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A day that came with warnings of extreme heat turns into what nobody expected: a great RAGBRAI ride

  • 28 July, 2021
  • Philip Joens, Sarah Kay LeBlanc

It wasn’t so bad, after all.

Trepidation surrounded Day 4 of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa as the National Weather Service forecast highs in the upper 90s and a heat index above 105. Fresh in the minds of riders was the long, brutal Day 1, when temperatures were not quite so high but there was a strong headwind, scarce water and unrelenting sunshine.

But at 67.9 miles, Wednesday’s route from Iowa Falls to Waterloo wasn’t as lengthy. The temperature mounted throughout the day, but never got past the mid-90s. Overcast skies blocked the worst effects of the sun. And a steady tailwind helped riders sail along.

Iowa nice also prevailed. Alert to the forecast, cities like meeting town Parkersburg and pass-through towns Aplington and Janesville cracked open fire hydrants and scrambled to assemble networks of misters, hoses and jury-rigged splashpads so riders could hydrate and cool down. And residents along the route put out sprinklers, garden hoses and more.

A few miles east of New Hartford, riders were abandoning their bikes to revel in a pond replete with an inflatable trampoline and slide. There also was an airbag device that could be used to launch swimmers into the 3-foot deep lake.

From a dock on the shore, Sydney Shivers and Elisabeth Stantioff, New Orleans residents on their first RAGBRAI, leaped into the water, then swam to the raft to join in the fun.

“It’s the Mardis Gras of Iowa,” declared Shivers, adding, “It’s very emblematic of RAGBRAI.”

Ashlee Tott watched the gaggle of playful strangers enjoying her pond as her daughter Emerie and friends joined in.

Tott said she didn’t know what to expect when she heard RAGBRAI would come by her house, but that her family just wanted riders to have the sort of good time people had done without for so long because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is awesome,” she said. “I like to see people go back to normal and socializing and being around others, and the weather is great.”

The majority of riders, aware of the impending heat, had gotten an early start from Iowa Falls. By early afternoon, many were relaxing in the air-conditioned comfort of the spacious taproom at Waterloo’s bike-friendly SingleSpeed Brewing Co. They enjoyed appropriately named brews like the River to River, Tricycle and Victory Dance while looking forward to an evening of entertainment at the city’s Riverloop Amphitheatre.

Stephen Riggs, on his second RAGBRAI, said he had been ready for it to be a tough day on the road.

Instead, “It was amazing,” he said. “It turned out to be totally different from what we expected. Everybody was leaving at the crack of dawn to try to beat the heat, which we did as well, and then I’m like, ‘This isn’t bad.’”

Rigg, of Cedar Falls, called the Day 4 route “a great ride.”

“The wind was to our backs, it was mostly downhill, and we were cruising along,” he said. “The sun was behind the clouds—It was a nice day.”

Jacksonville’s Patrick Burke, in his fifth RAGBRAI, said the cloud cover saved the day.

“(It was) not bad at all,” he said. “Yesterday was much worse.”

Wednesday marked the midpoint of the ride, both in time and distance. The weather for the rest of the ride looks to be less of a concern. Gusty north winds could be a nuisance, but the weather service is calling for highs of no more than 90s for Thursday’s trip to Anamosa, which includes the optional Karras Loop for those who want to rack up a day with triple-digit mileage.

The forecast for the rest of the week: a high of just 79 for Friday’s leg to DeWitt, with a chance of evening thunderstorms, and 82 on Saturday, when riders make the short hop to Clinton to conclude the ride with the traditional Mississippi River tire dip.

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