The Spirit of RAGBRAI – Small Towns and Tall Tales
Justin Balog reporting live from RAGBRAI.
In 2019 myself and two friends, Melissa and Kelly joined over 15,000 people in
an annual migration that has evolved into the world’s greatest cycling festival.
A week-long non-stop carnival of riding and wonder. We set out to discover the
spirit of RAGBRAI. What we found were pool parties, tent cities, small towns,
tribes, Batman, super cute dogs, roller derby’s, and
something they call Iowa Nice. This is the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride
Across Iowa. You know it’s a thing. That’s right! The first night of RAGBRAI
concluded with a Van Halen concert well a band supposed to be Van Halen and KISS
and Ozzy Osbourne and Cinderella and Def Leppard and Whitesnake. Like the best
cover band ever. How did Van Halen end up in a small town in Iowa? How did we get there? It all started in 1973 when riders from
the Des Moines Register challenged themselves to a legendary act of Gonzo-journalism. They set out to ride across the entire state of Iowa and publish
articles of their findings along the way. 47 years later the event has grown from
two journalists to over 15,000 super nice people. We’re gonna take you on a journey
through Iowa on RAGBRAI 47. [Justin:] What’s your name man? “Roger.”
[Justin:] How long have you done RAGBRAI? [Roger:] “26 RAGBRAI. Coast-to-coast, nine years.” [Justin:] What’s RAGBRAI? [Roger:] “Well, it’s Sturgis for bicycles basically. The way he put it. In its simplest simplest analogy. Sturgis for bicycles. The world’s
biggest bicycle ride there’s no doubt about it.” “Well I’m a big time your rider you know, already over a million kilometres over a million that was last year…” [Justin:] Tell us about the Batmobile “A friend of mine I ride with said, you
know, cuz I had a black truck, “you should be a Batman” so, I really, you know it was his idea. It’s just got a mind of its own you how that
is.” [Justin:] Seems like what RAGBRAI is just a mind of its own. [Batman:] Yeah… [Melissa:] And everyone is so friendly. So so friendly. [Justin:] What did you learn about RAGBRAI now that we’re in day two? What’s new? What’s your vibe?
[Melissa:] About right what’s my vibe? Slow down. I mean to me it’s mandatory.
You just got to slow down to be able to take in every single thing that Iowa has
to offer. [Kelly:] These are the best! The water filling stations. Yes! Because then you don’t waste all the plastic bottles this is my goal with each town is to find one of
these and filling up. [Kelly:] Mom and pop will just be sitting out on their lawn like welcoming everybody we’re like “Yeah!” That’s RAGBRAI right there. [Kelly:] We’re talking about it earlier, I’ve gone through a metamorphosis if you will from beginning of RAGBRAI. Now we’re midpoint
and it’s happening. So, I’ve transitioned from like super sleek matchy-matchy kits…
tomorrow today was the bandana swag off the back of my saddle so that’s one
thing bike bling and then tomorrow I’m going full-de brim. I don’t care what
anybody thinks I don’t care what anybody says and apparently that’s the whole
vibe of this thing you don’t care what anybody thinks or what anybody says.
There’s people rocking sandals there’s a guy in a speedo and there’s these things. [Melissa:] Why did I come to RAGBRAI? For me it was more about an opportunity of being able
to slow down for once and to really look inward and to remind myself of why I
even got on a bike in the first place and, um…it’s shown me reminded me of all
different types of people that love to ride bikes. [Kelly:] Tomorrow, uh, tomorrow is 80 some miles. I think it’s 85 miles with the option to do 116, I think? Option to do a century if you want. Anxiety level for me is way up here
because this will be the longest ride I’ve ever done.
Like in a day I’ve done a metric century and I’m you know now ridden 65 miles a
day for the last three days and I’m feeling pretty good but tomorrow I’m a
little stressed out about not stressed out about I know I can do it but it’s
gonna take me a long time and with the heat that’s another factor for me but
I’m just gonna go at my own pace. I’m gonna go RAGBRAI pace. [Justin:] Justin Balog reporting live from
RAGBRAI 2019 This is exactly the halfway point and at
this point we’ve become completely PRO RAGBRAIers. I don’t even know if that’s a
thing but we’ve come off the Town Square where the normal meetup is for what
we’ve discovered is a grocery store chain called HyVee. So HyVee is gonna
provide us our lunch today we’re gonna have salad bar, we’re gonna have kombucha,
we’re gonna have Fairtrade organic chocolate, we’re gonna have air
conditioning, we’re gonna have restrooms. So the locals told us it’s like “Oh it’s
really far away guys. It’s probably ten blocks.” After you’ve ridden all the
way across Iowa ten blocks is nothing. [Justin:] Is HyVee the PRO, like the PRO tip?
[Kelly:] I think this is PRO tip I think this is totally on the DL PRO tip. Like go to a HyVee.
