Why you should care

Because it’s not just about tacos.

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Frankly, it had been a long day. Life’s professional and personal pangs wore on me, the ache in my back a physical manifestation of my internal anxiety. The last thing I wanted to do was strap up my laces, toss on a helmet and start a 10-mile bike ride through the woods. But there are things greater than ourselves, those motivating forces that cause us to search deep within, find the strength to smile and force ourselves to carry on. In this particular moment, mine was simple: tacos.

Tacoride 6

The ride is mostly flat, which makes it easier on the legs and easier to take long looks at the rural Iowa scenery.

Source Maura Friedman for OZY

Yes, tacos — cheesy, meaty, tasty tacos. And I wasn’t alone in my dreams of ground beef bliss. Dozens of bikers rode beside me, hundreds in the course of a few hours, as part of the Thursday Night Taco Ride. The mostly flat, forested course takes cyclists from the city limits of Council Bluffs to the rural farming outpost of Mineola, where Tobey Jack’s Steakhouse offers deals on tacos and margaritas. Along the way, what is billed as a simple bike ride becomes a journey that, as much as any self-guided tour, provides a peek at the varied nature of Iowa.

It starts at the Wabash Trace Nature Trail, where volunteers from the Southwest Nature Trails Association take your $1 trail fee and helpfully fill up your tires if they look flat. I enter the woods quickly, wheels softly popping up and down against the dirt surface as light shoots like arrows through leafy openings. At one point, the bushes rustle with dancing squirrels. The air smells of flowers, cut grass and, yes, manure, especially when clearings give way to rolling cornfields and farmlands. The soundtrack of my ride is on constant shuffle: Rustic quiet is punctuated by the tunes of Jackson Browne, and then moments later, Metallica, playing from the portable radios of bikers passing by.

The sight reminds me of childhood hikes in the Georgia mountain country. I can breathe, for a moment, a little easier.

About halfway through, I find myself at a bustling enclave, where dozens of riders relax and enjoy a stop in the foliage. It’s as social a gathering as any happy hour. And suddenly I start to feel my stress fade, soothing myself beneath the sloping Iowa hills. Adult beverages pop open and the song “Big Green Tractor” plays. The sight reminds me of childhood hikes in the Georgia mountain country. I can breathe, for a moment, a little easier.

The rest of the trip goes by quickly, a true blur. Motivated by margaritas, I know by the time I pass a street sign that simply says “Sloshed” that I’m well on my way to getting there. The trees disappear, and cornstalks hug my hip along the final stretch as the sun dips on the horizon behind me. One final bend, off the path and onto a paved street, and I arrive in Mineola — and, with a companion, promptly partake in Tobey Jack’s Taco Ride deal: seven tacos and a margarita pitcher for $25.

Tacoride 8

The tacos aren’t the best you’re ever going to have. But the experience of getting there might be a contender.

Source Maura Friedman for OZY

To be honest, the tacos themselves — with store-bought shredded cheese and questionably “fresh” lettuce — were disappointing, as is often the case with things we believe will take away all our troubles. But I sat there, watching the hum of community as a band sang “Life is good today” from the Zac Brown Band song “Toes,” comforted to remember that mistakes can always be corrected, and that the destination isn’t as important as the journey. Next time, I’ll order the hot wings.

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If you’d want to drink it, eat it, wear it, ride it, drive it; if it’d be cool to see, listen to or do, we’re writing about it.