WHO: Carrie Eagles, 29, of Dresden, Maine
WHEN: One week in July
WHY: To participate in the Des Moines Register's 33d annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa
LOVE AT FIRST RIDE: Eagles first did the famed event, called RAGBRAI (for Register's Annual Great . . .), in 2004. ''I was living in Cincinnati, and several co-workers did a fair amount of cycling. They started talking about RAGBRAI, which I'd never heard of, and then I said, 'I'm going to do this.' I really liked the physical challenge of it," she said of the weeklong event that averages 472 miles and attracts about 10,000 riders. ''Also, my mom died in 2003, in January. I was doing a lot of my coping with grief by exercising. This was a nice way to have a goal and keep doing it. I felt that having lost her, I could do anything." Her plan for the 2005 ride was quickly hatched. ''I was sold on the ride immediately. It was so much fun."
GROUP THINK: Eagles organized a group of about 10 people. She had moved to Maine in summer 2004, so shipped her bike to RAGBRAI before the ride. ''They're so unbelievably well organized," she said. The father of one rider shuttled their gear and found campsites. ''Two nights, we stayed in people's houses, in Algona and Cresco. The overnight towns have extensive planning and housing committees. The rest of the time, we camped at the main RAGBRAI campground," she said.
A HOT START: ''What I remember about that first day, driving there on Saturday, we were in this fully loaded, nice, comfortable truck and it had a temperature thing on the rearview mirror. We were watching it go up as we drove west, to 97. We got out of the truck and thought, 'We're going to die.' It was so different the year before. That first night was record cold, below 40."
A MOTLEY CROWD: RAGBRAI is famous not only for the riding, but also for the riders. ''I loved the guys in the vintage clothes with the old-school bikes with fenders. I don't know how long they lasted. When I saw them, they were really sweaty by the third mile," Eagles said. ''There was a guy who wore a big pink boa. It was a really interesting spectrum of people. I liked the woman who had her little dog with her in the back. She was great. I appreciated her political statement: 'Biking against oil wars.' The number of cyclists is amazing. I love when you're riding along and the route takes an extreme right or left, and you can see a long, long line of bikes."
COOLING OFF PERIOD: The weather turned cool that first night, precipitated by a fast and furious thunderstorm that blasted through Sheldon. ''We were camping behind the high school, with everyone else. The wind was horrendous. I stayed in my sleeping bag holding on to the sides of the tent. It was like nothing I've ever experienced before." The next day, Eagles learned that a camper at another location had died when a tree fell on his tent.
WELCOME TO THE HEARTLAND: Small-town Iowa is at the heart of RAGBRAI, as the towns host the riders. ''I stopped in a lot of towns," Eagles said. ''In Algona, they closed down Main Street, and there was great food. I loved the rhubarb pie. In Spillville, they had a wonderful clock museum. They had a bunch of things set up there, like posing in an 'American Gothic' thing, a bike sculpture, lots of opportunities for pictures. I would often go to the small-town libraries to check e-mail." She also preferred their restrooms to cornfields or the abundant portable toilets. ''Anything beats that," she said. Already, Eagles is putting together her team for 2006. ''It's a huge commitment, but I know I can get some people to come."