The secret is out: RAGBRAI route for 2022 unveiled

·6 min read

The return of Century Day — a 100-mile trek — will be the highlight of the RAGBRAI XLIX route in a ride dedicated to late co-founder John Karras.

The Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa on Friday announced the main towns on the route for its 2022 edition, which will run from July 24-30, in a celebration Friday at the Iowa Events Center.

Marking its 49th year, the ride will start in the Sergeant Bluff on the Missouri River and end 430 miles away in Lansing on the Mississippi. There will be 11,900 feet of climb over the seven days of the ride.

Traveling from west to east, cyclists will overnight in Ida Grove, Pocahontas, Emmetsburg, Mason City, Charles City and West Union.

More: What to know about the towns on RAGBRAI 2022, from Sergeant Bluff to Lansing

RAGBRAI will travel 430 miles and 11,900 feet of climb from Sergeant Bluff to Lansing on July 24-30.
RAGBRAI will travel 430 miles and 11,900 feet of climb from Sergeant Bluff to Lansing on July 24-30.

For the first time since 1985, riders will have to grit their teeth and ride 100 miles on Day 4 from Emmetsburg to Mason City — or potentially endure a razzing from hardier companions if they finish their day as passengers on one of the ride's SAG (support and gear) wagons.

How did RAGBRAI start?

Karras, a longtime Des Moines Register copy editor and columnist, died in November at age 91. He launched RAGBRAI in 1973 with columnist Donald Kaul, who preceded him in death in 2018, and until 1985, one day's ride was at least 100 miles long.

The following year, after what Karras wrote in a column was "the weeping, the wailing, the gnashing of teeth" by riders unhappy with the change, RAGBRAI offered an optional, extra mileage route for those who wanted to log at least 100 miles. Later, it became known as the Karras Loop, and Karras typically stationed himself somewhere along the way to hand out patches to the hardy riders. In 2021, the Karras Loop added 30 miles to the day's ride, bringing the total to about 111.

More: RAGBRAI co-founder John Karras dies at 91, leaving national impact on bicycling

RAGBRAI's new director previews 2022 ride highlights

New RAGBRAI Director Matt Phippen, who started earlier this month after this year's route had been set, said he fully expects there will be plenty of riders this year who jump off before covering the full 100 miles on Day 4.

Matt Phippen
Matt Phippen

"We know that we're probably going to have a lot of sagging that day," said Phippen. "But it's a tribute to Karras. There's people who want that brought back."

For those who like alternatives, the optional full-day gravel route, introduced last year under previous director Dieter Drake, a veteran gravel racer, will return. This year's gravel ride will be on Day 3 among the corn and soybean fields between Pocahontas and Emmetsburg, criss-crossed with unpaved farm-to-market roads.

Cyclists ride the first optional full gravel day of RAGBRAI in 2021. The route took riders over 70 miles with nearly 1,400 feet of climb.
Cyclists ride the first optional full gravel day of RAGBRAI in 2021. The route took riders over 70 miles with nearly 1,400 feet of climb.

Drake planned most of the route before he was promoted in mid-January to senior operations director for cycling at Ventures Endurance, which runs RAGBRAI and cycling and other active sports events across the country. It is a division of Gannett Co., which owns RAGBRAI and the Des Moines Register.

But there are still plenty of decisions for Phippen to make. Many of them will be revealed in March, when meet-up towns and exact routes are announced.

"Once I found out the overnight towns I bought a map, put a big piece of plexiglass on it and started plotting routes just based on where I thought it'd be cool to go," said the former manager for the Scheels sporting goods chain, a longtime RAGBRAI volunteer and rider.

Overnight towns prepare for influx of visitors

Representatives of the towns on the route, celebrating their selection at Friday night's announcement party, said they'll be doing their best to fulfill Phippen's expectations.

Ian Zahren, a teacher in Lansing and chair of its RAGBRAI organizing committee, said that although the town may be small, with just 968 residents, it has a lot to offer as the gateway to Iowa's Driftless Area, an unglaciated region of steep hills and deep valleys, some with clear-running trout streams.

"Anytime you have a town that is under 1,000 people, there are always going to be challenges," Zahren said. "But our town is eco-tourism driven."

Jared Bogue, an Ida Grove City Council member who serves on the city's RAGBRAI committee, said residents will be putting their heads together to figure out how to help the riders enjoy the unique, castle-themed architecture of the city, which bills itself as CastleTown, U.S.A.

Mason City wowed crowds when it last hosted RAGBRAI in 2014 with a concert by Poison frontman Bret Michaels. This time, City Administrator Aaron Burnett joked, it will try to top that by getting Hugh Jackman, star of the current Broadway revival of "Music Man" by Mason City native Meredith Willson.

And Pocahontas Mayor Jada Hallberg promised that even with almost six months to plan a big reception for the riders, "We're going to hit the ground running next week."

How much does it cost to ride RAGBRAI?

Weeklong registration for RAGBRAI XLIX costs $175 and is still open at ragbrai.com. Single-day registration also is open and costs $35. RAGBRAI for 2022 has eliminated its lottery system and made registration first-come first-served, and so far registration is up compared to last year, when the ride returned from a 2020 pandemic postponement, Phippen said.

"We saw it last year with the ride," he said. "People want to come back. They want to be part of something big."

Phippen, who's started scouting back roads for the route, cautioned that the final mileage and climb figures will likely change as he nails down the roads the tour will take.

"I want to find those roads that are less traveled that there's just something neat on that road," he said.

Looking forward to the golden anniversary

If the COVID-19 pandemic had not forced the postponement of the 2020 ride, 2022 would have marked RAGBRAI's 50th year. Organizers have made it no secret that they plan blow-out festivities to celebrate that landmark, and Phippen offered some insight into what next year's route could hold.

Many riders have speculated the 50th edition could retrace the original Great Six Day Bike Trip route of 1973 from Sioux City to Davenport. But the 2018 route covered much of that route, stopping in Ames, Iowa City and Davenport and overnighting in Newton, which was a pass-thru town on the original route.

Fort Dodge also was an original overnight town and served as one in 2021.

"I wouldn't have any expectation of it being close to the (original) route," Phippen said of RAGBRAI L.

But Des Moines — the fourth overnight town in 1973 — hasn't been an overnight stop since 2013. Will the capital city, the state's largest, be on the route?

Phippen wouldn't say. But he didn't exactly throw cold water on the idea, saying the ride is likely to visit "bigger communities that have proven the ability to do a great job."

"It's 50 years," he said. "It's a true celebration of the last 50 years."

Philip Joens covers RAGBRAI and breaking news for the Register. He has ridden parts of 16 RAGBRAIs and completed the river-to-river trek five times. He can be reached at 515-443-3347 at pjoens@registermedia.com or on Twitter @Philip_Joens.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: RAGBRAI 2022 route revealed: 430 miles from Sergeant Bluff to Lansing