RAGBRAI history – 2000s
July 23-29, 2000
Brian Duffy, the Register’s political cartoonist, joined the short list of RAGBRAI co-hosts, sharing the duties with John Karras, Grampa RAGBRAI. After the hottest week of weather in RAGBRAI history the year before, the week of RAGBRAI XXVIII turned out to be balmy-high temperatures in the low 80s and partly cloudy most days. There were a couple days of headwinds and one day of rain, but on the whole a very pleasant week. But it was hilly, very hilly, Rich Ketcham, who graphs the hills on RAGBRAI routes, found this one to be the fourth hilliest of all. The second day, from Harlan to Greenfield was especially hilly with no help from a headwind. There was not one totally flat day on the route. There also was more gravel than usual, but not nearly as much as was found when the route was first scouted in February. And wonder of wonders, State Route 191 out of Council Bluffs, which looked dreadful in February, had been repaved by July and was wonderful. As for the challenging days, they were, indeed, difficult, but RAGBRAI veterans were able to recall many, many days that had been more difficult. And several of the most difficult hills on the original route north of Stuart were eliminated when the route had to be changed because paving of that stretch had not been completed. The week started in Council Bluffs at Harvey’s Recreation Area, and overnighted in Harlan, Greenfield, Ankeny ( a first), Knoxville, Ottumwa and Washington before ending in Burlington. The route into Burlington also was changed form the original plan and eliminated the legendary Irish Hill, but added another that is shorter but steeper as the ride entered Burlington. All of the communities were extremely well prepared for the riders. There were four that RAGBRAI had never visited: Fontanelle, Santiago, Olds and Winfield. It is fair to say that a good time was had by most.
A sad note to the 28th ride was the announcement by John Karras that this was his last as co-host, although he admitted it would not be the last time he would be on the ride. He says he is looking forward to being simply a participant and not “working” on the ride. To commemorate Karras’ role as one of the co-creators of RAGBRAI, the RAGBRAI Century Loop will join his name with that of the town through which it travels – the John Karras Century Loop.
July 22-28, 2001
Four rainy weeks in May unexpectedly made RAGBRAI XXIX the second longest and hilliest in the history of RAGBRAI. Because of the rain, many of the highway construction projects were not completed in time. The original ride had to be re-routed many times for safety reasons in the last few weeks before the ride, which added miles to an already long route. The good news is there was no gravel on the ride this year, and any myths about Iowa being flat were dispelled.
The ride offered very scenic vistas, terraced rolling hills and occasional wooded valley floors. Many riders said the high mileage days would have been manageable were it not for the head winds. No matter which direction the route turned, the wind faced the riders.
RAGBRAIers left Sioux City, the starting town, in a downpour, and it continued to rain off and on all day. One of the world’s largest wind farms greeted riders just outside of Storm Lake. On the second day heading toward Denison, rain again visited the riders, however, the sun came out by 11:00 that morning. Overcast skies kept the heat from battering riders on their way to Atlantic, but Mother Nature reminded all that she was in charge with brief heavy downpours throughout the day. Wednesday kicked off three consecutive days of more than 80 miles each day, and the steepest climb on the ride had many veterans walking the hill out of Spring Brook State Park. Add the John Karras Century Loop to this already rough day, and it is very clear why additional sags had to be sent out on the route twice to retrieve exhausted riders. Next came the longest day of the ride, 99 miles into Grinnell with a head wind most of the day. The route to Coralville followed the historic Diamond Trail and passed through very pretty country but again the riders braved “rollers” and a head wind. Riding into Muscatine was glorious not only for the great weather, or the huge sense of accomplishment everyone felt after a grueling week, but also because it was the shortest and easiest day of RAGBRAI XXIX at 49.2 miles.
First time visits to the communities of Atalissa, Baxter, Mingo and Ira proved well worth the trip. Although the ride was too long, too hilly and too windy, ride organizers are thankful that it also was not too hot and too humid.
July 21-27, 2002
Heat and humidity greeted RAGBRAI XXX participants on Saturday afternoon in Sioux Center. As they pitched their tents, the temperature rose to 102 degrees. The host town of Sioux Center put on a memorable opening ceremony. Service personnel from all branches of the military were represented. Featured was Team Escape from New York that had been directly impacted by the September 11, 2001 tragedy of the World Trade Center and composed of firefighters and police officers from New York City. The 30th RAGBRAI became a commemorative ride for our country and a time to heal.
