Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Ragbray

In July's issue of Bicycling magazine, they had a blurb with John Karras, the inventor of the greatest ride on the planet (except the Tour day France of course), called Ragbrai. It's a seven day ride across the state of Iowa, covering an average of 75 miles each day. You camp each night in a new small Iowa town along the course, each of which gets gussied up like it's Homecoming. It's always a festival. There's about 20,000 riders who take part of Ragbrai, so the ride is very much a steady stream of cyclists for the entire day.

I have taken part in 10 Ragbrai's in the past 12 years, having missed the last two. The first miss was to go to Duathlon Worlds in Cornerbrook, the then last year because I ran out of vacation time due to Hawaii. There was some concern about this year, on whether I would be missing again, but I assure you, I will be there. (They had even pulled out the team handbook or rules and by-laws to inform me I would be off the team if I missed 3yrs in a row.)

I'm sure I'll write more about Ragbrai as it approaches in late July, but I more or less wanted to write about the Bicycling Magazine article more than anything else. The only Ragbrai experience I have ever seen was very akin to spending the week in Mardis Gras. It's been the "holy ground" of doing everything I enjoy: riding bicycles, debauchery, hanging with friends, and drinking beer. Maybe the occasional ride in the police cruiser, but that's always been someone else, not me.

So, I'll say I'm disappointed when I saw John Karrass's statement:

"RAGBRAI's reputation as a wild party is exaggerated. The orgy crowd makes up a small number of the masses and tends to congregate at the rear of the pack. I ride in the middle, and have yet to see a bar breast or naked beer slide"

I was also a bit concerned. Having been responsible for a ride such as Ragbrai, and not having seen these shenanigans is like being a parent and not checking up on your teenager with that fully stocked fridge of beer you left behind when you went to spend the weekend at the Hamptons. Yes, I do admit that the shenanigans do take place at the rear, but everyone else leaves too early, and most of us are hung over from the night before to leave before 9am. As for the "exaggerated" part, the only articles I've ever really seen about the Ragbrai were always about naked beer slides and the eating of pork chops. I guess it can be skewed though, as I'm sure most editors are not going to ride in the middle of the pack and write about how they drafted behind Sally and her saddle bags.

Another thing I found sort of odd was the official pronunciation of RAGBRAI (Registers {a newspaper} Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) as "Ragbray" and not "Ragbrye". I guess I and everyone else in the BOP (Back Of Pack) have been saying it wrong too. I think it's funny how your view of events are so different depending on where you fall in the pack hierarchy.

As for the beer thing, it's everywhere. I swear it's what drives the Ragbrai economy. You can only make so much money from selling apple pie, but a small town can raise enough cash selling beer to buy a new fire truck. John's making it sound like the beer drinking only takes place at the end of the day, but that's only the second half of the equation. There is beer served at almost every small town we pass through, and some houses along the way will even leave an open keg out. The end town alcohol consumption can get ugly, where Main Street will be entirely paved with beer cans and plastic cups.

Without the BOP, and it's "reputation" that it has created, I fully believe Ragbrai would have not grown to the size it is now. It's hard to convince new people to spend one of their vacation weeks in Iowa during the hottest part of the year. If people are going to spend a week somewhere, they would rather go somewhere more exotic than cornfields. You throw in some debauchery, boozing, some good times, and you have something that people want to go on. It's just like Vegas and New Orleans- a hot desert or hot swamp. There's nothing appealing about it until you add the bare breasts, beers, and the occasional night with the local sheriff.

1 comment:

Cat said...

i guess your readers just want more poo, eh?