Sat, Jan 21, 2017 | by Lucas GrundmeierShare
After 44 trips east across Iowa, organizers of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa have plenty of nostalgia to draw on – and their plans still manage some novelty, too.
RAGBRAI XLV this July will go where the ride hasn’t overnighted in four decades – into extreme northeast Iowa’s Driftless Area, the sole spot in Iowa missed by glaciers that once covered and flattened out the state. And the ride will begin in Orange City, a first-time overnight host.
The eight overnight towns that will welcome thousands upon thousands of cyclists were announced Saturday night at a RAGBRAI party in downtown Des Moines. The ride runs from July 23 to 29.
Organizers said the 411 miles and 13,078 feet of climb are both the third-easiest totals in RAGBRAI history.
The seven days of cycling, after the initial gathering in Orange City, will take Iowans and visitors from across the country and around the world past acres of fields and through dozens of Iowa towns (the complete route will be announced in March), where they will see local claims to fame, devour meats and desserts and other victuals, and experience hospitality from residents seeing their communities grow fourfold or more in a few hours.
The action is likely to be contained to Iowa’s two northernmost tiers of counties. RAGBRAI will raise the curtain in Sioux County for the ninth time in 45 years, but the starting point is new: Orange City is well to the east of Hawarden (three times) and Rock Valley (once) and southeast of Sioux Center (four times). The Floyd River, which feeds into the Missouri River at Sioux City, runs through nearby Alton. One of Iowa’s Dutch-heritage cities, Orange City hosts a Tulip Festival every May.
The next four overnight towns are RAGBRAI veterans: Spencer, Algona, Clear Lake and Charles City. Recent northern routes in 1999, 2005 and 2010 hit some or all of those spots. Riders can expect to see the Camp Algona Prisoner of War Museum, where Germans were held during World War II, and the famous Surf Ballroom where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper played their final show the night before the Day the Music Died.
Spencer boasts one of the state’s bigger county fairs, with more than 300,000 visitors a year stopping by the Clay County Fair (the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, for comparison, draws a little over 1 million). And Charles City boasts that it’s the birthplace of the gasoline-driven tractor.
INTERACTIVE MAP: See the overnight towns and learn more about them
Each of the final three days of RAGBRAI XLV concludes in a smaller town, with a population below 4,000. Cresco will get its fourth RAGBRAI visit, its third as an overnight town and the first since 2005. Many Iowans know it best as the hometown of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug.
Waukon is an overnight town for the first time (the ride passed through in its early days, in 1977). It has a tradition of strong high school sports programs, with Gene Klinge, the state’s winningest girls’ basketball coach, collecting a state championship during his 11 seasons there. On RAGBRAI’s final day, cyclists will climb 3,200 feet, by far the most of the week, while covering just 45 miles on their way to Lansing, population 999, hosting for the first time since 1977.
RAGBRAI is the oldest, largest and longest recreational bicycle touring event in the world. It started in 1973 as something of a one-time lark hatched by two Des Moines Register writers but quickly grew into a phenomenon. The organizers typically receive about 200 applicants to be a host city. The more than 10,000 official riders can bring $3 million a day to local economies, according to some estimates.
A QUICK LOOK
Saturday, July 22
In the news: The contentious fight between Des Moines Water Works and rural Iowa over farm runoff included an attempt at common ground in Orange City.
History: First time as host; Orange City was a pass-through town in 1975, 1993, 1996, 2002, 2005 and 2012
Sunday, July 23
In the news: An athlete’s tragic death set up a moment of sportsmanship recognized as one of the state’s most inspirational in 2016.
Mileage (from Orange City): 59.5; climb of 1,283 feet
History: Fifth overnight visit, previous ones were in 1979, 1990, 1999 and 2007
Monday, July 24
In the news: A Register feature in December highlighted the unique Nativity built by German prisoners of war during World War II.
Mileage (from Spencer): 73.8; climb of 1,631 feet
History: Sixth overnight visit, previous ones were in 1977, 1990, 1999, 2005 and 2010
Tuesday, July 25
In the news: A perennial tourist favorite is the Surf Ballroom, site of the last concert before the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.
Mileage (from Algona): 51.4; climb of 934 feet
History: Fourth overnight visit, previous ones were in 1977, 1999 and 2010; Clear Lake was a pass-through town in 1985 and 2014
Wednesday, July 26
In the news: A game between high school football rivals became something more with a boy’s memorable touchdown run.
Mileage (from Clear Lake): 57.5; climb of 1,290 feet
History: Fifth overnight visit, previous ones were in 1982, 1996, 2002 and 2010; Charles City was a pass-through town in 1977
Thursday, July 27
In the news: Cresco is the hometown of Norman Borlaug, whose agricultural research earned him a Nobel Peace Prize and inspired the World Food Prize. Borlaug recently became one of two Iowans memorialized in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.
Mileage (from Charles City): 64.3; climb of 2,257 feet
History: Third overnight visit, previous ones were in 1996 and 2005; Cresco was a pass-through town in 1993
Friday, July 28
In the news: Iowa’s winningest girls’ basketball coach, Gene Klinge, coached his final 11 seasons at Waukon.
Mileage (from Cresco): 60.1; climb of 2,483 feet
History: First time as host; Waukon was a pass-through town in 1977
Saturday, July 29
In the news: The closing of a longtime button factory has the town considering what comes next.
Mileage (from Waukon): 44.8; climb of 3,200 feet
History: Second overnight visit, previous one was in 1977
How the route compares
Total mileage: 411.4, the third-shortest of RAGBRAI’s 45 journeys
Total feet of climb: 13,078 feet, the third-flattest
Difficulty of ride: Rated the third-easiest RAGBRAI by combination of distance and climb
More RAGBRAI online
- Download the RAGBRAI app for Android or iPhone to get the latest updates, photos, videos and maps you can use offline once route details are released in March.
- Subscribe to the new Just Go Bike podcast for fun conversation on biking, trail and training suggestions and to meet Iowa’s favorite biking personalities.
- Get this year’s biking gear at the RAGBRAI shop.
- Don’t forget to register! Find more information and chat with other riders at RAGBRAI.com.
- Find the best stories, videos and photos (and buy them!) at RAGBRAI.com and DesMoinesRegister.com/ReliveRAGBRAI.
- Follow RAGBRAI on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for fun links, updates and photos.
- Check back in March when the pass through towns and route details are announced.