Thu, Jul 26, 2012 | by Grant RodgersShare
CEDAR RAPIDS, Ia. — Thursday night’s biggest cheers? They weren’t for the governor, or for RAGBRAI co-founder John Karras, or the ride itself, and maybe not even for the main attraction, the rock band Counting Crows.
The ovation that stood out was for “Mr. Pork Chop,” Paul Bernhard, a 25-year fixture on the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across who retired a few years ago from serving up his chops, delivering his pork chop call and driving his pink pig school bus.
This is the 40th RAGBRAI, and Bernhard was one of 11 local celebrities to offer congratulations in a video played before the concert.
The crowd saw footage from a 1974 documentary about the second cross-state bicycle ride and heard from coaches, senators and Le Claire resident Mike Wolfe of the History channel reality show “American Pickers,” who said he rode RAGBRAI in 1981 and “didn’t have things back then like Lycra shorts and carbon fiber.”
Professional golfer Zach Johnson, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, poked fun at himself: “I’m not a real athlete. … My bike usually is very stationary.”
The video’s final message was from the ride’s other co-founder, columnist and Des Moines Register alumnus Donald Kaul. He had a heart attack earlier this month and has stopped writing for now.
He recounted yet again the ride’s origin — what he and Karras expected to be a one-time semi-private undertaking with participation in the dozens — and how quickly it became something else.
“It’s become the Olympic games of the ding-a-ling bicycle set,” Kaul said. “I don’t know how it happened.”
Karras appeared on stage, as did eight people who were recognized for participating in all 40 RAGBRAIs, and encouraged riders to “stay upright and hydrate.”
RAGBRAI wasn’t the only reason to celebrate — with the sun going down over the Cedar River, Wisconsinite Bobby Perkins-McIntosh was celebrating his 21st birthday.
The “Happy Birthday” hat he wore to celebrate both birthdays attracted numerous greetings from passers-by. He soaked it up with a smile on his face, enjoying his first legal beer.
“The ID lady was really excited for him as well,” says Lori Adams, 54, his teammate from Ames.
Just four years ago, the area where RAGBRAI riders and locals gathered to celebrate would have been underwater because of devastating flooding, said Mayor Ron Corbett.
Hosting the party is almost a symbolic rebirth for the city, he said. While many riders might not have realized the extent of the damage, being able to host the event downtown is a point of pride for locals, he said.
“We’re back,” he said. “We wanted to show people that we were resilient and we could fight back.”
On the way to Anamosa on Friday, riders can stop for breakfast in the Czech Village and Little Bohemia, two of the areas hardest hit by the flood. That’s another victory, Corbett said.
For riders, not just for the city. Cedar Rapids resident Bill Ingels, 62, said he’s heard more than 5,000 kolaches, a Czech pastry, are awaiting riders.