For Adam Hutchinson’s summer vacation, he decided to go for a bike ride. A very, very long bike ride.
Hutchinson, an energy management specialist at Denver Water, spent two years planning with team members from around the world to join thousands of other riders in July for a week-long, 450-mile ride across Iowa.
This adventure was part of the RAGBRAI, formally known as “The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.”
It is the longest, largest and oldest recreational bicycle touring event in the world, formed on a whim in 1973 when two reporters from the Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest newspaper, decided to ride their bikes across the state and write about their adventures.
As an Iowa native, Hutchinson grew up knowing all about RAGBRAI.
“I’ve ridden for just a day or two when RAGBRAI came close to my home town of Manchester in eastern Iowa,” Hutchinson said. Though Hutchinson was an avid rider, he’d never had the opportunity to join the RAGBRAI ride for its week-long route that crosses the entire state.
Then he and his cousins — who would come together from Iowa, Colorado, Florida and even Japan for the ride — decided 2018 would be their year.
“One of my cousins was responsible for driving our support car with all the bike and camping gear we had to bring for the week,” Hutchinson said. “It was his job to drive ahead to the next town where we’d stop for the night and set up camp.”
Every year, RAGBRAI organizers map a different route across Iowa. The seven-day route always starts on the west side of the state along the banks of the Missouri River. From there the route winds its way east, through small and large towns where riders camp along their way. It always ends on the banks of the Mississippi River.
About 10,000 people officially take part of the ride every year, biking between 40 and 75 miles per day. But there are always people who join the ride for just a day or two, doubling the number of actual riders along some parts of the route.
With so many people looking for campsites, towns must be creative in designating campgrounds for the riders. Hutchinson and his cousins found themselves sleeping in local parks, on a baseball field and — one night — under a water tower.
One of their favorite campsites was in Newton, in the historic Maytag Park (named after the family that founded the Maytag washer company in the area), which had an amphitheater, a pool complex and many trees providing much-appreciated shade. Not only did the stop offer a chance to learn the history of the park and the town, but the showers in the park’s pool complex were a welcome break from the shower trucks offered in other places.
“I absolutely loved the hidden stories in each of these towns,” Hutchinson said. “Some of the towns felt so similar and very charming, with the town hall, city hall and town square all together.”
Some towns were farming towns and others were college towns, and all were hospitable and excited to welcome the riders.
“They would have an incredible amount of food available to buy from food trucks, local church fundraisers and tents overflowing with pork tenderloins, burgers, barbeque dinners, spaghetti dinners and more,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson knew there would be a party element to RAGBRAI when they weren’t riding, and he and his teammates were pleasantly surprised by the local bands who played concerts at the overnight stops, including the Pork Tornadoes — whose lead singer, Mason Greve, was one of the top 100 finalists on NBC’s The Voice in 2014.
“One of our favorite evenings was when we heard an ’80s cover band called Hairball,” Hutchinson said. “They played songs from bands like Aerosmith, Twisted Sister and AC/DC, but the best part was that they had new costumes for all the band members for every song — every single song. It was hilarious!”
Not every day was great towns and fun bands, though. Hutchinson and his team members had to deal with Iowa’s July weather, which was hot, muggy, and on one evening forced their team to take shelter for about 45 minutes during a tornado watch.
They also had to contend with elevation, something that surprises people who wrongly view Iowa as generally flat.
“One day we rode about 72 miles and climbed about 3,100 feet in elevation throughout the day as we rode over rolling hills and through river valleys,” Hutchinson said. The smallest elevation change during a day of riding was 1,700 feet.
He expected the ride to be a physical challenge, but one of Hutchinson’s favorite things about the ride was the serenity experienced out on the road.
“I loved getting up and getting on my bike every day,” Hutchinson said. “There’s a calmness to just riding, to doing the same thing day after day. I’d find myself thinking, ‘I’m just going to go ride my bike.’”
Would he do it again?
“Absolutely,” said Hutchinson. “We’re already planning for 2020.”