By Barb Arland-Fye
Standing in line with other RAGBRAI bicyclists waiting to use a porta potty, I overheard a Minnesotan vow to erase from her memory the myth that Iowa has no hills! I thought to myself, “Amen, sister!”
Organizers of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa prepared a route guaranteed to work our quadriceps and hamstrings on hills that looked to me like mountains disguised as steep backroads. Could I really climb these hills for seven days in a row? Yes, I reminded myself as I watched bicyclists —almost antlike from a distance — climb those hills ahead of me. I could do this with God’s help.
Since the start of the year, I prayed daily to be able to complete all 428 miles of RAGBRAI 2018 with our Pedaling to the Peripheries team organized by Jim Tiedje and led by Bishop Thomas Zinkula. Two of my brothers, Tim and Pat Arland, took time away from their work and families to help me achieve this bucket list goal. My husband, Steve, volunteered as part of the support crew that loaded and unloaded our baggage, snacks and beverages in Onawa, Denison, Jefferson, Ames, Newton, Sigourney, Iowa City and Davenport. No small task when you consider the logistics and traffic jams created by trailers, trucks and buses moving the belongings of more than 10,000 nomads on this RAGBRAI journey.
We became family, our 20-member team of bicyclists and support crew. We riders headed off each day on our bicycles, returning later in the day to our designated gathering place — parish centers or family homes. We snacked, chatted, showered, celebrated Mass, ate dinner together (most nights) and enjoyed the Mardi Gras-like atmosphere of each town’s RAGBRAI celebration.
Occasionally, I got discouraged watching the other cyclists in our group fly down the hills and pedal confidently back up. Tim reminded me, it’s not a race. You have to make it your ride. Three months after completing chemotherapy, I could cut myself some slack! Tim and Pat continued to keep an eye on me throughout the ride, seeming to appear out of nowhere on their bikes, just when I needed encouragement. Definitely a little reminder from God, “I’ve got your back.”
Al, Kathy Jo and Jim also encouraged me with their sense of humor and total commitment to the “experience” of RAGBRAI. They stopped with me for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at roadside stands and I occasionally joined them at the popular Iowa craft beer tents, even though I don’t drink beer. We ate lunch in towns jam-packed with bicycles, riders and vendors, and enjoyed each other’s company, met new people and kept the cares of the world outside of RAGBRAI.
As the week progressed, I accepted if not embraced the hills! I enjoyed quiet time with God, viewing the undulating landscape of green farmland set against a backdrop of bright blue skies and white puffy clouds.
On our final day, Tim and Pat stayed close by me for the last 20 miles or so to RAGBRAI’s finish in Davenport. I felt exhausted but exhilarated to have completed the ride. After expressing my gratitude to them, Tim texted me: “The bishop helped us understand that helping someone else achieve a bucket list goal can be very rewarding and he was correct. I really enjoyed our journey together!”
One evening at Mass, during the Prayer of the Faithful, Bishop Zinkula prayed that RAGBRAI would be a transformative experience for each of us. It was for me. I learned to climb hills, physically and mentally.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at email@example.com.)