Jul 282010

Yesterday we drove a few miles to Britt, Iowa to check out the Hobo Museum, and instead found ourselves caught up in a wild crowd of bikers who had taken over this tiny farming community.

But don’t worry, these weren’t outlaw motorcycle gangs on a rampage, but rather bicyclists participating in the Des Moines Register newspaper’s annual bicycling event, the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, or RAGBRAI, for short.

Each year thousands of bicycle enthusiasts participate in the seven day long event, which takes a different route across the state each time.  This year the ride began in Sioux City and will end in Dubuque. Now in its 38th year, RAGBRAI is the oldest, largest and longest bicycle touring event in the world. The route follows the back roads all of the way, and stops for the night at selected small towns along the way.

Ragbrai crowd 5

RAGBRAI is a bicycle ride, not a race, and the route is laid out with an average of 68 miles per day. RAGBRAI is limited to 8,500 week-long riders and 1,500 day riders, who participate in a lottery to be included. But the ride has few rules, and thousands more unofficial riders, who call themselves “pirates,” also participate. Some ride the entire route, and many more ride just short sections. Riders range in age from 10 years to over 80 years old,

Ragbrai riders 5

This year, the number of riders we heard about in Britt ranged from 15,000 to 17,000. and that doesn’t include the thousands of support personnel who travel the route in cars, pickups, vans, converted school buses, and RVs, carrying tents, bicycle parts, supplies, clothing, and food.

Ragbrai riders 6

One might think that Iowa’s small towns would would cringe at the thought of hordes of riders and support teams descending on them, but quite the contrary, towns bid for the opportunity to be included in the route. These riders bring a lot of money to town. In addition to filling local motels and restaurants, every night is  a party. We were told that during their stay in one town this week, they spent over $50,000 for beer alone! In one town! I don’t know how accurate that figure is, but from what we saw, this is definitely a group that rides hard and parties harder, and some folks looked like they were sweating more than water and salt as they passed by us!

In addition to the riders and their support teams, the sidewalks were filled and the streets lined with vendors selling everything from cookies to t-shirts, and people who just came to see all of the activity and watch the parade of riders go by.

Ragbrai crowd 4

Ragbrai bikes

One lady even brought her goat to town for all of the festivities. After all, it is Iowa!


We watched the riders for a while, visited the Hobo Museum, where Miss Terry took my picture with a gentleman named Todd “Ad Man” Walters, who was crowned King of the Hoboes at Britt’s annual National Hobo Convention in 2005. I’ll have a feature story on the Hobo Museum in the next issue of he Gypsy Journal.

Nick and Hobo Adman

Back at Forest City, we had hoped that the work on our motorhome would be finished yesterday, but they still have a couple of hours left before everything is done. Hopefully, we’ll be on the road by noon today.

We’re looking forward to getting up to Traverse City and settling in for a few days, while we get Miss Terry’s annual medical checkup out of the way, and visit my cousin Terry Cook and his family, and our friends there.

And after days of getting up so early, I plan to sleep very late, then open my eyes, take a look at the world, and then roll over and go back to sleep again!

Thought For The Day – An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  3 Responses to “Riding Across Iowa”

  1. We participated in the 2001 Ragbrai and it was quite a blast. The towns were wonderful and welcoming with entertainment, meals, and refreshments. Cyclists are tempted by cold refreshments, homemade pies, ice cream, and candy almost every mile of the route. The downside is the heat, humidity and wind. An contrary to most people’s impressions, Iowa is NOT flat.

  2. Last time we were in Iowa, we tried to visit the Hobo Museum, but it was closed. We did get to see the Clown Museum in Nebraska, however. And our happy coincidence with a bike tour was in Oregon. Shared adventures, miles apart!

  3. A suggestion for your way East:
    just SE of Cedar Rapids is the Amana Colonies.
    They have an RV park there that welcomes good-sized groups like clubs and rallies.
    Very interesting area for history, and also for Family-style restaurants.
    If you haven’t been there before, you and your readers will find it neat, and it’s an easy 1/2 day away.

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