It occurred to me the other day that the Cycling Club at Grinnell is really more like a hive mind than anything else. When I started the club two years ago, all I really wanted was more people to ride with — and that is our philosophy today. The power of Cycling Club lies in its e-mail list and its Plan (an online community — not run by the College — that provides interested students with space where they can keep a blog of sorts). I haven’t been riding very much recently, but there are plenty of other rides going on.
We do coalesce as a hive for certain things, like fixing student bikes for free, dabbling in collegiate road racing in the spring, and running “theme” rides, like one to a local apple orchard in the fall. This past summer, we also rode RAGBRAI as a group.
The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, more briefly known as RAGBRAI, is the largest bicycle touring event in the United States. It is a sevenday party that travels across Iowa, along with you and your bike. You, and 20,000 other people.
I treasured the experience to get better acquainted with my current home state. There’s just something about riding through a tiny town, being greeted by the mayor in a cherry-picker, and stopping to eat sweet corn — fresh out of a butter vat — that made me love Iowa even more than I already did. It also makes 80- to 100-mile days in the saddle a whole lot more bearable.
There is also a lot to be said for variety. RAGBRAI is fairly representative of the Grinnell cycling community in that all sorts of people get involved. You can strap on your lycra and hammer away, or you can build a bike out of bamboo. I lost track of the number of bikes towing speaker systems blaring music. Even though it might seem strange, riding a bike for more than 450 miles can be fun. In fact, everybody was having a blast.
You see, I’m convinced that RAGBRAI works solely because it is in Iowa. Nowhere else would you be able to find so many friendly people statewide willing to put up with thousands of sweaty, dirty cyclists. We were invited into homes, offered food, and cheered along by old folks in lawn chairs almost the entire way.
RAGBRAI cemented my love for Iowa. It also made me realize what it is that I love so much about bike riding: it’s an experience. You can get on a bike and go somewhere and do something. A bike trip can be exactly what you want it to be. I’m not going to say something contrived like, “and in that way it’s like a Grinnell College education,” but … I suppose I just did. My apologies. Rest assured that if you come to Grinnell and go somewhere with your schoolmates, you’ll be traveling with friends.
Hugh Redford '10 is a Philosophy major from Pound Ridge, New York.