Sat, Mar 8, 2014 | by RAGBRAIShare
Day 1: Rock Valley to Okoboji
Rock Valley is a pleasant town of 3,354 in Sioux County, which you may have heard is ordered and well-mannered countryside. Folks there even call it “square.” Relax. They’re talking about the wide streets laid out in squares, easy to pedal around without getting lost. Once all RAGBRAI breaks out, they say it will be anything but square.
The great thing about northwest Iowa is there’s so much to find out that you never knew, and once you pedal on from Rock Valley to Hull,you’ll be surprised to know it’s the home of the Foreign Candy Company, it of great international confections sent all over the world, including Rips and Eiffel Bon Bons. You’re in luck, riders. They have a retail outlet store right in town.
After cooling off in Boyden’s Centennial Park water park, you’ll hit another unknown gem of local history. It’s in Melvin, where they are still celebrating a strange visitor, and it’s not you on your old Schwinn. A moose. He came here in 1990 and people swarmed to Melvin to see it. So they decided to have annual Moose Days, which they still celebrate. They know how to party, folks.
Then it’s time to shed the antlers and cut loose. What better way to end day one than in Iowa’s summer vacation capital of Okoboji,home to a deep and clear chain of glacial lakes. This place was carved out to party. Down on the green space by the lakeside Arnold’s Park Amusement Park, an Iowa favorite, Hairball, will be hammering out what’s always a RAGBRAI favorite — classic rock. It will be easy to get around because you can pedal around all the lakes on the 25-mile Iowa Great Lakes Trail.
Day 2: Okoboji to Emmetsburg
This short 40.8-mile day is made for lingering over the quirks, history and old-timey charm that riders have come to love.
In Graettinger, you can get off your cellphone for a minute and stop by the River Valley Telecommunication building on Robins Street and see the display of an old hand-operated switchboard and wonder how the ancients ever talked to each other. But history is a treat not just of the mind. Just down the street is a small popcorn stand that has long been located in town, cranking out popcorn with the same, original old popper for decades. If you eat popcorn from western Iowa, you are now part of its rich corn history.
The town also claims this, which we’re sure has to be confirmed by RAGBRAI veterans and a team of statisticians: The most bars per capita in Iowa.
Speaking of the Irish, Emmetsburg was a nice place for them to settle back in 1858 along the Des Moines River before they realized it flooded and moved the town down by the lake. Now they wear green and holler a lot in March. All that blarney will be trotted out again for an Irish-themed celebration centered on a three-block stretch from downtown to the edge of Five Island Lake, which has been transformed from a silt-filled lake to sparkling waters after several years of dredging. Wear your green jerseys and listen to a band at the lakeside park, or take a shuttle out to the Wild Rose Casino. Or just sit in Dublin’s Food and Spirits and talk funny.
Day 3: Emmetsburg to Forest City
Tuesday morning’s throng that wheels out of Emmetsburg should leave enough appetite for a second breakfast 21 miles down the road inRingsted. City clerk Cathy Wikert hinted that her town’s menu would feature aebleskiver (small, puffy Danish pancakes).
The day’s meeting town, Bancroft, will serve as a homecoming of sorts for its native son and famed RAGBRAI food vendor “Mr. Pork Chop.” The elder Chop, 85-year-old Paul Bernhard, can bask in his celebrity without having to stray far from the local nursing home where he has been on the long mend after suffering a broken hip. Meanwhile, his son, Matt, who has taken over the family business, will park the signature pink school bus downtown in the vicinity of Main Street Pub & Grill.
Titonka’s community groups will dish food out of the local EMS building. But this two-bar, one-grocery town also hopes that RAGBRAI might help sell its soon-to-be-vacant school building that was expanded and refurbished as recently as 2007, before students were absorbed into the Algona district.
Todd Schwartz, executive vice president of the local bank and a RAGBRAI rider for the last decade with the Bode Bunch team, said Titonka hopes “to route the riders past the school building, and so if there’s anyone, if there’s a business person looking for some place to expand — take a look.”
The “Karras Loop” named after RAGBRAI co-founder John Karras adds some 28 miles to Tuesday’s ride, pushing it past the 100-mile “century” mark. Those who pedal the distance get to visit two extra towns: Burt will open its local pool to let riders take a dip. The summer sport of choice here is the “toilet toss”: Men compete to heave an entire toilet bowl as far as possible, while the ladies can opt to throw just the rectangular lid (dubbed the “tank top toss”).
The second loop town, Lone Rock, is the self-proclaimed “neatest little town in Iowa,” Photo opportunity: The 175-ton solitary boulder that gave Lone Rock its name was blasted into four pieces 40 years ago and reassembled at the southwest corner of town.
Riders will roll through Crystal Lake (home of the world’s largest, 12-foot bullhead (another photo opportunity) on the way to Forest Cityfor the night, where they’re likely to encounter hundreds of RVs that have lingered in the wake of Winnebago Industries’ Grand National Rally held the previous week. More than 1,400 RVs are expected in this town situated near Pilot Knob State Park that also has played host to three previous RAGBRAIs.
Day 4: Forest City to Mason City
Wednesday’s trek is the second-shortest of the week at barely more than 41 miles. In the wake of Okoboji it will rate another amphibious day for riders with plenty of lake action.
Ventura is a resort suburb of sorts to Clear Lake with only about 700 residents at the water’s northwest edge. But its per-capita stock of beer and ice cream is impressive.
