A journey of 500 miles: RAGBRAI

News | July 31, 2015

It was a pretty big crash.

Jackie Chalmers was training for RAGBRAI – that big annual bike ride across the entire state of Iowa. She was on the Mississippi River trail on the Illinois side of the river. Her back tire hit a bump, and she went flying.

She had to get stiches on her chin, and a sling on her broken arm. At age 26, it was Jackie’s very first broken bone. She couldn’t even comb her hair with her arm, let alone ride a 500-mile bike ride.

But that sling came off – the Friday before RAGBRAI’s Sunday start. Even with six weeks off of her bike, Jackie, who teaches math at Black Hawk College, was ready to go.

“I like biking because it doesn’t take any brain power at all for me,” she said. “I think of all of my hopes and dreams, and I pray. It’s my time to unwind.”

So beginning on Sunday, Jackie biked 50 to 70 miles a day, camping in a tent overnight in different towns throughout the state. Each day, she rose at 5:30 a.m. to get on the road with thousands of fellow cyclists. She rode the 500-or-so miles with the Quad City Bicycle Club.

“We’re like a carnival on wheels,” she said. They buy food at roadside stands, set up as fundraisers for churches and schools and community programs. “There are bikes everywhere – so many bikes. If you ride 20 miles on a bike, two days in a row, you can do RAGBRAI. People go any speed, from 8 to 18 miles an hour.”

Along the way, community formed, Jackie said.

At one particular part on the course, the road was under construction. So, a traffic jam of bikes formed while participants walked their bikes through the zone.

This bike jam was different than a car jam, Jackie noticed. Instead of horns honking and tempers flaring, people started to play music and sing along. A woman who biked with her trumpet pulled it from her bag and began to perform.

“It was the world’s happiest traffic jam,” Jackie said.

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