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RAGBRAI road warriors


Between the Fourth of July and the Iowa State Fair comes the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, the real summer celebration for some Iowans and other biking enthusiasts from across the country and beyond.

Ed Zeak, owner of Darwin Designs and Custom Apparel, says he doesn’t tend to take any vacation time during the year, except for during the week of RAGBRAI. This will be the sixth time he’s participated in the event, and over the course of the past year, he has built up his endurance by trying to ride to and from work each day, a 40-mile round trip. He says he considers it more of a “lifestyle choice” than it is training.

“It’s a good way for me to keep in shape, and I prefer riding my bike to driving my car,” Zeak said, adding that he has filled his car up with gas only twice this year. “I have all-around better fitness. My body fat is lower and my blood pressure is better.”

Because Zeak incorporates biking into his daily regimen, that enables him to forgo the long weeknight bike rides other participants might try to squeeze in leading up to RAGBRAI, and instead, focus on getting his business prepped for his absence. This is not an easy task, as his business tends to pick up right before the event, with other riders coming to him to have custom apparel made before the ride.

“Because we are avid cyclists who do RAGBRAI, I think that fellow riders do enjoy doing business with us,” Zeak said. “We do custom screenprinting, including a minimal amount of stuff for RAGBRAI itself and a lot of apparel for the teams and individuals participating. It’s a nice way to keep the bicycle community in touch and to support each other.”

This year, his fiancee, Jennifer Cole, who is a partner at Darwin Designs, will also be riding in RAGBRAI, cutting the staff at the business down even further.

“We work hard in the last month, and then push even harder in the two weeks leading up to RAGBRAI to try to get everything done so that the people who remain are not getting hammered with work while we’re gone,” Zeak said. “And by being ahead, we’re not coming back to such a huge workload.”

To lighten his workload on the ride itself, Zeak said he has upgraded his bike and also tried out a recumbent model. But the most important thing does for his physical and mental comfort during that week is bringing a recreational vehicle to sleep in.

“We have air conditioning at night, and this way you don’t have to sit in your own sweat for a week,” Zeak said. “This is really the only vacation time that I take during the summer, so for me, I want it to be a vacation.”

Another veteran rider, Randy Krum, a FedEx contractor in West Des Moines, agrees that bringing a camper along is a good choice. For the five days he will ride this year, he and his wife and the three other couples will take turns sleeping in a pop-up trailer, preferably in people’s yards, as opposed to the mass campground areas, which are notoriously noisier, he says.

Krum said he had planned to take this year off from RAGBRAI, but that he and his wife didn’t want to miss out on experiencing it with new friends and fellow tandem riders they had met through weekly riding this year. Krum, who has participated in four previous RAGBRAIs, is looking forward to experiencing the event through the eyes of his new friends.

“I can’t wait to see their faces as we pull in to the first town,” Krum said. “It’s an experience you can’t describe, and I know that they are going to be awe-struck with seeing it for the first time.”

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