The Casual Cyclist’s Guide to Packing for #Ragbrai

It’s almost time to head to Sioux City!

Ragbrai! Ragbrai! Ragbrai! Ragbrai! Ragbrai!
Ragbrai! Ragbrai! Ragbrai! Ragbrai! Ragbrai! Ragbrai! Ragbrai!

The funny thing about this particular version of bicycle camping is that it’s not really “roughing it” in the strictest sense of the word. My charter in particular, Pork Belly Ventures, is well known for their motto of Live Like A Pig for good reason. They have an entire horse trailer full of cubbies for charging electronic devices, and this is only one of the many creature comforts they offer. If you’re going with a charter, make sure you read carefully over what they offer so you know what you can and can’t bring. They all have rules about baggage that you need to adhere to. For the brave souls going without a charter or group vehicle, you get to rely on Ragbrai to schlep your stuff and pick your campsites (they do a fine job, but it’s strictly no-frills).

Aside from the obvious camping and emergency gear, you’ll probably want a variety of minor things that are easy to forget or overlook.

1. Painkillers. Your butt’s gonna thank you. Maybe your back and shoulders too.

2. A chair of some kind. Otherwise, you’ll be sitting on the ground at your campsite.

3. Cash. While most places will take credit cards nowadays, there are still plenty of ordinary folks who set up stands on the side of the road that won’t. Do you really want to chance missing out on the best pie ever because you didn’t have any cash? No, you don’t. Bring at least $150 in small bills (20s or smaller). Don’t forget some kind of wallet or clip thing to hold the cash in your bike bag or jersey pocket.

4. Diversions. You’ll have some time on your hands when you want to relax and nothing is going on nearby. Whatever you’re into and can pack, bring it. A deck of cards is probably a safe bet. I take my kindle on the trip because I know I’ll be able to charge it. If your charter doesn’t offer charging stations and you want to bring something electronic besides a phone, consider getting a solar charger or something else along those lines. There are always places to charge a phone in the overnight towns (for a fee, of course), but not necessarily anything else.

5. Some kind of clipping things, like clothespins or bag clips. Cycling clothes are expensive, and so are sports bras. I don’t have seven days of cycling gear. Even if you do, it may be better for packing if you only take 2-3 days’ worth. At the end of the cycling day, rinse your gear out and pin it all to your tent, a tree, a chainlink fence, or whatever else is handy. A 6-10 foot length of clothesline or other rope may also be useful.

6. At least one flashlight. For when you have to pee in the dark. I usually get up before dawn and appreciate having one handy to pack up my tent and stuff.

7. Hand sanitizer. The kybos usually have this. Key word: usually. Get a small bottle and stuff it in your bike bag. Better to have it and not need it, as they say.

8. Sunscreen. Better slathered than crispy on Day 2.

9. Some kind of rain coat/poncho thing. It rains at least once every year. Umbrellas aren’t generally practical.

10. A small padlock. This may or may not be useful to you. I bring one every year for the cubbies in the charging trailer. You may want to lock your bags–they sit out wherever they’re unloaded until you get there and claim them. Some folks recommend bringing a bike lock, but I don’t bother and don’t suggest it unless your bike is worth more than about $2k. Even then, I would leave it in your luggage and only lock up overnight. In many places, you’ll just leave your bike on the side of the road with all the other bikes while you hit the kybo or get a snack.

11. Some kind of tarp-like implement that can cover at least the chain half of your bike. It sometimes rains at night. If you get one big enough, your poncho can cover this duty.

12. A carabiner or two for random hooking/clipping needs. Consider getting them big enough to hang on your bike’s top rail, in case you need a way to carry something. Bungee cords or reusable twisty things are good alternatives if you already have them. Rubber bands are kind of a pain, but if that’s what you’ve got, a few can do the job.

13. At least one plastic or other waterproof bag. It may rain while your bags are waiting to be claimed by you. Should that happen, everything inside will get wet. For some of your stuff, that may not matter. It’s kinda sucky for socks and underwear, though. You may want a second, smaller one if you need to schlep wet cycling clothes that didn’t dry overnight (assuming you’re not going to wear them).

14. Yes, you really do need a sleeping bag or a blanket. I have used my sleeping bag at least one night out of every ride. I also bring a thin sheet for the tepid nights.

15. Sanity. I always pack this and somehow manage to lose it right away. If you can bring extra, you’ll probably be in better shape than if you only pack the usual amount.

16. Some kind of outdoor-feasible tape or twine. I always bring athletic tape as backup in case my knee braces get hosed, and it’s also good if, for example, I need to tape my poncho around my bike so it doesn’t fly away in a storm.

17. Some folks bring a roll of toilet paper. This isn’t practical–or, in my experience, necessary–to have on your bike, but it could be a lifesaver at campsites. A travel pack of kleenex is probably a good idea too.

18. If you’re camping on Friday night, either in Davenport or Sioux City, consider bringing a breakfast for Saturday. You’ll be covered on the ride, but Saturday is a weird, quasi-Ragbrai day. Most stuff won’t be up and running until lunchtime. Depending upon your campsite’s location, you may be stuck if you don’t bring a bagel or something to tide you over until you can forage for more.

19. Your sense of humor. Ragbrai is fun, dammit. Save your Serious Face for races. This is a rally. Wear a costume, crack jokes, be ridiculous, turn that frown upside-down. Sometimes, the ride will suck. So long as it doesn’t suck for everybody at the same time, we should all be good. A word of caution, though. It’s not cool to make the “extra large” joke about persons wearing the Ragbrai 40 jersey. Thanks, Asshole #572 on XLII. And, obviously, it’s best to keep your jokes not misogynist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise hateful or horrifically insulting. You can insult the corn, though. And the soybeans and cows. They don’t care.


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