The Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa


LSU Student Shares Her RAGBRAI Experiences

By Eva Cranford
LSU Senior / UREC Fitness Assistant

Originally posted in Louisiana State University’s UREC Blog

Biggest lesson I’ve learned from RAGBRAI? No challenge is too big. A year and a half ago, I was nearing 300 pounds. This past summer, I had slimmed to 186. And I completed a 500-mile bike ride across an entire state.

Last May, as I was finishing up my sophomore year, after I had lost about 30 pounds, my mom and I briefly talked about doing RAGBRAI. The Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. Random, right? Iowa. Back in the early 90s, it was a special thing for my Grandpa. He rode his top-of-the-line Schwinn Paramount across Iowa about half a dozen times. Initially, by himself.  A free spirit by nature, he thought it would be an adventure. Then he brought along his children. I had no idea when I sparked the conversation about this journey, that it would change the way I viewed myself and the world around me. July of 2012 was one for the books.

RAGBRAI is at its essence, a party. It’s the Midwest’s version of Mardi Gras on wheels. Parades of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of cyclists coast across the Iowa countryside each day for a week in the midst of the July heat. Stopping periodically for 2-inch thick pork chops on a paper napkin or slices of homemade pie from local bakeries, cyclists pedaled an average of 70-miles per day. With riders coming from literally all corners of the globe, nearly 30,000 people, have an instantaneous bond when they dip their tires into the Missouri River on Saturday night, preparing for the trek across Iowa. For most, RAGBRAI is not an unattainable physical feat. After months of training and preparation, RAGBRAI itself is the reward. A week of meeting new people, camping in obscure Iowa towns, eating insanely good food made by the strong and courageous Methodist women of the Midwest, enjoying beer gardens, and free concerts every night. This year was a different story.

The month of July brought an unimaginable heat wave to Iowa. With its peak coming right in the midst of RAGBRAI. The first four days of the ride all had temperature highs of over 103 degrees. Day 3 had an unspeakable 127 degree “feels like” temperature, with the radiating temperature off of the pavement. Day 3 saw 12,000 people take the sag wagon. And Day 3 also saw me overcome one of the greatest challenges in my entire life. The 2nd Hill at Lehigh.

With 70 miles of pavement behind us for the day, my mom and I coasted down a 2-mile long hill, reaching a peak speed just over 40 miles per hour, into the town of Lehigh, Iowa. It was a small town, and we knew that there was still 20 miles to go until our overnight town of Webster City. Unsure of what the road support would be for the upcoming miles, we stopped for water and food. After refueling, we prepared for the immediate climb out of town. It was a 1/2 mile hill at a 23% gradient. For any of you that understand physics or cycling, you know that’s hard. But what’s worse? Starting from a dead stop. That climb was crazy, but my mom and I made it to the top with some loose glutes and our quads were talking back.

We proceeded to ride about 5 miles down the road with minimal wind or hills. But then, off in the distance, we see the upcoming hill that was 3 times as long and twice as steep as the one we had just climbed. I decided to stop before the decline to grab some water and shake out my sore hands. My mom went ahead and we agreed to meet at the top. So I began the descent. Gaining as much speed as I could, I coasted about 1/4 of the way up before I geared down and powered up. Off in the distance, I see my mom, along with about half the other riders, have jumped off their bikes to walk. But as I slowly climbed up towards the last third of the hill, I can see the top. I literally prayed this prayer:

“God, my body is tired.
You’re going to have to carry me up this hill.
But I’m believing for big things.
Believing that You can carry me.
That You have given me a strength,
The strength to get up this hill,
And every hill in the future.”

And I made it. I made it up the hill that only half of the remaining riders who didn’t already take the sag wagon made it up. Let me tell you, there is something so insanely beautiful about thinking that your physical limit is at one place, but really it’s so much higher.

Biggest lesson I’ve learned from RAGBRAI? No challenge is too big. A year and a half ago, I was nearing 300 pounds. This summer, I had slimmed to 186. And I completed a 500-mile bike ride across an entire state. I climbed the hill that only half of the riders made it up. I survived the day that 12,000 other people took the sag wagon.

