Sometimes I forget I’m athletic. Even now, writing this, I don’t feel like calling myself athletic is accurate. And then people point out that about a month ago I rode my bike across a state.
Here’s the thing: RAGBRAI isn’t about being athletic. It’s a literal party, and people happen to be exerting more energy than usual.
The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa is in its 46th year and still going strong. Essentially, 15,000+ people get on their bikes and ride from the Missouri to the Mississippi River over the course of one week. This was my fifth year doing it, which I didn’t fully realize until I got home and looked at my bike map. I’ve had this map since I rode my bike across America when I was fourteen. It’s my record of every cross-state and cross-country bike route I’ve taken. When I went to trace out this year’s route, I was surprised to find four jagged lines already making their way across Iowa.
While it was my fifth year riding across, it was my first year going with a film camera. As I continue in my endeavors to learn film and capture the spontaneous nature of humanity, I discovered that RAGBRAI couldn’t have provided a better or more fun opportunity for capturing such moments.
Every day was full of small towns and places to hang out. Farmers and businesses alike come out, provide great food and drinks, and talk to riders. At any of these stops during the day, thousands of bikes would crowd every open space in the town—basically, bikers took over. I cannot express how grateful I am to these towns for not only their patience in letting us do this but also their eagerness to host us.
Often I hear that Iowa is just a giant cornfield, and that’s partially true, especially if you’re just driving down the freeway. But the whole truth is that Iowa is a farm state with thousands of farming and rural communities that come together in only the most Iowan of ways. The Midwestern charm and hospitality finds its home here. I have never met nicer people anywhere in America, hands down. I mean, who else would let fifteen thousand drunk bicyclists take over their state for a week?
The best part about this ride is the riders. I’ve never seen a group of people so footloose and energetic. It is most people’s one vacation of the year, and they really get into it. Not only this, but if someone crashes or has a problem, everyone stops to help, no question.
There’s so much to say about this bike ride. I couldn’t possible cover it all in one blog post. Over the next few years, I’m excited to keep going back and capturing the ride on film. If you know about this ride and have any ideas for shots you’d like to see, send me a message. I’d love to hear from fellow bike riders who are into photography.