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RAGBRAI, Days 1 and 2


Over the course of the week I will be sharing my daily diary of adventures with the 38th annual Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), organized by the Des Moines Register. Check back for new updates every day, and please share any insights you have into the wonderful world of bike riding across our beautiful country.

Sunday, July 25

 Lions Club fundraiserToday we rode about 70 miles from Sioux City to Storm Lake. It was a tough day with a total vertical climb of nearly 4,000 feet, crowded roads, and steep hills.

It has been a while since I read a full piece by Alexis de Tocqueville, but I remember him commenting on how impressed he was by the extraordinary number of civic organizations he observed on his American travels. Too bad he couldn’t have experienced RAGBRAI.

First Lutheran Church concession stand

Iowans seem to be joiners. Every town we went through was loaded with hundreds of volunteers helping to coordinate logistics and raising money for one cause or another. Over the course of the week I bought food that helped send money to Haiti, helped one church rebuild a steeple and another install an elevator, helped pay for an artificial leg, and supported flood victims, to name just a few great causes that were being supported by RAGBRAI. Bicycle jerseys were the same way: promoting fundraisers to fight cancer or Multiple Sclerosis and other important causes were abundant.

Another church concession stand All of this is part of the undocumented part of the charitable sector. For every dollar included in Giving USA’s annual charitable survey, my guess is there is another dollar or two that goes for local civic, social, and religious causes that never touch the GuideStar database, or the IRS for that matter.



Monday, July 26

Iowa wind turbines Today’s route was flatter but longer as we rode from Storm Lake to Algona. I opted for the optional 100-mile route over the 80-mile regular route and did just fine.

What happens when 20,000 cell phone users show up in a small town at the same time? For the entire week of riding I was unable to get cell phone service or access a wireless network using my ATT I-phone. Spotty coverage and inadequate bandwidth would be my guess. My blackberry and cell phone worked only sporadically, and it was the same with Internet access. Keeping everything powered meant plugging in whenever you got a chance—fast food joints, libraries, gas stations, etc., with everyone desperately scouring the town looking for power.

Wind turbines on the horizonFor several days the unbroken sea of corn and soybeans was accented by fields of tall wind turbines. Iowa ranks second to Texas in wind-generated power in the United States. In return for use of their property, farmers earn an annual rental fee and a percentage of any profit; Wikipedia estimates $3,000-$5,000 per year in rental income from each turbine, an important source of steady income for some farmers. Plus the turbines help provide a small tax boost for local communities and channeled $17 billion into the national economy in 2008. Energy advocates might have more success promoting the economic benefits of wind energy rather than the abstract issue of global warming. Wind farms are controversial in some areas (e.g., Nantucket Sound) because opponents say they mar the “viewscape.” But out here in Iowa I think they looked graceful and majestic.

Solar power played a role on the tour, too. Many riders hooked up various CD and MP3 players to blast out their favorite music. The most ingenious were those pulling little trailers with huge boom boxes powered by little solar panels. Neat idea.

Bob.jpgThe preceding is a guest post by Bob Ottenhoff,  Chief Executive of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. With an entrepreneurial spirit, strong technology focus, and a quest to make an impact in the world, Bob has the ability to take an organization and lead it into strong performance, sustainability, and industry leadership.

Topics: Events