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Director teases a surprise for RAGBRAI route announcement

Riders pedal toward a stop during the 2018 RAGBRAI pre-ride in Riverside on June 8.  (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Riders pedal toward a stop during the 2018 RAGBRAI pre-ride in Riverside on June 8. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

RAGBRAI devotees could be in for a surprise when overnight towns for the 47th annual border-to-border midsummer bike ride are announced Saturday, ride director T.J. Juskiewicz said on Friday.

“I think people are going to be surprised,” Juskiewicz said. “When you’ve put out the route for 46 years, people think they have it figured out, but this year it’s going to be a little different.”

RAGBRAI — short for the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa — is an end of July weeklong non-competitive bike ride that attracts tens of thousands of people from around the world to some of Iowa smallest communities. Started by two journalists, it is one of the state’s biggest tourism draws.

The weeklong bike ride typically starts on the Missouri River in western Iowa and ends seven days later when cyclists reach the Mississippi River in Eastern Iowa.

The route, which often ranges from 400 to 450 miles, is predetermined and is anchored by eight towns, which serve as the beginning and end points and the overnight stops for the days in between. Riders often camp or stay with friends in each of those towns, which celebrate their history and host live music, food and drinks.

Anticipation and secrecy surround where RAGBRAI will go each year.

The eight towns will be unveiled at approximately 9 p.m. Saturday during the official route announcement party at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines. The announcement will be streamed live online as well, including at TheGazette.com.

People also learn the mileage and difficulty of each day and the week as a whole.

Juskiewicz said approximately 1,200 people attend in person, but tens of thousands more watch online around the country often at self-organized watch parties for people who ride together year after year.

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He described the announcement as “almost like a fantasy football draft,” in which people can start plotting their RAGBRAI week plans for where they will stay and what they will see.

“It will be negative 10 degrees out, but maybe we can make people feel a little bit better about things for the night,” he said.

While the route changes each year, typically it rotates from a northerly route one year, central route the next, to a southerly route the third year. Last year, RAGBRAI trekked across the middle section of the state, including the first overnight stop in Iowa City in 40 years, and the year before the route stayed well north of Highway 20.

Will Sharpe, 38, of Cedar Rapids, is planning to learn the towns in person at the announcement party. He is volunteering for the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, which helps put on the event and is one of RAGBRAI’s main beneficiaries.

Sharpe, who’s ridden at least the past five RAGBRAIs, said northern and central routes tend to be more popular in terms of turnout, so he doesn’t see a southern swing as a lock.

“For me, the announcement has a lot to do with learning the towns we are going through and difficulty matters — knowing the different lengths and the climb each day is important — so we can start planning early,” Sharpe said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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