THE EARLY LEAD: Preparing for RAGBRAI as a rookie
By BRANDON HURLEY
This is the year.
Finally, a chance to scratch off a bucket list item right here in Jefferson.
The 46th route of the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Around Iowa (RAGBRAI) is a thing of beauty and has inspired this sports editor to finally dive in.
Not only does an overnight stop include Jefferson, but it most likely snakes its way through Carroll along with official stops in Ames and Iowa City, my old stomping grounds.
More than any other year, the 2018 route will drive me to get off my butt and out onto the open Iowa roads. I grew up in Ames, went to college in Iowa City and now work in Jefferson, could there be a better dream route?
This week’s column is the first of a monthly series I’ll bring readers leading up to and through the Jefferson overnight stay Monday, July 23. I’ll offer up my experiences with training, the different stories and people I run into as well as the planning progress as a member of the Jefferson RAGBRAI publicity committee. I’ll shoot videos during the week of the ride, share photos, interview interesting subjects and update y’all whether I’m alive or not. This has some serious potential for fun.
Training for myself, started last week, a few days prior to the annual Bike Ride to Rippey (BRR), which was sprinkled with a little bit of rain. I even hit the Raccoon River Valley Trail for 10 miles while a -2 degree windchill bore through my face last Thursday.
As I prepare to embark on my first RAGBRAI, I consulted with a handful of veterans to find out just what exactly it takes to survive the week-long spectacle that began in the early 70s.
This year’s route is the fourth flattest and the fourth-easiest as well as the seventh shortest ride at 428 miles. But what does that mean to us newbies?
Will I collapse from exhaustion on day one? Will I even be able to make it up the first hill and continue on to partake in RAGBRAI activities in each designated town?
I have to get my miles in first. That’s the number one priority, they said. Get out on your bike and ride, with increasing regularity so you peak at the tail end of July. The most consistent number I saw and heard was 1,000. Try to get in 1,000 miles on your bike before July 22.
Train your legs, and most importantly, train your buttocks to endure countless hours of seat time. Daily rides pushing 60-80 miles each is really what will catch up to us newbies.
“If you train, you’ll enjoy it a lot more,” RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz said in a phone interview last week. “There’s no substitute for riding, I’m not saying ride 5,000 miles, but if you’re in decent shape, you’ll enjoy it a lot more.”
Don’t just focus on the distance, either, Juskiewicz said. Get out and prepare for the massive crowds that will dot the various Iowa highways this July. The numbers are staggering – the days typically average 20,000 riders, but in 2013, the Perry to Des Moines route was clocked at a record 36,000 bikers. As you can imagine, navigating the highways on a bike becomes tricky.
“Ride in groups and not just alone to get used to it,” he said.
As my dad has said before, a guy that’s embarked on many RAGBRAIs himself, you’ll never here the phrase “on your left” as often as you do during the ride. It’s constant, he said.
It’s also not so much about the ride itself, Jefferson mayor Craig Berry said, but the experience you draw from the accompanying activities. Don’t look at it as a 428-mile ride in the dead heat of the summer, view it a bit more optimistically. Taking time to visit the various communities along the route, breaking the ride into chunks and learning what makes each community unique is what Berry feels defines RAGBAI.
“I’m not a fast rider. I like stoping in all the communities. You see what it has to offer,” Berry said. “To me, it’s a bunch of 10 mile rides. You can stop, take a break, eat and walk through the communities. It’s what you want to do to have fun - party, meet people, whatever you want.”
It certainly is the people that make the event, RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz said, piggy-backing off Berry’s statement. If you are ready for the ride, you’ll get a chance to meet some of the most interesting characters in the Midwest. The relationships Juskiewicz has built over the years are unrivaled. Tens of thousands of people descending on Iowa communities produce some of the coolest moments, he said.
“My favorite part is all the incredible people,” the director said. “We will work with the towns. We will meet some new people. They come from all over the world. Stop and visit with folks, visit the towns.”
I can certainly attest to the way biking brings even the most distant of strangers together. This month’s BRR ride had me striking up a conversation with a journalist from Washington D.C. while basking in the intricacies of a “Quad Bike.” It’s a tight knit community, but one that’s always open to adding new members.
July can’t get here soon enough, especially after Monday’s snowstorm. The 2018 route is a perfect mixture of what makes Iowa so incredible, even if my actual training has gotten off to a slow start.
My anxiousness for this year’s route was validated by perhaps Greene County’s most infamous cyclist and promoter.
Cooper resident Chuck Offenburger was a RAGBRAI co-chair for 15 years and helped organize the 2008 overnight stop in Jefferson. He’s no slouch when it comes to readying one’s self for the yearly week-long party. Offenburger has mingled among the regulars in more than 30 RAGBRAIs and continues to ride in communities all over the country with his wife, Carla.
“As someone that’s done all kinds of rides, this is a great year for people that haven’t done it before,” Offenburger said. “It’ll be fairly flat. It’s a great festival, it’s fun for everybody. It’s the best people watching this side of the fair.”
Not only is RAGBRAI a chance to join in on one of the state’s most notorious events, but it will give Jefferson a chance to be a shinning light yet again. The town last hosted the annual ride in 2008.
“I’m sure that Jefferson and Greene County will go all out. You get to show 35,000 people how cool your community is,” Offenburger said. “If you do that, it’ll pay off for decades.”
So here’s to all of our training regimes for the next five months. Let’s avoid those tasty fried foods and delectable deserts and start hitting the trails, the hills and whip our legs and behinds into shape.
As they say, the journey is the reward.