For an introvert, this sounds like the manifestation of a circle of Hell that could only be conceived of by the illegitimate love child of Dante and Stephen King.
At least, that’s one way to look at it.
Let’s Start With Bob
Bob is my father-in-law.
Bob is a really nice guy. I like him a lot. Plenty of men don’t get along with their father-in-law. I get along just fine with Bob. Bob’s great. Bob’s awesome.
Bob talked me into this.
I blame Bob.
Bob grew up in Iowa. Bob has ridden RAGBRAI multiple times. Bob is in his sixties. Bob has heart stents. Bob rode RAGBRAI after he got heart stents.
I’m in my late-forties. I’m in decent physical shape now. I have no heart stents.
How hard can this be? Right?
(I’ll answer that below.)
RAGBRAI stands for the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. The Register is The Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest newspaper.
In 1973, two reporters for The Register, John Karras and Don Kaul, were talking one day. Karras suggested to Kaul, a cyclist, that he should ride his bike across the state of Iowa and write columns about the people he met and the perspectives of Iowans. Kaul accepted the challenge… but only if Karras joined him. Karras agreed.
Clearly, these two esteemed journalists with both names ending in the letter “K” were insane.
Kaul and Karras invited a few friends to join them. Three hundred people showed up at the start. The insane apparently attract the insane.
114 finished. Apparently no one died but several quit.
The next year, 2,700 people showed up. This is how mass movements begin. The insane… in large groups… apparently attract more… of… the… insane.
2019 is the 47th RAGBRAI. Plenty of marriages don’t last forty-seven years. Plenty of people don’t live forty-seven years.
You can read more about how this spiraled out of control here.
A Nightmare… or Is It?
That’s certainly one way to look at it.
Riding a bicycle 427 miles with 14,735 feet of climb across the state of Iowa in the waning days of July will be difficult. Being surrounded by a roving horde of 10,000+ other human beings adds an entirely different dimension to the experience.
Again, that’s one way to look at it.
This all started out as a wry joke, turned into a physical challenge and evolved into an exploration of mind, body and soul. More on that last part some other time.
Here’s a different way of viewing this experience.
We live in a period in this nation’s history where the east and west coasts dominate the news… unless it is a Presidential election year… in which case… Iowa is focused upon for a couple of months and then promptly ignored until the next election cycle. We live in a time where, unless one hails from the Midwest, one generally gives that area of the world little thought or attention.
It’s kind of like… Canada. It’s there… but unless something monumentally newsworthy happens… well… it’s just… there. (Some of my closest Canadian friends will chortle at that joke.)
The two words that spring to mind when one hears the name “Iowa” are generally “caucuses” and “corn.” I doubt I will encounter the former. I’m certain I will encounter the latter.
Once could conceivably drive to Iowa, spend a few days and perhaps leave forming some impression of the place. But I doubt one would learn very much. In a vehicle, one can easily speed up and bypass all sorts of people, places, things, events and ideas. After all, it’s so…. efficient.
On a bike, one can only go so fast. Going fast, in this case… much to the chagrin of my dear friend Clark Butcher… my infrequent cycling coach… is not what I want to do.
I want to slow down.
I want to understand… to learn.
I want to know more about the people of Iowa. I want to know what’s on their mind. I want to know what makes them tick. Are they really any different from the rest of us?
I want to see firsthand this place that is so often written off as nothing more than the land of corn and occasionally… politics.
There will also be a convergence of cyclists from all corners of the cycling subculture… a new-to-me subculture of which I am still learning. I certainly don’t fit into any of the various tribes I’ve encountered. My joy comes from being out there on the road alone. It allows me to let my mind wander away from the daily grind that is modern life. Perhaps I’ll find some like-minded cyclists on this journey. Perhaps not. Either way is fine.
Boredom Is Our Collective Enemy
Even in my late-forties, I’m curious. Boredom is my enemy.
Boredom is our collective enemy.
We can choose to fill our time with meaningful activities or we can continue to be seduced by digital slot machines… that we voluntarily carry around… in our pockets. I’d rather bike across Iowa in the middle of the summer than stare at a screen while my brain craves a tiny little hit of dopamine that will give me minor euphoria for all of about two seconds.
I am unsure what I will find on RAGBRAI. But I can assure you I won’t be bored. And I can assure you I’ll be in the process of accomplishing something I never thought I could accomplish nearly two years ago.
This May Not Be
This may not be The Road To Hell as much as it is a particular crossing through it. My body will be exhausted. But I suspect my mind will be sharpened by this self-imposed adversity.
This has nothing to do with speed, calories burned, functional threshold power or… winning.
This is about learning, growing, understanding… and finishing.
How hard can this be?
It’s really hard.
It’s supposed to be.
Thank you for reading. More to come.