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RAGBRAI history – 1990s

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July 22-28, 1990
RAGBRAI XVIII, July 22-28, 1990, was laid out as the fourth longest at 495 miles. It began in Sioux Center in northwest Iowa for the first time. Sunday morning dawned clear and cool. It was a perfect day, with the high in the low 80s and a tailwind. The first three days from Sioux Center to Spencer and on to Algona and Hampton were among the nicest in RAGBRAI history. (It was a second time for both Spencer and Algona, the first for Hampton.) But Wednesday brought the riders a 20-plus MPH headwind, making the 86-mile day from Hampton to Oelwein one of the toughest ever.

Those who rode the 16-mile Century Loop that day appreciated the short tailwind stretches. The headwind continued Thursday between Oelwein and Cedar Rapids (both first-time communities). On top of the wind, it began raining about mid-afternoon and continued most of the night, resulting in the washout of most of Cedar Rapids’ wonderful plans.

The wind was not as strong Friday when the riders left Cedar Rapids, and it was a pretty ride through the Lake McBride area. Iowa City welcomed the riders with open arms as they passed through on their way to Washington (RAGBRAI’s second time there). Saturday dawned with more rain, which continued until about 11 a.m. The ending reception in Burlington (the third time), where the riders were given the option of riding down famous ‘ Snake Alley,’ was again outstanding. The 1990 ride probably took the title of ‘toughest’ away from RAGBRAI XVII the previous year.

July 21-27, 1991
In 1991, RAGBRAI XIX, began in Missouri Valley on July 21 for the third time and ended in Bellevue on July 27 for the second time. That year, riders were hosted overnight for the fourth time by Atlantic, Winterset and Knoxville (each for the first time), Grinnell for the second time and Amana and Anamosa, both first-time hosts. After the rainy ending that washed the ceremonies out in Bellevue in 1989, RAGBRAI organizers had made a concerted effort to take the ride back there in 1991. And, the weather cooperated with a beautiful day.

July 19-25, 1992
For the fourth time in RAGBRAI history Glenwood was the setting when the 1992 ride began on July 19. The riders pedaled from Glenwood to Shenandoah for their second visit, then on to first-time overnight hosts, the tiny towns of Bedford (to this point the smallest town on RAGBRAI) and Osceola, both of which did a marvelous job of hosting the ride. After an exhausting ride in rain and headwinds when the riders left Osceola, they entered ‘ Emerald City,’ Des Moines’ nickname and theme during its second time as host of the ride. After bidding farewell to Toto, Dorothy and the Scarecrow, riders pedaled on to Oskaloosa for their second visit there, stayed in Mt. Pleasant (a town that hosts Threshers and Old Settlers Day and is used to crowds) and ended in Keokuk (for the second time) on July 25.

July 25-31, 1993
In 1993, Sioux City saw the riders off (for the fourth time) on July 25 for their ride to the first-time host town of Sheldon. Then it was on to Emmetsburg, which had hosted the riders for the first time in 1985; Clarion, another second-time host; Osage, which had last seen the riders in 1987; Decorah, which had waited since 1977 to host the riders again; and Manchester, an overnight host 10 years earlier in 1983. Dubuque played ending host town for the third time and was rained out for the first time.

July 24-30, 1994
The 1994 ride began in Council Bluffs for the third time on July 24 and ended in Clinton for the third time on July 30. Overnight stops were Harlan, which had hosted riders in 1976 and 1983; Carroll and Perry, which each put out the welcome mat for the riders for the third time; Marshalltown, which had not seen the riders since SAGBRAI in 1974; Marion, which hosted the riders for the first time; and Maquoketa, the beautiful eastern Iowa town which hosted the riders for the first time since 1978. Nearly everyone agrees that this RAGBRAI enjoyed some of the best weather ever “temperatures of 75-80 degrees each day with low humidity and a tailwind on most days. Riders got to enjoy 55 pass-through towns on this ride.

July 23-29, 1995
RAGBRAI XXIII took riders through several familiar stops after beginning in Onawa for the fourth time. Lake View was a pass-through town back in 1981, and with just 1,300 residents, welcomed riders as one of the smallest overnight towns ever in RAGBRAI history. Next, the riders traveled to Fort Dodge for the third time and Iowa Falls for the second time. Riders encountered their first ever ‘century spur’ during the leg from Iowa Falls to Tama-Toledo, which also hosted riders for the second time. The ride on to Sigourney, which hosted riders for the first time in 20 years, proved that Iowa is not flat! In fact, RAGBRAI XXIII will go down in history as producing Saggy Thursday, a day as infamous as Soggy Monday was during RAGBRAI IX. Not only did riders have to cope with a challenging terrain on the Thursday that took them from Tama-Toledo to Sigourney, they also had to withstand headwinds of up to 35 miles per hour, plus heat and humidity! After Sigourney, they had a tremendous stay in Coralville, a first-time host community which really did things up right all in one location, before ending in Muscatine, which was also the ending town in 1976 and 1986.

RAGBRAI XXIII riders also were joined in their trip across Iowa by a group of about 300 cyclists making their way across the country as part of the Iowa 150 Bike Ride/ A Sesquicentennial Expedition headed up by ‘ Iowa Boy’ Chuck Offenburger. The Iowa 150 began in Long Beach on Memorial Day and ended in Washington, D.C., on Labor Day as a prelude to Iowa’s Sesquicentennial celebration.