That’s where I had dinner last night too soup salad salad bar everything’s
delicious and it was like seven dollars so you want to like live it up, detour to the HyVee. [Justin:] Hey guys behind us. This is Kelly right here. Right now we just past her longest ride ever.
[Cheering..] [Justin:] What’s up Kelly, how’s it feel?
[Kelly:] Yeewww!! Awesome. [Scott:] I’m Scott Ginavin, our team name is
the Cyclepaths from Oskaloosa, Iowa. “You like beverages, right?” [Scott:] How ’bout one of these? Here you go. [Justin:] Give us the history of this thing buddy.
[Scott:] The bus came up for bid, we bid on it. We won it on April Fool’s Day for $1,250.
Well we got about $7000 on top of that. [Scott:] I got a Hawkeye plate which is the Iowa Hawkeyes and we asked for this license plate that says we’re psycho. The state calls and says “are you sure you want the psycho?” Which is Iowa State on your Iowa plate.
I’m like yeah we’re psycho. [Justin:] How did you meet these guys?
[Scott:] Some high school friends and then we just kind of kept track of each other over the years.
The guy from Ohio’s a work friend and then he brought his bicycling team and you
know and then everybody says “Well how do you decide who gets to ride next year?”
Well we have the team this year has the first right of refusal. It’s the only fair way to do it. This is Team Boozehound. We’ve been in operation since 2003, yeah the first trip all the way across Iowa, 2005. [Justin:] What’s that mean what’s it mean
to be a team member of team Boozehound? Like how does it work? “Um, well you just get on our team and ride across Iowa. [laughter] That’s about it I guess.” We have a bathroom back here if you want to see. The shower… [Justin:] Hold on a second that’s the shower there? [Team:] It is a shower but we put up this plastic thing whatever it is…tarp, and then they just come in and basically use this and shower. [laughter] [Bobby:] Wait, which way is which way?
[Melissa:] Lit, you are lit…tipsy… [Melissa:] You’re still tipsy…now you’re lit [Bobby:] Probably more lit more tipsy…kind of in the middle there so [banjo music playing…] 2005 was my first RAGBRAI.
And instead of just riding a bike I thought I’d build a banjo so I can ride
and have a banjo to play in the little towns that we’d stop in. So, I built this
banjo this is one of the original…I say one because I’ve built actually seven
banjos but this one in particular is a pressure cooker pot and a table leg. This is my water pack this is the hydrator and it’s simply this little cord here
with the connector and I just connect the banjo to it like that and I ride
with this and on my back the whole time [tuba playing…] [Justin:] How long you been doing it? Uh, I’ve been at it quite a while. I started when I was 12 and I’m 78. So, it’s
been a while. [Justin:] How many RAGBRIAs? Oh, gosh. I’ve been doing this most of 30 years I think. [Justin:] You’re OG. You’re legend. [Justin:] How many tents do you think are here? “There’s 21with us and two couples so I think there’s nineteen.” [Justin:] Nineteen tents? “Well, there’s four ways that people stay in
places. One, they do it the cheapest way possible and they put their baggage on
the one Register truck and then they take it off at the end of the day and
they just find a place to put their tent up. Second, is like what we do is we find
people that are willing to allow us to come spend time in their yard. And the
third way is people actually will call the Chamber of Commerce they will hook
up and have and them actually stay in people’s homes. So, that’s less groups as
more individuals or couples that do that. And the third way, or the fourth way now
is there’s a lot of commercialized large large groups that do everything from
supply the tents and the transportation and everything else and they will take
over a campground with 200 people associated with their group so there’s a
number of ways to do it but everybody seems to have fun as they do it so…” [Justin:] If you, since you’ve done it that many times, what would you consider the spirit of
RAGBRAI to be? “Oh it’s a hospital of a hospitality of the Iowa people.
We’ve never been a place that you’re don’t feel welcome. You know, there’s
there’s lots of an anecdotal stories about people that have helped out other people,
people made friendships under their whole life those people they’ve met in
towns. So yeah, it’s a pretty cool thing to do.” “Now we’re just sitting here
we in the first year that five years ago when I came to here we set out here and
got it you know wave the people and welcome to Fairfield and just said they
say hi always say you know be safe and take it easy and have fun. And we came
out that night they came back by going to OB Nelson and we said hi guys good night
and all this stuff and we had a good time doing then we thought well we’re
just gonna sit out here we don’t new RAGBRAI only this sit here and
we put our sign out ‘Rock on RAGBRAI’ so and we like to support it. And it’s good for
our town and so we enjoy it.” [Justin:] What’s the spirit of RAGBRAI? [laughter] “It’s fun! Super fun!” “Seeing Iowa. Meeting the locals. Hearing the stories.” “The history” “Pedaling pedaling pedaling” [Jack:] “This is my fifth year
riding RAGBRAI and I did my first when I was seven years old. All the way across
the state on my own mountain bike. This is my fifth year of riding it I haven’t walked a hill yet so doing okay. [Melissa:] That’s impressive. [Justin:] Why do you like riding your bike man?
