A weeklong bicycle tour can either be a relaxing and joyous experience or a test of patience and endurance. In large measure, it depends on how you prepare.
Physical training is essential. If you are planning a weeklong, 500-mile tour, you ought to be capable of riding close to a 100-mile day through the type of terrain you expect to encounter. Do not train exclusively on flats if you intend to ride mountains.
Yet there is more to preparation than simply logging miles. If you must ship your bike in a box, for example, it's smart to learn the art of packing it before 3 a.m. the night before you leave.
Also, on a large ride, don't take luggage that looks like everyone else's. There are few things worse than completing a grueling day only to spend an hour searching for a green duffel bag that bears an inconvenient resemblance to 7,000 other green duffels being offloaded from the transport truck.
If food service isn't catered, take plenty of money. You'll eat more than you plan, and you might want to treat yourself to special dinners.
Ride defensively and wear a helmet while you're touring. Most tour directors work hard to keep as far away from traffic as possible, but riding with a large pack of other riders can itself be dangerous.
RAGBRAI, for example, has experienced innumerable crashes, with injuries ranging from scrapes (in macho-cyclist terms: "road rash") to broken bones. One crash was fatal.
Traffic can also be an issue. A few years ago, a rider was killed by a logging truck on an Arizona ride. Some rides--particularly those in the West--spend much of their time on highways. If you aren't comfortable with traffic, ask the tour director about route conditions before committing yourself to the event.
That doesn't mean, however, that bicycle touring is necessarily dangerous. Because of its massive size, RAGBRAI probably provides useful statistical information. It has had five fatalities in 17 years. Two were heart attacks. Two were drownings. Only one was a cycling accident.
This means that the RAGBRAI death rate is considerably lower than the national average for a randomly chosen group of 7,500 people.
So if you go, have fun. Whatever tour you take, you can be assured of three things: camaraderie, the enthusiasm of the local populace and, perhaps most importantly, an experience you can brag about. What more could you ask?