By Mick Elmore
The couple had signed up for the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) as part of their extended bicycle journey across the continental United States.
“It’s awesome,” said Sasila about the huge event. “This is about how people love to do the same thing. Everybody is so happy,” adding that people don’t mind the long lines for food in the small towns along the way because there is a healthy camaraderie among the cyclists.
After the week-long 725 km ride through the corn and soybeans of Iowa the couple continued east with plans to complete their trip on Coney Island in New York later this year. Their cross-country ride will be more than 5,000 km by the time they reach the Atlantic Ocean.
They timed the cross-country trip to join RAGBRAI the last week of July. “It worked out well,” Pochara said.
Although it is “the longest, largest and oldest recreational bicycle touring event in the world,” according to the Register’s officials, the event comes from humble beginnings.
In 1973 Des Moines Register writers John Karras and Don Kaul and Public Relations Director Don Benson invited the public to join them across the state and 114 riders completed it that first year. Public demand brought it back in 1974 and since then only 2020 had no ride when it was canceled due to Covid-19.
This year, though, international participation was way down because the pandemic made travel to the event difficult.
Pochara and Sasila were already in America so joining was not an issue. And for them RAGBRAI was only one week in a journey lasting months. It almost didn’t happen, though, because you can’t ride without a bike.
“We only got the bikes last year during the pandemic. We bought the last two at a small shop in California,” said Sasila.
Being Thai has been a good thing in America. “Everybody loves Thailand so much. They see our flag and say, “‘Oh you’re from Thailand, we love your country so much, it is so beautiful,’ and they all want to know more,” said Sasila.
Married for seven years, the couple have a lot of traveling experience together, including six months driving a van from San Francisco to Alaska.
Both originally from Bangkok, Pochara and Sasila have known each other for 20 years going back to when they were 12. Pochara moved to America when he was 15 and continued school in the US, graduating from Northern Kentucky University. The couple would always reconnect when he visited Thailand in the summers.
“We were friends since middle school and high school then one day he called me and asked ‘Hey, do you want to go shopping?”” Sasila said.
Sasila graduated from Kasetsart University and went to work for Facebook while Pochara was a software engineer at Apple in California. But he quit after a few years to hike five months along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that snakes 4,265 km through California, Oregon, and Washington.
“That was a turning point in my life while trying to figure what I wanted to do,” he said.
“I wanted to experience similar things,” said Salisa, whose contract ended at Facebook about the time he finished the PCT so they could “make a long trip.” That’s when they got the van and spent six months on the road from San Francisco to Alaska.
Now traveling is in their blood. “Doing the same thing that we love together is awesome,” they say