RAGBRAI will continue, Gannett Co. Inc., announced following the sudden resignation of the famous cross-state bike ride’s staff on Tuesday afternoon.
“We’ll continue RAGBRAI’s longstanding tradition in 2020 with another great bicycle ride and strong partnerships with Iowa communities to raise money for good causes,” Gannett, the corporate owner of the Des Moines Register, said in a statement it provided to the Register.
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. 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.
The first year, only 119 riders pedaled the entire west-to-east route, but RAGBRAI has become so popular that organizers have had to impose a limit on the number of participants to maintain order and safety. This year, there were 8,500 week-long participants.
T.J. Juskiewicz, RAGBRAI’s director for the last 16 years, announced the staff’s resignation in an open letter on the ride’s official website that was quickly deleted, 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 to the University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital in support of the Carson King-inspired fundraising efforts for the hospital.
“I watched the reactions from RAGBRAIers all over the world that both praised the donation but also had serious questions about the motives behind it,” Juskiewicz said.
He said he asked his bosses at the Register for permission to “issue a public statement answering the hundreds of questions that hung like a cloud over this upcoming RAGBRAI.” Permission was denied, according to Juskiewicz.
“I was then informed, ‘Leadership and our PR professionals are in agreement that we don’t want to issue any more public statements on this matter — it is largely dying down publicly, and they see no advantage to re-igniting it at this point,’” he wrote.
In Tuesday’s Facebook post, Juskiewicz announced that he and his colleagues, Scott Garner, the assistant ride director, and Andrea Parrot, RAGBRAI’s media and merchandise director, were starting a new cross-state bike ride, Iowa’s Ride. The organizers stated that proceeds from the new ride will be donated to Iowa charities.
The new event is scheduled to take place July 19-25, the same week as the 48th annual RAGBRAI.