Iowa? Why Iowa? – RAGBRAI Day -1

When we told people we were planning to ride across Iowa this summer, the reaction was always “Why Iowa?” We must admit, that Iowa wasn’t exactly the first place that came to mind for a one week bike trip – but that was before we knew about about RAGBRAI – the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. According to RAGBRAI, it is the world’s largest and longest running bike tour. This year marks its 38th year and they expect more than 10,000 riders and an additional 6-7000 support people to participate.

In March, we filled in the application and waited with bated breath for the results of the lottery – 8,000 spots are available for week-long riders. The remaining spots are saved for “day” riders – those riding 1 to 3 days,  rather than the entire 7 days. The route varies each year. This year the route is in Northern Iowa and is one of the flattest and shortest routes. It is dubbed the third easiest RAGBRAI route – we’ll see about that!

Planning the drive from Ottawa, we discovered that Paula and Dave, whom we met on our first freighter cruise, were exactly half way between Ottawa and Dubuque, Iowa.  Dubuque is the final city on this year’s RAGBRAI. We had to stop by for a visit! When we contacted them, they were delighted that we wanted to stop by.  They also told us that Dave’s brother Ed and sister-in-law Karin live in Galena Illinois, only 15 miles from Dubuque. Perfect!  Karin and Ed graciously offered us to a place to stay and park our car for the week we were riding. We are so lucky to have met such great people on our journeys.

On Wednesday, July 21, we had a great visit with Paul, Owen, and Irene. Unfortunately, Dave was away on business, but we hope to see him on our return. We enjoyed a great walk through the park in Ypsilanti, Michagan and played a couple games of dominoes (Becky won at least one game). We also enjoyed some of Ypsilanti’s finest brews, although we were a day early for the Michigan Brewer’s Guild Festival. (Who knew Ypsilanti was a centre of microbrewery excellence? If you love small-batch beer, we recommend a visit to the area)

On Thursday, July 22, after the long drive to Galena, we were delighted to meet Ed and Karin. They have “retired” from the full-time jobs in Chicago, and are now working and farming in Galena. Between raising bees for honey and tending a large organic garden for market produce, we’re not sure they’re any less busy, and that’s not counting other part-time jobs. They sure seem to be having fun though!

We visited the farm to see the garden and bees, and also got a tour of the Prairie fields that Ed is restoring. They are members of the Prairie Enthusiasts, and have spent the last few years carefully seeding, weeding and burning their fields, working to restore the original prairie ecosystem.

Karin’s vegetable garden in Galena Illinois, carefully protected from deer.

Karin in the back of the pickup on our way to see Ed’s prairie.

Scott standing out in one of Ed’s prairie fields. Amazingly, it is all planted and weeded by hand!

Thursday night brought a thunder and lightening storm that lasted more than 3 hours and dropped more than 5 inches (125 mm) of rain on Galena and Dubuque. Things were looking rather soggy when we drove into Dubuque to drop off our bikes. With more rain in the forecast for Friday night, we happily accepted Karin’s offer of a ride into town in the morning. This meant we did not need to camp out in Dubuque on Friday night. Friday night, an additional three inches (75 mm) of rain fell, causing major flooding in Galena and parts of western Iowa. We were very happy to have stayed indoors!

Flooded Galena Main Street. Note the submerged minivan and closed flood gates. Saturday, July 24th.

Foggy but not-so-flooded Galena Main Street a week later. Sunday, Aug 1st.

Note: If you are subscribed to our email feed, you will be receiving these posts one to two weeks after the event. We did not bring a computer with us on RAGBRAI, so the blog posts are being written from the comfort of home as we recover from our adventure!

3 thoughts on “Iowa? Why Iowa? – RAGBRAI Day -1”

  1. Scott and Becky,

    Can you detail which route you drove to get to the RAGBRAI event. Also some info on the charter, where did you hear about them (not the bad ones). How did you know where to keep the vehicle etc… And lastly you can pm me with the various daily costs (if you do not mind or post here for others). BTW it was nice to finally meet you at the Bluesfest bike park. I went to the Hostel Shoppe rally (which would have been a week after) and met some people who did something called SAGBRAW, something about southern Wisconsin. We went via the Sault and returned the southern route via Syracuse. I do not think that there was a two hour block on any roads that did not have some form of construction happening. 🙂


  2. Hi Brian,

    We drove down via Sarnia and south of Chicago. On the way back, we took the small car ferry at marine city – which avoided the bridge and customs wait in Sarnia. We talked about doing the northern route, but were really happy to have the chance to re-connect with friends in Yspilanti (just southeast of Detroit) – so it was nice to spend a night there in both directions. We also have family in Guelph, so we had a visit there as well. Had we not planned to stay in Guelph we probably would have taken the route up from Syracuse. We did end up on highway 7 on the way home as the 401 was crawling (there was a double-wide truck moving slowly and no way to get around it).

    The official charters are all posted on the RAGBRAI site ( I had read about a couple of them on Crazyguy. We had a pretty restricted budget, which influenced some of our decisions. If we do it again, we’ll look into either Out of Staters or Pork Bellies. We really like the way Pork Bellies handled our bikes on the cross state leg, and they were very flexible about recumbents, where a bunch of the others charge extra for ‘bents without considering their size (ours would actually hang off of roof hooks along with the other bikes). I think the full week service with Pork Bellies – although a bit expensive – is worth it. I was afraid that it would restrict us, but in reality, the extra that they provide (a couple of nights of meals and prearranged church dinners) are well worth it.

    We heard about a few other rides that were similar. The most common one was Ride the Rockies – which is very similar except in Colorado and has a limit of 2000 riders, which is much more manageable. There is another in Utah and apparently a nice ride in the finger lakes area of New York.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.