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400 miles across Iowa, former Perham student makes RAGBRAI bike trek

How many people would consider going on a seven-day bike ride for 400 miles in the middle of summer? Well, about 17,000 – including former Perham resident Sara Rudolph.

 The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, or RAGBRAI, held its 42nd annual ride July 20-26 this year.

 Rudolph, daughter of Kelvin and Sandra Rudolph of Perham, is now a registered nurse living in Orlando, Fla. She heard about the event through college friends, and they thought it would be a great way to reconnect, so they signed up and off they went.

 The ride goes west to east across the state, Rudolph explained. Part of the event’s tradition is that riders dip the back tire of their bike into the Missouri River at the start of the journey, and dip the front tire in the Mississippi River at the finish line.

 This year, the riders pedaled about 431 miles, from Rock Valley to Guttenberg.

 While the image of Iowa’s stereotypically flat landscape and corn fields may invoke thoughts of “that wouldn’t be so hard to do,” Rudolph said eastern Iowa is actually quite hilly.

 Weather created an additional challenge throughout the week, with headwinds, heat and a thunderstorm one night, said Rudolph. But, it was “overall, beautiful weather,” she said.

 Officially, only about 10,000 riders participate in RAGBRAI, said Rudolph. They’re the ones who are selected through a lottery, and get baggage transport from town to town and support on the road. But she estimated that an additional 7,000 riders who didn’t register still rode the full course.

 “There were probably 20,000 sometimes,” Rudolph said, explaining that some riders opt to do only a portion of the ride.

 At night, Rudolph said most of the riders would camp out in the cities that volunteered as hosts. Tents would be set up “basically anywhere with grass,” she said.

 Many cities along the route embraced the riders. Rudolph said she saw one man holding a sign that read “I’m a farmer, ask me anything.”

 A lot of the riders were from urban areas, Rudolph said, so a lot of the agricultural sights were new to them.

Other communities created themes – such as “Best hump day ever” in Mason City, Iowa, on the Wednesday of the ride. Riders of all ages, on all types of bikes, participated, Rudolph said, recalling a man on a tandem bicycle. His riding partner was Kermit the Frog, strapped to the back pair of handle bars.

 In all, Rudolph said she had a great time on the ride and plans to participate again with friends.

 RAGBRAI’s first ride took place in 1973, as a challenge between two members of the Des Moines Register’s newspaper staff to bicycle across Iowa in a week.

 After expenses are paid for the event, the remaining funds are distributed to non-profit programs and organizations across Iowa through a community investment program by the Register.