RAGBRAI LI July 20 -27, 2024

NPR's No Pie Refused carries on with just one fork

  • 25 July, 2016
  • Kyle Munson

NPR journalist Les Cook of the No Pie Refused team, right, poses with Matt “Mr. Pork Chop” Bernhard on Monday along the RAGBRAI route.

VILLISCA, Ia. — A Des Moines Register investigation has determined that one of RAGBRAI’s most famous and beloved bicycling teams, No Pie Refused, is a fraud.

Just kidding.

Not kidding about the fame and how much Iowans adore the National Public Radio journalists who in 2013 cleverly adapted their acronym to prowl by bike for homemade pie on our rural landscape. Political junkies Don Gonyea, Scott Horsley and Brian Naylor founded the team, wanting to mingle with Iowans without having to question them about their preferred presidential candidates. Various colleagues joined them or subbed for them the last two years on the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.

But this year No Pie Refused rests on the shoulders (or fork, I guess) of just one man: Les Cook, a business editor who spends most of his time in NPR’s Washington, D.C., studios.

Unlike the political staff, Cook has the luxury of skipping this summer’s national party conventions that have diverted Gonyea, Horsley, Tamara Keith and scores of other journalists to Cleveland and Philadelphia.

Not that Cook, 61, is without support. NPR has long since forged an alliance with Team Groucho (as in Marx, so look for the noses poking from the front of their bike helmets).

Horsley sent Groucho ringleader Bill Danforth of Shenandoah a text Monday morning reporting that he had ridden a stationary bike in his Philly hotel’s exercise room, but it just wasn’t the same.

Horsley and Gonyea later emailed a photo that showed them backstage at the DNC with a heaping tray of tiny sandwiches.

NPR journalists Don Gonyea, left, and Scott Horsley pose with food from the media room at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, pining for the pie of RAGBRAI.

That rote media-room menu paled in comparison to the slab of grilled meat from Mr. Pork Chop that I watched Cook devour in front of me when we met up at the legendary RAGBRAI food vendor with the signature pink school bus.

“It’s astonishing how many people will line up for a pork chop at 10 a.m.,” Cook mused.

This is his second year on RAGBRAI. He was on hand in 2015 when a group of Register journalists trounced NPR in a glorious pie-eating contest in Mount Vernon — what I like to believe is the real reason that NPR’s numbers so drastically dwindled this year as they reeled from the devastating loss.

“I’m going to be honest with you,” Cook said as we sat on the lawn. “I haven’t had any pie yet.”

Blasphemy! Somebody get NPR’s Peter Overby to investigate the last four years of No Pie Refused financing and record-keeping! Now!

But seriously, it’s just that Cook is more of a pork chop guy.

The wiry radio journalist also is a dedicated two-wheeled commuter, pedaling a 14-mile round trip on his steel-frame bike for most of the year.

He was raised on the Kansas side of the Kansas City metro, and his parents hail from small towns. So this Midwestern prairie still feels like home to him.

The 35-year veteran of NPR also is a rabid music fan who’s a drummer in his own band, Truck Patch.

So we spent part of Monday morning’s ride talking about our mutual admiration for such artists as Margo Price and Pokey LaFarge.

Even though he doesn’t cover politics, Cook admits that this fall’s presidential election could be the business story of the year, in terms of its impact on national and global finance.

“When the Republican Party is putting up a candidate that’s skeptical of free trade,” Cook said, “things are different.”

But don’t worry: As long as Europe remains slightly more chaotic than us, that helps prop up the American economy. I think that’s what passes for hope these days.

Better to stay blissfully unaware on a bike in rural Iowa. Cook is unsure how many consecutive RAGBRAIs he may ride; that has yet “to be negotiated” with his wife, Lynn, who like the vast majority of the sane world opts not to sweat up hills in the depths of summer. But he did promise that No Pie Refused will return next year. He even proposed a new contest: corn-shucking.

I accepted that challenge on behalf of the Register. Cook was a little leery of suggesting an activity that may be second nature to native Iowans. But he also was given corn-shuck coaching Sunday night by his Groucho friends.

“Does anyone ever tell you that they find riding through an endless sea of corn fields to be hypnotic?” Cook said as Mr. Pork Chop’s grill smoke drifted above the green stalks.

Sounds to me like he’s a RAGBRAI lifer.

RAGBRAI Day 2 photos: Shenandoah to Creston

RAGBRAI Day 2 photos: Shenandoah to Creston

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