SIOUX CITY – On Sunday, Sergeant Bluff will be the starting point for this year’s 462-mile RAGBRAI.
The ride across Iowa has been a staple summer event since its birth in 1973 when two Des Moines Register writers, John Karras and Don Kaul, made the trip. Since then, it has turned into “the longest, largest and oldest recreational bicycle touring event in the world,” according to the RAGBRAI website.
A ride this long can be daunting for new cyclists. Being prepared for the journey is key if the goal is making it from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River.
Two Albrecht Cycle Shop employees, Korey Smith and Steele Welcher, offered advice to those who are making their first attempt at completing RAGBRAI. Smith has completed two RAGBRAIs and has helped others complete many more and Welcher has 10 RAGBRAIs under his belt.
Being smart about what a rider carries during RAGBRAI is an important part of having a smooth and enjoyable experience.
A packing list will depend on whether the rider is on a team or going solo. In his two RAGBRAI rides, Smith went without a team.
“I’ve typically packed my stuff, so I try and go on the lighter side of things,” he said. “I just packed two jerseys and two pairs of shorts for riding.”
The jerseys and shorts Smith is referring to are made specifically for cycling. They are quick drying, skin tight and light.
Welcher, on the other hand, rides with Siouxland Cyclists, meaning that he can store extra clothes in a vehicle that meets them at overnight towns.
“You could bring your own outfit, jersey and shorts for five to seven days, but it’s not necessary,” said Welcher.
Both riders suggest carrying a small bottle of multipurpose soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s.
“You can wash your plates with it, your jersey, yourself, whatever you need to,” said Smith.
Having money handy, cash in particular, is another essential, no matter if you are riding with a team or alone.
“You need to bring cash, small bills, too,” said Welcher. “Everyone is handing these vendors $20 bills, and if you had ones and fives, it would be a lot easier.”
Other important items include sunscreen, a spare inner tube and basic tools for small bike fixes.
One of the most valuable things a rider can have, according to Welcher, is wet wipes.
“Sometimes the porta potties run out of toilet paper, or you’re eating food or get chain grease on your hands,” said Welcher. “They are very nice to have.”
An already-taxing ride can become even more difficult if one is not properly hydrated or has had enough to eat.
“Have a drink before it is too late,” said Welcher. “Make sure you are drinking water every 15 to 30 minutes or so.”
Smith says that while sports drinks may be helpful in some cases, having one when you are dehydrated may not help as much as plain water.
“They’ll kind of do the job, but if you are really dehydrated, all those extra sugars tend to not agree with you,” said Smith. “An electrolyte supplement will work better, and you can get them almost everywhere.”
“Some dissolvable electrolyte tablets have caffeine and give you a boost, as well as a little bit of flavor,” said Welcher. “There is probably a little bit of flavor, too, which will help you drink more water.”
One of the most popular drinks to have during RAGBRAI is beer. While everyone handles the beverage differently, Welcher usually saves his drinking until the evening, when the riding for the day is done.
“Everyone is different,” said Welcher. “But the carbonation on a hot day, expanding my stomach while I’m hunched over, riding my bike, it can be problematic. So sometimes I save that for the evening.”
Welcher has similar thoughts about eating. His preference is to “graze throughout the day” so as not to overeat and become lethargic. It is important to indulge in homemade foods though, he says.
“Definitely be on the lookout for any type of local food, anything that is unique,” he said. “Homemade pie, ice cream, corn on the cob. You’ve got to stop for anything that’s kind of specific to this region.”
This year’s RAGBRAI is expected to be hot and humid, making proper rest and pacing a must.
“I have talked to people from Arizona who came to ride,” said Welcher. “They are surprised that there are hills in Iowa … and by the humidity. They are used to 100 degree days, but not with moisture.”
According to the Albrecht employees, there will be no shortage of places to stop and rest. Pass-through towns are on the route, spaced out roughly 10-to-15 miles apart.
“You have all day to complete the ride, and you’re starting at 7 or 8 in the morning,” said Welcher. “You usually have to stop and walk through the towns, and you’re probably stopping to have a snack or watch the entertainment. That is one of the unique things about Iowa, we have little towns everywhere.”
RAGBRAI will go through five towns in just the first day of riding: After starting in Sergeant Bluff, it goes through Bronson, Anthon and Battle Creek before finally stopping in Ida Grove.
Getting through it, mentally
A rider’s mental approach to the ride can be do-or-die for some.
“My personal motto is ‘I don’t have a ride, I have to get to the end,’” said Smith. “That’s the destination, and I have no other way of getting there.”
Smith also encourages riders to look around at others while cycling.
“I think that enables a lot of people to do it,” he said. “They are seeing everyone else doing it, and thinking, ‘Oh yeah, I can do that.’”
Finding a ride buddy is another option.
“You can get a ride buddy,” said Welcher. “It doesn’t have to be somebody from your team or club. You meet somebody on the road who is going the same pace as you. A lot of people strike up conversations and that helps you get to the next town, through long segments, or the whole day.”
RAGBRAI riders will gather at Sergeant Bluff on Saturday, before departing Sunday morning. More details on the ride can be found on RAGBRAI’s official website, https://ragbrai.com/.