Archive for August 4, 2019

RAGBRAI 2019

August 4, 2019

Dipping my rear wheel in the Missouri to start RAGBRAI. Notice the river is so high that the river’s edge is in a parking lot.

Another year, another week of near-perfect weather judging by Midwestern summer standards of perfection. Tens of thousands of people from all over the country came to Iowa for RAGBRAI, bound by a common culture of friendliness and tolerance and the shared challenge of of riding 65 miles a day for seven days on a bike.

It’s never hard to start a conversation on RAGBRAI, and I had a ton of conversations with strangers about public radio, my kids, my Iowa roots and the mysterious allure of RAGBRAI, the world’s biggest bike tour. I’m actually not sure that’s true but it’s what I’ve heard and it works for me.

One person I encountered on the road was Ben Kieffer, whom I worked with 30 years ago during my first job in public radio at WSUI in Iowa City. We rode together for close to an hour, catching up on what’s been going on in our respective lives. We had some conflicts while working together, but I was happy to see that water was under the bridge and out to sea

WSUI has been folded into a larger “Iowa Public Radio” network. Ben works for them now.

Amish country in Davis County, Iowa.

As before, I was riding with the NPR and Team Groucho cycling clubs. NPR had another pie-eating relay race with the Des Moines Register and we lost again. Our record thus far is 1-3.

While riding I had many conversations with my good friend Scott Horsley, who, by God’s mercy, is no longer covering the White House and no longer has to report on Donald Trump. With Scott, I felt obliged to tell him that I was having some troubles in my marriage, and that my wife and I are separated.

When it comes to that subject, it’s easier to just to tell people “things are fine” and that’s what I typically do. But when you’re close to someone, especially someone who also knows Karen, it begins to feel like a terrific dishonesty.

I thought of this when I was talking with a member of our NPR/Groucho group and I asked him how his son and daughter were doing. This was not someone I was close to, but he still chose to be honest, telling me about the terrible problems one of his kids was having with mental illness, and the difficulties he and his wife were having affording the costly care.

Someone once said every act of honesty is an act of courage. I heard that more than 30 years ago. I still remember it and still think it’s true.

John Hickenlooper with Bill Danforth outside a beer tent.

As this was a vacation for the members of the NPR team, we tried to avoid talking about news and politics as best we could. But we couldn’t ignore the fact that some presidential candidates were using RAGBRAI as a campaign vehicle. One of them was John Hickenlooper, former governor of Colorado, who showed up with his campaign staff at a beer tent along the way. This was appropriate since Hickenlooper, prior to his political career, created a business out of brew pubs. Bill Danforth, governor of Team Groucho, got his pic taken with Hickenlooper.

As stated, the weather was near perfect by Midwest standards. We had rain the first day of cycling, which was more of a blessing since it broke the stifling heat we felt when first arriving in Omaha for the start of the ride. Later in the week,  it rained again overnight and I heard the raindrops pummel the top of my tent as a I camped in a city park. But it stopped before we got up. That morning I told a Baptist minister, who was selling pastries at the park, that I had prayed for the rain to stop, which was true. He said, “So did I.”

Among the towns traversed: Winterset, the birthplace of John Wayne. Bloomfield, the home of a remarkably handsome county courthouse and surrounded by Amish country (Horse carriages caused no undue traffic problems on the county roads). Adair, site of a train robbery by Jesse James. Stuart, site of a bank robbery by Bonnie and Clyde (Nobody ever said crime was unheard of on the RAGBRAI trail). Keokuk, the end town and confluence of the Des Moines and Mississippi rivers, as well as the childhood home of entrepreneur Howard Hughes, Sr. (He was the father of the more famous and crazy one who had the Spruce Goose.)

Beth Howard, pie maker.

l got to meet Beth M. Howard, a pie maker in Franklin who — through books and blogging — has taken the pies to new heights in terms that are culinary,  interpersonal and philosophical. Her banana cream is unbelievable.   Did I tell you we lost the pie-eating contest? The small-town web infrastructure strained under the weight of tens of thousands of cyclists arriving in overnight towns, virtually every one of them carrying a smartphone. Posting news of your RAGBRAI exploits on Facebook were very difficult.

The route this year was the best I’ve seen, with plenty of hills and nice scenery. Did I forget anything? Maybe. Suffice it to say RAGBRAI was another big rolling party. I had a great time though I may take a break next summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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