I am fortunate to have arrived at a time in my life when I can sit back, relax and enjoy a quiet summer vacation. As usual, I choose to do exactly the opposite of what might be expected.
For the past several years I have ridden RAGBRAI (www.ragbrai.com), a week-long, 500 mile bike ride from the western border of Iowa (the Missouri River) to the eastern border (the Mississippi River). RAGBRAI, held in July, stands for “Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.” The ride, started in 1973 by two writers from the Des Moines Register, celebrated its 43rd anniversary this year and has become the “longest, largest and oldest bicycle touring event in the world.”
RAGBRAI has grown from a few hundred biking enthusiasts to over 25,000 people who enjoy the experience of touring small towns across Iowa, meeting up with old friends and making new ones along the route. It’s also a great leveler – everyone’s just a social cyclist, wearing the same garish cycling apparel, talking about the same cycling stuff, removed from their normal world – the neurosurgeon, the, truck driver and teacher are in a common place and share a common pace. And that’s exactly why I like it.
It’s not a race, but I do feel like I’m a winner just because I’m involved. We cover nearly 500 miles in seven days, in weather conditions that range from searing heat to rain, wind and sometimes gorgeous weather. This year I rode 521 miles, including a “century” – a one-day trek that covered just over 100 miles. The route changes each year but always goes from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River. The towns we rode through and people we met along the way were charming, welcoming and, I like to think, typical of small-town America.
I also use RAGBRAI as a vehicle to raise money for AIDS Orphan Care, a small Lesotho-based charity that cares for kids who have lost their parents to AIDS. It’s remarkable the impact a small amount of money can have on the lives of kids in those circumstances.
For me, RAGBRAI is a chance to get my posse together and just enjoy every minute, focused on the present and the quirky and not-so-quirky people and towns. It is a unique experience and one I highly recommend. My exhilaration at having finished the ride, culminating at the shores of the Mississipi River, is obvious in the picture below. The time away from work is well-spent and I come back refreshed, both physically and emotionally. And that’s what a summer vacation is all about!