Iowa State alumni look back and gear up for RAGBRAI

Willa Colville

Summer in Ames just got a little livelier.

This year, The Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) will be going through Central Iowa. Starting in Onawa and ending in Davenport, bikers will stop overnight in Denison, Jefferson, Ames, Newton, Sigourney and Iowa City. RAGBRAI has not stopped overnight in Ames in 10 years. 

For the first time in RAGBRAI history, riders will get to experience Iowa’s two largest college towns, Iowa City and Ames, in the same ride. This will be the first time Ames has hosted RAGBRAI since 2008, and many Iowa State alumni are excited.  

Fred Heinz of Mason City, Iowa graduated from Iowa State in 1978 with a degree in fisheries and wildlife biology. 

“By far and away, [attending Iowa State] was the best experience of my life. I lived out at the towers in Storms residence hall for three years,” Heinz said. “I loved Iowa State, it was fantastic.” 

Heinz has been riding since he was about fourteen years old, and has participated in around 10 RAGBRAIs since 1973, its second year. 

Typically, he only participates when the annual ride has a route in Northern Iowa near his home, however he is thinking about riding this year with an old college friend.  

As advice for first time bikers, Heinz suggests riding more miles than the actual route. 

“Ride at least as long as the ride, get in five hundred miles but, I would say more is better. Also mix in some longer rides because that’s the key, time in the saddle,” Heinz suggested. “It’s no big deal to ride an hour maybe but when you start riding on the bike for like five or six hours then you’ll start to take your toll.”

What Heinz likes most about the annual ride is the fact that so many people with a similar interest in riding get to enjoy this fantastic “bicycle spectacle.”

Rick Benak, who earned a mathematics degree at Iowa State in 1988, has participated in RAGBRAI for 23 years. 

Benak has been biking since he was a kid, as his family just had one car, so if he wanted to get somewhere, he would have to bike. He brought a bike to Iowa State and rode to classes like many students still do today. 

One year, Benak was staying in Iowa City with friends and had his bike stolen.

“I’ve gone through a few bikes. One of my bikes got stolen and you know where it got stolen… Iowa City. That’s the only place I’ve had a bike jacked,” he said.

Benak is excited to return to both Ames and Iowa City during RAGBRAI this summer. 

“I will one hundred percent be decked out in Iowa State gear [when in Iowa City],” Benak exclaimed. “Everybody will be wearing Iowa State stuff.”

Benak has been an avid, year-round biker for nearly 20 years. As a teacher in Omaha, Nebraska, he bikes to school as much as he can—even the harsh winters can’t stop him.

Every month, Benak tries to bike at least one day, despite the weather and has only missed one month of January due to extreme conditions.

Benak will be biking again this year on his team, Team Martini, along with numerous other Iowa State alumni. 

Team Martini member Laurie Entringer lived on the same floor of Friley as Benak and some of their other teammates while at Iowa State. She graduated in 1987 with a degree in graphic design.   

“I have my best friends that I made in college. I participated in intramurals,” Entringer said. “I remember going to play football and volleyball.”

Though Entringer was always active, she did not start her biking journey until after college. Some of her friends convinced her to do the bike ride across Iowa and ever since she has been hooked. 

Entringer has ridden in nearly 27 RAGBRAIs since the 1990s and uses her vacation days each year to participate. This year is no different.

“I did not go [to RAGBRAI the last time Ames hosted] so I am very excited that it’s going through this year. When I saw the route after it was announced, I was thrilled,” Entringer stated. “I am trying to get everyone that is kind of on the fence about going this year [to do RAGBRAI]. I say ‘You gotta go this year! It’s going through Ames!’”  

Entringer enjoys supporting the local businesses throughout Iowa while participating in RAGBRAI and encourages other riders to do the same. She has met many people during her 27 years of riding as well.  

“Just go with the flow,” Entringer advises first time participants. “It goes by so fast. Taste all the food. I always stop and see the farm animals and talk to the people. You’re just next to a cornfield by a farmhouse and you just talk to the people and it’s amazing.”

As a long-time participant she finds it hard to describe the experience of RAGBRAI to outsiders. 

“All I think about is no matter how hard you try to tell other people who have never done [RAGBRAI] about it, you can never describe it accurately. You do it and you’re just engulfed in it and you can’t describe it. People always ask me why I use my week long vacation to bike across Iowa and I tell them ‘because it’s fun!’”

According to the Des Moines Register, this year’s route is the seventh shortest at 428.1 miles and the fourth flattest with 12,576 feet of climb. The register also considers this year’s route the fourth easiest in RAGBRAI’s 46 year history, perfect for any first time riders.

RAGBRAI takes place during the week of July 22 and stops in Ames toward the middle of the week.

Numerous apartment complexes, including Campustown, Wyndham Heights Apartments, Copper Beech Ames and South Duff end their leases toward the end of July, potentially making moving out of apartment complexes slightly more challenging. Be sure to contact your apartment complex and make arrangements if RAGBRAI will affect move out plans.