Seven days, 442 miles, blistering heat, cold rain, all from the back of bike. Sound like heaven? To more than 50 Grinnellians it does!
What would tempt so many to trek across Iowa by bike during the last week in July? It’s the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, better known as RAGBRAI, the granddaddy of cross-state bike tours. Started in 1973 as a challenge between two Des Moines Register writers, RAGBRAI has grown into an annual event with international draw.
And Grinnellians love it! Why? Maybe it is the chance to explore the state, the experience of riding in a pack of 10,000 fellow bicyclists, or the bragging rights. Maybe it’s the sweet corn, homemade pies and ice cream, and apples off the tree. Maybe it’s the warm welcomes from the great people in the towns that host the ride. Marilyn Musser’s (’74) favorite words to describe the tour: “tribal” and “adventure.”
Musser joined the Grinnell alumni team last year and is back again this year. Others on this year’s team include coaches and other faculty, staff, parents of students and alumni—even a prospective student and his dad. And, of course, alumni themselves. Several are recent graduates, while for others, like Jeffrey W. Cook ’67, it’s been a little longer—though not as long as it was for last year oldest alumnus, Bill Simmons ’58.
The College's official team is joined on the road by other Grinnellians, including long-time rider Craig Allin ’68. Allin has been riding with his Cornell College team for 23 years—one year shy of the group’s founding—and runs their team now.
The College is hosting two receptions this year for alumni riders—one from 4–6 p.m., Sunday, at the Sioux City charter campground, and another from 6–9 p.m., Thursday, at Roux Orleans restaurant in Waterloo (Thursday’s overnight stop).
The College is also arranging for group photo for all Grinnellians on RAGBRAI (regardless of team) at the Clear Lake Campground on Wednesday at 6:30 a.m.
This year’s riders will traverse the northern third of the state, starting in Sioux City on Sunday, July 25, and finishing seven days later in Dubuque—with many riders taking the traditional dip in the rivers at either end, the Missouri and the Mississippi. The city of Grinnell has hosted RAGBRAI three times before—in 1976, 1991, and 2001—and is hoping to have the chance to do so again next year, when RAGBRAI will hopefully cross the middle of the state.
More than 200 other rides have been modeled after RAGBRAI and, in 2005, Sports Illustrated named it one of its 25 summer essentials. It’s even inspired a murder mystery. According to their site, RAGBRAI is the “oldest, largest, and longest bicycle touring event in the world.”
Interested in following the team’s adventures, learning more, or signing up for information about next year’s events? Visit the Loggia, Grinnell's alumni site, for more information. If you're just looking to get a jersey of your own, visit the College Bookstore.
So, why do so many people vie for a spot on RAGBRAI?
In her “update from the road” last year, Louise Desjardins ’76 wondered that herself. “The one constant for my first RAGBRAI is the warmth and open-heartedness of Iowans, the same generosity that greeted me on my arrival at Bo Battey's gas and bus station in Grinnell in 1972,” she said. “The beauty and success of RAGBRAI must lie in the constitution of the Iowan,” she added, but in the end wondered “Maybe it's just the pork and the pie.”