First RAGBRAI Memories

The 1994 Double Loop question caught my eye and evoked a bit of nostalgia. 94 was my first RAGBRAI and I remember absolutely nothing about the double loop. However that day is etched in my mind as clearly as if it were yesterday.

My older brother had ridden every RAGBRAI since the second year. Even though I had done considerable biking in Colorado I hadn’t seen fit to return to my home state and ride with him. That is until 94 when it became clear that the opportunity to join him on RAGBRAI was rapidly fading. The first few days of that year don’t evoke many memories – other than to remember that I was somewhat unimpressed by the lack of any good long stretches of “good riding” (was used to Colorado riding where it can be 25, 30 or even 40 miles between towns). Having to slow down, get off my bike and walk through a small town every 10 or so miles was really beginning to bug me. To say the least I was unimpressed with RAGBRAI.

That all changed on the Double loop Wednesday. I was just west of Madrid starting the climb out of the Des Moines river valley when I began to hear music from somewhere (perhaps 1/4 mile) up ahead. Don’t even remember what kind of music but I do remember thinking it is pretty darn loud – someone’s got a heck of a big boombox set up by the roadside. As music can make you do I soon began peddling to the beat and I found myself rapidly closing in on the mystery source of the tunes. As I rounded the last curve the volume intensified – close to rock concert levels – but try as hard as I could I did not see anything set up along the road. It was at that point that I realized that the source was not confined to the roadside – it was mobile! A bit more peddling brought me up to bike fitted out with what had to have been the remnants of 60’s hi-fi system and powered by (not one but 2) 12 volt car batteries!! Not only that, there were other bikes nearby equipped with odd paraphernalia – a grill among other things. That was my introduction to the BAD BOYS and I realized that RAGBRAI is not an ordinary ride. It was then that I was impressed. RAGBRAI truly was something very special and yes, often very different.

That’s my First RAGBRAI Memory. Anyone else care to share theirs?

18 Replies

Matt Riddell, September 2, 2020 at 6:34 pm

I don’t have any grand stories about my first RAGBRAI and it was only a single day. The last day into Davenport in 2015, but it did set the hook and reeled me into full weeks after that. Although that wasn’t the in the cards immediately after the ride. I wasn’t prepared, it was hot, and many times further than I had ridden at one time. Since I wasn’t making good time, I kept telling myself “must keep going” which led to not stopping for enough water. I walked up the last few hills into Davenport with cramps in my legs. Everything that is amazing about RAGBRAI brought me back of course. I’d like to share an insight of another person after the first “the first” ride. Sept 2, 1973 By Donald Kaul, Des Moines Register: The Great Six-Day Bike Ride has ended. I don’t care if I never see a bicycle again. By never, I mean three days. You know, people train badly for long bike rides. They ride out into the country and try to go fast up hills. They give up smoking. They jog. They buy expensive bikes. None of that is where it’s at. Where it’s at is the seat. What separates the big-time riders from the Sunday afternoon Good-Time Charlies is the ability to sit for long periods of time on narrow, hard surfaces. The next time I plan a long bike ride I’m going to practice for it by sitting on picket fences. Like Coach Vince Lombardi once said: “You have to learn to sit with pain. A bicycle club is only as strong as its weakest backside.” Still the Great Bike Ride was a success and it was fun to be a part of it. Those of you out there who missed it, missed something good.

Me: He goes on to write about 6 interesting and funny lessons learned, but I’ll keep this short and only repeat the first.

Kaul: There are certain lessons to be learned from the Great Bike Ride experience. Here are a few that occur:
1. There are a good many ding-a-ling drivers on the road. While the overwhelming majority of drivers were overwhelmingly polite on the tour, there were those specimens who were willing to risk a biker’s life to save themselves 15 or 20 seconds on the road. Generally you see more of that kind out at the time of the full moon. One guy in a pickup truck almost ripped off your columnist just outside of Iowa City. I was tooling along with bikers in front and behind me and suddenly I heard this screech and I looked back in time to see a pickup truck stop inches from my back wheel. (I know you think I am exaggerating but that’s the way it was; a screech and inches.) I got off my bicycle and offered to remove his head for him since he didn’t seem to be using it anyway, but he declined the honor. I still think the greatest single stroke for safe biking would be to require drivers, as part of their driving test, to ride a bike in traffic for awhile.
2. There are a good many ding-a-ling bikers on the road. . . . . 😉 teaser


