Sun, Jul 21, 2013 | by Emily SchettlerShare
Gary Whitby has a long list of foods to try on his three-week trip through Iowa and the United States.
Fortunately, the 45-year-old from Perth, Australia, has a week of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa to help conquer many of the staples.
Whitby has already crossed off sweet corn and steak on a stick, thanks to his Iowa host, Tom Casavant.
What’s left? Rhubarb pie, pork chops and Beekman’s Homemade Ice Cream, for sure. And maybe a State Fair corn dog for good measure.
“This is going to be my gastronomic tour of Iowa,” Whitby said Saturday as he relaxed in the food tent after downing a fresh-squeezed Iowa lemonade at the bike expo that precedes RAGBRAI.
The nation’s oldest, largest and longest recreational bicycle touring event starts this morning in Council Bluffs along the Missouri River and ends Saturday in Fort Madison along the Mississippi River.
Whitby flew into the United States for the first time on Thursday. While here, he’ll also travel to Colorado, California and Wyoming.
Despite that, the three-time Iron Man competitor had several people ask: of all the places to visit, why Iowa?
“Tom told me about this ride and the opportunity to get a little crazy so I said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Whitby said.
Fewer than 1 percent of the estimated 10,000 participants in RAGBRAI come from overseas, according to RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz.
This year, they hail from Nepal, Germany and Japan, among other countries.
Whitby traveled 11,000 miles to participate in the seven-day trek across the state. It’s similar to the trip Casavant took in 2012 to participate in Perth’s Rottnest Channel Swim.
The University of Iowa professor swam a 20-kilometer race across the channel from Perth to Rottnest Island.
Whitby, a stranger at the time, volunteered to be his skipper and follow his route in a boat. The two became fast friends, and Casavant invited the Australian to come take part in another uniquely local challenge.
Though Perth and Iowa are nearly half a world apart, both men say there are strong similarities between the two.
Like Iowa, Perth, in western Australia, often gets written off when people think of the country as a whole, they said.
“There’s no respect, but there’s a lot of interesting and awesome things about it,” Whitby said.
The same goes for Iowa. And, said Casavant, much of that is on display during RAGBRAI.
“I think he’s going to find out there’s a lot here,” he said.