Biking across Iowa, for Dad and pie

Courtesy Heather Burns

espnW deputy editor Heather Burns, far right, survived a flat tire and a thunderstorm during her first RAGBRAI in 1983. Now she's back for more.

This is the first of a series of blogs by espnW deputy editor and native Iowan Heather Burns, who is doing a bike ride across her home state starting Sunday.

My last foray into the bike ride across Iowa ended in a bit of a thud.

In 2010, I decided to do the Des Moines Register's annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) for the sixth time. My dad does the weeklong ride from the banks of the Missouri River to the Mississippi River every summer. He had been hounding me to do it again since I went with him three times in the late 1990s.

The third day of that 2010 ride was particularly hot and steamy. I had just ridden into Clear Lake after what was supposed to be a 51-mile day. I remember my odometer saying the mileage was far more. I also remember being frustrated that I couldn't find my bike club's campsite. I was in the process of circling the tents and trucks that are part of the entourage of more than 20,000 cyclists on RAGBRAI when a truck rounded the corner. And clipped my pedal.

The force of a Ford 150 is impressive. The blow spun me around and I ended up on the ground -- my calf bleeding from the sprocket that had just dug into it. I went to first aid and got some bandages and ice. Then I went and got my bike fixed. I ended up riding the next day, 52 miles to Charles City, but did so in pain -- my lower body was covered in bruises. I decided to hang it up four days into the ride.

Not one who gives up easily, on Sunday I will embark on RAGBRAI XLI. This year's ride goes from Council Bluffs to Fort Madison and is 405 miles long. I will be riding with my dad, my older sister and one of her best friends.

The truck incident wasn't my first mishap on RAGBRAI. Back in 1983, when I was 14 and making my first go-round, there was a huge thunderstorm during an overnight stop in Guthrie Center. The winds were so powerful our tent pole snapped. All our gear ended up sopping wet. The next day I got a flat tire and decided to call it quits after 50 miles (the Register provides vans to take riders who can't finish to the next town). I got in and hung up all our stuff. My dad couldn't have been happier to hear of the flat when he arrived after a 100-mile day and everything was dry.

Courtesy Heather Burns

Heather Burns says the charm of the ride isn’t so much the miles or the scenery as the people you meet along the way.

Then there was the haircut incident. I went on my second RAGBRAI at 18, the summer between senior year of high school and freshman year of college. My thick hair was hot and in the way during the ride, so I decided to stop in a beauty shop somewhere along the ride to get it cut. I emerged with what can only be termed a flattop. Then, I bought peroxide and dyed it blond. It was quite a first-impression look for my college roommates.

The gap between my second ride in 1987, and the next three, from 1995 to '97, was long. I had moved from Iowa City to Minneapolis and then to Reno, Nev., to take my first full-time job as a sports writer. Because I came home every summer anyway, it just made sense I would do the ride with Dad -- a week of bonding time.

Dad says we started doing RAGBRAI because he loves adventure. He had us backpacking in the Rocky Mountains when I was 9 and across Isle Royale National Park at 11. Our first RAGBRAI was also fairly cheap. With a family of six, we needed to make every dollar count. The entry fee back then was $15. He gave my sister and me $5 a day for food, which was more than enough.

These days we go on RAGBRAI with the support of my dad's bike club. My sister and her friend will travel from Chicago and I will come from Connecticut. The charm of the ride isn't so much the miles or the scenery as the people. Iowans are both friendly and curious. And they can bake. Pie is one of my favorite foods on RAGBARI. After all, when you are burning 500 calories an hour on the ride, you can afford to eat almost anything you want.

Saturday a tour bus will drop me and the rest of our group in Council Bluffs. We will dip the back wheels of our bikes into the Missouri, as is tradition to start the ride. Seven days later the front wheel will be dipped into the Mississippi.

In the days in between, I will try to steer clear of trucks.

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