Parkersburg, Ia. – I’ll keep this simple and explain that there were two reasons I wanted to catch up with Stephen Greenwood on the fourth day of RAGBRAI.
Reason No. 1: This first-time rider learned about RAGBRAI thanks to a joke he happened to hear in a comedy club in New York City’s East Village. This struck me as a peculiar way for anybody to find themselves sweating on a bike seat in the middle of cornfields in July.
Greenwood, 29, sat in a comedy club in March when one of the comedians on the bill happened to unleash a joke about Des Moines. That inspired two women sitting next to Greenwood to yell, “Woo!” They hailed from Iowa.
Greenwood, a coastal dweller, felt compelled to ask the women at the end of the night what Iowa really was like. Is there anything cool to do there?
“Both of them leaned over and go, ‘Have you heard about RAGBRAI?’” he said.
It’s a bike ride across Iowa, the women explained, but everybody likes to have fun along the way.
Greenwood was intrigued. An adventurous sort, he already had driven across Mongolia in an ambulance in the Mongol Rally, an epic team road race. The UCLA film school grad also has worked in Tanzania and Hong Kong.
The day before registration deadline, he decided to take the plunge and signed up for RAGBRAI.
In his transition from New York (where he worked for Vox Media) back to his native California (where he now works for reddit), he leveraged his suddenly-more-serious bicycle hobby to explore his new home of San Francisco.
Then he shipped his bike to Iowa, traveled here alone and has spent the week meeting fellow riders.
Reason No. 2: Greenwood is creative director of video for reddit, an online bulletin board of sorts and social media platform with about 175 million registered users.
In the words of another “redditor” on RAGBRAI, Taylor “vorbion” Huges from Los Angeles, it’s “a lot of obscure stuff you would never find anywhere else, all aggregated in one place.”
Hmm: That sounds a little like RAGBRAI.
Greenwood, who goes by spgreenwood on reddit, helps create video for the company’s AMA (Ask Me Anything) sessions. He wondered how he might connect with fellow redditors this week. Hughes suggested some sort of meetup.
So a gaggle of them met at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Matt’s Bar and Grill on the edge of Parkersburg.
Michelle “mashcat” Ciesielski from Arkansas also joined as they discussed some of their favorite “subreddits,” the term for different threads of conversation devoted to a particular topic (such as RAGBRAI).
There’s “gggggg,” devoted to nothing but pictures of the letter “g.”
And “blep,” devoted to photos of cats sticking out their tongue.
Still more: “ofcoursethatsathing,” “pigeondrawings” and “anormaldayinrussia.”
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that RAGBRAI and reddit have plenty in common. You can immerse yourself in either one and quickly get lost down some strange wormhole.
Good thing, then, that Greenwood is contemplating bringing a full-blown reddit team to next year’s ride.
That’s no joke.
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