The thunderstorm boils over Glenwood, Iowa’s square, bruising the horizon, driving a local band off the stage and sending thousands of bicyclists to shelter.
Following hand-written signs through the muggy evening, I come to the low door of a Methodist church basement and duck inside. In an instant, I meet the magic trio sought by every rider pedaling across Iowa: Air-conditioning. Pie. Church ladies. Grabbing a slice of blueberry made by some of the revered, reverent cooks, I squeeze into a folding chair among my fellow cyclists and a few parishioners. Rain pelts the windows as the chatter heats up, somehow sweeping in both dessert and the spiritual side of humanity.
“We were in a Bible study last summer,” one local lady says, sipping coffee from a foam cup. “But we had to suspend it for a few weeks. Nobody would come when it conflicted with Pie in the Park.”
You have to know your priorities around here. And for the last week of every July in Iowa, two things reign: biking and eating. But not necessarily in that order. This, after all, is RAGBRAI (The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, pronounced “RAG-brye” and put on by The Des Moines Register since 1973). Put simply, it’s a 500-mile ride from the Missouri to the Mississippi. But RAGBRAI is simply “a bike ride” like Woodstock was simply “a concert.”