RAGBRAI 2012: At ride's midpoint, 1st-timers share what they've learned

  • 25 July, 2012

RAGBRAI first-timers pedaled through the hump day of the statewide bicycle trek on Wednesday.

So far, the ride’s uninitiated – known by the word “virgin” penned on their legs – have savored Iowa’s small-town style, found relief in farm-side Slip ‘n Slides and regretted a few missed training sessions.

As a virgin to the state’s summertime tradition myself, I concur.


A drink or two and the cajoling of friends convinced Andrea Carlson, a 25-year-old from Ames, to sign up for this week’s 400-plus mile ride, she said. She didn’t have time to train, “not even a little bit.”

“I’m a little sore, but I’ll make it,” she told me. “People should train. I was really stupid.”

I, too, was stupid, and now hobble from my bike to a town’s tenderloin stand like a man thrice my age. Don’t get me wrong: I bike to work daily, but it’s no more than four miles. And I do it in a suit, not spandex.

Each elderly couple on a tandem bike and beer-bellied cyclist that passes me now testifies to the wonders of proper training, no matter your age or body shape.


There’s something about cycling seventeen miles uphill into headwinds that makes you appreciate each town on RAGBRAI’s route.

“They all kind of blend together, but they’re all really cool,” said first-timer John Anderson, 28 and a software engineer in Cedar Rapids.

Sure, cities along the route might share the same food vendors and blast the same country songs from the town square, but they’re all filled with residents offering strangers genuine warmth and hospitality. And that doesn’t get old.

Julie Wilker, an experienced cyclist new to RAGBRAI, said such fanfare in a ride is rare: “I’m just used to rest stops.”


The rest stops between rest stops become the homes along the highway that offer you water, in a bottle or otherwise.

Nick Leuenhagen, a nine-year-old from Boise, is discovering Iowa on a tandem bike with his dad, Brian. His advice: Break for every Slip ‘n Slide possible.

Henry Tam, 58, trained for his first RAGBRAI in the offensive heat of his hometown, Dallas. He’s even eyeing a Wichita Falls, Tex. ride called the Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred. But even Tam couldn’t pass up a free dip in one farmer’s pool. The heat seems to magnify Iowan’s hospitality.

So to the eight-year-old kids who’ve sprayed me in the face with a garden hose this week from Aurelia to Lohrville, I say thanks.


  1. Amanda Kirkman

    Ben Shaw from Memphis, TN is riding this for the first time. Wishing him the best of luck and fun that the ride has to offer! Heard from him today and he too is enjoying EVERY slip N Slide stop :)

  2. Becky Leuenhagen

    Nick, keep cool and have a great time on those slip and slides! I’ll see you and Dad when you get back! Love, Mom

  3. Topher Holstine

    Nick – make Brian do the slip and slide with you…BYRDS is HOT! Have fun and we can play Skylanders when you get back – my wii is fixed. From Topher

  4. Eric Holstine

    Nick – you are tough! Tell your dad to send me an action pic! Ride on – Eric

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