RAGBRAI 2020, On the Road Again

November 1, 2019

Dear Friends,


With heads full of questions, we drove to Des Moines on Wednesday to sit down with Anne Lawrie, who, in addition to her regular work at the DMR, has been shepherding RAGBRAI through this unusual transition period. Our goals were to learn as much as we could about how things are going and to offer help.


We drove home with more than just answers, and more than just optimism. We're downright exhilarated about RAGBRAI 2020. We don't claim to know what may be happening behind the scenes, but Anne was very forthright with us about the good news below. Even in advance of the Register's own upcoming announcements, we have permission to share much of what we learned. So here goes...

1) Wide-Spread, Heart-Felt Support It would be difficult to overstate the outpouring of support that RAGBRAI has received. (PBV has had a similar experience.) Hundreds of riders and citizens have written and called the RAGBRAI office to express their abiding love for Iowa's great July tradition. Many have even offered a hand. Anne is keeping a long list of devotees, ready to go to work for RAGBRAI as employees or as volunteers.


The family of the late Jim Green (RAGBRAI's second director) has joined with the Des Moines Register in support of RAGBRAI. Stand by for an invitation to "Ride for Greenie."


And 89-year-old John Karras who co-founded RAGBRAI in 1973 has asked for a recumbent bike. He wants to ride #48. We're betting he'll be out there.


ABOVE RIGHT: RAGBRAI co-founder John Karras (right) on his 89th birthday in March of this year.


BELOW: That's Karras on the left. He made a point of stopping at every church dinner and lemonade stand to thank the locals. In 1973, RAGBRAI was the impromptu creation of Karras and Donald Kaul, and by clicking on the image below, you can watch an interview with them during the fourth RAGBRAI in this 1976 Iowa Public Television production. It'll take you back.

2) Hitting the Ground Rolling Almost the moment the director position suddenly opened up on October 15th, RAGBRAI began receiving applications and pursuing desirable candidates for the job. In fact, they were already interviewing on Thursday, October 17th. Two weeks later, they're down to a short list.


On the following Tuesday, the 22nd, the Register flew in several experts for an all-day work session to get their heads around all aspects of the ride--route-planning, technology, registration, infrastructure, logistics, communication, and marketing. They held a green-light session in the newsroom about themes, about stories, and new ways of covering RAGBRAI #48. A fruitful conversation has started on the 50th Anniversary ride, as well. Video production resources, a state newspaper, and a national newspaper--USA Today--are at their disposal, as well as an email list of 32,000 addresses. Their most recent email message--assuring readers that good days are ahead--had a 67% open rate. That blows the industry standard out of the water.


BELOW: Bob Brancel of Brancel Charters, Tammy Pavich of Pork Belly Ventures, Anne Lawrie of RAGBRAI, Pete Phillips of Pork Belly Ventures, and Tim Haeffner of Out-of-Staters. We met on Wednesday, October 30, to talk about supporting RAGBRAI 48. And 49. And 50.

Suffice it to say that, at RAGBRAI headquarters, no grass is growing under anybody's feet. And we were impressed, too, that nobody at the Register is succumbing to pressure. There's a palpable desire for news right now---we all feel that. And yet, this team of professionals is keeping their wigs on, lining up their ducks, and getting this thing right. When the good news comes, friends, it will keep on coming.

3) The Route Since October 15th, the Register has heard from about 15 Iowa towns who hope to host RAGBRAI #48. They've reached out to ten more, because they're thinking beyond #48 to #49 and #50. A RAGBRAI #48 route is shaping up, and site visits will be a priority as soon as the new staff takes over. We don't know much more than that, but there was an auspicious vibe that suggested this route will be irresistible.


4) New Staff and Registration The technology team at the Register is testing the website now, and believe it or not, RAGBRAI registration may open a little early this year, prior to November 15th. Along-about the same time, a pivotal role will be hired. He/she may have their hands full, but the RAGBRAI team will be staffed up soon.

5) Ticking the Infrastructure Boxes This topic has gotten some play online, and understandably, folks are wondering if all the pieces are in place. In a word, yes.


You already know from the papers that the Iowa Highway Patrol has committed to RAGBRAI. Safety--check.


Anne has spoken to nearly all the RAGBRAI shower and kybo vendors; they're on board and ready to sign contracts. Hygiene, sanitation--check, check.


Most charters, groups, teams, and cycling communities have spoken with Anne. Not surprisingly, many have taken a beat as things develop. Brancel Charters, Out-of-Staters, and Pork Belly Ventures will continue to serve RAGBRAI. We three charters usually represent about 2400 registered riders. We've talked to five or six others who plan to be there too. Shuttles before RAGBRAI, shuttles after RAGBRAI, rider support, friendly crews and reserved campsites: Check, check. Check, check.

6) The Party in January You can expect a huge RAGBRAI Route Announcement Party on the night of Saturday, January 25th, venue TBA.

We know that many of you like to load up the beer fridge, invite friends over, and watch the live-stream from home. And that's awesome. But it's even more fun to hold your breath, learn your destiny, and raise your glass right here. This year, think about attending in person in Des Moines. It's gonna be different. It's gonna rock. We'll share more about the party later on.


7) To Anne Anne Lawrie grew up in Des Moines and went to the University of Iowa. She lived away for a while, but "had to come back" to her home state. Until October 15th, she worked as part of the Register's marketing team and as a liaison between RAGBRAI and the newsroom. She also works as a member of the RAGBRAI crew, and you may have met her when you claimed your patch after finishing your century loop.


Since October 15th, Anne has been the patient voice on the RAGBRAI phone, listening, reassuring, explaining. She has been the person reaching out to vendors, teams, charters, stakeholders, and friends of RAGBRAI. She has taken meetings, like ours on Wednesday, to help those who love RAGBRAI feel confident in its future.


It's been a lot, and in her words, there's absolutely nothing she would rather be doing. Thanks for stepping up, Anne. We're more grateful than we can say.

8) "On the Road Again: 48 Years and Counting." What an apt theme for RAGBRAI 48.


In the coming year, we'll all take a look back at how it started and how it morphed through the decades. In whatever era we rode it, RAGBRAI is our common Iowa experience. Some of us rode Soggy Monday or sagged Saggy Thursday. We claimed our favorite Me-Off and our favorite kind of pie. We caught pancakes with our plates and we glittered with Mardi Gras beads. We bore cold showers, slid beer slides, languished in long lines, slathered on the butt butter, peeled our sunburns, got caught in downpours, waited in dry barns, gazed up at sudden rainbows. And all of us -- teachers and plumbers and nurses, from New England and California and everywhere -- some accepting a loss, some finding their youth again, some facing down a disease, others starting over -- all of us, fast folks and steady folks and eager kids and able grandparents, sturdy Iowans and wide-eyed tourists from far-away places -- we all pedaled up and out of the morning mist, gears clicking, hearts pumping. All of us came shining through that one week of hardship and transcendence, passing the corn, river to river, together.


There is nothing like it in the world.

In a couple weeks or less, RAGBRAI registration will open as usual. We'll meet a new director and his or her team. And the ride we love will be just the same and yet refreshingly different, familiar and surprising.


Come July, RAGBRAI's on the road again. How about you?


All our best,


Tammy and Pete