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The 50th RAGBRAI

July 22, 2023 - July 29, 2023

(as experienced by Benjamin and Suzanne with the Powered by Plants Cycling team)

525 miles over 7 days


Longest Day:

Day #5, Des Moines to Tama-Toledo (94 miles)

Shortest Day:

Day #4, Ames to Des Moines (54 miles)

Was it fun? Mostly.

Will we do it again? Maybe.

Was it worth it? Yes.


Day 0 - Expo Day (Sioux City)

Expo Day before the ride begins.


We went to a New Rider Safety session and then walked around the vendor area and met Ryan Van Duzer, the YouTube bikepacker that we’ve watched for a few years — his RAGBRAI videos from the previous year are partly why we decided to try it ourselves.


Also: setting up camp; first dinner with the team; the concert (The Spin Doctors).

Day 0 - New Rider Meeting

New Rider Meeting

Day 0 - Benjamin and Ryan Van Duzer

Benjamin and Ryan Van Duzer

Day 0 - Bikes Arriving

Bikes Arriving

Day 0 - The Vibrant Veg arrives

The Vibrant Veg arrives

Day 0 - Food Prep

the first food prep

Day 0 Dinner Menu

Day 0 dinner menu

The first dinner

The first dinner — sesame chickpea grain bowls with veggie slaw and strawberry shortcakes for dessert

Day 0 - first team dinner

the first team dinner

Day 0 - The Spin Doctors

The Spin Doctors

Day 1 - Sioux City to Storm Lake

(77 miles, 3504’ elevation gain)

  • Eating pickles.

  • Filling up water bottles out of PVC pipes with holes.

  • Eating leftover dinner bags at lunch the next day.

  • Finishing the first day and swimming in the lake after our ride.

walking through a pass-through town

Day 1 - water filling stations

water filling stations

Day 1 - leftover lunch!

leftover dinner for lunch in the shade!

Day 1 - pickle!

the first pickle

Day 1 - Storm Lake

Storm Lake

Day 1 dinner menu

Day 1 dinner menu

Day 1 dinner

Day 1 dinner - gluten-free gnocchi with seasonal veg, chickpeas, pesto, and almond ricotta with protein cookie bars for dessert

Day 2 - Storm Lake to Carroll

(62 miles, 1818’ elevation gain)

Camping at the baseball fields. Not a lot of photos from this day!

Day 2 - walking through town

walking through the pass-through towns

Day 2 - camping at a baseball field

setting up camp at a baseball field

Day 3 - Carroll to Ames

(83 miles, 1479’ elevation gain)

  • Biking with the sunrise.

  • Getting stopped by a train after the first pass-through town.

  • Benjamin peeing in a cornfield.

  • People along the route opening up their yards, letting us use their hoses, sprinklers, and shade, and grilling Impossible Burgers.

  • Spotting Taylor Swift on a tandem bicycle.

  • Camping outside a university building. (Iowa State University)

  • Also: seeing our first up-close ambulance pick-up — there were ambulances ready and spaced along the route, so the rider we saw fall was being helped by first responders within 90 seconds. (We later read that 100 ambulances were called throughout the week and 20% ended up at the hospital instead of being able to treat on-site. Most issues were related to heat and hydration.)

Day 3 - riding with the sunrise

riding with the sunrise

Day 3 - stopping for a train

stopping for a train

Day 3 - cornfield pee stop, part 1

cornfield pee stop, part 1

Day 3 - cornfield pee stop, part 2

cornfield pee stop, part 2

Day 3 - Taylor Swift on a tandem, part 1

Taylor Swift on a tandem, part 1

Day 3 - Taylor Swift on a tandem, part 2

Taylor Swift on a tandem, part 2

Day 3 - before a descent & climb

selfie break before a descent & climb

Day 3 - the backyard of some friendly Iowans

the backyard of some friendly Iowans with water to cool down

Day 3 - friendly Iowans with food & shade

the backyard of some friendly Iowans with food & shade

Day 4 - Ames to Des Moines

(50 miles, 1216’ elevation gain)

The shortest ride and the hottest day yet. Also the most # of bicyclists. (Single-day riders can join any day — by registering and getting perks like SAG wagons, or by unofficially joining on their own — and this was the day the ride organizers wanted people joining. They were originally trying to break a world record for the largest bicycle ride and were expecting at least 60,000 riders for this day. It was a 50-mile route to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ride, ending where the ride's main/original sponsor is based — RAGBRAI stands for the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, where "Register" refers to The Des Moines Register, which gave approval to some photojournalists to do this bike tour in 1973 as long as they sent in dispatches each evening from their overnight town.)

