The spirit of RAGBRAI


Thousands of bicyclists are participating this week in RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, with plenty of support along the way. No rider does it alone. The stubborn “my way or the highway” individualism that breeds contempt and polarization in our society has no place on RAGBRAI.

The lesson of the Good Samaritan plays out every day of the weeklong ride. Who is my neighbor? The riders sharing the road. The guardian angels fixing flat tires or bandaging someone’s skinned knee. The family or parishes welcoming sweaty riders who need a shower and a place to set up camp. The community center offering a place to charge cell phones.

“Slowing,” “stopping,” “rumble strip,” “passing,” “biker down,” riders call out in unison for the well-being of their fellow riders as well as themselves. No, this isn’t heaven and not everyone is kind, generous and self-sacrificing. But you witness more of this attitude on RAGBRAI and it is contagious!

What is it about events like this one that brings out the best in people? Does it have to do with RAGBRAI being a bicycle tour and not a race? The camaraderie of riders sharing a common goal? Or the vulnerability that comes from not being in control of God’s creation, the weather, the unanticipated events that impact cyclists? Does it stem from having the opportunity to savor God’s creation, the peacefulness of rolling hills and valleys?


Do we treat others more kindly when we’re not distracted by the cares of our everyday lives? How can we sustain that positivity beyond RAGBRAI, that desire to look out for one another? To see another person as having the same basic needs and wants that all of us have for food, shelter, clothing, health and meaningful work or other activities? To grow in our appreciation of God’s creation and nurture it for future generations? To take time to listen to another person’s story — not to gain an advantage but to gain an understanding of what it’s like to live in another person’s skin?

Today, more than ever, we need the spirit of RAGBRAI to permeate our culture of exclusion, our society that judges people — who don’t share our views — as suspect, evil, not worthy of God’s grace and love. Bishop Thomas Zinkula introduced daily Mass during RAGBRAI last year, a spiritual component that he believes fosters an appreciation for and an acknowledgement of God’s presence in our lives and in our interactions with one another — on and off our bicycles.

Mass is being celebrated again this year during RAGBRAI, offering the grace for all who attend — bicyclists and non-bicyclists — to go and serve others, long after RAGBRAI riders have dipped their bicycle tires in the Mississippi River at Keokuk on July 27. Consider attending Mass tonight at 6 p.m. (July 25) at St. Mary Parish in Fairfield and again at 6 p.m. Friday (July 26) at St. Paul Church of Divine Mercy Parish in Burlington.

The spirit of RAGBRAI draws its source from the God who created the men, women and children who organize, participate, provide hospitality or assist in this annual weeklong celebration of living life to the fullest in America’s heartland. Thanks be to God!

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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