RAGBRAI’s 2020 route is one of its shortest yet

Cyclists ride RAGBRAI 2009. — Dave Herholz/Flickr

The route for RAGBRAI 2020 was announced in Des Moines on Saturday night. As expected, this year’s route crosses northern Iowa, starting in Le Mars — the self-proclaimed “ice cream capital of the world” — and finishing when cyclists dip their wheels in the Mississippi at Clinton.

It’s one of the shortest routes in RAGBRAI history, only covering 420.2 miles. That’s slightly shorter than last year’s Council Bluffs to Keokuk ride of 427 miles, which at the time was the sixth-shortest ride. The route climbs 12,306 feet, easier on cyclists than last year’s climb of 14,735 feet.

This year’s RAGBRAI will take place Saturday, July 18 to Saturday, July 25.

The first day’s ride on Sunday will go from Le Mars to Storm Lake, a distance of 60 miles. From there, riders will head to Fort Dodge on Monday (73 miles), Iowa Falls on Tuesday (52 miles) and then onto Waterloo (72 miles). Thursday’s ride to Anamosa will be the hardest, the longest day at 85 miles, and with riders facing the biggest climb of the ride at 3,078 feet. The final two days, as RAGBRAI heads to Maquoketa and Clinton, will be the shortest rides, with cyclists pedaling 43 miles and 35 miles, respectively.

This will be the 48th annual RAGBRAI. The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa started in 1973, when two writers for the Des Moines Register, John Karras and Donald Kaul, invited the public to join them on a six-day bicycle ride across the state, from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River. The following year, the ride expanded to its current length of seven days, and Bill Gilbert, a writer from Sports Illustrated, joined in. Gilbert wrote an article praising the relaxed and friendly cross-state ride, bringing international attention to the event.

This year’s ride is dedicated to the memory of Jim “Greenie” Green, who served as RAGBRAI director from 1992 to 2004. Green died in June, following a stroke two years earlier.

“[Green] inherited a ride with a slipping reputation” when he took over RAGBRAI in 1992, the Register wrote when he died.

Drunkenness had become a problem, especially in the eyes of the Iowa State Patrol, and some communities worried RAGBRAI was bringing a rolling bacchanalia into their cities rather than a family-friendly event…

Green ordered drinking be curtailed to beer gardens with strict access to keep out minors.

Then, he worked with each overnight city to make sure there was an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting available to anyone who needed it during the ride.

Green also created the Dream Team, a program that helps young people who couldn’t otherwise afford to ride RAGBRAI to participate in the annual event. RAGBRAI is donating $10,000 to the Dream Team in Green’s memory, it was announced at the route reveal event on Saturday.

RAGBRAI is facing a new challenge this year, with Iowa’s Ride debuting the week before RAGBRAI. The new cross-state cycling event is the work of former RAGBRAI staff members, who resigned en masse in October.

T.J. Juskiewicz, who took over as RAGBRAI director after Green, announced the staff’s resignation in an open letter published to the ride’s official website (and deleted shortly after), as well as a post on his Facebook page.

According to Juskiewicz, the staff objected to constraints placed on their ability to communicate with members of the RAGBRAI community and the general public regarding a $50,000 donation from RAGBRAI to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, inspired by Carson King’s viral fundraising effort. The Des Moines Register and its parent company Gannett received a tidal wave of backlash for publishing a profile of King in September that included mention of two racist tweets he’d posted as a teenager.

Originally, Iowa’s Ride was scheduled for the same week as RAGBRAI, and organizers said it would follow a west-to-east route, as the older ride always has. In November, Juskiewicz announced a change in both the date and the direction of Iowa’s Ride. In addition to moving up a week, Iowa’s Ride will now start in the east at Dubuque and finish at Rock Rapids in northwestern Iowa.

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The inaugural Iowa’s Ride will be five miles shorter than this year’s RAGBRAI.