ORANGE CITY, Iowa | One of the draws of RAGBRAI over the past four decades is that people get to see Iowa at 5-10 miles per hour.
Three Northwestern College professors have known that for years. For that's the speed at which they pass through Orange City each day while going to and from work.
Meet Dr. Scott Monsma, Jeff Barker and Mark Haselhoff, three NWC pros who step out the door and onto a bike each day, no matter what Mother Nature might throw.
"I grew up riding a bike with my family in Flagstaff, Arizona," said Monsma, professor of sociology the past 18 years at the college based in Orange City. "Our family would ride seven miles, have a picnic, and then ride seven miles back home."
Monsma's parents, John and Marcia Monsma, cycled across the United States when they were 64 years old.
"I do have a few years to prep for that," said Monsma, who is 54.
If pedaling equals preparation, Monsma is well on his way. In addition to cycling the short half-mile trip from home to the NWC campus each day, Monsma completes long rides of 20 to 30 miles three to four days per week. On a recent Monday, for example, the day preceding this interview, Monsma logged 80 miles on his recumbent bike.
"I do not stop during the winter time," he said, adding how he affixes his cycle to a trainer and rides long distances in the comfort of his home when the wind and snow blow down from the Dakotas.
"Two years ago, I crashed and broke my wrist and elbow," he said. "I put my bike on a trainer and continued to ride."
(The crash happened 100 feet from his house, he said while shaking his head.)
Beyond providing a physical workout for the day, Monsma likes what riding does for his financial well-being. He can go six to eight weeks during the school year on one tank of gas in his 2010 truck.
Monsma, who wishes to one day complete RAGBRAI, generally rides distances with daughter Samantha. The two, he disclosed, also wear helmets.
Jeff Barker, professor of theater at Northwestern College, admitted he's not the poster boy for safe riding. Barker, who embarks on his 30th year of teaching at NWC this fall, rarely, if ever, wears a helmet. He often rides in jeans and a coat. He places his book bag on the back of his Woody bike and slips his phone into the back of his shirt collar, allowing him to listen to a podcast as he pedals.
"I ride my bike everywhere," said Barker, a native of Mendota, Illinois. "I try to cycle rather than drive the car because cycling is the only exercise I get."
Like Monsma, Barker lives just a half-mile from work, which makes the decision to cycle each day an almost foregone conclusion.
Not that the decision hasn't reared its ugly head on a few occasions through the past three decades.
"I'll ride on ice and snow," he said. "And there have been times when I've had to stop at the grocery store halfway home just to warm up."
Barker attempted to quote author C.S. Lewis, who was known for walking. Lewis, according to Barker, wrote something like, "Cars annihilate space."
A cyclist, or a pedestrian, enjoys moving slowly through space, enjoying its subtleties.
"I can use the 10 minutes on my bike, the time it takes me to get from home to school, to memorize Scripture," Barker said.
Or, he can listen to a podcast, if the 63-year-old so desires.
Mark Haselhoff, 28, didn't cycle much as a boy growing up in Schaller, Iowa. He brought his bike to Northwestern when he was an undergraduate student, but didn't use it much.
For the past five years, though, he's ridden from home to campus, where he works in web development.
"I don't like to drive," Haselhoff said. "I much prefer to ride my bike and will ride regardless of the weather."
Haselhoff began laughing while remembering a story about a particularly nasty winter cold front that stuck Orange City one day while he was at work. His wife, Joleen, who was his girlfriend at the time, had convinced him to drive his car to work as the weather was going to turn nasty.
The forecast was right. Not that it helped Haselhoff.
"The windchill was 50-degrees below zero that day," Haselhoff remembered. "After work, my car wouldn't start."
Haselhoff walked home that day, ill-prepared for the plummeting temperatures and wind chills.
"The moral of the story: Ride the bike," Haselhoff said.