RAGBRAI L – I Survived

It’s been a few weeks since I completed RAGBRAI L, the 50th anniversary of the largest bike event of its kind, cycling from Sioux City to Davenport Iowa. I say “survived” because that’s how I felt at the end after experiencing mechanical failure, oppressive heat and humidity, headwinds and hills on the 500-mile route. I’m still glad I did it, and I’m proud of the accomplishment. And I urge any cyclist that hasn’t ridden RAGBRAI to do so. It’s a one-of-a-kind event.

Here are my quick observations on this year’s event.

  • The 50th anniversary of RAGBRAI was designed to hew closely to the original route in 1973. This meant the route would move in a generally southwestern direction, bring southeasterly winds into play. Combined with heat nearing 100 degrees and tons of hills, I found this route to be significantly more difficult than the one I rode in 2021.
  • There was no cap on registrations, which wreaked havoc with the organizers trying to fulfill registration packets. Many did not receive their packets in the mail ahead of the event and had to fetch them at the Expo on Saturday.
  • I don’t know the number of weeklong cyclists, but I’m confident there were thousands more than 2021. And I’m pretty sure the sheer number of cyclists overwhelmed the pass-through and overnight towns, and the charters.
  • The organizers predicted as many as 60,000 riders on the route from Ames to Des Moines, but I didn’t feel like it was any more crowded than the previous days.
  • It felt less crowded on the Des Moines to Tama-Toledo section. Rumors flew that thousands of cyclists had dropped after Des Moines, having struggled with heat, hills and headwinds on Days 1 and 2, and facing the prospect of more miles and more of the same on Days 5 and 6.
  • SAG and medical support personnel were busy as many riders dropped mid-ride and others needed to be treated for heat exhaustion. I learned later that one rider died. Unsure of cause but I don’t think that’s happened before.
  • Don’t know how the organizers calculated mileage because I exceeded the mileage each day just by the distance I needed to get to and from my campsite. For instance, official mileage from Des Moines to Tama-Toledo was listed at 82 miles. When I finally arrived at my campsite, my Garmin showed 90 miles. In Ames, after circling the inside of Jack Trice Stadium (Iowa State), I followed the crowd, which turned out to be the wrong direction. Once I figured that out, I had to backtrack, adding more miles on top of the official 83.
  • Campsites, at least mine, were miles from the entertainment centers of the overnight towns, and shuttle service was hit or miss. So I skipped the entertainment. However, in Tama-Toledo the band Foghat was playing only a few hundred yards away and serenaded me to sleep.
  • One of the most popular vendors in each pass-through town was the bike repair shop. I utilized bike repair several times – more to come later.
  • Cell service was spotty (ATT is my carrier). I completely lost my signal in Carroll and then again in Tama-Toledo. This concerned my wife who appreciated my nightly calls to recount the day and assure her I was fine and doing well. Fortunately, my Garmin stayed connected and so she and other family members could follow me with LiveTracking.
  • The charging stations at my charter campsite were overwhelmed. I was okay the first three nights because I had brough along two power banks. I used these to charge my phone, Apple Watch and Garmin. But eventually I drained both of them and couldn’t find an outlet to recharge. As my phone drained down, Garmin LiveTracking failed but the Garmin kept working right until the end, which was impressive to me.

This was my second RAGBRAI, having done the ride year before last. I decided I would make a few logistic changes in getting bike and baggage to the start town. Prior, I had shipped my bike to Kansas City where it was assembled at a local bike shop. Two college buddies drove me to the Le Mars, the start town. At the end I had to find Pork Belly Ventures, a charter that would handle shipping my bike and baggage back to Los Angeles.

This time I chose to check my bike as baggage along with my duffle that had my camping equipment and clothing for the week. My backpack had my tech and my GoPro. I had found a non-stop flight from LAX to OMA (Omaha Nebraska, across the river from Sioux City). I made arrangement with a second charter, my primary charter being Out of Staters (OOS). I needed the second charter to get me from Omaha to Sioux City. This turned out to be major mistake on my part and set a few things in motion that would impact the ride.

In the next posts, I’ll recount the journey day-by-day.

Author: brianbartleyberlin

Adventure cyclist. No spandex, carbon fiber or cleats. My ride is a 2009 Surly Long Haul Trucker, made of steel, built to last.

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