Jay Jelinek, September 25, 2020 at 5:49 pm

I had ridden the Ride the Rockies in 2001; I grew up in Colorado and really enjoyed biking.
That’s how that ride came about. However, while enjoying that ride, I spoke w/ lots of other cyclists – a few of them mentioned this ride called the RAGBRAI.
Though I grew up in CO, I was born in Dubuque and had been back to Iowa many times on family vacations. However, it wasn’t until 2005 when I committed to doing the RAGBRAI. I jokingly told my wife that I was having my mid-life crisis and, as a result, I decided to do this bike ride across Iowa. She said “Iowa? In July?!? You go and have fun.”
I found out that one of my friends Dad, Allan Wilson, had ridden RAGBRAI many times back in the 80s and 90s. So I went and talked with him about his adventures and what to expect. When I approached him about this ride his eyes just lit up with excitement and he eagerly told me all about his experiences and how to handle the ride. He beamed with joy remembering his time on RAGBRAI. That was my first inkling of just how much fun this ride would be.
Now that I was filled with confidence and excitement, I made my plans to drive to Iowa in July, do this RAGBRAI ride and then meet up with my family who lived in the Davenport area.
I arrived that year in Le Mars, parked my car, got my bike and gear, found the camp site and pitched my tent. I remember it being over 100 degrees that day, but that just made the Blue Bunny ice cream taste even better!
The first day’s ride took us into Sheldon. That night there was a big thunderstorm that kicked up 70+ mph gusts and let loose about 2.5 inches or rain. The wind snapped one of the corners of my tent’s rain fly. I was able to hang onto the rain fly from inside my tent so that I wouldn’t lose it completely. But because the rain fly was now flapping outside my tent, the rain came into my tent. Everything I had got totally soaked. Thankfully the storm finally passed.
The next morning I got up early and put on my wet socks, my wet bike shorts and my wet jersey. I packed up all my wet gear, loaded it onto the RAGBRAI truck and started the days ride. Fortunately it didn’t take long to dry off and get back into my rhythm of riding and conversing with the
other riders – most of the talk that day consisted of nasty storm stories.
The only good that came from that overnight storm was that it cooled the weather for the rest of the week.
I recall camping the next evening in Estherville. I also remember seeing everyone carefully setting up their tents and paying special attention to putting on their tent rain flys in case of another storm.
The next day I met a member of Team Larry on the way to Algona and they were kind enough to let me camp with them as one of their parents lived in Algona. A wonderful first experience with a super nice RAGBRAI team.
I remember setting up my camp in Northwood the next night, then at the fairgrounds in the nice town of Cresco and then the final night of camping in West Union.
It took most of the week to get my clothes and sleeping bag finally dried out after they got drenched early in the week.
At the end of the ride my aunt and uncle meet me in Guttenburg at a local bar in the middle of town right on the bike route. I got to witness all the RAGBRAI teams finishing their rides together. It was so amazing and wonderful watching the finish – better than any
parade I’ve ever seen. I knew then that I would be doing this ride again.
I wasn’t able to ride again until 2008 (life has a way of getting the way sometimes) and again in 2010 and 2012. I now have life figured out – so RAGBRAI is now an annual event. I’ve ridden every year since 2014.
My RAGBRAI team was formed in 2010 (Team M.A.S.H.) and we’re still going strong (but that’s another story).
For me, this RAGBRAI ride just keeps getting better and better – I am very fortunate and blessed! 🙂
Maybe one day some young rider will ask me about my Ragbrai adventures – I’m sure my eyes will light up with excitement.


cyduke, October 2, 2020 at 8:55 am

My 1st RAGBRAI was RAGBRAI XI in ’83. I was 13, and rode with my friend Mike, and his dad, Ron. Ron had ridden RAGBRAI X, Mike, and I thought the idea of riding a bike for a week, and camping was a great idea. Back then there wasn’t the media hype surrounding the ride. In fact, I knew little about it.
That year the route had my hometown of Ames as an overnight, and 2 days later rode by my Grandparent’s farm in Franklin Co.
Rolling into the Onawa city park I was floored by the sea of tents, and people getting ready to ride. I had no idea the size of the ride before that.
Ron, and Mike struggled with the ride, and the heat didn’t help. I had my own issues. I was riding a bike my Grandpa bought me at a police auction for ten bucks. It was heavy, hardly working, breaking spokes along the way, it was on its last legs.
By Thursday, Ron, and Mike decided to quit. I was forced to make the decision to either go home with them, or finish the ride in Dubuque. I decided to stay, and ride.
The next day was 100 miles from Grundy Center to Manchester. Back then the Century Day was mandatory. At one point in the day, the cable to my rear der. broke, and I was left with only 2 gears. Considering I was almost out of money, I decided to gut it out, and keep riding.
I made it into Manchester sometime after 6 PM. I was spent, and broke. I remember going to a gas station buying a candy bar, and soda for dinner.
Once I made it over to the campgrounds, I had to set up this 6-person dome tent by myself. I was so tired, and couldn’t manage setting up the tent I just wrapped myself up in it, and slept on the dirt ground.

The next day was a short 45 miles to Dubuque. Throughout the week we saw signs that said “Dubuque or puke”, and once we got closer to Dubuque, the hills started. I finally got to a point where I had to stop, and see what could be done about my gears. I pulled over to a mobile repair van, waited in line. Once I got to the front, the mechanic told me how much it would cost. I told him I didn’t have enough money, and turned away. At that point, a woman behind in line called me out, and said she would pay for my repair, and gave me some extra money to get to the finish. I had no idea who this woman was, and after I offered to pay her back once I got home she refused telling me to pay it forward.
I made it into Dubuque elated that I finished. I couldn’t believe that such a feat could be accomplished, and couldn’t wait for RAGBRAI XII.

I totally fell in love with RAGBRAI at that moment, and looked forward to riding it every year. As a teen it was like summer camp with my friends. I’ll admit, later rides my friends, and I rode without chaperones, we were on our own but it taught me self-reliance. Nobody is going to ride the bike for you, and any trouble you get into, you’ll have to figure how to get out of it.

Before this Covid year threw a wrench into everything, I only missed one year. 2013, the year my triplet daughters were born. My plan is to ride at least 52 RAGBRAI’s before I think of “retiring” from the ride. I only have 16 more to go but I’ll probably keep going well after that.


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