Friday, April 11, 2008

RAGBRAI - One (former) Iowan's viewpoint

This logo is what the town of North Liberty will be using when RAGBRAI passes through their town this summer. (Click here to read the article...)

For those who don't know, RAGBRAI = Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. It's a big thing that happens once a year. It's a serious bike ride across the state, with riders signing up and being selected via lottery.

The ride starts in the Western part of Iowa (all riders dip a wheel in the Missouri River) and ends in Eastern Iowa (when riders dip a wheel in the Mississippi). It lasts a week, and when a town is designated as a stop, it's a big deal. That town can expect crowds, and lots of money pouring in to local businesses. Churches and civic groups cash in by having RAGBRAI dinners for the riders (and the community too), and for one day, a town's population is guaranteed to burst at the seams.

But is it all it's cracked up to be?

I remember growing up in Iowa, and RAGBRAI was a big deal then. When I was seventeen, RAGBRAI made its first stop in my fair hometown, and everyone went NUTS. The chamber of commerce strongarmed local businesses into providing showers for the bikers ("Shower a biker with love" was the slogan, I believe). However, one of the providers had their bathroom trashed by a biker, including having items stolen from their home. Great.

The bikers rode past my house on county road G38, and my mother and aunt spent the day drinking iced tea and watching the bicycles go by. What the cyclists didn't realize was that their conversations were overheard by two middle-aged Iowa ladies sitting in the front yard. Among overheard gems:

  • "Well, I don't want to get married but my fiance doesn't know that yet. What are YOU doing tonight?"
  • "We're close to town...I can see the water tower!" "You dummy, that's a silo." "Oh, hell."
  • "I've got blisters on my hemorrhoids!"
The town started to burst at the seams about 9 AM or so. I was working at Baskin Robbins then, and the line went out the door beginning at 10 AM, and didn't let up. I was scooping ice cream all day long...and I was so sick of it I could scream.

It was chaos.

The phone lines were busy (this was '86, when cell phones weren't invented yet), and you couldn't call home to save your life. Local restaurants were packed to the brim, and unfortunately, some folks decided it was better to drink in the beer garden all night and cause even more problems. It was sad to see that many of the problems were caused by the "hangers-on" than the bikers, but it gave RAGBRAI a bad name over time.

So it a good thing to have a town bursting to the gills with this festival? Or not?

If Iowans are reading this, let me know your opinion.