Try to get past this: Sugar & Slice dishes hard-pack ice cream while, just across the street, the Viking Drive-Inn dollops soft-serve.
Meanwhile, Sugar & Slice, Colony Inn, Kim’s Bar and the Muskie Lounge (with all-you-can-eat walleye and a beer garden) are likely to turn on the taps for RAGBRAI riders looking to enjoy a splash besides lake water.
Ventura city clerk Else Taylor added that the local firemen are contemplating creating a mud pit or some other quirky roadside attraction.
After Ventura, RAGBRAI will flock to the sandy beaches of the 13-square-mile Clear Lake that welcomed riders for a dip as recently as 2010.
The historic Surf Ballroom not far from shore, the site of Buddy Holly’s final concert in 1959 that endures as both a venue and museum, will open its doors even if all the music and entertainment is staged outdoors downtown.
Mason City has not played host to RAGBRAI since 1985. Regardless of whether a gauntlet of 76 trombones blares to greet riders in Meredith “Music Man” Willson’s birthplace, RAGBRAI Nation will find a transformed downtown. The heart of Cerro Gordo County boasts 10 bars and restaurants (including Mason City Brewing), an indoor shopping mall (for convenient escape into air conditioning), museums and the historic, renovated Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Park Inn Hotel (sorry, already booked). East Park along the Winnebago River offers green space and a historic locomotive for children to crawl on.
Jodee O’Brien, executive director of Main Street Mason City and the maestro of local RAGBRAI prep, envisions a “New Orleans-style” downtown celebration — not Mardis Gras in July, but a relaxed and varied summer celebration worthy of the long wait.
Day 5: Mason City to Waverly
Riders can rest their weary bones where older bones have been resting for a long time: at the Fossil and Prairie Park Preserve and Center just outside of Rockford. The former clay quarry was a popular RAGBRAI stop in 2010, when riders scoured the dirt for clam (pelecypod) and snail (gastropod) fossils from the Devonian Period. The souvenirs from Iowa’s soggy prehistory are free for the taking.
The geology lesson continues in Marble Rock, so named for the area’s marble-like limestone. The river that cut through it, the Shell Rock, is a popular route for canoeists and kayakers, who paddle by the town’s old brick powerhouse and picnic-worthy park.
On down the road, Greene has a riverside spot of its own, Perrin Park, with a bandstand and stone walkways and lawns as green as parsley. Pick up a cinnamon roll from Clayton’s Bakery and plop right down for a snack.
Tired of biking? Take the last train to Clarksville.
City clerk Larry Betts blasted that song from the roof of city hall the last time RAGBRAI rolled through, but he may not again.
“I got too much of the Monkees that day,” he said.
If you’re hungry, stop by Pete & Shorty’s, which inspired the Hooters restaurant chain.
“It’s kind of like the family version of that restaurant, if you know what I mean,” Betts said.
But save some room for dessert: Waverly sits in the so-called “dairy spot of Iowa” and is home to a Nestle distribution center, housed in a 1923 plant formerly owned by Carnation. Besides that, the Bremer County seat of almost 10,000 has a thriving downtown district right next to Wartburg College.
Day 6: Waverly to Independence
The route zigzags northeast toward Tripoli (pronounced trih-PO-la, by the way) and then curves past the Sweet Marsh Wildlife Management Area, a refuge for deer, doves and various waterfowl.
It’s wet, sure, but riders who want to make a splash should pedal on toSumner, which built a popular aquatic center a few years ago.
The route from Oelwein to unincorporated Otterville runs south along the Fairbank-Amish Boulevard in Buchanan County, home to some 800 of the state’s 7,000 Amish. Horse-drawn buggies and humongous gardens are signs of the Old Order settlement, which produces high-quality quilts, furniture and the sorts of baked goods that were invented before the discovery of cholesterol.
Riders will end the day in Independence, which last hosted the ride in 2007 and is best remembered for its five-story flour mill on the banks of the Wapsipincon River. The town of 6,000 proudly claims a historic opera house and an old kite-shaped horse track, which was joined in more recent years by the 3⁄8-mile oval Indepence Motor Speedway. The speedway hosts late-model and sprint-car races each week throughout the summer.
Day 7: Independence to Guttenberg
And now: The hills. The final day’s 3,000-foot climb is just about twice as high as most of the previous days. So if riders didn’t know why the state’s northeast calls itself “Little Switzerland,” well, they will soon.
The final 68 miles toward the Mississippi River meander throughWinthrop, “the friendliest town for miles around,” and tiny Lamont(which makes no such claim).
In Strawberry Point, riders can see the state’s largest (Fiberglas) strawberry and sample all of the town’s namesake goodies — jam, pie, ice cream, you name it.
They’ll burn off the calories on the way to the rodeo town Edgewood, which straddles Clayton and Delaware counties. And it’s up, up from there to Elkport (population: 37) and Garber (population: 88) on the final climb and swift descent to the Mississippi River.
Guttenberg has welcomed riders four times before, most recently in 2005, and knows how to do it right. Visitors can grab a beer or bratwurst, the German town’s specialty. They can see a facsimile of the (one “t”) Gutenberg Bible at the library. They can see catfish at the Guttenberg Aquarium or catch a few of their own along the two-mile riverwalk.
And whenever they’re good and ready, they can load up their bikes and bags and head home. RAGBRAI XLIII starts on July 19, 2015.
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Look back on the ride of 2014 in this video highlight reel.
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