Chris and Alison Watson live in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England.
Mike and Garnet Knox live in Huxley, Iowa, USA.
So how is it that the two couples ended up riding together on this year’s Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI)?
Easy, they got on their bikes at the start and got off of them at the finish.
Wait…. the Watsons and the Knoxes live 4,121 miles apart.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Chris met Mike and Garnet when he was cycling from Seattle, Wash., to Washington, D.C. in 2016.
“We had researched through Google that were was a nice place to stay in Jefferson, Iowa,” said Chris.
It was the same time that Mike and Garnet were training for RAGBRAI, riding from Huxley to Jefferson and back again.
“Chris Watson and David Knight were riding across the U.S. and they rode up to us while we were arriving for our overnight stay in Jefferson,” explained Mike. “As soon as they spoke, Garnet and I looked at each other and thought that they were not from Iowa. They asked if we knew where they could stay for the night and we gave them the phone number of where we were staying. We visited for a while and we asked them if they knew about RAGBRAI and they told us it was on their bucket list to do.”
It was then that Mike and Garnet told the two that they must ride with them and that if they could find their way to Des Moines in 2017 they would help them with the connections to be part of their Team Kum & Go. The Americans and the Brits stayed in touch and eventually they hooked up to ride 2017 RAGBRAI.
“We rode with the best team,” tells Chris. “It was Team Kum & Go and the entire team’s enthusiasm was absolutely infectious and we were swept along in the happiest atmosphere that we had ever experienced. Every single one of that team have become friends of ours for life.”
This wasn’t the first time that the Watson’s have ridden long miles. There was the bicycle trip that took them the entire length of Italy, adding up to 1,000 miles. After that trip, Chris and his bicycle partner Dave Knight took on the USA coast to coast, which added up to 3,235 miles in 46 days. Then came the cycle trip across the length of Japan for another 1,400 miles. These rides were “unsupported,” which means that they carry all their own gear with them on their bikes.
According to Mike, the Watsons were “all in.”
“They fit in right from the start and were adopted and loved by our team members,” he said. “They are two very special people. They seemed to soak everything in and loved doing so. Throughout the week, they continued their excitement and told us how RAGBRAI was even better than all they had been told. During the week, the British flag that they attached to their tent found its way to hang on another member’s tent and now hangs inside the Kum & Go team bus.”
“In cycling terms, there is nothing at all like RAGBRAI in the U.K.,” explains Chris. “We do have many cycling events, called ‘sportives,’ but those normally only take a day. Most of the riders on them are also very competitive and are out to cover the course in their fastest time, rather than have fun. There are some long distance events such as Lands’ End to John o’Groats or London to Paris, but the number of riders would only be a couple of hundred.”
Chris and Alison loved Iowa’s party on wheels. “We loved the attitude of literally everyone who participated in the ride,” tells Chris. “even though each day was fairly hard work, everyone managed to be very laid back. The kindness and respect that everyone showed each other was quite exceptional. We loved the way that everyone thanked the police officers for what they were doing.”
The English couple said that they enjoyed riding on the straight roads with no traffic.
“We have never experienced being able to just put your head down and cycle for a good couple of hours without any twist, turn, hill, traffic light, or roundabout,” they said. “The roads were in great condition and the weather was absolutely beautiful and warm, but not too hot. The tree-lined gorges in the northwest were beautiful. And it was lovely to be able to see the water towers looming in the distance that signposted the town that we were about to visit.”
Iowans know that much of RAGBRAI is judged by the food along the route. No different with the English, mentioning that the pies were in particular a big hit with them, liking the cherry and rhubarb-strawberry the most.
For the property director Chris, (at a charity called Maggies) and the accountant Alison (working with schools), cycling has been a huge part of their lives. Both have cycled all their lives but both have become a lot keener over the last five to ten years. They both cycle to their respective jobs daily and only use cars when absolutely necessary.
“We live near Salisbury, which has five rivers in the city, so it is often much quicker to get where we need to go on a bike,” explained Chris. “The bridges are often congested with traffic. We often cycle about 2,000 miles per year on the bikes around London.”
Riding across Iowa with some 10,000 other cyclists was a novel experience, according to Chris and Alison.
“We are both used to biking in traffic, particularly in London, so the number of bikers did not faze us,” said Chris. “It was really nice to strike up conversations with all sorts of different people as we rode along.”
Later in the week, while they were camping for the evening, Mike suggested to Chris and Alison that they were taking quite a chance to come to the U.S. and join the team for the ride. The conversation continued.
“Chris looked at me and said, ‘You really know when you meet good people.’ “said Mike. “I agreed, in Jefferson we had met good people and now we have good friends, Chris and Alison Watson.”
When asked if the British were coming back, they replied that wild horses would not keep them away.
And, the most difficult time and what they hated the most?
“Having to pack up and come home, rather than just keep on biking,” said Chris. “How lucky we feel to have met Mike and Garnet and to have been given the awesome privilege of being able to join Team Kum & Go to do RAGBRAI. What a team.”