2009 RAGBRAI overnight towns
- 10 February, 2009
Clarence Pickard would have loved this year’s RAGBRAI route.
For the first time in its 37-year history, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa stops overnight in the Indianola farmer’s hometown. He won’t be around to see it — he passed away in 1982 — but many Iowans still remember when the 83-year-old shocked the state by completing the first 412-mile ride in 1973.
RAGBRAI officials have often said that it was Pickard, in his silver pith helmet and long wool underwear, that made the ride what it is today. If he could ride across the state, surely others could, too.
More than 10,000 bikers will have another chance to do just that from July 19 to 25, when the ride cuts a 442-mile route through the southern half of the state, with overnight stops in Council Bluffs, Red Oak, Greenfield, Indianola, Chariton, Ottumwa, Mt. Pleasant and Burlington.
The route is the sixth-shortest in the ride’s history but ranks tenth in terms of overall climb, rising 22,806 from its start in the Missouri River to its finish in the Mississippi. Even so, riders won’t struggle any more than they did last year on the asphalt rollercoaster between Harlan and Jefferson.
“You go south and people just assume it’s going to be really hilly, but this year will be pretty close to last year,” said RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz. “It’ll be an extremely scenic adventure.”
Thursday’s announcement was good news to leaders in the overnight stops, where, on average, 9 years have passed since the towns last hosted the ride.
The benefits are obvious with 10,000 registered riders and at least as many support-bus drivers, vendors, visitors and hangers-on rolling into town. Juskiewicz said that community leaders in the past have reported an economic boost of as much as $2 million.
“We’re just grinning from ear to ear. We’re so excited,” said Denise Day, executive director of the chamber of commerce in Indianola, where a park is named in Pickard’s honor. “It’ll be a wonderful, wonderful thing for us, but it’s going to take the whole community. If people haven’t volunteered before, their phones will be ringing.”
Since Indianola is only 20 miles southeast of Des Moines, Day expects many people will drive over for the festivities.
“We’ll have a lot of company,” she said. “Our hospitality will be No. 1.”
Maybe, but Indianola will have some stiff competition.
Leaders from all the overnight stops crowed about what their towns had to offer, including:
• The new, half-mile Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge, which connects Omaha and Council Bluffs. The $22 million structure that rises 200 feet above the Missouri River opened in September. “It’s unlike anything else,” Council Bluffs Parks and Recreation Director Larry Foster said. “We think it’s going to be a real draw.”
• Red Oak’s ornate Victorian homes and the historic Montgomery County Courthouse. The town also boasts an $8 million performing arts center, scheduled to open in the next few weeks.
• Greenfield’s renovated town square, the Iowa Aviation Museum and the now-famous Patriot Rock, which a local artist paints every year to honor military veterans.
• Chariton’s historic location on an early railroad route, the Mormon Trail and the state’s first rails-to-trails bike path, which was built 35 years ago. Local leaders last year coined the slogan “Lucas County: Your Ticket to Ride” to play up the area’s role as a transportation hub, and “RAGBRAI is just the icing on the cake for that,” Chariton Chamber of Commerce Director Ruth Comer said.
• Ottumwa’s 2-year-old Bridge View Center and the Beach, an indoor-outdoor water park, a welcome sight for bikers looking to cool off.
• Mount Pleasant’s Old Threshers Museum and the Theatre Museum of Repertoire Americana.
• And finally, after one of RAGBRAI’s shortest and flattest days ever, Burlington’s famous Snake Alley, one of the steepest and most crooked streets in the world. Bikers can round out their trip with a trek across a suspension bridge similar to the one in Council Bluffs.
For more than a few riders, however, homemade food is RAGBRAI’s main attraction.
When pressed, Greenfield mayor Randy Standley said the town’s best pie maker was Bonnie Stalder, who recently sold Bon’s Bakehouse after 14 years behind the counter.
When asked the same question, Chariton’s Comer declined to comment.
“You must be crazy,” she said. “I’m not getting into that. I have to live here, you know.”
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