On the Spin Cycle for Iowa's Ragbrai Race

This week, thousands of bicyclists are pedaling across Iowa in the annual Ragbai race. John Freyer met up with cyclists and found that pork chops, pie, and potato salad motivate them to complete the 500-mile trek. He sends an audio postcard.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

This week thousands of people massed at the western edge of Iowa, not for the state fair--that's next month--but for the Tour de Iowa, a bike ride of nearly 500 miles, that's officially known as RAGBRAI. John Freyer sent us this audio postcard.

JOHN FREYER reporting:

My friend, Chris, called me earlier this week to say that he and his dad had driven to western Iowa from Spokane, Washington, to take part in this year's RABGRAI. For the past 33 years, the Des Moines Register has hosted this annual great bike ride across Iowa. I met up with Chris and his dad on the fifth day of the seven-day bike ride in Cresco, Iowa, and the conversation immediately turned to food.

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah.

Unidentified Man #2: Everybody has their sign out and they're selling food and drinks and everything. And vendors are along the way and we have all these meats, pancakes, the Belgian waffle guy is there and Mr. Pork Chops with the pork chops is there.

FREYER: Pork chops? Waffles? All-you-can-eat pancakes? Only in Iowa can the main attraction of a 485-mile bicycle ride be the guy selling pork chops along the way.

Mr. NICK PAULEY(ph): Hey, my name's Nick Pauley and this year has just been fantastic. They've fed us a light breakfast and then we'll go down to town, about an hour out and we'll have a real light--another light breakfast. And we stop usually in each town and have something.

And then about noontime we start looking for something a little heavier, like a steak sandwich or a pork chop or something like that. We have one big meal and that's usually in the evening. But other than that, we just kind of graze all the way across Iowa. I think the second day we had three pieces of pie, so we've been trying to stay off that a little bit. That's one thing. The food, you don't lose weight even though you're going almost 500 miles. You're always eating something.

FREYER: Cresco is a town of just under 4,000, and the police department said that they expected between 15,000 and 20,000 people to spend the night here. That's a lot of pie.

When I arrived here, there were tents on every patch of grass in town. In a quiet moment, I asked my friend, Chris, what it was like to ride with so many people.

CHRIS: When you're part of it, you just can't really see the scope and range of how--what the size really is. It's kind of being like a blood cell in a human body. When you travel all around all the roads and the paths, you don't really see the whole thing.

FREYER: Cathy Shubert(ph) of Chicago is on her sixth RAGBRAI with her trusty companion, Ms. Joie(ph), a miniature schnauzer, strapped into a basket on the back of her bike. She sang me the song that she made up on the road.

Ms. CATHY SHUBERT (RAGBRAI Participant): And we did: (Singing) How much is that doggy in the basket? The one with the helmet and shirt. How much is that doggy in the basket? I do hope that she isn't hurt.

FREYER: For NPR News, this is John Freyer.

Ms. SHUBERT: (Singing)...across Iowa with 10,000 other bike nuts. If I had a doggy in my basket, I wouldn't even worry about my butts.

LYDEN: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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