BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – It was colorful, musical, pickle-al, and sometimes emotional, but a full day of road blocks and riders seven and eight abreast made their way through Lee County Friday evening and most of the day Saturday.
In the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa’s first ever double stop on the Mississippi, riders headed from their overnight stay throughout open areas in Burlington including such tent cities as Southeastern Community College, Edward Stone Elementary, other schools, churches, and even private residences, back through Geode State Park and into Lee County from the north.
The ride was founded in 1973 by Des Moines Register columnists Donald Kaul and John Karras, and the annual bike ride attracts 10,000 participants from across the country.
Riders sporting funky helmets and funny team names raced, while some meandered, into the county through Denmark, down to West Point, then on to Franklin, Donnellson, Montrose, and finally Keokuk for the Biggest Dam Dip on the Mississip.
Kelly Powers, of Des Moines, stopped for a quick break and cellphone call at the corner of 180th Street (J48) and Hwy. 103 (J40) as the rest of the horde made the right turn with the help of Lee County’s finest and headed to West Point.
Powers, who lives in Colorado and has a home in Des Moines, said it was his third RAGBRAI run in the past four years and said the weather was great, but he didn’t understand the backtracking on the last day.
“I was kind of bummed out that we had to back track through the state park. I didn’t really get that, but other than that, the weather’s been great and the town’s have been great,” he said.
Powers said Day 3 was his favorite with a 39-mile run that went through Cumming.
“That was probably my favorite stop on the trip so far,” the 57-year-old member of “Team Roasted Butts” said. The Cumming town really pulled out all the stops.”
Riders managed the up and down hills just east of West Point and then were welcomed to the 2.5 story Mt. RAGBRAI on Avenue D on the square where food, beer and other vendors peppered the town square.
One of the vendors had a line of about 50 cyclists lined up for organic fruit smoothies at Solar Smoothies. The New Mexico firm follows RAGBRAI every year providing the cold refreshers.
“Our boss has been doing this for about 20 years and has built a nice reputation for himself with the ride,” said Aidan Link, who was one of three trying to keep up with the line.
“It’s an organic fruit fusion smoothie and some want the whey protein for the ride.”
Patty Barry, from Dubuque, hiked up to the top of Mt. RAGBRAI and hoisted her bike to the cheers of those below the mountain of bikes built around a staircase to the top.
Barry said this is her fifth ride in more than two decades.
“It’s actually a very similar route to my first ride 21 years ago…and you know what.. my times are better this time around,” Barry said with a laugh.
She said her group didn’t get to experience much of the Burlington offerings Friday night as they were one of the last groups to get into town and most of the vendors shut down.
“We stayed out by the mall and took the shuttle downtown, but everything was pretty much closed down except for the band. But they were good.”
She said the seven days featured some pretty decent weather, but she said the wind was a struggle at times and day one was pretty wet.
Scott Nall, of St. Louis, a 26-year veteran with the United States Air Force stopped and had a quiet moment reading names at the Freedom Rock memorial on the south side of the square.
Nall agreed the first day was 62 miles of rain, so riders earned the relatively mild weather the last six days.
“Yeah we kinda paid for the rest of the trip that first day,” he said.
Nall was riding with a group from South Padre Island and said they were also a little frustrated with running back through the park on the second day.
“The route was transparent, but I just don’t know why we had to go all the way through that park again…it was excruciating,” he said.
After leaving West Point on Hwy. 103 riders turned south on 220th Avenue (J56) for a pit stop in Franklin before heading down to Hwy. 2 and then west to experience the Small Town Big Dill of Donnellson.
On the way, Adam, Julie and Kathy Hohl had a slough of riders pull over at Harvestville Farms and had a plethora of delights ready for the thousands of new guests.
Donnellson was the meet up town on the 7th day where riders and support teams hooked up prior to the final stretch through Montrose and onto Keokuk.
Riders were treated to everything from pizza to smoothies, ice cream, and sandwiches with no buns, just a dill pickle sliced in half. Chicken salad, bacon cheeseburgers, hamburgers, brats, and even pickle-speared bloody marys.
The Michael Burke Foundation had an angel wing board that riders could sign and Greg Foran from East Hartford, Conn. put a message on the board in support of the group.
Foran was on his first ever RAGBRAI with his wife, Evelyn, who was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
“The people who discovered that have a team on the ride and they say riding a bike can help with the symptoms, so we heard about this ride and came to Iowa,” he said.
“She made the whole run with us, all six days, but she just couldn’t do the last day so she’s in Keokuk waiting for me. I call her my Yellow Rose of Iowa.”
Foran said, with most of the adventure in the side mirror, the RAGBRAI ride lived up to the hype.
“It’s everything I heard it was and it’s certainly lived up to its reputation.”
Riders took a deep breath and headed down Main Street to old Hwy. 218 and southeast to Montrose, where the riverfront was waiting with historical presentations, about 800 lbs. of pulled pork, hot dogs and brats, lemonade, and entertainment before the last leg up River Road into Keokuk where they dipped their tires into the river at Victory Park.
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber, who had deputies at every turn and on county roads said the day was mishap free for the most part.
“Just a few wrecks,” he said. “I had to bandage one fella up myself. We had kits with us for this type of injury.”