More than Meets the Iowa
42 years ago the Des Moines Register started this crazy event called RAGBRAI. If you haven’t heard of RAGBRAI before, it’s the Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. It was started by a couple of the Register writers and has turned into the world’s largest, oldest and longest ride (they want you to know it is not a race).
Spending a majority of my life within 20 miles of the Iowa border, I’d heard about RAGBRAI but never really had much of an interest since I’m not a serious bicycle rider. Actually, I haven’t even owned a bike for the last several years. But an opportunity came up to join some friends when American Ethanol decided to have a “team” in the event. So my wife and I said “let’s go for it!”
Soon after the actual ride started, I learned that I had a lot to learn about biking terminology. I’d see a rider stick his arm out and show jazz hands while shouting out “rumbles”. Naturally I got excited because I thought someone had been cut off and started a fight. But, it was actually a sign alerting other riders about the road ripples coming up. I heard people shouting “car back” to warn people about a RAGBRAI vehicle coming from the rear. And “car up” meant a car was coming from the front. (I thought if a person couldn’t see that a car was coming right at them, maybe they deserved to get hit.) I even learned what Butt’r is and gained a much greater appreciation for padded bicycle shorts.
As we went through the small towns in Iowa, riders were able to learn a little something about each town. Rock Valley had banded together to overcome the devastation of a 500 year flood that occurred a month earlier. Hull is the home of the Gummy Worm and the Roundup Pizza with the headquarters of the Foreign Candy Company and Pizza Ranch. Boyden has the pink pig and teen guitarist Eli Rocks. Okoboji has North America’s only fresh blue water lake. Tiffin has the creativity to have professional wrestling going on Main Street at the break of dawn. And Graettinger... well, let’s just say they sure know how to throw a party at The Lodge!
We also got to meet people from all over. Not just Americans, but people from Scotland, Italy, and Australia. There were people of all shapes, sizes and ages. Some who could probably give Lance Armstrong a run for his money. And others who couldn’t beat a three-year-old on training wheels. Some who had done this crazy thing for years and others like us who were dubbed “virgins” and had to proudly advertise it on our calf.
And as we were riding from small town to small town to small town on our way to our final destination, (the real crazies had much further to go) surrounded by the various shades of deep green with corn, soy beans and freshly mowed yards and ditches all around, it made me think about how this part of the world feeds the rest of the world. And I realized why tens of thousands of people keep coming back to this event with all the Iowa hospitality. Farmers who lived near the route open up their farms and welcome the riders with drinks, food and of course, Porta Potties, or KYBO’s in Iowa. I even saw a Go American Ethanol sign (held proudly by my niece).
As we were arriving at our final town on my group’s ride, I was wishing the other riders knew what I knew about the possible world-changing event that was happening at this particular community. Beyond the thousands of tents and beer gardens and custom RAGBRAI school buses, stands a technological masterpiece that is the result of over a decade of hard work by thousands of researchers, engineers and scientists; hundreds of millions of dollars of investment; and strong determination by leaders who just wouldn’t quit regardless of the obstacles. Of course, the town I’m talking about is Emmetsburg and the event is Project LIBERTY.
And I think Project LIBERTY and RAGBRAI have a lot in common. They each started with a dream, take the teamwork of thousands, and make the world a better place. And of course, neither could happen without Iowa.
Greg Breukelman works at POET as Senior Vice President of Communications and has lived most of his life in the beautiful state of South Dakota. He has no particular fondness for Iowa. As a matter of fact you can often hear him cursing the slowness of Iowa drivers.