RAGBRAI: Write to ride Bike ride diary turns into novel about friendship, Iowa

Author Brian Bruns, who graduated from Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School, wrote about his RAGBRAI experience.
Author Brian Bruns, who graduated from Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School, wrote about his RAGBRAI experience.

Sometimes a book just writes itself.

A few years back, author and Cedar Rapids native Brian Bruns rode RAGBRAI as a way to reconnect with an old friend.

“A long time ago, I had some advice from a really good, world-traveling friend. His one regret in life was that he didn’t take notes. ‘Write a diary,’ he said. ‘Because you’re going to forget everything. It’s the little things in life that matter, and those are the things you forget.’”

Bruns took audio notes as he rode, detailing the conversations — and pork chops — along the way.

“It was the easiest book I ever wrote.”

The result is Bruns’ latest non-fiction work, “Rumble Yell.” And while Bruns’ notes are the basis for the text, the book reads more like a novel than a diary thanks to Bruns’ overarching narrative.

“It’s not about riding 500 miles. It’s about friendship, it’s about self-discovery.”

As a result, RAGBRAI serves as the very amusing backdrop for Bruns’ reconnection with his high school friend Aaron, who he hasn’t seen in 20 years.

“There’s a line that a lot of people are highlighting from the book: ‘Good friendships don’t need rekindling. Good friends just are.’ And I really learned that on RAGBRAI because 20 years had passed, and it was like it was yesterday. It was just shocking. I’m looking at Aaron and thinking: “When did you get fat, dude? It was just last week that we were together and you were on swim team.” And, of course, he’s thinking: “When did you get balding and gray?”

Riding through cornfields provided Bruns with plenty of time for introspection. When living abroad, Bruns always introduced himself as an Iowan, even though he hadn’t called Iowa home in years.

“Now that I’ve been around the states more, there really was a pride of Iowa thing. Everywhere I go, I meet people who are less educated and have less of a work ethic. And now that I’m 40 I realize: oh, that stuff came from Iowa — and Mom and Dad, too, of course.”

Bruns’ strong work ethic and positive attitude may also have come – inadvertently – from his childhood Gazette paper route followed by a big dog when he was 10.

“I paused at one point and I actually said to myself: ‘Why am I scared? If that dog was going to attack me, it would have already.’ And I stood up straight, and I continued walking, but my posture changed. And the dog immediately left.

“And I remember thinking about that: ‘Wow, personal bearing, posture, attitude makes a difference.’ And I’ve used that lesson to my advantage my whole life. Attitude is everything. And if you’re scared, don’t show it.”

This positive attitude helped the Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School graduate Bruns persevere when navigating the challenges of establishing himself as a writer.

“Everybody in Iowa needs to be proud of RAGBRAI. It’s an Iowa institution. But few of us have ever done it. My mom isn’t going to ride it, but I want her to know what it’s like. I wrote this book so you’re right there with me, day by day, going through the challenges I went through, and the joys, and the little things. That’s why I write about food, the little girls who are playing in the water, the ice cream stands. The community of 10,000 riders. That’s RAGBRAI.”


What: Brian Bruns will sign “Rumble Yell”

When: 10 a.m. to noon July 19

Where: Barnes & Noble, 333 Collins Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids

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