This year, RAGBRAI 2019 (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) will start in Council Bluffs, IA! As this is our Centennial Year, RAGBRAI has chosen The Iowa Department American Legion as one of the two non-profit organizations to be honored during this ride. Monday, July 22, is American Legion Day with a scheduled ceremony in Winterset, IA that evening. In case you have never heard of RAGBRAI and why this is exciting, here is a bit of history. When a few friends got together for a casual bike ride across Iowa in 1973, no one imagined that a tradition would be born, let alone that it would become the longest, largest and oldest recreational bicycle touring event in the world.
The Register’s bicycling tradition began with an idea (a kind of a challenge) between Des Moines Register feature writer/copy editor John Karras, an avid bicyclist, and Don Kaul, author of The Des Moines Register’s “Over The Coffee” column. Karras suggested to Kaul that he ride his bicycle across Iowa and write columns about what he saw from that perspective. Kaul, also an accomplished rider, lived in Washington, D.C., and wrote his column from The Register’s Washington Bureau.
Kaul liked the idea but issued the challenge that he would ride across Iowa if Karras rode with him. Karras agreed and the plan was approved by the managing editor. Coordination of the ride was assigned to Don Benson, public relations director, and the RAGBRAI trio was formed. The first ride was August 26-31, 1973.
The route was laid out on maps and readers were told that the ride would start in Sioux City on August 26 and end on August 31 in Davenport. Overnight stops were scheduled in Storm Lake, Fort Dodge, Ames, Des Moines and Williamsburg. (Year One’s overnight towns had the largest average population of any RAGBRAI through RAGBRAI XXIV.) The ride was informally referred to as ‘ The Great Six-Day Bicycle Ride’ and was scheduled to tie in with a Register and Tribune circulation sales meeting in Des Moines.
Because the readers were only given six weeks notice before the late-August ride, response was light, which may have been fortunate since the route had not been driven prior to the ride and no camping arrangements had been made. Don Benson had made motel reservations for himself, Kaul and Karras, because, after all, it was their ride. Motel operators along the way and the Naval Reserve Center in Des Moines came to the rescue of the riders by letting them pitch tents on their lawns.
An estimated 300 people showed up for the start of the ride in Sioux City. By actual count, 114 riders made the entire distance that first year. The number swelled to 500 riders on the stretch of the route between Ames and Des Moines. To read more go to https://ragbrai.com/about/ragbrai-history/.
Clocking in at 427 miles with 14,735 feet of climb, the 47th edition of this roving cycling party is the eighth easiest in route history. The 2019 ride is also the sixth shortest and eighth flattest. Watch RAGBRAI 2019 Overnight Towns Announcement…