Taking the Ride of a Lifetime  
By Dian Thomas

When I was just a kid, I did not know bicycle riding would become one of my favorite hobbies. I have always said riding in a car is too fast and walking is too slow — but biking is just right.

After being on the road for more than 25 years, I put on a lot of weight. One time while I was in New York for the Christmas holiday, I had so much trouble walking that I decided I must go home and change my life. I had tipped the scales at 320. Jackie Keller of, who had attended one of my presentations in Los Angeles , said she could help me lose weight. I was desperate and called for her wonderful support.

One of the early things she said I need to do was to find an activity that I would love doing. I went to a sale for recumbent bikes, because I thought that I would enjoy sitting in front of the TV biking. But on my way to the recumbent bikes, I saw a bike just like the one I had as a kid. They were on sale and I decided to buy two. That started my passion for biking.

Five thousand miles later I found my self at Ragbrai — the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa — riding in the biggest bike ride in the world. There are more than 15,000 bike riders that take a week each year and ride across this Midwestern state.

Team White bus, packed to leave. (Dian is in fuchsia on the back row.) Notice all the bicycles riding on the roof of the bus. (All photos in this article except for pictures of Dian were taken by Dian Thomas.)

Ragbrai was started in 1973, by two reporters from the Des Moines Register who wanted to find a way to gather stories across Iowa . Each year the ride has continued to grow.

People from all over the world gather to have a great exercise while they eat their way across Iowa . If you make the total ride, you will pedal about 500 miles. The days vary in the distance covered and the duration of the ride, but itineraries ranged from 60 to 85 miles a day.

Dian stands next to route map somewhere in Iowa .

Because the Missouri River borders the west side of Iowa and the Mississippi River borders the east of Iowa the tradition is to put your back tire in the Missouri when you begin the ride and end by putting your front tire in the Mississippi at the end.

Dian begins her ride by dipping her back tire in the waters of the Missouri River.

Last year was my first time to ride. It was such a great experience I returned this year for another feast across Iowa . I have decided it is not the place to plan on losing weight even though you do so much pedaling.

The smoke from a barbecue at a fire station tempts bicyclists along the route.

The day begins for me at about 6:30. I ride for about 15 to 20 miles and then pick my place for breakfast. There are about 15 vendors that move each day with the riders. We also stop in a small town about every 10 miles. That makes for five to six small towns a day. The small towns are in a party mood, and most businesses set up for the rush of 15,000 bicyclists coming though in about an eight-hour period.

This creative archway welcomed riders to Tama-Toledo.

The towns range from 300 people to about 12, 000. Most are small towns of about 1,000.

Townspeople along the route decorate to welcome the bicyclists.

Families who live along the route go all out to celebrate the ride. Many of them bring out lawn chairs so they can sit along the side of the road and watch an eight-hour parade. Some of them provide water slides or bubbles or other distractions that will tempt riders to stop and rest for a minute at their homes.

A rider blows bubbles during a rest stop.

Beautiful hanging flowers in Marshalltown, Iowa.

The route was beautified by colorful gardens.

Antique farm equipment was used as lawn decorations.

The food ranges from Mr. Pork Chop's juicy special Iowa cut chop (which has been freshly smoked and cooked over corncobs) to fresh homemade pie of every variety you can imagine.

Mr. Pork Chop's bus is decorated like a pig. Note the ear at the front of the bus.

Vendors take a variety of pie slices to sell along the route.

I find that I can not pass up the fresh corn on the cob that has just been buttered and salted to taste. One lady said, “You are going to love this corn. It is called peaches and cream” — and it could not have been better.

A family rides together, with Mom and Dad on a tandem and the two sons on individual bicycles.

Being from Utah and LDS, I found many of the same family values as those we enjoy within the Church. I saw one mom riding the ride with her 8-month-old baby in a trailer. My favorite was a family of five on a five-seat tandem. I wanted to take a picture of them, but I could never catch up to them. They had five pairs of legs, and I only had one.

In my group was a grandfather, Jim Wilson, who had his 10-year-old grandson Caleb with him. Caleb's father was bitten a year ago with a mosquito with West Nile Virus and is not able to walk now, so Jim stepped in to give Caleb the ride of his life. I was so touched by this grandfather, who had so much compassion to share an incredible journey like this with his grandson.

Our bus rode along with the riders, and because Caleb was so young, Jim rode with him in the bus sometimes after Caleb was worn out for the day. I rode with them a couple of times to keep them company and was delighted to spend time with both of them.

Caleb and his grandfather Jim entertained the crowd after the day's ride was finished.

There is one of every bike you can imagine. The most popular is the upright road bike, but I have seen handicapped riders pedaling with their hands. I have seen many handicapped riders, who adapted the bicycles to work for them. One man was sitting on a bench pedaling with his hands while his wife rode in tandem and pedaled with her feet.

When I first went, someone pulled my aside and said, “You will see four things on this ride. You will see corn on the right and soybeans on the left; you will also see corn on the left and soybeans on the right. Then there will be times when you will see corn on the right and left and soybeans on the right and left.” There proved to be a lot of truth in that tongue-in-cheek statement.

Fields were producing corn and soybeans in abundance.
What I can tell you is that Iowa is a great state with lots of lush greenery and some of the most down-to-earth people you can ever imagine. Riding through this state is such an adventure that I plan on making it an annual trek

Creative hay bales welcome the riders.

You may want to take the advice on the back of my bike shirt. “Get off your bus and ride.”


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