From July 19-25, Brett Landon of Rochester will be among the leaders of a team of 26 riders and four support people who are participating in the 43rd Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa — commonly known as RAGBRAI. This year’s ride will cover 462 miles, stretching from Sioux City to Davenport, and 10,000 riders will make the journey.
Landon’s team has a familiar name — Team ROTR, short for Return of the Robin — and this year’s group includes riders as young as 21 and some that are pushing 70. This will be Landon’s ninth RAGBRAI, and he took time out from his planning and training to talk with the PB.
PB: RAGBRAI isn’t a race, but is there competition to be among the first to arrive at the towns where riders spend the night? Do the early arrivals get any special benefits?
Landon: There aren’t a lot of perks for being first, but we do have guys on the team who like to be the first ones there. They like to sit around and hang out longer. But we also have folks who hit every stopping point every day and arrive at the overnight stops after dark.
PB: A lot of people think of Iowa as flat and boring. How accurate is that impression?
Landon: Not at all. The first day’s ride this year is 74 miles from Sioux City to Storm Lake, and I’ve done that route before — it’s nonstop rolling hills and 4,000 feet of climb.
PB: What’s the nightlife like at the typical RAGBRAI host community?
Landon: Sometimes the bigger towns have more stuff going on, but I enjoy the small towns, too. Last year, for example, Emmetsburg was great. They had a great band, and there was a lake that everyone was jumping into. It was a fun night. Typically there are food vendors, there’s music, and we go around visiting the other teams that are camped out.
PB: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen during RAGBRAI?
Landon: Midget bowling. There were little people who had handles on their hips and their backs, and you grabbed them and threw them down a bowling alley. That was in Sioux City. They were walking around, asking if we wanted to bowl them. That was a strange night.
PB: What’s your top priority after a day’s ride — food or a shower?
Landon: My first priority is a cold beer, then a chair. The shower I really don’t care much about at that point.
PB: What’s it like to ride 70 miles with a hangover?
Landon: I have experience with that. It’s tough. You’re getting maybe three or four hours of sleep per night, interrupted sleep because of the band and people carousing around. And you’re usually out of your tent by 6 a.m. because you want to try to beat the heat.
PB: How hard is your group training for this year’s ride?
Landon: We’re doing three to four rides per week, and I try to get in at least 100 miles per week.
PB: Do you have to train that hard to do RAGBRAI?
Landon: No, even a casual rider can do it. I’d say that it’s a lot more fun if you’re in shape on day one, but as long as you’re on a team and have a support crew, you can do it. RAGBRAI is a bucket-list event that everyone should at least try for a day or two.
PB: What kind of camaraderie do you build up during a week of riding bicycles?
Landon: It’s amazing. You’d think there might be some conflicts along the way, especially when you’re living in tight quarters like gypsies for a week. But by the time you come home, you’re very tight with your teammates. I’ve met some of my best friends on RAGBRAI.
PB: Does romance ever bloom on RAGBRAI?
Landon: I can’t say it’s ever happened on our team, but on some other teams I’ve heard of people meeting on RAGBRAI, getting married and having kids. It happens.
PB: Which is tougher — the logistics of preparing for the ride, or actually doing the ride?
Landon: The organizing is more difficult. If you don’t have all of the essentials ready before you leave, it’s tough on the whole team.
PB: How much are you hurting by the end of the ride, after you’ve ridden your bicycle into the Mississippi River?
Landon: I hurt all over. My entire body will be sore. Last year I wasn’t back to normal for about a week.
PB: What’s the absolute must-have item for a first-time rider?
Landon: You have to bring “Butt Butter.” It’s stuff you use so you don’t get sore on the bike. It goes by a couple different names, but you’ll want to make sure you have something like that. Don’t be afraid of the name — if you don’t use it, you’ll be hurting.
— Eric Atherton