RAGBlog contains text and audio commentary surrounding my participation in RAGBRAI XXXIII, July 24-30, 2005. RAGBRAI, which stands for the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, draws about 10,000 bicyclists each year for the weeklong ride. Go back to the July 2005 quotes for daily commentary on the ride.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A Short History of RAGBRAI

83-year-old Clarence Picard (right) was one of 114 riders to complete the first RAGBRAI in 1973.

RAGBRAI, which the Des Moines Register touts as "the longest, largest and oldest bicycle touring event in the world," began as an attempt by a couple of newspaper guys to generate some human interest-type feature stories during what was apparently a slow news summer in Iowa.

With only six weeks of advance notice, "The Great Six-Day Bicycle Ride" drew a surprisingly robust turnout of about 300. Among the 114 participants who completed the route that year was 83-year-old Clarence Picard, who rode a used ladies Schwinn and wore a long-sleeved shirt, trousers, woolen long underwear and a silver pith helmet.

The reading and riding public was captivated, the next year's ride drew 2,700, and a classic event was born. Here are a few more historical tidbits:

•By 1975, it had become customary for the ride to begin at the Missouri River and end at the Mississippi River. At the beginning of the week riders would dip their back wheels in the Missouri and at the end of the week dip their front wheels into the Mississippi. This custom has not been rigidly adhered to in recent years, however.

•July 27, 1981 may have been the worst weather day in RAGBRAI history as temperatures plunged to the 40s, the wind howled, and a drenching rain discouraged most riders from completing the route that day. According to the Register's account, "Farmers and townspeople pitched in to haul riders into Lake City in cattle trucks, campers, pickup trucks, etc. The campgrounds in Lake City were under water so residents came to the rescue and put the riders up in homes and garages, and even on the newly refinished gym floor at the high school."

•The 1999 ride may have been the hottest on record. On July 30 it was so hot that the stuff used to patch cracks in the road reportedly turned into liquid. Riders said their tires made splashing sounds as they went through it. A county engineer said the pavement temperatures had to be at least 120 degrees to do that.

•The 2004 ride was relatively uneventful, except for a sudden deluge that caught many riders just as they were travelling the only dirt road on the route. Many riders turned large trash bags into makeshift rain slickers and residents offered garden hoses and other means to help unclog bicycle drivetrains suddenly caked in mud.


At 8:27 PM, Blogger eggman said...

The RAGBRAI of 1981 was my first and only one. The second day known as Soggy Monday was an incredibly horrible day. We rode all day in a constant cold rain into a relentless wind from the east. I will never forget the sight of cattle trucks filled with cyclists, all crouched down in the beds of the trucks, being hauled through the blowing rain into town. My buddy and I somehow finished the ride that day. When we got to town, they directed us to the high school for the night. As we entered the school, we passed through hallways lined with exhausted people lying and sitting along the walls, no one talking, just staring off into space. They looked like refugees from some disaster.
The rest of the week was pretty nice, except for a stretch that combined very steep hills with fresh gravel. The gravel was so deep it would grab onto your tires. We saw a number of very bad accidents on that section of the trip.


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