July 21-27, 1996
One thing that set the 1996 ride apart from other years was that the hosting overnight towns were the smallest “both in physical size and population ” in RAGBRAI history, with Fayette taking the title with fewer than 1,000 residents. The ride started for a second time in Sioux Center (1990) and also put in second visits to Sibley (1976), Estherville (1982) and Charles City (1982). The ride stopped for a first time in Lake Mills, Cresco and Fayette, before ending in Guttenburg for the third time (1980, 1987). The other thing that will make this ride stand out in riders’ minds was the magnificent weather. With cool temperatures in the 70s and low 80s accompanied by tailwinds nearly every day, RAGBRAI XXIV was a breeze for many seasoned riders. Total mileage for the year was 437 miles, with the traditional optional 100-mile ‘century loop.’ But, for those looking for a real challenge, the ride offered an optional 150-mile loop in conjunction with the Iowa Sesquicentennial celebration, with nearly 1,100 riders accepting the challenge and successfully completing the mileage.

July 20-26, 1997
It’s the general feeling of the old-timers that RAGBRAI’s silver anniversary provided the most difficult ride yet. The week provided a hearty stew of heat, humidity and relentless hills that challenged even the most accomplished riders.

The first day’s ride of 82 miles from Missouri Valley to Red Oak provided a rise of 3,403 feet while the humidity climbed to 90 percent plus. That first day took a toll on many riders, and the sag wagons ran much later than usual.

The following days were progressively less hilly, though never flat. The route covered 464 miles and rose a total of 14,493 feet — that’s more than 2.7 miles. And the humidity was relentless. Overcast skies helped early in the week, but the sun shown fiercely from Thursday through the end of the ride. Though few riders had to be hospitalized, many were ill from heat exhaustion.

On the up side, the towns were marvelously prepared all across the state. The route itself was gorgeous, dipping into wooded valleys and looping around Lake Rathbun on the optional 100-mile loop. The ride began in Missouri Valley with overnights in Creston, Des Moines, Chariton, Bloomfield and Fairfield. The route went through Amish country, and the Amish were out in force providing a warm welcome and great food.

RAGBRAI XXV also marked the realization of a goal the founders had in mind almost from the beginning — to take the ride into each of Iowa’s 99 counties. The last of the 99 was Lucas, and its community of Chariton was a wonderful host.

Though one of the toughest ever, RAGBRAI XXV will also be one of the most memorable.

July 19-25, 1998
RAGBRAI XXVI began as RAGBRAI XXV had – hot, humid and hilly – and most hearts sank at the thought of a repeat of the previous year. The first day, Hawarden to Cherokee, was continuous up and down, and the forecast was for continuing heat through Thursday. Partly compensating for the discomfort was RAGBRAI’s first symphony concert ever by the Cherokee Symphony Orchestra.

The second day, Cherokee to Rockwell City, was less hilly but longer (83 miles) and just as hot. A lot of the cyclists jumped into Twin Lakes and just sat there for awhile before riding the last five miles to town into a headwind. The third day dawned just as hot, but lo, about 9 a.m., a front came sweeping through bringing cool relief along with it.

The rest of the week’s ride was a delight. Rockwell City to Boone was basically flat except for the infamous Pilot Mound hill, which – despite new pavement – is just as steep as ever. Boone to Eldora included a century koop through the beatiful hills northeast of Marshalltown, and the next day, Eldora to Cedar Falls, was only 46 miles. The big day, Cedar Falls to Monticello, ws over 90 miles, but the weather was benign, the terrain friendly and little towns along the way rocked with food and entertainment.

The last day – 67 miles to the island town of Sabula – was lovely, although there was one hill after another. All in all, a good week.

July 25-31, 1999
Veteran RAGBRAIers agreed at the end of the week that the 1999 ride was the most challenging, the most difficult and the most taxing ever. No previous RAGBRAI had been as intensely hot with matching humidity. The official temperatures the first five days were in the high 90s, which meant the temperature on the road in the sun was over 100 degrees. The official temperature the sixth day was 101 degrees. On that Decorah-to-Manchester day, the stuff used to patch cracks in the road between Wadena and Arlington actually turned into liquid. Tires made splashing sounds as they went through it. The Fayette County engineer said the pavement temperatures had to be between 120 and 140 degrees to create that effect. To make matters more difficult, the days were long and the last three very hilly. By Friday, many participants had dropped out, whether going home or taking rides in vehicles. The Iowa State Patrol had estimated that 13,000 riders left Rock Rapids at week’s start and only 6,000 rode into Manchester. On the plus side, all of the overnight and pass-through communities were fantastically well prepared with great quantities of food and drink, a lot of entertainment and most imaginative decorations. The Des Moines Register celebrated its 150th birthday with a light show and cupcakes on July 26 in Algona. The northeast Iowa scenery, as always, was gorgeous. The weather finally broke and cooled down to a comfortable level for Saturday’s finale into Bellevue. Other host communities were Spencer, Algona, Clear Lake and Waverly.

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