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The Choice to Live

Susan G. Komen cancer survivors commit to being fit.

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I AM AN ECOSYTEM: Part Quattuor

We put the canoes in the water at dusk.

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A real road trip

Day 3: It was an early start for today’s ride — 72.8 miles from Ft. Dodge to Eldora. First stop was about 10 miles into the ride, in the town of Duncombe. Chris Cakes served up all-you-can-eat pancakes with sausage, coffee and orange juice. Chris prepares pancakes on a 15-foot-long grill. A machine drops 3 cakes at a time and Chris moves along the grill flipping the pancakes. Then he goes back to the beginning and they are ready to be served. If you go back for seconds, you stand 8 feet away while he tosses the pancake high into the air with the expectation you will catch it on your paper plate. Cheers from all around. Many land on the ground. — Journal excerpt from Robert Haag Every year, Chattanooga’s Robert C. Haag takes a road trip across Iowa. But it isn’t done on four wheels with smudged glass separating him from the scenes of lush farmland as far as the eye can see, interrupted every so often by emerald rolling hills. He doesn’t have to find a place to park his car before heading into the quintessential American towns to swap stories with friendly locals. No, Haag’s ride is done on two wheels. He even has a name for it: RAGBRAI. RAGBRAI is an annual seven-day bike ride across the state of Iowa. To date, it is the oldest, largest and longest bicycle touring event in the world, drawing up to 8,500 riders each year. Planned and coordinated by the Des Moines Register, RAGBRAI stands for “the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.” Though the route changes from year to year, the ride averages 468 miles through the heart of America. It commences along Iowa’s western border on the Missouri River and finishes along the eastern border on the Mississippi River. Riders start and finish each race with a ceremonial dipping of their tires. People show up to ride on road bikes, mountain bikes, tandems, recumbents, banana-cycles, rollerblades — even a furry bike was spotted this year. Eight towns along the route serve as host communities for overnight stays, welcoming riders in true American fashion with lots of cheering and applause. Costumes, music, dance parties in the square, huge slip n’ slides, bathtub races, you never know what you’ll find. But in the middle of it all, you’ll always find 73-year-young “RAGBRAI Bob” and his road trip buddies, the Donner Party. Day 5: Took us 72 miles southeast from Cedar Falls to Hiawatha. I got a flat about 8 miles into the ride. Rich and I replaced the tube and put air into the tire. It was soft but would take me to the next town where I could borrow a floor pump. However, along came Dean, a member of the Quad City Bike Club. Dean is well-known for his style of cycling across Iowa. He has a special-built bike that does not have a seat. He rides the entire route standing up. He carries a lot of gear including a full-size floor pump. His bike and gear probably weigh over 50 pounds. “Initially I did it because it was a week off where I had no worries other than completing a physically challenging bicycle ride,” Haag says, remembering his first RAGBRAI in 1990. “It was me and my bike and my good friends, Rich and Don. After having done a dozen or so RAGBRAIs, along came the Donner Party. Our founder, Steve Urie, having a house on Donner Lake [in California], came up with our team name and the design for our team apparel. As time went on, more people joined the group, over 30. Now, about 20 or so members attend RAGBRAI every year. Without my Donner Party friends, I would likely have not continued going back year after year. I see most of them only once a year during that special week in Iowa. They have become very special friends over the years.” Haag began cycling in 1988, when he was an accountant in his mid-40s, for exercise. He realized after riding for three years that he’d lost more than 40 pounds. He was taken off blood pressure medicine which he had been on for 30 years. He began riding seriously with his then-neighbor, Dr. Don Shields, now 78, a veterinarian. “Don was my inspiration for getting into longer and faster rides,” Haag says. “I often tell Don that he may not have saved my life but he certainly added many years to my life.” Shields then introduced Haag to Rich Bradley, now 75, and the three of them have been riding together since 1990. They all lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, until Haag relocated to Chattanooga in 2004. Now they meet each year in Iowa. “It’s not about the bike. It’s not about pitching a tent seven nights. It’s not about standing in long lines for food, showers, drinks or having to walk your bike through town because there are so many cyclists. It’s about friendships nurtured over the years. I hope I’ll still be riding in RAGBRAI with my friends for many years to come,” Haag says. His affinity for the ride wasn’t always so ingrained. In 1994, he, Shields and Bradley flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to do a week-long ride in the Rockies. “I remember looking out the window of the plane and thinking, ‘This is going to be fun.’ A lot different than my thoughts about my first RAGBRAI. … I was certain I wasn’t going to be able to complete the ride, but I did. I was scared. I didn’t like the hills or the distance.” My, how far he’s come — at least 10,000 rolling miles through 400 Iowa towns. “I have a very strong can-do attitude,” says Haag. “ I don’t have a gym membership and this year I only accumulated 413 training miles prior to RAGBRAI.” That’s like riding from Chattanooga to St. Louis, Missouri — almost halfway to Iowa. Day 6: From Hiawatha to Coralville was 68 miles and 3,100 feet of climbing. Cornell College is located in Coralville. We took a break and listened to the Scottish bagpipe band. With so many people today, it took us an hour to walk our bikes through town. Later, we had to cross a dam with very high cross-winds and rain.

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Chattanooga’s Best Town Ever Celebration

We're Outside magazine’s “Best Town Ever” — and now it’s time to celebrate.

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Closest Place to … Get High (via a mountaintop)

With the advent of fall, so begins the mad dash for the trails.

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Fall Lowcountry Fishing

Inshore fishing is heating up.

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The Turning of Time

As the city prepared for a memorial to honor five fallen servicemen, I was paying a tribute of my own.

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Start the Season Right

Great gear for climbing

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Georgia State Parks offering free rental gear for first-time campers

Is this your first time?

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Royalex reincarnation?

Not likely, says Mohawk’s Richard Guinn.

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Right of Passage

Andor guides boys on the path to manhood.

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Hammerhead home run

Hammerhead: a navigational aid that’s simple in design with a high-tech foundation.

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Be a Better Birder

Follow these 5 tips to send your bird identification game soaring.

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IRONMAN: Ready for round two?

The Little Debbie Ironman is returning to the Scenic City Sept. 27.

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An Unlikely Adventurer

Pollock takes on challenge of Lula Lake Land Trust executive director

Mike Pollock takes on challenge of Lula Lake Land Trust executive director

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Trail Profile: Piney River Section of the Cumberland Trail

The Cumberland Trail is Tennessee’s second-largest state park.

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Sleeved for Speed

There are benefits to wearing compression sleeves.

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Behold the Bats

The notorious Nickajack Cave has been a wonder for centuries.

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Noke's Granola

Some people call it Nukes. Others call it Nookies. Luther Cutchins says, “Hey, as long as you call it, it’s all good!”

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The Swell of Success

Watch as I take on wakesurfing


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