A better day on the bike

Last week, Des Moines University Trustee Brian Hart, owner of Hart Financial LLC in Des Moines, and his wife, Julie, joined approximately 15,000 other bicyclists from around the world during RAGBRAI, the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. This annual week-long bike ride, now in its 40th year, is the oldest, largest and longest bicycle touring event in the world. While the route changes every year, the ride – which the Register dubs a “rolling celebration of Iowa” – always begins somewhere on the state’s western border on the Missouri River and ends on its eastern border on the Mississippi River. This year’s ride of 471.1 miles was Brian’s and Julie’s fifth RAGBRAI. Below, Brian shares perspectives from the RAGBRAI road, Day 5.

RAGBRAI: Thursday, July 26
Marshalltown to Cedar Rapids

It was a beautiful, cool morning. Temps back in the seventies. Expected highs, low 90s.

It was a long ride, 87 miles, but actually a fun day. Plenty of hills. We call them rollers. If you let the bike run down the hill, you might make it halfway up the next before having to pedal hard again. Less wind, and coming from the north and west helped greatly.

Top speed 60 kpm! Okay, that’s kilometers per hour. But still, at 36 miles per hour, the senses are aware of the nearness of doom. A crack in the road, unexpected actions of other riders, equipment failure, or just plain loss of control can change things in a second. It is a rush. Top speed for me a few years ago on RAGBRAI was 45 mph. I am not looking to repeat that.

Today I had my first equipment failure. A flat tire. I could tell it was low riding into town mid-day. I filled it with air. Got some lunch. After lunch, I checked again and it was low. Fortunately, this was all happening in town where temporary bike shops were operating. The guy changed the tube and said the tire was also shot. The tire was relatively new. It was most likely a casualty of the high road temps of the last three days.

The preparation and hospitality of the towns across Iowa are outstanding. It is impossible to overstate the joy and goodness that abound. The people are endlessly friendly, the food is plentiful and the activities they use to entertain the thousands of momentary guest are splendid.

When you are riding and get tired and whine to yourself about your struggles, reality soon rides by. The guy you just passed riding a unicycle. The whole 475 miles on one wheel. There are the many courageous riders who pedal bikes using only their arms because leg power is not available to them. There are the riders with one leg. There are bikers 20 years your senior who ride with pride and the joy of being able. The contrasts force you to shift gears and give thanks for the gifts you have been given. And hope they are there in some form 20 years out.

Beautiful camping night in Cedar Rapids, next to the community pool. A great luxury when camping.

It is unusual to have three 100+ heat days in a row. It is also a bit unusual to have three 85+-mile days in a row. Those are behind us. Two days remain. Tomorrow is listed at 42 miles with plenty of hills. An easy, restful day. Highs in the upper 80s.

Last night’s storm badly damaged already badly stressed corn fields. They are a sad sight. The corn plants are still an amazing eight feet tall or more in many places. How can that happen with so little moisture? Last night they got some rain but with devastating winds.  Mother Nature is not playing fair!

Most of all, RAGBRAI is a complete and wonderful escape from the daily routine. Wonderful because of the people and the unique environment and common goal they share.


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