Ryan Penney, a park ranger at Narrows River Park, is about to embark on his 10th year of participating in the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI).
Penney’s first ride took place in 2010 shortly after his senior year of high school when his brothers and extended family members decided to try out the ride. They’ve ridden every year since with part of the family riding the route and others going along as a support crew, making camp and dinner for the riders.
The ride marks one of the few times out of the year Penney gets to see some of his extended family. The family makes the most of their time biking together, creating memories and celebrating traditions like posing together for a photo at the end of the ride.
“[Every year], we’ve taken a picture of us holding our bikes above our heads with the [Mississippi] river behind us,” Penney said.
The bike ride spans a week, winding in and out of chosen Iowa towns from the Missouri River to the Mississippi. A tradition of the ride is to dip your bike tire in each river, the Missouri on day one and the Mississippi on day seven.
Though seven days may seem like a long time to cycle, the days are filled with fun and food, soaking in all that Iowa’s towns have to offer. Penney is particularly fond of all the great food along the RAGBRAI route.
“A lot of people call it ‘Eating Across Iowa’ and ‘Party on Wheels,’” Penney said. “Food’s one of the [great things about the ride, along with] getting to see family every year, enjoying it with them and meeting interesting people while you’re out biking, too.”
Folks and towns that live along the route get into the RAGBRAI spirit by setting up activities and ways for riders to cool off. Penney has seen farmers set up slip-n-slides into ponds on their property and fire departments set up games with fire hoses.
“Seeing some of the interesting things that towns come up with and some of the themes is really cool,” Penney said.
In the ten years that Penney has participated, one year, in particular, stands out to him: the year he accidentally rode with a broken wrist.
“There were a couple of days when I couldn’t quite power through the pain and got back after the ride and got a call from the doctor saying, ‘Hey, your wrist might actually be broken,’” Penney shared. “That ride always sticks out in my head, but you’re having such a good time you kind of put away the pain.”
While most riders won’t happen upon that problem, Penney shared that fellow riders are quick to help those in trouble.
“One of the great things of RAGBRAI is there’s always somebody there to help you,” Penney said. “If you have issues with your bike, usually there’s somebody that will come along and can help you fix it, and if they can’t help you fix it, they’ll help you get back into town.”
Even if you’re not interested in riding, RAGBRAI provides an opportunity for towns to highlight their best aspects.
“This is a great way for all the towns across Iowa to show what they have to offer and get people to come back to our towns,” Penney said.
Penney’s Tips for First-Time Riders
• Know where you are staying every night
• Ride with a group who has ridden in RAGBRAI before
• Learn how to change a flat bike tire
• Bring extra tubes for changing tires
• Bring lots of sunscreen and reapply often
• Bring extra water bottles
• Bring a great attitude
• Be ready to have fun