RAGBRAI history – 1980s
July 27-August 2, 1980
In 1980, RAGBRAI VIII returned to southwest Iowa. The ride started at Glenwood on July 27, made a repeat visit to Atlantic, then went on to Carroll, Perry, Webster City, Waverly (Wartburg College), Elkader and finished at Guttenberg on August 2.
July 26-August 1, 1981
RAGBRAI IX had the distinction of having the worst weather of any year in the ride’s history. The beginning campground at Missouri Valley was damp from continuous rains, and it poured off and on as the riders went up over the Loess Hills to Mapleton on Sunday. The next day between Mapleton and Lake City the temperature dropped to the upper 40s (remember, this was July!) and riders rode the hills into a strong headwind and pouring rain. Very few made it beyond Schleswig, which was the first town of the day. Farmers and townspeople pitched in to haul riders into Lake City in cattle trucks, campers, pickup trucks, etc. The campgrounds in Lake City were under water so residents came to the rescue and put the riders up in homes and garages, and even on the newly refinished gym floor at the high school. The day later was named ‘ Soggy Monday’ and The Register marketed a patch commemorating that day. The weather then turned beautiful and stayed that way the rest of the week for the ride to Greenfield, Leon, Centerville, Keosauqua (the second smallest overnight town with just 1,000 residents) and Keokuk.
July 25-31, 1982
The tenth ride in 1982, RAGBRAI X, was the longest ride to this point, at 523 miles. It was seven days of fantastic weather from Akron to Cherokee , Estherville, Forest City, Charles City, Independence, Tipton and Davenport. The dates were July 25-31. Since then it’s been a tradition that RAGBRAI never ends in August. The ride now is always planned for the last full week in July, beginning on a Sunday and ending on a Saturday, and never creeping into August.
After the 1982 ride, co-founder and co-host Donald Kaul decided he had ridden across Iowa plenty of times and quit the ride. He later also left The Register. “Iowa Boy” columnist Chuck Offenburger joined John Karras as co-host in 1983.
July 24-30, 1983
In the winter of 1982, Clarence Pickard was struck and killed by a car while walking across a street in Indianola, his hometown. Although he had only ridden a complete RAGBRAI the first year of the ride and on just one day the following year, he had become a legend. The 1983 event, RAGBRAI XI, was named the ‘ Clarence Pickard Memorial Ride’ in his memory, and the commemorative patch The Register designed that year was similar to the shape of the helmet he wore.
The ride started in Onawa for the second time on July 24 in 1983, and stopped along the way in Harlan, Guthrie Center, Ames, Grundy Center and Manchester before ending in Dubuque again on July 30.
It was a pleasant week, bracketed by 100 degree weather and a sudden wind and rain storm in Grundy Center, which failed to dampen the riders’ spirits.
July 22-28, 1984
Register columnist Chuck Offenburger really got into the act with RAGBRAI XII, July 22- 28, 1984. He insisted that the route include his hometown, Shenandoah, and the town went all out for him and the 7,500 riders. For a second time, RAGBRAI started in Glenwood, then rode to Shenandoah, Creston, Adel, Pella, Ottumwa and Mount Pleasant before finishing again in Burlington. Because of increasing costs and growth in the size of the ride, The Register found it necessary to charge a fee for the first time.
The 1984 ride was blessed by near-perfect weather except for an early-morning rain in Pella and showers in Mount Pleasant.
July 21-27, 1985
A few superstitious types wanted to change the 1985 ride to some number other than XIII, but RAGBRAI officials held out. Hawarden had been such a good starting point 10 years before that RAGBRAI went back again that year. Almost 40 communities had written, asking to be included in the RAGBRAI XIII route, so RAGBRAI officials tried to include as many of them as possible. With the gloomy farm economy, RAGBRAI provided a lift to Iowans’ spirits, especially in the rural areas.
The riders left Hawarden July 21 and rode to Sibley, Emmetsburg, Humboldt (which had asked Cleveland-born Karras to be its adopted native son, sort of in response to Offenburger’s reception in Shenandoah the year before), Mason City, Waterloo and Monticello, ending for a second time in Clinton on July 27. The 540-mile route was the longest in RAGBRAI history. The wonderful receptions given the riders in previous years by Ames, Ottumwa, Mason City and Waterloo served to alter our belief that only the smaller communities knew how to be good hosts.
July 20-26, 1986
Council Bluffs launched an intense campaign to get RAGBRAI back to their city, and officials were able to accommodate them in 1986. RAGBRAI XIV, July 20-26, started on the grounds of Lewis Central schools and the Iowa School for the Deaf, then proceeded across the state stopping at Red Oak (in recognition of State Trooper Bill Zenor and our baggage honcho, Dave England, both RAGBRAI veterans), Audubon, Perry, Eldora, Belle Plaine and Washington, ending in Muscatine. A loop through St. Anthony provided a 100-mile day.
July 19-25, 1987
RAGBRAI XV in 1987, July 19-25, saw the ride returning to Onawa for the third time as the starting point. The 437-mile long ride stopped overnight in Denison, Storm Lake, Fort Dodge, Forest City, Osage, West Union and ended in Guttenberg. Along the way, riders went through Worth, Howard and Mitchell counties for the first time. There was a loop through Corwith that provided a Century Day. As the riders went through Worth County, more than 200 riders volunteered to search for an 18-month-old child who had strayed into a cornfield. She was found primarily because of their efforts. The week’s weather was warm and humid. Karras missed this ride with a heart attack.
July 24-30, 1988
RAGBRAI officials didn’t know what to expect in 1988. Iowa was in the midst of a drought as the result of temperatures near the 100-degree mark for weeks on end. Officials had also selected a route with more large communities than ever before. It was uncertain whether they could put together hospitality to match the receptions for which smaller towns had become famous. But, they did, and it was a fantastic ride. The 433-mile RAGBRAI XVI, July 24-30, started in a city park along the Missouri River in Sioux City and continued through Ida Grove, Carroll, Boone, Des Moines, Oskaloosa, Fairfield, ending in Fort Madison in Riverside Park near the newly restored fort along the Mississippi River.
Ida Grove, the smallest overnight town of the week, outdid itself in hosting the riders, as did Des Moines, the largest town of the week, where riders were allowed to camp on the State Capitol lawn near downtown. A loop through Farlin provided the now-traditional Century Day.
The earmark for the 1988 ride probably was a man named Malcolm Starr. During registration for the ride it was brought to the attention of RAGBRAI coordinator Don Benson that all states in the U.S. were represented except Rhode Island. Rhode Island took this as a challenge and made it their mission to find a representative to send on the ride. A drawing was held and a man named Malcolm Starr was the winner. Starr completed the ride and returned to ride again the following year.
July 22-28, 1989
RAGBRAI XVII in 1989, started July 22 in Glenwood for the third time, and 479 miles later ended in Bellevue for the first time. (The ride also ended in the rain for the first time ever.) Stops along the way included Clarinda (for the first time), Atlantic (third time), Jefferson and Story City (both for the second time), and first-time towns Cedar Falls and Dyersville. The overnight stop in Cedar Falls, with the cool comfort of the UNI-Dome and a spectacular light show at the University of Northern Iowa, was one of the highlights of the week. The Century Day loop on Day Five sent the riders through Wellsburg a second time. Because of the hills in southwest Iowa and Jackson County in the east, RAGBRAI XVII was dubbed by some to be the toughest RAGBRAI ever. But, it has also been described as one of the prettiest.