Reflections on RAGBRAI: An OSA Outreach Tradition

Post Date: 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014
by Elizabeth Reetz, University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist
Colleagues at the Office of the State Archaeologist (OSA) have been telling me about RAGBRAI – The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa - since I started as the Education & Outreach Program Director last September. Being neither from Iowa nor an avid road cyclist, I didn’t comprehend the magnitude of this yearly event until I experienced it. All I have to say is, I’m absolutely blown away by the impact this week-long event has on archaeology awareness across the state! Whether finding us at the kick-off Expo in Rock Valley in far northwest Iowa; chatting to Team Archaeology cyclists and support team on the ride route or in shuttle buses, campgrounds, and festivities; or visiting the University of Iowa Mobile Museum, the collaborative effort reached an incalculable thousands of people. 
Team Archaeology Riders
Approximately 2300 people visited the OSA Outreach Tent at the Expo on Saturday in Rock Valley.  Many people asked great questions about archaeology, whether they were familiar with it or not.  Most left with Iowa Archaeology swag: carabiners, blinking bike lights, lanyards, stickers, magnets, temporary tattoos, or the annual “Archaeology on the Road” booklet highlighting the archaeological and cultural history of the ride route and overnight towns. Even though many of the swag collectors didn’t stay to chat, their booklets and swag all provide ways for them to learn more about archaeology in Iowa if they choose to dig deeper – pun intended. Because this is the 7th year of a now well-established tradition, dozens of Expo attendees came looking specifically for the “Archaeology on the Road” booklets, having been collecting them for the past 7 years. Several others stayed a while to watch Mark Anderson flint knap and have some quality conversations with him about ancient technologies. Saturday was also a record-breaking day for the Mobile Museum, with nearly 1300 visitors in a single day stopping by to learn about Iowa’s Ice Age Giants, the beginnings of the Old Capitol Museum and the University of Iowa, and earthlodge dwellers of the Loess Hills from A.D. 1250-1400. Because RAGBRAI is such a well-known and established event, these visitors came from all across the globe! 
Mark Anderson Flint Knapping
The fun didn’t stop at the Expo. The Mobile Museum continued to be a stellar attraction in all of the overnight towns, bringing in more than 4000 visitors over the 7-day festivities. Team Archaeology riders Alan, Rick, Meagan, and Nick, were fantastic ambassadors while pedaling the pavement, and many cyclists came to find the Museum after hearing about it during the day’s conversations. All four riders, including first year riders Nick and Meagan, even completed the extra miles on the Karras Loop during the heat wave - 105 miles! What an accomplishment!   
Team Archaeology with John Karras
One of the weekly highlights was the resurrection of “The Game of Iowa,” developed by Rand Witke from the Des Moines Register in 1976. Iowa Archeological Society member George Horton found the game at a flea market, and the OSA’s Angela Collins brought it back to life as a replica with some modern updates. Kyle Munson, a columnist with the Des Moines Register and a RAGBRAI participant, heard about it and enlisted me to play a round with him during the Register’s live noon feature with Michael Morain on Thursday in Greene (you can watch it here).
The Game of Iowa

Photo by Kyle Munson
Another highlight was getting to work with Aaron Blau from University Communication and Marketing on Thursday in Waverly to promote the University of Iowa as a whole, complete with Referee Herky to provide additional photo opportunities for Mobile Museum visitors. 
Referee Herky
I’m already looking forward to next year and letting friends with other organizations know how great of an outreach event RAGBRAI can be. As State Archaeologist John Doershuk put it, “We’ve never connected with more people than we have this year at RAGBRAI.” We’ll be scheming about how to make RAGBRAI 2015 outreach bigger and better. See you there?
Thank You to all of our partners and sponsors who helped make Team Archaeology 2014 possible!