RAGBRAI is a big deal in Iowa. I love reading about it in the Des Moines Register. The writers always find such interesting stories to tell, and the pass-through and overnight towns are right up my alley. It’s like a week-long fantasy blog.

This year, the ride started on Sunday and went from Glenwood to Atlantic the first day. Here’s what I missed: rhubarb custard pie in Griswold, a 32-foot-long bike made of scrap metal in Lewis, and more pie in Atlantic (sour cream raisin and chocolate peanut butter – yum).

That’s the thing about RAGBRAI (the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa). It’s all about the pie. And the quirky little towns. One of the coolest things is when 10,000 cyclists gather in a town that only has 200 residents. That’s sort of amazing.

I haven’t had many first-hand experiences with RAGBRAI. For starters, I don’t bike. That’s a drawback. I also don’t love crowds as a rule. I also don’t enjoy heat. Nor do I camp. So, pretty much, I’m not a RAGBRAI kind of girl.

That said, I had a blast a few years ago doing a story about Iowa State connections to RAGBRAI in VISIONS magazine. Photographer Jim Heemstra and I spent the better part of three days following the bike ride from southwest to southeast Iowa and eating pie along the way. It was a challenge to hook up with Iowa Staters, given the spotty cell phone coverage and sheer volume of bikers who, well, all look a lot alike. But it was awesome. We got up close and personal with towns like Drakesville, Bloomfield, Keosauqua, and Bentonsport.

Three years ago, Ames was an overnight town on the RAGBRAI route. We covered that for the magazine, too. Mostly I remember it being hot and not connecting with people very easily (again). And Lance Armstrong being in Ames.

So, back to this year, which is again across the central part of the state. Monday’s route went from Atlantic to Carroll. I’m sorry I missed the Danish abelskivers in Elkhorn (described as pancake-popovers) and the Little Mermaid fountain in Kimballton. I will put that on my list for later. I also missed German potato salad and beer-sauerkraut-fudge cupcakes in Manning. (Some things are better left alone.) Also on Monday the riders experienced Templeton and its famous rye whiskey and the Santa Maria Winery in Carroll.

Yesterday, the riders came very close to Ames when they rode from Carroll to Boone. I have several people in my office who live in Boone and were very excited to be in an overnight town. The highlights yesterday were pancakes in Lanesboro and the “Twister” hill in Pilot Mound, made famous by that tornado movie.

Today, since the ride was so close, I took half a day off work to join the fun and try to find some pie. I started in Slater, where the trash cans were already overflowing with beer cans at 11 a.m. Literally the first thing I saw when I walked into town was a guy’s totally bare ass. And another guy wearing nothing but a Speedo. And there was also a very nice man with a pink beard wearing pink boas. He was a member of Team Flamingo.

There was loud music. And lots of people. And fantastic pecan pie.

Elkart had pie, too. And a nice fire station where riders could go inside and cool down. Did I mention it was hot today? I think the high ended up being 94 with a heat index of 105. The humidity was murderous. I have no idea how all those people managed to bike in that kind of heat. I was in an air-conditioned car most of the day, and I was exhausted.

White Oak was a fun stop on today’s route, with the White Oak Winery in full swing with wine, beer, games, and live music. Bondurant was too crowded, and by the time I got there I had lost my enthusiasm for finding pie. So I had a beer and came home.

The RAGBRAI riders still have three more days to go. Tonight they’re in the big city of Altoona; tomorrow they head for Grinnell, with lots of pie opportunities in Colfax. Friday they ride from Grinnell to Coralville, including a ride through the Amana Colonies. Saturday is the end of the road in Davenport, but not before riders go through Wilton, home of the famous Wilton Candy Kitchen. How did I not know about this?

I learn so much about Iowa during RAGBRAI!


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