For two years a friend tried to convince me to begin cycling, and to ride recumbent (because I could not ride upright). I needed the exercise, and was tired of being tired, so I bought my first bike in September of 2014. My first ride was four miles, and it left me out of breath and tired, but motivated to push on. Four miles turned into ten, then cold weather settled in in Delaware. I found myself needing motivation to keep riding, so I decided to set a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal).
I grew up in Iowa and always heard of RAGBRAI. I remember thinking how crazy yet amazing all those people had to be to ride an average of 70 miles per day for an entire week. I remember clearly thinking, “I could never do that.” This would be my BHAG.
When the route was announced, I decided to register as a solo rider. My plan was to do the ride alone, camp alone, and let RAGBRAI vehicles SAG my stuff from town to town. I had no idea at that time that Christian Cycling even existed.
As a pastor, I began to wonder if there was an organization that focused on Christian cycling. I did a Google search, found ChristianCycling, and joined. The closest spoke was a couple hours away, but I figured I would make the trip every now and then to join in on the rides. In between, I would wear the jersey as a way to strike up conversations with those who might ask about it, and maybe others from my area would eventually join. I figured I would be a fringe part of the group being so far from other known ChristianCycling members. Little did I know our spoke director lives in my town.
A month after joining, I saw the advertisement in the newsletter that ChristianCycling was trying to organize a group to ride RAGBRAI together. I knew I wanted to ride with the group, and not alone.
Members from California, Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee, Maryland and Delaware converged on Sioux City, IA on July 18th. It was amazing the instant camaraderie we had from the moment we met. A few of us spent time representing ChristianCycling at the Expo, and had the opportunity to talk to many riders who were just like me; believers who desired to connect with fellow cyclists of like mind. Some of us walked away thinking, “If these people would just sign up, they would realize how many fellow Christian riders there are in their area.” As the week went on, and we had opportunity to talk to many more riders, that is what we encouraged them to do.
Many of us agreed that RAGBRAI is hard to define. It is intended to be a tour to highlight the small towns and culture of Iowa. 10,000 registered riders, and an estimated 10-20,000 additional unregistered riders, riding everything from unicycles, to recumbents, to the finest road bikes, to a two story bike converge to ride approximately 70miles per day from town to town experiencing the best Iowa has to offer. RAGBRAI traditions are everywhere including Team Flamingo (everyone wearing pink boas from their helmets, pink hair, pink jerseys, etc), and Mr. Porkchop and Beekman’s Icecream (two of my, and DQ’s, personal favorites). Residents of the towns and farms we passed often sat in their front yard, or in the bed of their pickups on the gravel roads to watch the riders go by and to encourage us on. Some even invited riders in to their own homes for free meals, and to use a “real toilet.” RAGBRAI is hard to “put in a box.” Is it a ride to be completed? Is it a tour? Is it a party? Is it a circus? The answer to all these questions is, “Yes!”
My personal highlight was the time spent with the members of our group. We not only represented a number of states, but a diverse grouping of personalities and faith backgrounds. Some of us preferred to ride faster, and some slower. None of that mattered much. We just enjoyed each other for who we were as people, and what (really who; Jesus Christ) united us.
I had never ridden that level of mileage before, and I had very little hill experience (since Delaware is mostly flat). With the advice and encouragement from our group, I not only completed the course, but far exceeded my expectations. When I started riding, I would be out of breath climbing a short flight of stairs. Praise the Lord, on RAGBRAI I was able to ride for many miles while sharing testimonies with my new ChristianCycling friends.
RAGBRAI begins by dipping your rear tire in the Missouri River, then riding east and dipping your front tire in the Mississippi at the finish. Finishing was bitter sweet, and more emotional than I expected. My BHAG had been accomplished, so there was a great sense of accomplishment. At the same time, dipping my front tire signified the end of a week of great fellowship with new friends, and I did not want it to end. The reality is that this particular group may never ride together that way again, but we can look forward to future meetings. That is what I believe ChristianCycling is all about.
Many of us agreed that more multi-day rides should be considered by ChristianCycling Spokes, and on a national level. There is just something about spending extended time together that helps us to get deeper than the occasional short rides.
Would I do RAGBRAI again? I would never do it alone, but I would do it again if it meant continuing friendships, and making new ones in ChristianCycling.