Off The Campaign Bus, Seeing Iowa By Bicycle

Jul 23, 2013
Originally published on July 23, 2013 2:08 pm

The Des Moines Register’s Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) kicked off this weekend.

This year, NPR’s national political correspondent Don Gonyea is riding in the pack. Here & Now catches up with him as he heads east toward Des Moines.


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Well, the Tour de France wrapped up over the weekend, but it has nothing on the RAGBRAI. That's the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. Fifteen thousand riders begin by dipping their rear tire in the Missouri and finish with a front tire in the Mississippi. Who needs the Alps? This year, three of NPR's political correspondents - Don Gonyea, Scott Horsley and Brian Naylor - joined the pack. The boys on the bus, the campaign bus, now the boys on the bikes. We reached Don Gonyea as he was biking east towards Des Moines right in the middle of the state. Don, how are you doing?

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: I'm doing well. It is soft in Iowa. And may I say everybody I talked to before this trio said, oh, at least Iowa is flat. Iowa is not flat...


GONYEA: ...I can tell you. It's rolling hills. So it's been a lot of work, but it's really a fabulous event. It's really been fun, and it's a chance to talk to people about something other than politics. And that's a fun thing to be able to do.

YOUNG: I said boys on the bus, but you're not the kind of reporter who stays on the bus. You obviously get down and speak to people. But what is different about this bike ride?

GONYEA: When I come to Iowa to cover a political story, I get my rental car, and I decide which direction to point it. And you always know that you will just find the story. And that's the fun of this place. But every single conversation, it seems, that I have with people when I'm here covering a story, it's always about this presidential candidate or that or this issue or that. And this week, you know, we're talking about the weather or about how great that pork chop we all just had was that was bigger than your head.

It really is a chance to get to know this place a little better and to get to know it in a more intimate way. And ultimately, I think, and I hope, that will inform my political reporting; it will allow me to come here and write about the place and have it, you know, ring even truer.

YOUNG: Well, we know you're posting pictures and comments on your Tumblr site. We'll link people up so that they can see it. But I'm looking at a picture of you holding that pork chop as you write. This chop has its own zip code.


YOUNG: That's a big thing.

GONYEA: I haven't fact-checked that. But...


YOUNG: Well, there's also another picture. I'm scrolling down, and there's a picture of all sorts of resting bikes. They've all been thrown on the grass because there's a sign that says you made it to a certain point in the ride. Pie. Lots of pie?

GONYEA: There is lots of pie. And we, of course, are the NPR team. But the NPR stands for No Pie Refused. So I think I've had three or four pieces of pie. I think Scott is the pie-eating champ so far. But every town that we passed through rolls out the red carpet, or maybe it's the pie carpet. And they pull out all the stops and they're so thrilled that the ride is coming through their town this year. And you ride 10 or 15 miles, then you encounter this great little town. And maybe you've been here for a political rally, maybe not. But you can't help but stop and sample the local wares.

YOUNG: That's NPR's national political correspondent, Don Gonyea, along with NPR's other political correspondents, Scott Horsley and Brian Naylor. He is riding in the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, the RAGBRAI. And just, again, to remind our listeners in Iowa, the NPR stands for?

GONYEA: No Pie Refused.

YOUNG: Don, I'm envious. Have a blast.

GONYEA: Thank you. Thank you.

YOUNG: You know, Jeremy, people have come up with other explanations for NPR.


YOUNG: I think I like No Pie Refused best.


And I have to say, that's sounds like a fun assignment, to go ride your bike across Iowa in the middle of the summer.

YOUNG: And I have to say, for Iowans, you know, Don Gonyea is a pretty nice guy too. So fun for them to meet him.

HOBSON: If you see him, go find him. Go say hi to him. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.