RAGBRAI XLIV Countdown – July 24-30, 2016
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Thousands dip tires in Mighty Mississippi

FORT MADISON – Thousands of RAGBRAI riders glided into town under a cotton-cloudy sky as locals cheered them toward the Mississippi River. The last obstacle on the 407-mile trek from Council Bluffs was a railroad crossing a block from the riverbank, where bikers bottle-necked as each train chugged past.

But after a week of riding, nobody seemed to mind. The final stretch looped around the city’s namesake fort, built in 1808, and then to the ceremonial tire-dipping site, where throngs of riders posed for photos. It was a proud moment for RAGBRAI veterans and newbies alike.

“I’ve always wanted to do this,” said Jessup, Ia., native Susan Lamos, who teaches at an Air Force base in Germany. “I made a promise to my mom to do it. I finally did.”

Local volunteers, curious onlookers, support drivers – everybody shared in the moment.

“I’ve just been so impressed by the graciousness of Iowans,” said Katharine Danner of Ashland, Ore., who helped drive a support wagon for her West Coast family.

In storm-soaked Perry, where some of her team members abandoned their tent in favor of a hotel, they returned the next day to find their gear – tent, bikes, phones – completely untouched in the park where they’d left them.

“That never would have happened in California,” she said.

Moments like that, multiplied by the tens of thousands, contributed to a remarkably successful ride, with cool weather and the shortest route in the ride’s 41-year history.

Perhaps the gold-clad Elvis – or someone who looked just like him – summed it up best at the riverbank, to the tune of  “Love Me Tender” :

“I love RAGBRAI, yes I do / and now the ride’s complete. / I love my bicycle, yes it’s true / but I feel it in the seat.”

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