Heaven?: Under spacious skies in Iowa, courtesy and friendliness abound


We learn this song at a young age, “Oh beautiful for spacious skies for amber waves of grain...” Many enjoy this famous line from the movie, Field of Dreams, “Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa...”

When you see Iowa’s spacious sky and witness a sunrise casting its glow upon the grains growing from the ground. . .and when you see the people of Iowa come out in force to aid in the cause, the hymn and line intersect in perfect harmony.

It seems, after spending a week riding a bike across Iowa, that it is just and right that this intersection should happen.

I’m not naive enough to think that all of you might find a slice of heaven riding on a bike seat for a week, 450 or so miles across Iowa. Many of you would probably rather have a frontal lobotomy. A friend says that on RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa), your butt is sore for three days but after that it just becomes numb. What beauty is in that?

I’m not naive enough to think y’all would enjoy getting up at 5 a.m., when it’s dark and all you can think about is finding the port-a-potty. Note to self: Remember the head lamp. It facilitates the use of the port-a-potty.

To witness a sunrise and the soft, golden light it sheds with the background of red, orange and yellow is sublime. Bikers stop along the side of the road to take witness, as well, and make their photos. Life doesn’t get any better.

As we ride into one small town after another, townspeople in green t-shirts emblazoned with the question, “Ask me,” greet us. Others have placed lawn chairs along the side of the road to cheer us on. One 90-year-old woman in a hospital bed is rolled out onto her yard to take witness. She didn’t want to miss a thing.

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During RAGBRAI, small towns along the route open their streets and hearts to total strangers. The strangers, the bikers, return the favor and open their hearts, and wallets supporting fundraisers for volunteer firefighters, EMS, community swimming pools and the like.

The green-shirted volunteers dedicate themselves to making this all work for the riders and their communities.

It’s humbling and inspirational. There were 17,000 plus registered riders on RAGBRAI this year. I’m sure there were even more participants plus a thousand or more green-shirted volunteers, paid RAGBRAI staff along with countless law enforcement officers and EMTs.

It’s inspirational to participate in an event, a week-long event, where folks come from so many places and are so courteous, helpful, polite and interesting. This is a bike ride. It’s also an effort of helping and encouraging others–friends and total strangers. Trust is everywhere.

In a way, this is my image of being in heaven. But could my hind end feel sore or numb in heaven?

I don’t know the answer to that question. I do know that I was under those spacious Iowa skies and I couldn’t have been happier to share it with good friends and a few strangers.

by P. Carter Newton, publisher,