It’s already been 40 years since Archie and Edith first came into our lives.
Oddly enough, I thought of the Bunkers as I pedaled across Iowa this past week. In case you’ve forgotten, “All in the Family” was the #1 show on television from 1971 to 1976.
RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) started out as a modest bike tour way back in 1973, but it has since evolved into the oldest and largest bike tour in the world. In order to maintain a sense of control, and to minimize the chance of injury, RAGBRAI officials limit the number of weekly riders to 8500 people. However, since RAGBRAI also permits "daily riders", the actual number of riders is significantly higher than that. The largest known daily count occurred in 1988, when 23,000 people completed the trip from Boone to Des Moines by 3 P.M.
If you’ve never been exposed to the RAGBRAI culture, there are a few facts that may surprise you:
1) It’s OK to “break wind” in mixed company
2) It’s also OK for men to wear tights
3) Iowa is NOT a flat state
4) The shear beauty of Iowa can take your breath away.
If the above items don’t make much sense to you, consider the following:
1) Throughout RABRAI, there are a number of “pace lines”. If you’ve ever watched the Tour de France, you may have noticed that the quickest way to get through the course is via the peloton. You need to be a confident rider to take advantage of the formation, but it’s amazing how fast you can go when you've got a few bodies blocking the wind for you.
2) If you’re riding long distances, padded biking shorts are mandatory, and a few of the folks on this trip were wearing “summer tights”, which (admittedly) sounded like an oxymoron.
3) The riders that participated on all seven days of the event were successful in climbing a total of 20,197 feet. Although that’s still a long ways from the 29,000 feet ascent that you’d face on Mount Everest, it’s still a hell of a climb, particularly for the paraplegics who used ARM POWER to get up the slopes.
4) As I passed some riders on a steep decline on day 2 of my ride, the “aroma” of an adjacent large hog farm literally took my breath away. Quite by coincidence, I met a couple a few days later whose business was converting "hog slurry" into a replacement for foreign oil. The liquid residue from 10,000 hogs can produce 1000 gallons of oil a day, and there are an estimated 15,000,000 hogs living in the state, roughly seven times the "people population". Those same 10,000 hogs, by the way, produce as much waste as a town of 25,000 people.
The group that I went with this year was primarily the same people that I participated with last year. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that many people would find us to be an "eclectic" collection of individuals. By the end of the week, there’s no question that “our tribe” was about as close to a family as you could get without actually being related.
The RAGBRAI organization, in cooperation with local Chambers of Commerce, also does a very good job of finding “host families” for you for your journey across the state. This year, our host families were Leon and Marilyn, Chad, Doug and Sheryl (backyard swimming pool), Linda and Jeff (the '69 Beetle owner), Marty and Deb, Randy, and Beth and Dan. Since we still live in the rough and tumble Chicago area, we continue to be amazed at the friendly nature of the people that we’ve met in the state of Iowa.
I'll be 64 years old at the end of the month, but there ARE a fair number of people over the age of 65 who participate in the event. Regardless of how old I get, though, I’ll always have fond memories of the “people of RAGBRAI”, who will bring to mind the following phrase:
“those were the days”