Fantastic RAGBRAI documentary “Shift” by the DM Register is a love letter to the state.


Mary solo - CROPPED for header.jpg

DES MOINES, Iowa, May 4, 2023 — I love cinema, and I love being in a theater as the lights go down, the music swells, and the film begins.

I love storytelling.

And I love Iowa.

That’s why I really loved being in the Varsity Cinema for the premiere showing tonight of “Shift: The RABRAI Documentary,” presented by the Des Moines Register.

This 60-minute documentary film has it all, and it’s much more than a story about people riding their bicycles across Iowa. 

We learn the deeply personal stories of seven RAGBRAI participants. 

They include a black woman from Des Moines who wonders how she’ll be accepted while riding through predominantly white rural Iowa; another woman and her 15-year-old son, a young cancer patient, who came from Colorado Springs to ride; and a man from Mobile, Ala., who is overcoming drug addiction and pedals across Iowa with his 10-year-old son.  Also featured are the co-chairs of the RAGBRAI organizing committee in the 2022 finishing town of Lansing in northeast Iowa, two gay men whom the town turned to for leadership in its preparations.    

I was touched by each story, as vulnerability and honesty oozed out of their words. They talked about what brought them to RAGBRAI, and what they took away from it. 

It was a two Kleenex film for me.

The film has stunning scenery. 

And its original music, played and sung by farmer and performer George McGargill of Imogene in southwest Iowa, features a key phrase that is lovingly used throughout. 

Plus, there is a seamless weaving between the personal stories, with a timing that includes just enough of one story before it moves to the next.  It is seamless in its transitions, and the rolling credits at the end pack an extra celebratory punch. 

Most impressive to me, this documentary has heart, and it certainly touched mine! 

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Veteran RAGBRAI’ers Chuck Offenburger, your reviewer Mary Riche, and Carl Voss at the premiere — which featured a red-carpet entry, this photo opportunity and other fun.  Voss is wearing a historic T-shirt from an early RAGBRAI pass through of Beebeetown in western Iowa.

The two co-directors – Courtney Crowder and Kelsey Kremer – deserve all the praise I’m heaping.  

Crowder is the Register’s Iowa Columnist, a senior writer who is also co-founder of the Des Moines Storytellers Project. Kremer is an Emmy Award-winning photojournalist and photo editor for the Register. 

With this documentary, they have created the perfect complement to the hoopla that is part of this rolling folk festival.  We’re told the crowd may grow to 100,000 riders from Ames to Des Moines this July as RAGBRAI celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Of course, I was very interested in how my husband Chuck Offenburger’s comments would be edited for the film, after his extensive interview by Crowder and Kremer months ago.  His long history with RAGBRAI began in its first year in 1973 when, as a young reporter, he helped cover it. His Register colleagues, columnists Donald Kaul and John Karras, were the ride’s co-founders. 

Kaul had a back injury in 1983 that forced him to give up RAGBRAI, and that’s when the Register bosses asked Chuck, who in 1977 had started writing his “Iowa Boy” columns, to become co-host with Karras.  They stuck together from 1983 to 1998.  That’s when Chuck left the Register to teach and free-lance, but he continues riding RAGBRAI “as a paying customer.”

I’ve had experience as a RAGBRAI’er myself, doing parts or all of eight rides.

Chuck is articulate in his appearance in the documentary, talking about the importance of RAGBRAI to Iowa, especially the smaller pass-through towns and overnight host communities. His ease in front of the camera as well as his special “Offenburger style” made for a great appearance, possibly a “best supporting cast member” nomination? (He was that good!) (Yes, I’m biased.) 

I said in starting this review that I love films.  I used to attend an average of 50 to 60 a year, until this romance and marriage to Chuck became part of my reality early last year.  I’ve loved attending the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) numerous times; my friend and I would see premieres, first-run films and lots of documentaries.  During our last trip there, we saw 21 films in eight days.  I’m continuing to see as many films as I can, given our busy schedules.  The theater will always be my first choice for venue, though our living room has become equally enjoyable as we stream films at home. 

I believe this fabulous documentary, “Shift,” is as high quality a film as others I’ve seen in Toronto.

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The newly-renovated Varsity Cinema was packed for the documentary’s premiere on May 4.

See it at the newly renovated and gorgeous Varsity Cinema in Des Moines.  Or catch it on statewide Iowa PBS in July when it airs.  Or see it in other theaters around Iowa as it will soon be on a statewide tour. 

It will get you ready to fully appreciate RAGBRAI “L” when it rolls July 22-29.

Congratulations to Courtney Crowder, Kelsey Kremer and the Des Moines Register for producing “Shift.”  It is a beautiful love letter to Iowa.

You can comment on this column by using the handy form below here, or you can write directly to the columnist by email at

3 thoughts on “Fantastic RAGBRAI documentary “Shift” by the DM Register is a love letter to the state.

  1. What a great review!! I have only been on parts of two rides, but I did camp out with the crowd on the Statehouse grounds one night. One year I visited the Audubon Co Hospital with a severe sunburn, which put quite a damper on future rides. I thought I had put on lots of sunscreen, but I must have sweat buckets. Can’t wait to see this film!! Thanks for writing about it!

    • City - Des Moines
    • State - IA
  2. Hank and I rode RAGBRAI on our tandem in 2018. We plan to be one of 100,000 on the ride from Ames to Des Moines. I’ll be in Iowa May 13-24 so hope I can see the movie in Ames. My ex and I were all set to ride the first ride in 1973 but other circumstances prevailed. Hank has ridden on Ride to the Rockies 12 times up and over 12,000 feet of mountain passes ( a grueling ride of 6 days through cold weather with ice and snow). And what does he get asked? Have you ridden RAGBRAI?

    • City - Salida
    • State - CO
  3. Once again—perfect amount of details for your article, Mary! You are a woman with a wonderful writing style! Blessings to you and Chuck!

    • City - Jamaica
    • State - IA

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