RAGBRAI inspires instructor

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- About this time last year, I became interested in cycling and bought my first road bike. I also learned about the Air Force Cycling Team, which participates in the Des Moines Register's (a newspaper) Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa®, a seven-day journey every July that is the oldest organized bicycling tour in the world.

Unfortunately, I was too late to sign up to ride in RAGBRAI, so I volunteered to support the Lackland Air Force Base team. That support entailed driving a support vehicle, setting up tents, and getting the team supplies.

However, I continued riding my bike since I planned to ride in other local events. As July approached, I had 1,000 miles in the saddle, including the 66-mile Tour de Burma sponsored by the San Angelo Bicycling Association - my longest ride ever at that point.

Then, just a few days before RAGBRAI, a rider pulled out and I got the chance to ride with the AFCT. Needless to say, I jumped at that chance. I was both excited and scared at the same time, but ended up having one of the greatest experiences of my life!

Riding with 20,000 other riders more than 470 miles in seven days (while climbing over 22,000 feet - Iowa is not flat!) gave me a real sense of accomplishment. Each day we rode through 5-10 small towns in a festival-like atmosphere. Each town provides food, water, things to see and do, and a chance talk to people in the communities.

The best part of this unbelievable experience was being a part of the AFCT. Composed of 120 riders - active, guard, reserve, retirees, and family members from across the globe - we were easily the largest team at RAGBRAI. And because the AFCT represents the Air Force, we take pride in our service. So when a rider wanted to sing the Air Force song, we did it together.

Also, we routinely assisted accident victims and found many other ways to be helpful to others. As a result of our spirit and willingness to help, we earned the RAGRBRAI Riders Cup, an award for the most outstanding team that's based on comments received by the Des Moines Register newspaper.

But the coolest moment during RAGBRAI occurred on the last day. As we entered the last city to end the ride, the entire AFCT rode into town two-by-two with a police escort! The feeling of pride and the response from the crowd was something I'll never, ever forget.

We all had a fantastic experience at RAGBRAI last July, and I'm looking forward to RAGBRAI 2009! And this year we have a Team Goodfellow chapter of the AFCT! If you're interested in riding, providing support, or both, contact Maj. John Gilliland at 654-3203 or john.gilliland@goodfellow.af.mil or Master Sgt. Chris Culleton at 654-4503. But contact them soon - you don't want to miss this!

Also, contact them if you're just interested in riding around here with other Goodfellow cyclists. We had 20 riders for our first group ride last Saturday, and we invite you to join us!