People, no hill is too steep. No challenge is too big. You will be blown away by what it feels like to surpass a challenge you thought was insurmountable.


We hope this story inspires a few of you who are thinking about doing RAGBRAI next summer.  Thank you Eva for sharing your experiences!

Eva also wanted everyone to know:

I rode RAGBRAI on the same bike that my late grandfather did. (He rode RAGBRAI several times throughout the 80’s and 90’s before he got sick) and that bike was stolen over the Thanksgiving holidays. It was a very sentimental item and the last real possession we have of my grandfather’s.

We hope the family is able to recover this special bike!


Robert Bailey, Dec 11, 2012 at 9:15 am

“LSU student” were the words I spotted. I too am a Fighting Tiger nd live in Baton Rouge. Reading Eva’s story triggered flashbacks of the 2 hills at Lehigh. I am a double amputee on a trike. The one thing about me on the trike, you can’t stop on a hill. It is hopeless for me to push “The Beast” up the hill. So you just keep cranking. First, Lehigh is a beautiful little town. About a hundred yards up the first hill I met a young man sitting on the back of his pickup with his dog. “Just around the corner. You’re almost there!” Later, I so wanted to go back and punch him. But I didn’t want to climb that hill again. I do hope I can meet Eva someday. I oongratulate you. Gosh, I do understand. Robert

Cari Crooks, Dec 11, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Eva and Robert, I love your stories! Your stories brought back memories of LeHigh also. My Son and I rode my first Ragbrai. I will admit I was very unsure of being able to finish one day let alone a week. My son is very athletic so at the first town we parted, (he rides faster than me) His plan was to do the loop. I too remember coming down the hill going into Lehigh, stopping to get something to eat and rest. I thought the first hill was going to do me in, but I kept saying to myself, I can do this! I did and then some gal and I somehow starting chatting riding along at my typical slow pace looked up and seen the 2nd hill. UGH! I made it up both hills. It was absolutely amazing feeling. Every day coasting into each overnight town was amazing sense of accomplishment. Its unexplainable. I set out to ride week of Ragbrai, unfortunately I did not make my goal, I made it one day shy of the week. The next day I rode out with my son to first town like usual, we split. My ritual call to my husband to let him know how I was, he read between the lines, set out to come get me. I made it into overnight town when he pulled in. I took the next day off, 3 days of 100 degree weather and 30 mph head winds took the wind out of my sail. My son didn’t think I would be back, I came back and finished out the week, the last day my son had made it in to Clinton, turned around rode out to find me and we road in together and dunked our tires together. What an awesome week, we are doing it again this summer. My training will consist of going out on those windy days tackling the wind, this summer I will finish the whole week. As for the hills, I will not take that for granted either. The last month before Ragbrai, I would ride to Gillet Grove and train on those hills all through my training period. When I made it up the Gillet Grove hill the first time first attempt, I knick named it “the Wall” that wall helped me get up those hills in LeHigh. Ask my coworkers, I had my reservations as to whether I could get this challenge done. My sister called me, one evening for health check, begged me to come home. Told her no, her husband said I couldn’t do week of Ragbrai. I didn’t make the whole week but I made it farther than he expected me to go.

Joe3, Dec 11, 2012 at 4:31 pm

WOW … I like this part: People, no hill is too steep. No challenge is too big. You will be blown away by what it feels like to surpass a challenge you thought was insurmountable … Your story makes me think I should start training for next years RAGBRAI, and I’ll gve that some serious thought!
Thanks for telling your story Eva.