[Jack:] Um, I don’t know it’s just really my favorite thing I’ve been doing it since
I was almost 4 and it’s just really fun. I love riding my bike. [Justin:] If you had one point of wisdom for like a new RAGBRAIer? What would you tell them? [Jack:] You’ve got this. [Katie:] My name is Katie, but my skate name is Bambi Bloodlust. but yeah, it’s my roller derby name I kind of just stuck through all of skating. Every hill I’m always like, I’m never doing this again. And then on the downhill I’m like I’m totally doing this again! [Justin:] Well, good luck to you in the upcoming season.[Katie:] Thank you. [Kelly:] After you’re hunched over for like nine hours, all you want is to like lay down. Lay down flat. [Justin:] I think that’s why I would see a lot of people taking naps out there. [Kelly:] I saw a guy completely passed out
in front of a tree. [Justin:] Just full-savasana out there? [Kelly:] It was full-savasana out
there and I thought does he need a medic? He seemed happy. He seemed content so I left him be. “My name is Nino Puccini and I’m from a
small town just outside Detroit called Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan.
[Justin:] Why do you love ride the bike man? [Nino:] I like it because it’s you and the machine. And and no no carbon footprint really except to build the machine itself and you’re
pedaling along and you hear everything around you and I ride a tandem so in the
back of a tandem I’m just like everybody else. Can’t see but who cares because
your eyeballs don’t help pedal the bike and you got a probably a 300 degree
field of auditory vision where you can just hear everything that’s going on around you. [Justin:] What’s your favorite part of RAGBRAI? Why do you keep coming back? [Nino:] I keep coming back ’cause every single RAGBRAI, so far the three of I’ve done, is different. The people are all the same.
They’re friendly you meet cool people from different parts of the country or
countries all the time and everybody’s so warm and they share a passion for
same thing I do which is cycling. “Is this your first RAGBRAI?” [Kelly:] Yes! You?
[man:] Yeah, first one. It has been a great experience. There’s people coming together with something in common from all different states and obviously all different backgrounds. It’s amazing
how many people you meet and see. Like, I just saw this one lady today
right, she’s like 70-years-old and she’s just cruising along. I said, “that’s awesome.” She goes, “Wait till I’m 75 then you’re gonna see amazing.” It was incredible. [Melissa:] If all I had to do was either swim across here and done with RAGBARI. I would do it I would. I would swim across the Mississippi River if I didn’t have to ride 75 finals
tomorrow. [Kelly:] I’m totally with you. [Melissa:] The last mile before coming in to Burlington they had American flags posted through the entire mile, and there weren’t too
many people out on course before me and right before that like the mile before
that I was starting to get a little homesick and thinking “Man, like I’m ready
to be done.” I miss my family and when I saw those American flags and just kept
riding and riding and they just kept passing I started to cry because I it
was so…it was just very special. And then after as we’re coming into what they called the finish line people were lined up in their lawn chairs and standing and
cheering for us and you know whistling and clapping and everything and it was
just like you know I’m not in Colorado-home. But I’m home. These people in every
single community that we’ve been in have made us feel like we’re
home. [Kelly:] Check this out. July 24th, 2012. Seven years ago you know, you look through your memories and they pop up every day, this
is my bike story. Started commuting to to work and it said, “I rode my
bicycle to work today. I got halfway there…I got halfway down my street
realizing I forgot my helmet and I had to go back. This is gonna take some
practice, but I shaved two minutes off my time.” Okay, it was a six-mile commute, each way. And I get like, you know five blocks to work and I’m like, “God! I forgot my helmet. Do I go back?” And I’m like, yeah, I’m a risk manager I go back I get the helmet…but yeah seven years ago I
started bike commuting to work a few days a week and today as of today, I just
rode 400 miles back-to-back. Like, for the last six days. I can’t believe this. It’s
insane. I feel like a big kid. [Justin:] High-five. [Kelly:] That’s my story. [Kelly:] Oh dipping the tires. So, at the end of RAGBRAI you dip your tires in the Mississippi River and so when we finished you rolled
through, it was actually called Victory Park, which was amazing, so Victory Park
you cruise down and there is a welcome line of locals there and they are
cheering you on and clapping saying, “Welcome to Keokuk!” I don’t even know if
I’m saying that right, but um and this little girl is down at the end, and
there’s these checkered flags and so we dip our tyres and she says, “Can you sign
my t-shirt for me?” and I’m like, “What?!” She’s thinking I’m some Olympic cyclist
that just rolled in and I’m like “Okay, yeah I’d love to sign.”
Yeah, I’m killing, right? And that’s why I put “Kelly from Idaho” and then we took a
picture together dipped our tires and… just to see the smile on everybody’s
faces and that’s RAGBRAI right there.