Fly over Iowa's 30 million acres, and you'll see it: the grid.

Like most Midwestern states, Iowa at the time of pioneer settlement was mapped into 36-square-miletownships, and the townships into 1-square-mile sections.

In Iowa, those aren't just lines on a map. Across huge, rural swaths of the state, roads outline those boundaries, a network that gives farmers a dependable way to move their equipment from field to field and transport their harvest to market.

Most of those roads— nearly 70,000 miles of them, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation— are gravel.

Along those lightly traveled yet often well-maintained byways unfoldvistas of green fields, pastures full of cattle, scenic old barns and farmhouses, crimson sunrises and sunsets, and, increasingly, groups of riders on bikes specially equipped to navigate gravel surfaces.


The growth of gravel riding is reflected in the format of this year's Register's Annual Great BicycleRide Across Iowa. This year, for those who choose it, the third day of the weeklong ride will feature a 70-mile alternative route, 50 miles of it on those unpaved farm roads. The RAGBRAI staff and other participants will christen it during their annual pre-ride of theJuly 25-31 course, beginning Sunday.

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