RAGBRAI 2012: 'Beat the heat,' early finishers preach

  • 26 July, 2012

CEDAR RAPIDS, Ia. — Heat is the common factor motivating RAGBRAI’s early-risers to hit the route while others still roll in sleeping bags. They’re sometimes out before the sun rises.

“When all these people are suffering in the heat, I’m usually back in taking a nap,” said rider Ed Alford, 57, a Topeka, Kan. resident.

Ed Alford

Alford’s a solitary early riser. He prefers riding solo without the massive crowds, another advantage of riding early.

He began the day on Wednesday at 5:30 a.m., completing the 85-mile ride from Marshalltown to Cedar Rapids just after 10.

Getting caught on the route in the middle of the day can be a “death spiral,” said Thomas Thurman, 71, from Colorado Springs, Colo. The heat of the day slows a rider down, which results in a longer time on the route.

And the fun only “spirals” down from there, he said.

Thomas Thurman

“It’s very simple, beat the heat,” he said. “Otherwise you get into a death spiral.”

Thurman completed the ride to Cedar Rapids around 10:20, but he can’t say when exactly he started. On RAGBRAI, he wears no wristwatch.

But when he woke up, he saw stars and a clear sky and proceeded to ride, he said.

The early-risers clip through the towns on the route before other riders, but it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no time to take in small-town Iowa hospitality.

Richard Dawson

Robert Dawson, 65, a nine-year veteran of the ride, says he was able to stop for all-you-can eat pancakes before arriving in Cedar Rapids around 10:30.

RAGBRAI forces Dawson, a Greensburg, Ind., resident, out of bed an hour earlier than he’s used to, he said. He starts the ride around 4:45, and rarely arrives at an overnight town past 10:30 a.m., he said.

The goal remains the same: Always “beating the heat” of the day.

It’s a physical test to wake up early and make the ride before the masses, and that challenge is a significant motivator for Dawson, he said.

“It’s like going to boot camp. I could stay home in the air conditioning or I could go to boot camp.”

First-time RAGBRAI rider Dena Lange, 39, began at 4:15 to make the ride to

Dena Lange

Cedar Rapids, arriving just before 10:30.

She’s tardy, however, compared to her boyfriend, Shawn, who made it to the city by 9:30, she said.

There’s some sacrifice to being an early-riser, Lange, an Austin, Texas resident, said. It means getting to bed early, forgoing late-night parties.

The trade-off is an afternoon nap and time to sightsee in the overnight towns, she said.

“There are the people here to eat, and there are the people here to ride,” she said.


  1. JJ

    I am all in favor of an early start to beat the heat, and do the same myself. But it seems a little irresponsible to be leaving well before sunrise and well before the days routes officially open. It endangers not only the riders but also is unfair to motorists who may be traveling at that time of night. Bike lights and reflectors are simply not adequate when dark.

  2. Michael Hauri

    To each his one, but you miss a lot along the way if you leave that early. Safety should be number one goal.

  3. CIOscarr

    I think the wonderful thing about RAGBRAI is that it allows for all different types of riders to ride to their level and preference. I am not an early riser and I ride to spend time with my friends, unfortunately, sometimes when we ride the sun decides to be the hottest!

  4. kate perkins

    If you zip through the pass through towns in time to arrive at the overnight town by 10:30 a.m., you miss the best part of ragbrai: the activities and hospitality and attractions of the Iowa towns on the route. If all I wanted was to take a long bike ride & get off the route as fast as possible, I could stay home, bike locally, and sleep in my own bed at night.

  5. JIll

    Hey, I gotta ask this – and dont know where else I can… Now that I am home, I am still at Ragbrai! In my thoughts, in my dreams, in my semi-conscious waking up hours… I keep thinking I am there. It is kind of like getting off a ship after sailing for a week… you still feel the waves!

    Another thing I dont hear anyone mentioning is how you fared the week after you came home? Me? Well, I teach fitness classes and I did not have my usual energy for the first 5 days i taught. I also felt sleepy even though I had plenty of sleep. How about you??

  6. Bob

    This was a tough year for heat. My wife and I got up at 4 am to pack the gear and were on the road by 5. Of course we used bright rear lights (Planet Bike Superflash) and used our camp headlamps for forward light. Everyone is different when it comes to heat tolerance. As long as bikers are lit up and legal in terms of the state of Iowa, they are fine to ride in the dark. Trust me, I thought we would be one of a few on the road – NOT!. There were tons and tons of riders doing the same thing….blinking lights as far as the eye could see. And dawn on a bike in Iowa has its own kind of pleasant benefits – riding with the sunrise in the beautiful countryside is fantastic.

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