Bicyclists in the 37th annual RAGBRAI rolled out of Council Bluffs on Sunday morning to begin their 442-mile trip across the state.
Participants didn't have to go far to dip their wheels in the Missouri River to begin their trek. Crews pumped a spray of river water onto the deck of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge so cyclists could just roll through it.
The grand-daddy of all across-state bicycle rides, getting its start in 1973, this one boasts 10,000 registered bicyclists and many more (as many as 5,000) who are just along for the ride.
On Sunday night, the bicycling travelers could choose from 29 food vendors, including 6 community churches, in the host town of Red Oak. Other overnights are in Greenfield, Indianola, Chariton, Ottumwa, Mount Pleasant and Burlington.
As the host of this huge event, the Des Moines Register has all the inside information. For instance, only 39% of those registered riders are from Iowa. That's the lowest percentage in memory. Two-thirds of the cyclists are first-timers, and one-third are women. I think 100% are all pie-lovers.
Those bicyclists coming from outside of Iowa this year will probably be surprised to learn that Iowa is not flat. In fact, the 2009 route boasts 23,111 feet of elevation gain during the week.
When I had surgery a couple of years ago, one of my doctors knew I was an avid bicyclist and started telling me stories about his adventures at RAGBRAI just as I was going under. I can't say that I remember any of his tales, but I do have a strong desire to go every year.
One of the most famous RAGBRAI'ers of recent years won't be attending in 2009. Lance Armstrong caused quite a buzz when in rode in RAGBRAI to raise awareness for cancer. He's riding at the Tour de France this year. Presidential candidate John Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, also are former RAGBRAI bicyclists.
Good luck to all the RAGBRAI riders this year.