I realize this sounds like a pipe dream, but my global peace initiative would feature RAGBRAI as a centerpiece.
Think of it this way: In a summer whose geopolitical landscape has grown more bleak and violent by the week, our beloved “RAGBRAI Nation” in some ways is a model borderless and gracious society with a surprising number of international threads.
I realize it’s not Utopia. The occasional bike gets stolen. And not every slice of small-town pie can taste like heaven.
But this week in northern Iowa, it’s hard to miss this rolling Midwestern twist on the United Nations that might have a thing or two to teach diplomats caught up in their bitter, intractable disputes.
Speaking of a lack of resolution: For a while Sunday I rolled with Team Indecisive.
The team fluctuates from seven to 13 riders throughout the week, a crew mostly from Solon and Iowa City.
They debuted their name this year because it fits; they must flip a coin to decide whether to have another beer and nearly every such mundane dilemma.
Thus the logo on the front of their jerseys is a question mark — a curvy stretch of highway above a bike gear as the period.
But there’s more to be gleaned from the jerseys on closer scrutiny. The back pocket proclaims: “Bike Jericho, Palestine, Bicycle Capital of the Middle East.”
And the sleeve bears the name of the restaurant, Zeit ou Zaatar (Olive Oil and Thyme), of the team’s sponsor, Nasser Abdulhadi.
Abdulhadi is something of a culinary activist when it comes to the Israeli-Arab conflict. To help humanize Palestinians he has, for instance, made the world’s largest tabouleh salad — one of the foods difficult to find on RAGBRAI among the pork chops. He also organized a bike rally earlier this year in Jericho in an effort to make it a biking epicenter on par with Iowa.
“This is his way of fighting in the resistance,” said Jayne Finch, Abdulhadi’s sister-in-law. She and her husband, Rami Abu-Hijleh, will join Team Indecisive on the route Friday to roll the last two days into her native Guttenberg.
Meanwhile, team leaders Paula Sears and Jen Ferguson kept a swift pace Sunday with affable Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek among their fellow team members.
Team Indecisive didn’t realize earlier this year that their Jericho connection would have such resonance because of the timing of fighting in Gaza.
That made me think about the whup-whup-whup of a helicopter-for-hire overhead that provided a continuous soundtrack at the RAGBRAI Expo in Rock Valley. For RAGBRAI Nation, the sound was a minor distraction. But in many spots around the globe, loud rotor blades are more ominous.
That helicopter flew overhead when I first met Florencia and Julieta Giraud, a pair of 23-year-old twins from Yerba Buena, Argentina. The obvious biographical bullet point is that they’re trophy-laden mountain bike racers on their first American ride to visit their friend Lindsey Knake, a med student at the University of Iowa.
But they also both have political science degrees and are active in their nation’s Radical Civil Union party — currently the opposition party angling for a return to power in October 2015 elections — what will be a “huge political year for Argentina,” according to the sisters.
They also happened to travel to Israel in February; Julieta bemoaned terrorism by Hamas as the spark of recent violence.
So you see: One might come to RAGBRAI expecting to forget the world’s troubles and get lost among the corn. But that’s not necessarily the case.
There are riders raising money for Syrian refugees.
There was a well-placed water and Gatorade stop Sunday where the free-will donations were intended to raise $8,000 to buy 100 bikes for kids in Simonette, Haiti, to ride back and forth to school.
Not to mention that this week I’m riding with teams from Italy and China organized through the Iowa Sister States nonprofit.
One of the charismatic Italians, Alessandra Tormene, is active with the pro-peace female bicycling group Follow the Women. Tormene was scheduled to bike in Palestinian territories later this year, but war may thwart the group’s ride there as it did in Syria a couple years ago.
One of the nuggets of wisdom I gleaned from Team Indecisive: “Biking’s just a universal activity that can bind anybody together.”
I did find one cultural divide that RAGBRAI Nation can’t hope to bridge: Pulkrabek, the sheriff was ready to contradict anybody — especially Iowa State Cyclones fans — who dared malign his beloved Iowa Hawkeyes.
If only intrastate sports rivalries could be our worst disputes, what a wonderful world it would be.
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