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Whenever you revisit a small town that you first saw during RAGBRAI, it can seem empty. Quiet. Even a little strange.

On the corner where you once devoured a pulled pork sandwich or danced in a mob with 10,000 of your closest friends, there is now only birdsong and a breeze.

These days, the whole world seems like that. A little weird. A little off.

And this weekend, in particular, our instincts as Iowans tell us we should head west to the Missouri River for the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Riders feel the tug as surely as the swallows that flock to San Juan Capistrano (they still did) and bulls that stampede Pamplona (they did not).

Rickety old school buses held together with paint should be clogging Interstate Highway 80 right about now. Locals in the Loess Hills should be bracing for the onslaught, counting and re-counting hamburger buns, gazing skyward and worrying about the weather.

On Facebook, the rest of the world should be quietly blocking the accounts of their cyclist friends to avoid the annual crush of bike photos. (Maybe you’ve heard this one: How can you tell if someone has ridden RAGBRAI? They’ll tell you all about it.)

But not this year. In fact, if there weren’t all those photos from previous rides, you might wonder if the whole thing was a dream, like Brigadoon or a certain “university” on the shores of Okoboji. Or maybe it was a hoax, like the Cardiff Giant, carved from a chunk of Fort Dodge gypsum.

But maybe RAGBRAI’s improbability is part of its appeal.

People don’t believe it until they see it for themselves. Until they pedal to the crest of a hill and behold the swarm of humanity invading the town ahead. Until they nap in a park. Until they wait an hour for a port-a-potty, a shower, a scoop of ice cream — or any other basic human need.

And then they’re hooked. They vow to return. They turn into Spandex-clad zealots and recruit all their friends to join, too.

So when it’s canceled, we don’t know quite what to do.


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