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RAGBRAI: Cycling across Iowa

Ryan Polumba, Walter DeKock, Joel DeKock, Brian Headlee and Austin Headlee are shown during their bike trip across Iowa last week.

An Iowa tradition has become a worldwide sports phenomenon.

The RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) is a weeklong bicycling event that attracts athletes from all over the world. Several local cyclists were part of the field of riders who cycled from one Iowa border to the other last week.

Brian and Austin Headlee of Somerset and Joel and Walter DeKock of New Richmond were part of this year's RAGBRAI field of riders. The number of riders fluctuates daily, with many people joining in for one or more days of the ride. A new single-day record was set for the 49-mile day that stretched from Perry to Des Moines, with approximately 40,000 cyclists packing the highway that day.

Brian Headlee is an Iowa native. Last year was his first year completing the full RAGBRAI course. As a high schooler, family members drove him to parts of the course so he could be part of the event for a day. Headlee said he met cyclists from New Zealand, Australia, Sweden and Italy, as well as many different states, during this year's ride.

The RAGBRAI course is different every year, with many Iowa communities wanting to be included as part of the tour.

"It's a huge source of state pride," Headlee said. "It's physical, it's social, it's a party, all rolled into one. People line the streets, even in the rural areas."

This year's course covered 407 miles, one of the shortest courses in the 41 years of the event. Last year's course one of the longest, along with some of the hottest weather.

Cyclists can also add miles on their own. On Monday, the local bikers added a 50-mile loop. On Friday the bikers added 45 miles to their ride to visit Headlee's grandmother. Headlee's GPS said he rode 516 miles during the week.

Cyclists of all ages take part. The average age of participants is 45 years old, but the age-range was from teenagers to 90-year-olds. This year, for the first time, two men ran the course.

Finding a place to sleep takes planning. Joel DeKock's brother owns a bus that he's converted into an RV. He would drive ahead to the next staging community and have the RV set up for the riders each night.

Headlee said another big challenge was finding restrooms. He said there was often a 30-minute line to use the portables that were set up in communities along the course.

Headlee got away from biking after high school, but took up the sport again in 2009. The exercise he received through cycling helped him lose 70 pounds in 2010.

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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