If you host it…They will come

  • Published
  • By Wayne Amann
  • OSI Public Affairs

When Dyersville, Iowa, the site popularized by the iconic 1989 baseball movie Field of Dreams, hosted the first Major League Baseball game played in the state on Aug. 12, it became the mecca of the baseball world – albeit for one day.

Two weeks earlier, the Hawkeye State hosted the (Des Moines) Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Race Across Iowa, July 25-31. RAGBRAI, as it’s commonly known, is the longest, largest and oldest recreational bicycle touring event in the world, making Iowa the mecca of the cycling world for those seven days.

Office of Special Investigations Special Agent Carlos Vargasgonzalez, 2nd Field Investigations Region, Operating Location-B, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., and a member of the Air Force Cycling Team (AFCT) since March 2021, was a rookie in this year’s event.

“One day I received a call from my brother-in-law (a retired Air Force recruiter) who asked if I wanted to join the Texas chapter of the Air Force Cycling Team and ride across Iowa representing the Air Force during the RAGBRAI ride, and I said yes,” he recalled. “I saw it as an opportunity to gain purpose, stay focused, to continue losing weight, all while representing the Air Force and promoting our core values of Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence In All We Do.”

The first-time RAGBRAI cyclist faced a physically demanding ride with plenty of two-wheel traffic. The route, from western to eastern Iowa, covered 454.1 miles and 11,954 feet to climb. There were seven overnight stops in towns along the way. Created in 1973, this most popular recreational cycling event, according to its website, has to limit the field to 8,500 week-long riders, to maintain a sense of control and insure fewer injuries.     

Given the grueling nature of the RAGBRAI, SA Vargasgonzalez trained rigorously.

“I took every opportunity I had to spend ‘time on the saddle,’" he said. “I rode three to five times a week, with distances ranging from 20 to 35 miles. Plus, I did my long rides once a week on the weekends, with my longest ride being 79.5 miles.”

What was the most challenging aspect of the RAGBRAI for him?

“Headwinds while going uphill is where I am the weakest,” SA Vargasgonzales said. “To overcome that, I learned how to pace myself and not worry about others passing me while I was tackling the hills. The other aspect was sleeping in tents every night and getting up with aches and pains resulting from not sleeping on a bed.”

When weather conditions posed obstacles, he adapted and overcame them.

“During training, I would sometimes ride in the gym,” he said. “The weather was relatively good at the RAGBRAI except on the day we rode the longest leg, 112 miles. Members of AFCT signed an agreement stating we would ride the 'Karras* Loop' which brought our total miles that day to approximately 112. I dealt with the heat by drinking a lot of water and hydrating energy drinks.”

SA Vargasgonzalez first become interested in cycling almost two years ago.

“In October 2019, the social unrest in most of Chile limited my ability to travel throughout the country to conduct our in-person liaison meetings,” he explained. “I also noticed I was gaining unwanted weight, so when my brother-in-law suggested cycling, I bought a bike for each member of the family and started logging miles. It came to a halt during restrictions imposed by the pandemic. When I transferred from overseas to Peterson AFB, Colo., in December 2020, I stopped in San Antonio, Texas, on leave and picked up a road bike. Every time there was good weather in Colorado Springs, I jumped on it and logged some miles.” 

His membership with the AFCT is gratifying.

“(We) ride with a purpose and promote the Air Force when we participate in organized rides,” he said. “The Air Force is highly thought of, particularly during RAGBRAI for the support and aid we provide to riders who are stranded on the side of the road due to mechanical problems and on occasion when exhaustion or other health issues develop.

Equally satisfying is finishing the RAGBRAI.

“It’s extremely satisfying to complete an activity that tested my endurance, again, while representing the Air Force, an organization I’ve served since January 1984 as a guardsman, active duty, reservist and civilian.”

Does SA Vargasgonzalez plan on riding in future RAGBRAI events?

“Yes, I would love to participate again,” he said. “The camaraderie during the event with the rest of the team, and with riders we met along the way, was very gratifying. The attitudes and conversations we had gave me renewed hope for the great country of ours.”

His demanding riding season continued in the thinner air of Colorado with the Double Bypass event, a 128.9 mile trek from Georgetown to Vail, and in the Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred endurance ride, starting and ending near Sheppard AFB, Texas. The latter is billed as 100 miles in 100 degrees for the 100 year anniversary of Wichita Falls.   

*Editor’s Note: John Karras, was a Des Moines Register newspaper feature writer/copy editor and one of the RAGBRAI co-founders in 1973.