By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Bishop Thomas Zinkula led his Pedaling to the Peripheries teammates in prayer last Friday morning at St. Mary Parish in Fairfield before the team headed out to bicycle 70 miles to Burlington. The 12-member group of bicyclists and support crew spent the previous night in the parish hall in Fairfield, the second to the last overnight stop on RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.
“It would be good to begin everything we do with prayer,” the bishop said later. “I remember as a kid praying the rosary at the beginning of a family excursion with all 11 of us crammed into a station wagon. Such prayer doesn’t have to be long and involved, but it does help set the tone for the day or event and keep us focused on what really matters.”
Daily Mass was also a staple this year, as it was during last year’s first Pedaling to the Peripheries RAGBRAI tour. The Des Moines and Davenport dioceses collaborated this year to ensure celebration of Mass at parishes located at each overnight stop: Council Bluffs, Atlantic, Winterset, Indianola, Centerville, Fairfield and Burlington.
“Mass is always special, but on RAGBRAI we feel something even more intimate with our team,” said Jim Tiedje, a member of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport and the team’s leader. “It seemed like a fitting end, a chance to stop, reflect and give thanks,” said Dr. Bill Benevento, a team member from St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf. “Not everyone has the opportunity to do something like RAGBRAI.”
‘Rolling state fair’
This year’s smaller team rode the last two days of the seven-day “longest, largest and oldest recreational bicycle touring event in the world” (RAGBRAI XLVII Participant Guide 2019) because of the bishop’s time constraints. Each day resembled a “rolling state fair,” as team member Al Thompson of Owensboro, Ky., described it.
An estimated 8,500 week-long riders and 1,500 “day” riders swooped into towns crammed with food stands, portable toilets, banners and unusual art displays, like the mountain of bicycles centerpiece in West Point. Visitors climbed hidden stairs behind the mountain to lift their bikes over their head at the top. Friends snapped photos to capture the unusual image.
RAGBRAI combined food, fun, music, creative art and mingling with strangers who shared a common goal: completing each day’s ride that ranged from 40 miles to 84. The journey demands strength, perseverance, an appreciation for hills and valleys, paying attention to pavement cracks and riders of all skill levels.
The church amongst the people
“One reason I am drawn to RAGBRAI is because it helps me stay in shape! It is a great motivator for exercise, especially in the weeks and months leading up to it,” Bishop Zinkula said. “But these days I probably wouldn’t do it for that reason alone. A more significant reason is the evangelistic aspect of it, for me anyway. It seems like everyone everywhere asks me about RAGBRAI. How did it go? Are you doing it this year? Given the role of the bishop in the Church, my participation in RAGBRAI makes the Church real for people. It gets the Church out amongst the people.”
“Bicycling is one way for me to exercise and at the same time meet other great people who like to have fun,” Tiedje said. “On RAGBRAI you meet lots of new people and in Iowa you always find such generous and hospitable people who open their homes and their hearts to the visiting cyclists.”
This year, Tiedje rode alongside Bishop Zinkula. They witnessed a bicyclist take a spill after hitting a crack in the pavement. “We stopped to see if we could help him up. But he was able to put on a couple of bandages and take off,” Tiedje said. “If I had taken a fall like that it would have been the end of the day for me!”
Cheering riders on
Benevento has participated multiple times in RAGBRAI but this was his first year with Pedaling to the Peripheries. “I’m drawn to RAGBRAI for a number of reasons. The physical challenge is obvious, though the support from the towns and vendors makes it a lot easier. It’s fun to see Iowa from the perspective of a bicycle. It forces me to slow down (sometimes slower than I’d like) and savor the countryside. I might buzz by a pretty pond or river in a car, but I have time to appreciate it on a bike. There’s an anticipation as you see a town coming up; you know that there will be food and drink, and folks there who are anticipating your arrival. I’ve seen everything from cheerleaders cheering to assisted living residents waving little flags. It’s fun being part of a big event for a small town.”
New team member Tom Davis of Newburgh, Ind., said he was overwhelmed by the hospitality. “Our group in particular was treated so well by our host churches and host families. But it went beyond that. The Iowa communities we visited were all so nice and welcoming. When I was trying to get up that last big hill, the residents of Keokuk were there cheering, ringing cow bells, rooting us all on. What an inspiration it was and what a way to say ‘Welcome to Iowa.’”
Bishop Zinkula said the hosts “went over the top in providing us wonderful welcomes, accommodations, food and conversations. Another highlight once again was the camaraderie of our team. Finally, I always appreciate the unity and sense of common purpose of the entire group of riders. People look out for one another and help each other out along the way. If only we would do that at all times and in all aspects of our lives.”
Mike Waskowiak, who rode with the St. Ambrose University-Davenport RAGBRAI team, said he missed one of the daily Masses because he went to the wrong church. “I think we could do a better job of creatively promoting and celebrating the evening Mass,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula said. “Rather than an ‘if you build it they will come’ approach, we should get the word out on the street in various ways, including playful ways, in the spirit of Vision 20/20.”