A day of pedaling and people-watching

Bridget Maxwell

The Mr. Porkchop truck has been helping fill the bellies of RAGBRAI riders for years.

This is the second of a series of blogs by espnW deputy editor and native Iowan Heather Burns, who is doing the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.

Sometimes I forget how much I love RAGBRAI. And then we have a day like Sunday.

We woke up to thunder and lightning at 5 a.m. and quickly packed up our gear and got it on the trucks. (Our bike club takes it from town to town.) The great thing? It never rained. The storm went north and south of us -- on either side -- but dodged the ride. What luck!

We rode to the middle of Council Bluffs and found an oatmeal buffet for breakfast. A big bubbling trough of oatmeal was at the front of the buffet line and toppings included blueberries, raspberries, almonds, walnuts, honey and syrup. Combined with a cup of coffee, it was perfect fuel.

After breakfast it was into the masses for the 55-mile day. Two Des Moines Register feature writers -- Don Kaul and John Karras -- started RAGBRAI in 1973. Both avid cyclists, they decided to ride their bikes across the state and invited the masses to join them. About 300 riders went on the first RAGBRAI and 114 finished the whole ride. These days, the number of riders on a single day is sometimes as many as 20,000. And the riders come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Sunday I saw a 6-year-old boy riding with his father and an 86-year-old woman named Lucy. The sign on the back of her bike said "86 And Riding For Kicks."

One of the fun things about the ride is all the different teams. Team Flamingo has pink feathers coming out of its helmets. Team Bumble Bee wears yellow-and-black striped jerseys and has been known to buzz loudly as it passes you. Team Tutu wears frilly pink skirts over its bike shorts, but I did not see them Sunday. One year, there was a team Mickey Mouse, and the riders had ears coming out of their helmets, wore Mickey's red pants and Minnie's polka-dotted skirt and even had the big white gloves on their hands.

RAGBRAI also features lots of local talent. In one town Sunday there was a group tap dancing. In another, four women were singing church hymns. The best entertainment? People-watching. As my dad would say, it takes all kinds. And many kinds are here this week, riding their bikes across Iowa and amusing me.

Sunday's ride was full of the usual fun. It was also short, not too hot and included a tail wind. We made it to our campsite in Harlan before noon.

That won't happen Monday -- we have 83 miles to Perry. It is the longest day of the week. But with the sights and sounds of the ride, it will likely pass quickly.

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