out a church where the pastor might give us a blessing of the bikes before our travels. Mike had brought a bottle of holy water from a Greek Chapel in Tarpon Springs (that’s another story), and we wanted to surprise our friends with this ceremony.
Riding down the streets of the town we found a Lutheran church that looked friendly so Mike went in and asked some parishioners in the lobby if the pastor was available. They led him to a small room where a female pastor was, no lie, eating a powered sugar donut as she prepared for the church service. She accepted Mike’s request without hesitation and brought a few people out on the sidewalk with her to help her with the blessing.
We stood on that sidewalk with our bikes while she delivered the most beautiful, relevant blessing of our travels. I’m getting weepy just thinking about it as I write. Not only did she pray with us for safe travels, she also talked about how blessed we were physically to be able to ride for what was going to be 14 days straight, and that we could share this journey with friends, enjoy each other’s company, and take in the beauty of nature as we ride. It was like she had written a sermon specifically in case a group of bikers ever stopped by and asked for a blessing. I thought it could not have been more perfect…until we finished the Lord’s Prayer and the church bells rang as if on cue for us.
Of all the amazing memories I have riding across Iowa, this one is easily at the top of the list.
I hope all of our friends who are riding the next few weeks have a safe journey and continue to enjoy the blessings of life, and the joy of riding their bikes.