RAGBRAI’s Dream Team, a youth bicycling program now in its 20th year, takes their final training ride this weekend, July 11-12, in preparation for the annual ride across Iowa starting July 19. The route they have chosen for their last big ride is the full Raccoon River Valley Trail.
Every year, RAGBRAI, Bike World and other supporters in Des Moines put together a team of girls and boys, teenagers in their middle school and high school years, to learn about bicycling and experience RAGBRAI. The program started in 1996.
About 40 young people are picked each year after being recommended by school counselors, pastors and at-risk youth program workers. Most of the team members are economically challenged and would never have this experience without help.
Then 30 adult mentors who are experienced RAGBRAI riders put the kids through a five-month training program. They are issued new Trek bicycles, helmets, cycling clothing, camping gear and more. They begin training and then riding in March and continue thru July.
If they complete RAGBRAI — and nearly all do, about 500 of them over the years — they keep the bicycle and equipment.
More than half of this year’s team rode more than 1,000 miles in training this spring and summer, so you can see they take this seriously.
“Some of our kids just ride one year with the Dream Team, but others come back in the next years,” said Deb Olesen, of Elkhart, one of the volunteer coordinators of the program this year. “In fact, we’ve got four high school seniors on this year’s team who have ridden four or five years. It’s crazy to see the changes in those kids when they’re with us that long, very positive changes.”
It costs about $1,000 per Dream Team rider for equipment, training and related expenses. Those are mostly covered by donations from RAGBRAI, Bike World, the BACooN RIDE, the “Birdies for Charities” program of the Principal Golf Classic, donations from several Iowa bicycle clubs and other organizations and individuals.
On Saturday, July 11, the Dream Team teens and mentors will gather at the Wellmark YMCA in downtown Des Moines about 7 a.m., pack up and begin their ride from there about 8 a.m. They will use the RRVT’s north loop, stop for lunch in Perry and ride on to Jefferson for the overnight stay, arriving from about 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
They will camp in the Trailhead Campground, which is immediately adjacent to the RRVT in Jefferson — and right next door to the Greene County Fairgrounds, where the annual fair will be in full operation this weekend. Many Dream Teamers have already said they can’t wait to go see the animals and other displays at the fair.
Many also plan to ride to the 140-foot-high observation deck of the Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower on the courthouse square in Jefferson.
On Sunday morning, the campers will eat breakfast in the campground, pack-up and then begin their ride back to Des Moines along the RRVT’s south loop. Their total ride for the weekend will be about 150 miles.
Olesen said in past years the Dream Team has ridden on the RRVT to Panora and back to Des Moines, but this will be their first experience using the full 89-mile trail between Waukee and Jefferson.
Other longer rides this year have included from downtown Des Moines to Altoona and back, Elkhart and back, Monroe and back, to name a fews. As Olesen described the various itineraries, they all seemed to have one thing in common — stops at ice cream shops.
Ice cream has always been a part of bicycle riding for Dream Team founder Jim Green, the retired former RAGBRAI director for the Des Moines Register. He and his wife, Judy, who now live in southern Iowa, continue to be very supportive of the Dream Team program.