It’s strange to me that in the 15 years that have lapsed since I last participated in RAGBRAI one aspect of the ride hasn’t changed at all. Communication with the outside world is nearly impossible while on the ride. Back then the problem was finding a pay phone that wasn’t occupied—if it worked at all. Email? The concept was a joke. And today, communication with the outside world is still next to impossible. But now the problem is completely different. The issue in 2012 is that with 20,000 or so people (who’s really counting?) descending on towns that may only have 1000 year-round residents, the cellular networks—all of them—are completely overwhelmed. I’m not sure how many of them are like the teen who was in line ahead me at the market who kept leaving his mom voicemails that he couldn’t find his batman necklace (and who drank most of a $1.65 Coke while in line but only had $1 to his name), but there’s a chance that most of our attempts at communication with the outside world could be filed under nonessential, my Facebook posts included. That I’m posting this now is only possible because Transitions is able to get me out of town in the evenings.

Given how hard it can be to find your BFF for a ride (or a beer), RAGBRAI’s organizers still put out sandwich boards for people to use for messaging. It’s as quaint as it is ineffective. The only people I ever saw visit this one (aside from me) were folks leaving notes.

When I spied this cooler in one of today’s towns (honestly, I’m not sure which one because my sole focus today was on pedaling and keeping cool) I pulled over immediately. Why? Well, I could hardly contain my excitement. Yeah, okay, so why was I so excited? Well, it was one of the members of Team Bad Boy who gave me my introduction into the party side of RAGBRAI back in ’97. So memorable was his act of generosity that I opened my feature with it. He poured me about a half a tumbler of Bacardi 151 at 11:00 or so in the morning. Yeah, so it was like that.

Alas, I couldn’t find him or any of his mates. I’m sure they were in the beer garden, and while that sounded like a great idea in principle, this was one of those days that just flat-out didn’t work on principle. It took something more than that. Just what, I can’t be certain because I don’t think I cracked that particular nut.

I spied this sticker on Team Bad Boy’s assorted belongings. Funniest sticker I’ve seen so far.

This is Kelly of Kelly’s Berry Best Pies. When RAGBRAI isn’t going she bakes pies that are sold through area grocery stores and restaurants around her home in Minden. During RAGBRAI she makes hundreds of pies, loses sleep (four hours in the last three nights) and generally kicks ass with incredible pies, mostly of her own recipe. I was reminded to some degree of the movie Waitress.

There are, according to my math, more varieties of pie than there are days of RAGBRAI, which poses a serious challenge. With the heat the way it is, consuming even one slice of pie is like trying to get 30 miles-per-gallon out of my Subaru. I don’t see me getting a second slice down, not unless she opens a second location on the route. My slice of caramel-apple was as good as I’ve ever had, and I was only able to settle on that following a laborious consideration of both peach and raspberry-peach. I’ll do one of those tomorrow.

Mr. Pork Chop is the guy who took over when Pork Chop Man retired a few years back. His pink bus—

Ta da! is a pink beacon of ready porkness. The loudspeaker on the roof of the bus above the driver’s seat is rigged to a recording of Pork Chop Man calling out: Poooooork Chooooooop! If ever there was a you had to be there moment, this is one of them.

The toughest jobs at RAGBRAI have to be those that require someone to cook anything. The guys responsible for doing these pork chops said they will go through about 900 per day. Per day. And the heat coming off those grills was amazing. I didn’t think anything could be hotter than the sun in Iowa on a July day. It turns out, there are things hotter. I felt like I needed another coating of sunblock just standing by to snap a few images.

Of course, when you’re at RAGBRAI, it’s not enough just to make food. The food needs to be fun or funny or interesting or something beyond just food. Except for all those vendors who charge you $3 for a no-name 16-oz. energy drink. Somehow they get away with that. But if you want to be remembered, have your picture taken, engender the sort of loyalty that causes people to eat your food seven times in a week, well dear friend, you need schtick.

Schtick can’t be cookie cutter. It has to be like flair, something you come up with on your own like, for instance, this fire truck brick-oven pizza maker. Smelled amazing. ‘Nuff said.

This is how I know I’m getting old. I looked at this kid, who was riding along having a terrific time and I sized up the 20-inch wheels and the backpack that looked to weigh half of what he does and I nearly bonked on the spot. This kid, if there’s any justice in the world, is the future of our sport, the Tejay Van Garderen of the Roaring (20)20s.

There are times when the enormity of RAGBRAI will leap out at you, like a child from a closet. I never really know when it will happen, but a few times each day, I’ll crest a rise and the wide expanse of Iowa will square against the stunning number of riders, which number like ants streaming from a hill and all I can do is utter a Keanu Reeves-like, Whoa!



  1. Devin

    Padrig, your site is winning! TdF coverage alongside RAGBRAI – doesn’t get much better! I’ve only done part of RAGBRAI once, and that was not enough. Till I can get back though, your posts totally capture the essence. Amazing how consuming a Coors Light can keep you from bonking!

  2. Mike Shumway

    I was not aware of you until I saw a ‘share’ on Facebook from Abbie Durkee leading me to pictures of Abbie, Bill, my friend “Oakley Rob”, and then team Bad Boy and my friend Steve Cannon. Did you know Cannon just ran around Lake Michigan? Yeah-ran around lake Michigan in 40 days ‘www.theruntocurecancer’….so anyhow wanted to shout out to you. Me and nine other folks rode out to Carroll, IA from Des Moines on Saturday (the ride out to RAGBRAI), rode back to Des Moines Sunday….yep pulling a trailer full of gear, ice chest, ice and beveridges; not your typical training ride. Myself and a few others are riding up from Des Moines to Story City to ride the RAGBRAI route on Wednesday, perhaps we will cross paths—-be well and I enjoy your writing and coverage of RABRBRAI so far.

  3. Pingback: A little this, a little that — a rash of road rage, a Cycle Chic kerfuffle and a scofflaw driver on video « BikingInLA

  4. Big E

    Wonderful stuff Padraig! Thanks for sharing. Quick question about the last photo. Do they actually close the entire route down for the ride? Thanks!

    1. Author

      Big E: Thanks for the kind words. To your question, no, cars are allowed on the route and it gets interesting at times.

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