Country Roads - The great ride across Iowa but not on a bike

Arvid Huisman - huismaniowa@gmail.com

Nearly 45 years ago a couple of guys at the Des Moines Register had a great idea - a bicycle ride across Iowa. The idea caught on quickly and today The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) is one of Iowa’s premier summer events.

There’s only one problem with RAGBRAI - it’s a bike ride. To participate you have to ride a bicycle… across the entire state. And we are not Rhode Island. The length of the ride is a challenge in itself, but today’s bicycles rule out this ride for many of us.

Bikes aren’t what they were when I was a kid. You know, when the handle bars came up to meet your hands and the bicycle seats were designed for human seats. Many of the bikes you’ll see rolling across Iowa during RAGBRAI this summer had to be designed by sadists. The handle bars are bent under to contort your back into an unnatural position, requiring you to painfully bend your neck back just to see 20 feet ahead. The seats can inflict injury in a most sensitive area. And even though many new bikes have multiple gears to make pedaling easier, Charley horses are still a reality for bikers.

Besides the pain, RAGBRAI participants have to use smelly portable kybos and many sleep in tents in town parks. And contrary to the uninformed views of many who have never visited the Hawkeye State, Iowa is not flat.

RAGBRAI is such a good idea. It’s too bad that there isn’t something similar for those of us who have come to appreciate the more comfortable things in life, like indoor toilets and cushioned seats.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought and have come up with a fantastic idea. How about HAGBRAI— Huisman’s Annual Great Bus Ride Across Iowa?

Please hear me out. Buses have changed since we rode one to school. Today’s tour buses are called motor coaches. They’re big and spacious. They have wide, reclining seats, restrooms, air conditioning, reading lights and big, tinted windows. They’re the perfect vehicles for a ride across Iowa.

We can charter one of these rigs, plan an itinerary and set off on a trip across the state. We’ll visit all the points of interest (as well as some dull spots) along the way, eat only at the best hometown cafés and stay in motels with vibrating beds and free breakfasts.

Of course, we would want this to be a ride across the entire state, so we’ll have to hire a commercial travel agency to plan our trip. I’ve run into a few folks in Des Moines who think Iowa’s western border is US 71 and Iowa’s eastern border is US 218. HAGBRAI will traverse all (nearly) 400 miles across the state.

I suggest we begin the ride at the Big Sioux River bridge northwest of Westfield, Iowa’s westernmost community. Westfield is a lovely village and I’d guess that HAGBRAI’s departure would be one of the larger events there in a while. We’d be sure to get a royal send off.

HAGBRAI should travel all the way to the easternmost point of Iowa. That point is on the Mississippi River between Clinton and Sabula. I choose Sabula, Iowa’s only island city.

Along the way we can nap or read in our reclining seats or check the crops through the big windows. We can sing songs like we did on the high school pep buses. (And there won’t be any chaperones to prevent you from kissing your honey in the back of the bus! Your honey might try to stop you, but that’s your problem.)

For those who don’t like bent backs, sore necks, chapped cheeks and charley horses, HAGBRAI will be a great summer event. It will catch on just like RAGBRAI; just wait and see.

In a few years the national media will report on a long caravan of buses rolling across the fertile prairie of the Beautiful Land. Meanwhile, throngs of cheering townspeople will line their streets to wish us well (and sell us lemonade, loose meat sandwiches and homemade pie.)

Don’t laugh. RAGBRAI got started this way. And there are more potential bus riders in Iowa than there are potential bike riders!