RAGBRAI news team
| by Kyle MunsonShare
CEDAR RAPIDS, Ia. — RAGBRAI officially reached middle age along Thursday’s hilly 85-mile route. Some veteran bicyclists stretched vintage jerseys over expanding, sagging torsos for what had been declared a thematic “retro day.”
They pedaled toward a concert extravaganza in downtown Cedar Rapids to celebrate 40 yearly rides, and eight people who have been a part of them all — assuming everybody could stay awake for it.
This is where you expect me to insert the joke about the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa being “over the hill,” but I’ll skip it in deference to my fellow riders who might not find that funny with two days left to go in eastern Iowa.
Only one-third of riders this year are newbies. Combined with an average age of 45, that means that story swapping of RAGBRAIs past — and how so many things about the ride have changed — flows here like bottled water.
Or coffee and juice — at a breakfast stand set up at a gravel intersection outside Marshalltown. That’s where Beverly Clover broke into an a cappella version of Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One” to spur on her fellow riders: “It looks like you’ll make it, see how far you’ve come … .”
Longtime RAGBRAI riders tend to remember and retell the vivid little moments even as the years blur together. Endurance certainly is a thread — tales from historically hellish days such as “Soggy Monday” or “Saggy Thursday.”
But after 16 RAGBRAIs, Clover still cherishes the memory of when she was creeping so slowly uphill that one of her friends hopped off his bike and began jogging in front of her. He told her to draft him — or was he going too fast?
“I am laughing so hard, it gets me up the hill,” Clover, 59, said with a grin.
A woman sitting in the camping chair next to Clover, with a gorgeous morning view of mist-covered cornfields to the east, remembered when she and her team bunked at a house on Clear Lake; as soon as the team hit the driveway and slumped off their bikes, everybody ran to the end of the dock and jumped in the lake.
For Art Loepp of Kansas City, the moment retold tends to be his first of 20 RAGBRAIs in 1989, when the ride stopped overnight in Dyersville — the same year that “Field of Dreams” hit theaters. He ended up pedaling a total of 100 miles that day to make the extra trek to the movie site and step up to home plate for a few swings.
Then I rolled up on Ron Peters, 64, of Clinton, who was wearing his RAGBRAI 5 jersey — before Roman numerals became the vogue.
He climbed on his Schwinn sans helmet in 1977 for his first ride, while some jokers biked alongside him in beer-box headgear. He “just needed a cheap vacation” that year as an electrical apprentice, and has ridden 28 to date.
Through all the shared memories, you realize that 40 is a reflective and transitional moment, whether we’re talking bike ride or bike rider.
Wrangling technology becomes harder: The longest RAGBRAI lines used to be for the simple pay phones, but now riders curse under their breath while trying to find a usable cell signal amid the smartphone-toting horde.
The parties get tamer: One veteran rider described how what the hippies like to smoke used to be more prevalent on the ride, but cutting loose these days means low-carb beer.
The waistline expands: “I average gaining seven pounds a week,” Doug Polson of Kansas City, clad in a RAGBRAI XXIV jersey, said with a fistful of Maid-Rite in downtown Garrison.
Life gets more expensive: Just like health care and a college education, RAGBRAI has escalated from a freebie into $150 registration and about $1,000 for a road bike that hard-core riders won’t openly mock.
It gets more complicated: When you get older, there are more politics to navigate. At the halfway point between Marshalltown and Cedar Rapids, anti-abortion activists parked their van, pulled out a bullhorn and displayed gruesome placards — which might have cut down on the lunch business in Garrison. U.S. Rep Bruce Braley, meanwhile, was due to join today’s ride.
You require more sleep: Sara Pattison, 54, who tends to a dairy herd in Clayton County, stayed up past 11 p.m. the previous two nights and wasn’t sure whether she would make it to Thursday night’s Counting Crows concert.
She’s a veteran of 24 RAGBRAIs who decided to ride for the first time with a woman she had just met in a bowling alley; this year will be her last.
You still revere your generation’s icons: I suppose that Bananaman — the guy who wears a giant banana suit and pedals a banana-shaped vehicle, as if I have to explain — would be to RAGBRAI what Wavy Gravy was to Woodstock.
RAGBRAI could be one of the most enduring phenomena to spring from the Woodstock generation.
“I think us baby boomers are keeping it going,” Peters said.
Is it because everything is getting so damn expensive? Is it because the boomers are clinging to their youth, mile by mile and hill by hill?
Whatever the case, one adage about aging is even more appropriate for RAGBRAI: It’s not the years, it’s the miles.
But another doesn’t apply in the least: It’s all downhill from here.
I turn 40 this summer. Since both RAGBRAI and I officially are middle-aged, I did the only sensible thing when I stopped in the Czech-proud town of Clutier and walked up to Bernice Smolik’s kolaches stand.
Out of all the tantalizing fruit pastry flavors, I chose prune.
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