COUNCIL BLUFFS — Adam Duerson had a simple packing list for his trip from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Iowa for this year’s RAGBRAI.
Duerson, 34, threw some socks, a few changes of clothing and a toothbrush into a carry-on bag. Then he broke down his bicycle, stuffed it into a suitcase and checked it at the airport for $25.
“No one gave me any grief,” he said, laughing. “It usually costs me $500 to ship the thing, so this worked out much better.”
The hard part, Duerson said, wasn’t going to be the grueling bike ride across Iowa. He had trained by clocking miles biking loops around Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Plus, he had already been on three RAGBRAIs.
This year, the hard part was putting the bike back together.
“Maybe I won’t be riding a bike this year at all,” he said.
Duerson tinkered with the bike wheels Saturday afternoon in a field near the Mid-America Center.
About 20,000 people were expected to show up for the pre-ride festivities kicking off the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz said.
The Rumbles, Hi-Fi Hangover and Better Than Ezra provided live music. Famed bicyclist Lance Armstrong was spotted Saturday night.
He tweeted Saturday morning, “Passed Denver. Next stop — Nebraska border. #ragbrairoadtrip.”
For Dorthey Cook, 67, of Granton, Wis., the festivities cued butterflies for the ride’s impending start today. The first leg of the weeklong ride is from Council Bluffs to Harlan.
Cook was unloading bikes from the back of a truck with friends Ken Smith, also of Granton, and Todd Luttio, of Black River Falls, Wis.
“I think I’m the oldest woman riding, and it’s my first time,” Cook said. “I haven’t slept a night since I got talked into doing this.”
“Yeah, we’re rookies,” Smith added. “We are not sure what’s going to happen. If people have been doing this for more than 40 years, though, I think we will be OK.”
The two have logged more than 1,200 miles training for the ride.
“If you’re a bicyclist, you know about RAGBRAI,” Luttio said. “Our goal is to survive.”
Other bicyclists decided to log a few extra miles beforehand.
Brent Siemers of Kansas City, Mo., prepared by riding up from his hometown three days before RAGBRAI started. It’s his fourth year at the ride.
“Mentally, there are going to be a couple of times where you don’t want to pedal anymore,” he said. “But you have to push through.”
Siemers, a self-proclaimed “expert at messing up,” was regretting the extra miles.
“I don’t want to say this before the first day, but I’m already sick of being on a bike,” he said.
The ride is a special one for Kimberly Williams and Gerard Davenport, both of Arkansas.
It’s the first year they will ride across Iowa as an engaged couple. It’s appropriate: They met because of RAGBRAI.
In 2010, Williams was participating in the event, but Davenport wasn’t. He wasn’t even in the state. Instead, he was training for a different ride.
When Williams posted photos from Iowa on her Match.com profile, they immediately caught Davenport’s attention.
“He was, like, ‘I thought I knew everyone around town who rode it,’ ” she said. “I guess it was the one year he didn’t come.”
“I just thought she was so cute,” Davenport said. “She was standing in front of a cornfield.”
The two got engaged last Christmas. The wedding will be next summer, during RAGBRAI season.
This year they are both riding with Team Tumbleweeds. The group rode up from Arkansas in a converted lavender school bus that gets 11 miles to the gallon.
It has multiple beds, a bike rack on the roof and a converted shower.
Despite the fanfare, Williams said she doubts she’ll be riding RAGBRAI next year, after the wedding.
“I tried to talk her into a RAGBRAI honeymoon,” Davenport said. “I’m still hoping she’ll change her mind.”