by Chris Brewer
75 Team LIVESTRONG riders and staff, and 10,000+ of their closest cycling friends, braved 471 miles, heat, more heat, a high wind storm, and life around camp amidst the ever rolling countryside of the Iowa heartland in the 40th edition of RAGBRAI. And raised over $225,000 for the cause and had a great time in the process.
I recall someone saying that they’d read a lot about RAGBRAI – the Des Moines “Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa” – but unless you actually experience it, you just don’t get it. I agree with that to a point, much as if you’ve never been to an NFL football game or laced up your cleats back in the day to play the game. But along with the experience and the subculture that is RAGBRAI, there’s also something very special about being on Team LIVESTRONG, too.
A typical day on the road to the Mississippi River goes like this: wake up in your tent somewhere between 5-6am, the sound of zippers your usual alarm clock. Spend the next 30 minutes or so in the dark searching out / standing in line at a portable toilet (called a KYBO in Iowa) and getting your morning going. Pack up everything you have with you and bag drag it to a waiting truck. Acquire coffee and a light fuel up / bike prep and head on down the road in search of breakfast as the sun rises ahead of you (an early start to try and beat at least some of the heat).
As you knock out the first 15 miles or so with a few teammates, you’re struck by the fact that THOUSANDS of riders are already on the road with you. It’s said you’ll never see the start or the end of RAGBRAI and I believe it. Ride on till you’re hungry and then get in line for anything from pancakes and sausage, to breakfast burritos, to pizza and any number of baked goods, etc. Ride on down the road another hour or so and stop again, most likely for a sports drinks refill or a Bloody Mary, if that’s your speed. Ride some more and start discussing what to do for lunch, maybe hit another town, see where Mr. Porkchop is, or visit any number of the churches, schools, and vendors along the route – yes, you can literally eat your way across Iowa!
As the day goes on and the temperature heats up, you know your LIVESTRONG support staff is already in the next overnight town 60-70 miles away. They have driven ahead and claimed the team’s campground and got things set up: drinks, snacks, and shade await you, once you can find your way through the human maze that is the finale. The speed tends to slow as the day goes on, there’s no rush to the end even if you started early. It’s far better to spend time with your teammates and the new friends you meet along the way in the pass through towns than to just chill waiting for evening in a tent in a school backyard somewhere. The last town before the overnight town will keep filling to the brim with riders ready for a cold beverage before the final push to camp, everyone balancing temperatures with their energy levels left, especially as the week wears on.
For Team LIVESTRONG you are not required, but you will want to get back in time to get cleaned up for “Happy Hour” at 630pm. (You’ve found and paid for a shower ($3-6) and it feels great!) Now this is not your usual after work gathering, rather it’s a casual time of social interaction that keeps on building around camp. You hear and tell war stories from the road, share funny anecdotes of sites and people seen, and the plan for the day ahead. And then the real magic happens as someone steps up to share their cancer story. They range from personal stories of having had cancer, to caring for loved ones, to people who have had no direct link yet but are so moved by the sheer numbers that they just have to be involved. One story will encourage another, people who would never have come out publicly but now know they are with kindred spirits stand, sometimes with tears in their eyes, and proudly announce that they are cancer survivors and proud of it! As the emotion winds down, teammates head off in small groups to find dinner and then enjoy the evening as yet another cool cover band (or a big name act like Counting Crows) rocks out till late in the evening. Head for your tent and repeat 6 more times, because this is RAGBRAI.
But there’s one more aspect to this special Team LIVESTRONG event, and that’s the duration. There’s simply no other thing we do here at the Lance Armstrong Foundation where the staff and our constituents live and endure side-by-side for so long. And that time builds relationships that will literally last a lifetime. Soon you’re referring to former strangers by nicknames like “Super Dave” and “Bear” as if you’ve known them your whole life. And when the event is over, you truly miss them, too. And that’s why you’re already talking about next year, hoping you’ll be able to come, knowing what you’re missing if you can’t, as this annual family reunion on bikes that is RAGBRAI rolls on. We hope you’ll want to be a part of this amazing experience, too, so check out www.teamlivestrong.org for more info, and thanks – for all you do.