Julie Engeman, Dec 11, 2012 at 5:27 pm

You GET IT!! Those that don’t ride…..well they are missing out on the adventure of a life time. I have ridden 25 consecutive RAGBRAIs and loved everyone. Each one holds special memories. There are always those days you question yourself, but at the end of the day there is that sense of accomplishment. You may have faced some adversity that week at one point or another, but you find out what you are made of. I have always said, the ride is about the PEOPLE. Old friends, new friends, people in little towns, the smiles, the gratitude, the friendliness of Iowans, the people who will help you out and not expect anything back in return, the honestly of people who find someone’s belonging and turn it in, the kids in the towns, the kitchen band made up of the seniors sitting outside the nursing home, the way all the planning brings a town together for a soul purpose, the stories to share, the memories to fill a lifetime, the beautiful Iowa countryside….it is so much more than people can ever imagine!!!! To those who think we are nuts to ride a bike so many miles to train, so many miles to participate…you are the crazy ones not to try it. We will live with the experiences and share them with our grand kids. When we go back to work after that wonderful week and a memory pops into our head for no reason…we smile…and the rest don’t get it.

tpy2010, Dec 11, 2012 at 9:07 pm

my 18 yo son and I rode together. It was his first Ragbrai. We road recumbent trikes and had a blast. The people we met were great and some friendships were formed that will last into the future Our mantra was, “what hill, what heat, what humidity?” We paced each other and are looking forward to sharing this experience many times in our future. The above accounts are so motivating.

Tim Lashombe, Dec 11, 2012 at 9:29 pm

“Texas Tim” here (pictured with Eva and her mother). I had the opportunity to meet and ride a day of RAGBRAI with Eva and her mother, along with her Grandfathers spirit. What an inspiration with the weight loss. Keep of the great work and keep inspiring others.

Eva forgot to mention the fact that she completed the last four days (I think it was 4, they began to run together) with a bad knee. It would “pop” with every turn of the crank. She forgot to also mention that she and her mother would leave the campground well before the sun came up, in order to beat the heat and one morning she rode off without her helmet. Therefore she had to backtrack to camp, adding additional miles to the already grueling ride.

Good luck with the recovery of “Mert the Flirts” bike……

John B., Dec 12, 2012 at 6:43 am

Congratulations Eva on your first RAGBRAI and your great weight loss story. Come back again, the weather will have to be better! I have been on RAGBRAI 31 times and that was just unbearable, especially for us folks that live in Iowa. By the way, as bad as the hill going out of Lehigh was, there is another one right in town that is worse. I rode up it once, never again.

Sorry to hear that your Paramount was stolen. That top of the line Schwinn was a great bike.

Jason R. from Texas, Dec 12, 2012 at 4:58 pm


Great story. Ragbrai is so much more than a bike ride. My dad and I were part of the same charter group with you and your mother. Since you have imortalized Texas Tim by publishing a picture of him, you should also include a paragraph about how he was a strong influence in convincing you that you were strong enough to finish the ride. I’m talking about how you took your massage in Cedar Rapids like a normal person and he screamed like a baby from the pain. Now that was an inspiring half hour of comedy. 🙂
Remember, “Well, down in Texas”? What a great week!!!

Eva Cranford, Dec 12, 2012 at 9:18 pm


Thank y’all so much for all the wonderful comments and responses. It truly warms my heart to hear all these messages and stories of RAGBRAI. It was truly a life-changing experience and I will treasure it forever. I am eternally grateful to everyone who I met and interacted with over the course of the most amazing week of my life!

Tim – you truly made RAGBRAI special for my mom and I. Your crazy antics, the Counting Crows concert, playing corn hole, trips to the Kybo, waking you up before we left so early in the morning, bloody marys on our last “easy” morning of the ride, and you wailing in pain at the massage table. You even pushed me up a couple of hills. That was so impressive to me.

But I do remember more than anything: me nailing you with the best “OH BURN!” moment I’ve ever hit anyone with.

Remember? “Tim, who died and made you Davy Crockett?” All you could come up with was, “Shut up.” It was great. 🙂

Jason- thanks so much for your kind message! Tim was definitely a huge part of our RAGBRAI experience. He is a nut, and we love him. Wouldn’t trade our RAGBRAI buddy for anything. We connected from that first day because I wore those goofy Texas Flag Nike shorts! Thankful that I chose those shorts that day. 🙂

To everyone else, I’m so glad that my story has encouraged each of you in some way! That blesses my heart more than words could say.


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