Rock Valley, IA --
This week is the 20th summer the Air Force cycling team has been riding across Iowa as part of the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa bicycling event held in the state each July.
The Air Force team has grown to more than 100 active-duty Air Force, Reserve, National Guard, and Air Force civilian riders whose main goal, according to their mission statement, is to "promote the Air Force in the most positive way possible using cycling as a way to display 'wingmanship' and fitness."
The RAGBRAI is a week-long bicycle touring event that organizers claim is the longest and largest of its kind, in the world. The Register, the daily newspaper from Iowa's capital city, has organized this event for 42 years. It began when two Journalists from the paper challenged each other to ride bicycle across the Hawkeye state, while writing about the experience for the paper.
The event has grown so large, that today the number of registered riders is limited to 8500 participants, which is larger than of many of the small towns where the riders spend each evening during the weeklong event.
"I Like Iowans, l like the folks; every time we come here they treat us like super stars, like we're celebrities," said Senior Master Sgt. Larry Gallo, the Air Force team director, in reference to coming back each year. "If you're feeling a little down, get on your bike, do RAGBRAI. They're patting you on the back they're yelling go Air Force, that picks you up it makes you feel pretty good about your job and what you're doing for the country. Iowans seem to appreciate that, and they seem to recognize that. That puts everything in perspective."
The event starts each year in a town, on or near Iowa's west coast bordered mostly by the Missouri River and ending in the east on the Mississippi River. This year's route is what RAGBRAI veterans know as a northern route. The route has riders beginning in the Northwest Iowa hamlet of Rock Valley, after dipping their tires in the Big Sioux River along the border with South Dakota they will trek nearly 500 miles in seven days and conclude the ride on the Mississippi River bluffs of Guttenberg along the border with Illinois.
Lt. Col. John Pugh, a pilot with the 117th Air Refueling Wing of the Alabama Air National Guard, has been riding with the Air Force team for over five years. While he could ride unattached he says that being a part of the Air Force team is part of what makes the whole experience great.
"The biggest thing is the support, the fact the Air Force has their own U-hauls we got our own equipment and everything is just taken care of for us. You come here, pack your gear every morning and all you worrying about is riding your bike and your gear is waiting on you at the other end," said Pugh. "It's just a real easy way to do it, you meet a lot of good people out here on the Air Force team, you really have a good time hanging out with them." If you are a member of any branch of the Air Force the cycling team may have a place for you. If you are up for it you can look them up on afcycling.com. http://www.afcycling.com/