Thu, Jul 28, 2011 | by Kyle MunsonShare
Madrid, Ia. — No, you didn’t read the dateline wrong. Madrid wasn’t on this year’s official RAGBRAI route marked with the obvious, blazing red signs with black arrows to point the way.
But it might as well have been. The “official unofficial” RAGBRAI detour Wednesday wound through here along the High Trestle Trail on the way to the midway stop in Slater.
The tiny town of Luther along Iowa Highway 17 was a key turning point: Instead of heading east, some riders streamed back west to snake down toward Woodward and then cross the spectacular 13-stories-high, half-mile-long river bridge that opened in April. Others made a beeline south straight to Madrid and the trailside Flat Tire Lounge.
“Oh, man, I don’t know if I could even put a number on it,” said Capt. Randy Pecenka of the Madrid Fire Department. He took his post along the trail in Madrid starting at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday and said the flow of bikes remained thick and continuous into the early afternoon.
“Unofficially they had it set up pretty good,” said a member of team K’moniwannaleiya — I think I can print that — who preferred to remain anonymous among the raucous scene at Flat Tire.
This team apparently has such a debauched good time during RAGBRAI that Jeremy Schulte, the captain from Lake View, Ia., on his seventh ride, was one of the few to divulge his name.
I asked whether Schulte’s bus-supported team of 28 riders made elaborate plans far in advance to deviate from Wednesday’s course and into Madrid.
“We kind of just go by ear,” Schulte said. Translation: The decision was made at the last minute Wednesday morning shortly before the key turned in the ignition of the garish marine blue, customized school bus.
The Flat Tire opened June 4 in the wake of the new bridge and a surge in two-wheel traffic along the 25-mile trail. The bar’s general manager, Mandy Diederick, said that she stocked up on enough beer for 5,000 RAGBRAI riders and wannabes. The Technicolor spandex scene was shoulder-to-shoulder inside the 1,800-square-foot silver Quonset hut that makes up the main barroom, while more riders tossed bags and chit-chatted in the outdoor beer garden.
A local foundation even provided valet parking for bicycles as part of its campaign to fund a new all-weather track for Madrid’s high school, since the boys’ Class 1-A team has won five of the last 11 state championships despite its cinder running surface. (If RAGBRAI bicyclists can appreciate anything, it’s the need for a smoothly paved road.)
So this is what happens when RAGBRAI strikes anywhere close to the Des Moines metro: Extra throngs lacking wristbands join the 10,000 registered riders, and everybody colors outside the lines.
I also crossed paths Wednesday in Slater with a certain couple who actually remained on the official route: Chuck and Carla Offenburger.
Of course, Chuck is the iconic “Iowa Boy,” the former Iowa columnist who first embarked on RAGBRAI in 1983 after co-founder Donald Kaul bowed out.
The Offenburgers haven’t ridden RAGBRAI since 2007. Chuck was diagnosed in 2009 with non-Hodgkin’s follicular lymphoma, then last year received a second intensive round of chemo and a stem cell transplant in a fresh battle against large-cell lymphoma.
Also last year, adenoid cystic carcinoma was discovered in a tumor removed from Carla’s jaw.
So the Offenburgers were simply happy to ride this year’s route on Tuesday and Wednesday as middle-of-the-pack cyclists far behind the early-morning “rabbits.”
“Everybody’s younger, but I think that has more to do with me,” Chuck quipped when I asked what about RAGBRAI had changed the most since the early 1980s.
Although feeling good, the couple did consent to walk up half the hill into Pilot Mound on Tuesday.
While bicycling Wednesday morning along County Road E57, Carla also realized that it had been last year’s Wednesday of RAGBRAI when she and Chuck drove along that same route by car to Ames for her final radiation treatment. So she ate an extra burrito to commemorate just being alive — which to me seems like the perfect RAGBRAI style of celebration.
Chuck mused that RAGBRAI was good preparation for covering the Gulf War in the early 1990s: Both events were really huge, really confusing, and everybody involved wanted to talk.
I always turn to Chuck for sage columnist advice. And the RAGBRAI route itself definitely was confusing Wednesday.