Imagine sitting through a severe thunderstorm huddled up in a RV after biking 90 miles in 100-degree heat with headwinds of 30 mph.

Sounds like a tough day … maybe worse than football two-a-day practices.

But for Brown head coach football coach Phil Estes, and his team, the Angry Bears, it was just another day of an adversity-filled week participating in the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). 

We thought with what he is going through with the thyroid cancer, we could probably create more awareness about thyroid cancer and honor Bill Perry with this ride.
-- Brown head coach Phil Estes

Three years ago, Estes underwent hip surgery and needed a new way to stay fit that would be easy on his hip. He found cycling was the answer for both. 

And, when Estes heard about RAGBRAI, the seven-day ride across Iowa – the largest and longest bicycle touring event in the world -- became a challenge.

“When I saw this race, I kind of got obsessed with the whole thing – riding across Iowa,” Estes said. “I was born in Cedar Rapids, and by chance the route is going through my hometown.”

Estes enlisted his wife Kate, Brown defensive coordinator Mike Kelleher and wife Betsy, and formed “Team Angry Bears.” Estes’ daughter Meaghan and son Brett, and Meaghan’s boyfriend Jeff are accompanying the foursome as the team’s road crew – driving the RV from stop to stop and setting up camp. 

“I don’t know how excited they were at first, but my enthusiasm got us all excited about it,” Estes said. 

The foursome started training in the fall, and then intensified workouts with spinning classes in the winter. Leading up to the RAGBRAI, they were logging 40 to 60 miles a day on their bikes. Estes would sometimes leave his home at 5 a.m. and bike the 24-mile trip to Brown in Providence, and return home the same way.

In addition to the personal goal Estes wanted to fulfill, Team Angry Bears is also riding in honor of former Brown football player Bill Perry (’88) and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Perry, who Brown football’s annual defensive lineman award is named for, is battling thyroid cancer and the team wanted to bring awareness to the underfunded, lesser-known cancer. The Angry Bears have raised over $30,000 for the cause.

“We also wanted to connect our team with something to help out or fundraise for someone,” Estes said. “Bill Perry is a great family man, and he and his family have been very supportive of the university and football program. We thought with what he is going through with the thyroid cancer, we could probably create more awareness about thyroid cancer and honor Bill Perry with this ride.”

And while the team had read about RAGBRAI and trained on their bikes, Estes says the experience has been like no other. 

“It’s crazy,” Estes said. “There are 10,000 people. It’s amazing to wake up at 4 a.m., and just see bikes leaving and this trail of red lights going off into the distance.”

During the week-long event which ended on July 28, the Angry Bears encountered a diverse group of riders, who come from as far as France, and Alaska. 


RAGBRAI is a bicycle ride, not a race. It started in 1973 as a six-day ride across the state of Iowa by two Des Moines Register columnists who invited a few friends along. It is held the last full week in July. RAGBRAI is planned and coordinated by the Des Moines Register, and riders who participate in RAGBRAI know they do so at their own risk.

Learn more about RAGBRAI

“They come from everywhere,” Estes said. “There are people that have been doing this for years, and if you’re a 'newbie', you’re supposed to put 'virgin' on your leg so everyone knows it is your first RAGBRAI.

The daily rides are broken up into 8 to 10-mile segments with stops for refreshments and meet and greets in the towns along the route. The locals offer hospitality and pie for the riders looking for a breather.

But rest was hard to come by during the 471-mile journey between the heat and the strong headwinds. 

“This has been more intense than double football practice sessions in college, and it has really tested our will to get up each morning and say let’s do it again, especially in this heat,” Estes said.

“I kept imagining what our players go through when their legs are sore and they are tired and they have to get up early and do it another day.  They don’t see the end in sight until they get to game day.”

Estes and Kelleher are definitely planning on using their RAGBRAI experience as a teaching tool for their football team this season. 

“They will hear every bit of it,” Estes said. “There are so many things that I learned about myself, about my wife and Mike and Betsy, and all trying to get along. I think there are a lot of things the players can relate to in persevering, getting through the hard times and relying on each other as a team.”