  • Benjamin chatting with a guy riding a penny farthing as we leave Ames. 

  • Seeing a hot air balloon take off. 

  • Also: camping at Water Works Park, a 1500-acre park in downtown Des Moines (one of the largest urban parks in the United States). 

Day 4 - penny farthing

talking with the person who chose to ride a penny farthing

Day 4 - hot air balloon

benjamin + a hot air balloon

Day 5 - Des Moines to Tama-Toledo

(82 miles, 3652’ elevation gain)

The day I was most worried about in terms of heat & distance — and it ended up being over 90 miles instead of the advertised 82, but mist / fog in the morning leaving Des Moines and clouds in the afternoon made this day SO much better than it could have been.

  • Our earliest departure yet — 4:45 AM because of the 100 degree forecast and long distance, with a pre-sunrise photo in front of the capitol building.

  • Pickles at the wacky waving inflatable tube man (again).

  • No shade at camp in Tama-Toledo (again), but showers in the best truck yet.

Day 5 - pre-sunrise in Des Moines

a pre-sunrise start in Des Moines

Day 5 - pickle time

pickle time

Day 5 - sunset through the tent

sunset through the tent

Day 6 - Tama-Toledo to Coralville

(80 miles, 3276’ elevation gain)

The day that ended up being the hardest — the hottest; the day after the longest day; long itself. I think temperature got to ~100 degrees but the “heat index” was something like 110.

  • We biked through the Amana Colonies (unique communal villages founded by German immigrants in the 1850's and 1860's) and ended up stopping at Iowa Farm Sanctuary, a couple miles off this year’s route and the nonprofit supported by the Powered by Plants team last year.

  • From the animal sanctuary, we took a “shortcut” to our team’s Coralville campsite instead of backtracking back to the route, and we ended up having to stop and look at our directions so often! Partly from being hot and tired and not being able to keep this unfamiliar area in our heads well, and partly because we didn’t have any riders in front of us to follow!

  • Also, a tornado warning / experience! The Coralville tornado warning system started blaring right before the night's concert started (Bush) and we ended up in the library basement (one of many emergency shelter areas around town). Our tent was still at our campsite — and dry! — when we got back ~2 hours later. As far as we know, everyone was fine. Some tents weren’t staked down enough. A lot of branches fell and one porta potty (in the middle of a row of 30) appeared to have leapt about 3 feet forward. And it ended up being the latest we went to sleep the whole week (12am). When bringing our bikes back to camp from the library, we met an employee who also works at a nonprofit bike library in Iowa City (shoutout to Karen!) — she had recently biked The Great Divide with a friend and suggested we put it on our bucket list. So...perhaps The Great Divide x Powered By Plants sometime soon?

Day 6 - in Amana

in the Amana colonies

Day 6 - walking through town

walking through town

Day 6 - posing in front of the KING / RAGBRAI signage

posing in front of the KING / RAGBRAI signage

Day 6 - IFS

a new friend at Iowa Farm Sanctuary

Day 6 - IFS, a pig resident

a LARGE pig resident at Iowa Farm Sanctuary

Day 6 - IFS silo

silo turned shady greenspace & picnic spot at Iowa Farm Sanctuary

Day 6 - detour through North Liberty, Iowa

detour through North Liberty, Iowa

Day 6 - the last campsite

the last campsite, pre-Hurricane warning

Day 7 - Coralville to Davenport

(66 miles, 1604’ elevation gain)

The last day of biking! The final 5 miles to the Mississippi River felt like the LONGEST 5 miles ever, but we did it! 519.6 miles total in 7 days. Getting to the end felt surreal. And then we had another 5 miles of biking to get to the casino where we parked our car all week. :)

Day 7 - at the Mississippi River

at the Mississippi River — DONE!

Day 7 - our trusty bicycles

our trusty bicycles

Day 7 - almost final mileage

almost final mileage

Final Thoughts / Misc.

RAGBRAI Powered by Plants Cycling

photo credit: Beth Skogan Photography (

One of my favorite parts was the communication — "rider on" / "rider off" / " car up" / "car back" / "on your left" / "rumble!" (with a wavy hand signal, too!) / probably more that I'm forgetting. I still find myself using some of these with Benjamin sometimes :)

The dinners and breakfasts from Powered By Plants (via The Vibrant Veg) were all super yummy and well-planned for an endurance event, AND there were vegan options in nearly every town we stopped — falafel wraps & bowls, burritos, rice & veggie bowls, Impossible burgers, and probably more. I'm sure it was more difficult in previous years, but a vegan RAGBRAI is not only possible, but delicious!

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