If there’s any tent that would be unrecognizable to the first generation of RAGBRAI pedalers, it hails from Council Bluffs and plops down daily in the center of each meetup town.
Look for the big white flag bearing colorful script that may resemble your web homepage.
That’s team Google, pedaling across Iowa for the third consecutive year while providing what many riders today call a basic necessity after food and water: smartphone juice.
All it takes is a mini gas generator, one 8-foot collapsible table and a web of colorful cords and USB outlets. Team Google provides it free of charge, typically from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., and the riders come running.
“When I go from town to town, I always look for the Google tent now,” said Jim Schneider, of Rosemount, Minn., beneath the shade of the Goggle tent in Vinton Thursday afternoon.
“Without this, we’re losing contact with our teams, friends and family.”
The only struggle now is when absent minded riders get separated from their phone. So far two people this week left their phone at the charging station. The team successfully reunited one of those phones with its owner but is still looking for the second.
Team Google’s setup can charge up to 72 phones at a time. On a typical day they feed roughly 2,500 phones – based on a half-day count earlier this week that exceeded 1,500.
“We do this as a company event and community outreach,” said Eric Soballe, an employee at Google’s data center in Council Bluffs.
The station provides all the cords for riders, with charger adapters for iPhones, Androids and Garmin accessories. Two years ago they also offered WiFi via satellite.
That idea got scrapped after some technical issues and a spotty, overloaded signal.
The crew typically includes 15 cyclists who work for Google in Council Bluffs. And this year they even added an ambitious roller blader, Thomas Blooming, who is skating his way across Iowa.
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