Wrapped up in RAGBRAI
Ask Doug Dailey his favorite part about riding in RAGBRAI, the annual bike ride that stretches from one end of Iowa to the other, and you might not exactly get a quick answer.
Dailey rode in the event for the third time last week and said the experience was memorable for the conversations had with strangers, for the scenery passed by and the towns passed through, for the pancakes and the pork chops waiting with road side vendors and for the amazing feeling when the day's ride is completed and the only thing won was a warm sense of accomplishment.
The De Soto resident gushed when talking about the three days he rode in the 34th running of the non-competitive ride, and finally he came to a single highlight that stood above -- bringing his daughter along.
Jessie Dailey, 14, made the ride, and her dad said it made everything worthwhile.
"It was really satisfying," Doug Dailey said. "I thought it would be really great to start building some memories with her. I figured if anyone in my family could do it, she could. And she did."
First riding with a friend in the race's 11th running in 1983, Dailey returned in 1998 to ride with a brother.
Jessie watched portions of that race as a small child, but the 14-year-old preparing for her freshman year at De Soto High School would have to wait eight more years for her own chance to ride.
"He asked if I wanted to go, told me it was fun and I decided to try it," she said.
Hopeful riders began registering for the event more than six months in advance, and the field of 10,000 is chosen via a lottery. The Des Moines Register first organized the RAGBRAI -- the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa -- in 1973.
Riders traditionally begin the race on Iowa's western border by dipping their back tire in the Missouri River. They travel across the state, sleeping in tents in specified towns along a designated route every night and on the seventh day reach the state's eastern border, dipping the front wheel in the Mississippi River.
Team Dailey began training for the ride whenever there was time. Still burdened by the sporting ventures that tie up most kids' summers like softball and volleyball camp, Jessie rode when she could.
Doug said workouts typically involved 12- to 20-mile treks around De Soto, but eventually grew to 30-mile rides and even a trip to Gardner that amounted to more than 60 miles.
Still, when the first day of the ride came July 23, neither was sure what to expect.
"I never thought that (I'd ride that far)," Jessie said. "I knew there was going to be hills, but I didn't know what they'd be like."
"A lot of it is not just physical toughness," Doug said. "It's mental toughness, when you're staring down these hills. It's hill after hill after hill on the hilliest days."
Both were surprised at how things went, too -- pleasantly surprised.
The pair only rode the first three days to allow Jessie to ease into the sport, but by the time they arrived in Waukee, the final town on their journey, they only reluctantly headed home.
Not that it had been easy. The riders left Sergeant Bluff early July 23 and rode 54 miles to Ida Grove, including 35 miles that rose away from the Missouri River. The next day took the pair 76 miles to Audubon. The two days combined made for an increase of just 250 feet in elevation, but the rides -- mostly through the ups and downs of the Iowa hills -- left plenty of riders wiped out.
"The fact that she was able to get through the Monday (July 24), the nasty day was great," Doug said. "I led her through the ride, but she always finished ahead of me. I had to get off my bike when we got to Audubon, but she just kept going."
And she would have kept going had the pair planned on it, Jessie said. The third day was an easier 68-mile jaunt that lacked the hills of the previous days as the course wound through five different towns.
The end of RAGBRAI's third day won't mean the end of biking though, Jessie said.
She said the sport has helped her get in shape for the school year. She plans to play volleyball and softball, and she plans to head north again next summer, this time with no intentions of stopping midway through Iowa.
"I'm definitely going next year. I want to do the whole week," she said. "My favorite part was probably the stops along the way. I like the whole idea of it, riding your bikes during the day, getting to the town and setting up the camp and hanging out there.
They had carnivals going, you could go play games, buy food and crafts and do fun stuff. It was great."