RAGBRAI: The 500 mile bike ride across Iowa

Biggest lesson I’ve learned from RAGBRAI? No challenge is too big. A year and a half ago, I was nearing 300 pounds. This past summer, I had slimmed to 186. And I completed a 500-mile bike ride across an entire state.

Last May, as I was finishing up my sophomore year, after I had lost about 30 pounds, my mom and I briefly talked about doing RAGBRAI. The Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. Random, right? Iowa. Back in the early 90s, it was a special thing for my Grandpa. He rode his top-of-the-line Schwinn Paramount across Iowa about half a dozen times. Initially, by himself. A free spirit by nature, he thought it would be an adventure. Then he brought along his children. I had no idea when I sparked the conversation about this journey, that it would change the way I viewed myself and the world around me. July of 2012 was one for the books.

RAGBRAI is at its essence, a party. It’s the Midwest’s version of Mardi Gras on wheels. Parades of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of cyclists coast across the Iowa countryside each day for a week in the midst of the July heat. Stopping periodically for 2-inch thick pork chops on a paper napkin or slices of homemade pie from local bakeries, cyclists pedaled an average of 70-miles per day. With riders coming from literally all corners of the globe, nearly 30,000 people, have an instantaneous bond when they dip their tires into the Missouri River on Saturday night, preparing for the trek across Iowa. For most, RAGBRAI is not an unattainable physical feat. After months of training and preparation, RAGBRAI itself is the reward. A week of meeting new people, camping in obscure Iowa towns, eating insanely good food made by the strong and courageous Methodist women of the Midwest, enjoying beer gardens, and free concerts every night. This year was a different story.

The month of July brought an unimaginable heat wave to Iowa. With its peak coming right in the midst of RAGBRAI. The first four days of the ride all had temperature highs of over 103 degrees. Day 3 had an unspeakable 127 degree “feels like” temperature, with the radiating temperature off of the pavement. Day 3 saw 12,000 people take the sag wagon. And Day 3 also saw me overcome one of the greatest challenges in my entire life. The 2nd Hill at Lehigh.

With 70 miles of pavement behind us for the day, my mom and I coasted down a 2-mile long hill, reaching a peak speed just over 40 miles per hour, into the town of Lehigh, Iowa. It was a small town, and we knew that there was still 20 miles to go until our overnight town of Webster City. Unsure of what the road support would be for the upcoming miles, we stopped for water and food. After refueling, we prepared for the immediate climb out of town. It was a 1/2 mile hill at a 23% gradient. For any of you that understand physics or cycling, you know that’s hard. But what’s worse? Starting from a dead stop. That climb was crazy, but my mom and I made it to the top with some loose glutes and our quads were talking back.

We proceeded to ride about 5 miles down the road with minimal wind or hills. But then, off in the distance, we see the upcoming hill that was 3 times as long and twice as steep as the one we had just climbed. I decided to stop before the decline to grab some water and shake out my sore hands. My mom went ahead and we agreed to meet at the top. So I began the descent. Gaining as much speed as I could, I coasted about 1/4 of the way up before I geared down and powered up. Off in the distance, I see my mom, along with about half the other riders, have jumped off their bikes to walk. But as I slowly climbed up towards the last third of the hill, I can see the top. I literally prayed this prayer:

“God, my body is tired.
You’re going to have to carry me up this hill.
But I’m believing for big things.
Believing that You can carry me.
That You have given me a strength,
The strength to get up this hill,
And every hill in the future.”

And I made it. I made it up the hill that only half of the remaining riders who didn’t already take the sag wagon made it up. Let me tell you, there is something so insanely beautiful about thinking that your physical limit is at one place, but really it’s so much higher.

Biggest lesson I’ve learned from RAGBRAI? No challenge is too big. A year and a half ago, I was nearing 300 pounds. This summer, I had slimmed to 186. And I completed a 500-mile bike ride across an entire state. I climbed the hill that only half of the riders made it up. I survived the day that 12,000 other people took the sag wagon. People, no hill is too steep. No challenge is too big. You will be blown away by what it feels like to surpass a challenge you thought was insurmountable.

Eva Cranford // LSU Senior // UREC Fitness Assistant

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