The heat and humidity continued Sunday, but riders reveled as they traveled through Sioux County passing through the towns of Orange City and Alton, onward across flat to undulating terrain into Cherokee for the night. The heat broke with an intense storm in Cherokee in the late afternoon.
Monday was the second hilliest day of the ride, with nearly 1,775 feet of climb through rolling hills. At 79 miles, it was also the longest day of the ride. Emmetsburg, which takes pride in its Irish roots was the third overnight stop.
Day four was flat to gently rolling with plenty of time to stop and enjoy the prairie farming communities along the way. The day included the optional John Karras Century Loop for those who wanted to get in a 100-mile day. Coming into Forest City for the night, the route passed the factory where Winnebago motor homes are manufactured. Wednesday the riders left Forest City through an avenue lined with American flags to kick off 9/11 Remembrance Day, and riders decked themselves in patriotic attire. Charles City greeted riders with an impressive arch of water from fire trucks lining the entrance and a fly over by military fighter planes.
Couples renewed their vows at the famous Little Brown Church outside of Nashua Thursday morning. Rolling country roads guided riders to the flats and into Oelwein for the night.
The overnight stop in Anamosa, known for its Grant Wood legacy, is where the rain started in the middle of the night and continued through Saturday morning. Local farmers with tractors had to pull buses and the RAGBRAI baggage semi-truck from the mud. Along with the rain, riders encountered the hilliest day with a dozen hills that required granny gear. Those who rode their bicycles into Bellevue, but those who rode their bikes dipped their front wheel in the Mississippi River with a huge feeling of accomplishment.
July 20-26, 2003
RAGBRAI 2003 set a course due south for the first time in over ten years. After departing Glenwood in a fog, the riders made their way through the heat to Shenandoah where they were greeted by several thousand pink flamingos – the theme Shenandoah chose for their welcome. The temperature turned comfortable the next day, and with the exception of a few rain showers, stayed that way for the rest of the week.
While RAGBRAI XXXI weighed in as the sixth hilliest ever, at one point passing through the Des Moines River Valley, the consensus was that the history of the area and scenery made the effort all worthwhile. The wave-like terrain continued the rest of the ride through our overnight stops in Bedford, Osceola, Oskaloosa, Bloomfield, Mount Pleasant and into Fort Madison. On the way, veterans of the ride found themselves passing through 11 towns never before visited by RAGBRAI. As in years past, the hospitality extended to the riders is what keeps them coming back to the state year after year.
July 25-31, 2004
Mother Nature decided that after years of scorching the riders with blazing temperatures and roaring headwinds that She would take it easy on the riders this year. Comfortable temperatures, low humidity and little bit of a headwind greeted the riders as they made their way from Onawa to Clinton with stops in Lake View, Fort Dodge, Iowa Falls, Marshalltown, Hiawatha, and Maquoketa.
The first day out of Onawa treated the riders to an up-close view of the Loess Hills, while not having to actually climb the hills. That changed when the riders turned east out of Mapleton. A series of large rolling hills challenged the riders most of the way to the first overnight stop in Lake View. After spending the night by the shores of Blackhawk Lake, the riders enjoyed a virtually flat ride to Fort Dodge 70 miles to the east. The next day brought generally the same distance and terrain as the day before, with a few slight rollers sprinkling the route into Iowa Falls near the end of the day.
The ride from Iowa Falls to Marshalltown was the second shortest of the ride at 62 miles, but proved one of the roughest with two sections of hilly gravel roads near the end due to unexpected construction. Following the shortest day of the ride, Marshalltown to Hiawatha weighed in as the longest at 84 miles. The greeting the riders received from the first-time host, Hiawatha, was worth the trip. Rain soaked the riders as they made their way to Maquoketa on Friday. A section of gravel out of Anamosa turned to soup by the rain, and by the time the riders left that section of road, they were covered from head to spoke with a thin layer of mud. Locals along the route with hoses were more popular than food stands that day.
The last day was a short 56-mile run through a mixed terrain of flats and slightly rolling hills with one screaming downhill followed by the longest climb of the day. The riders were treated to a heavenly section of brand new black top going into Spragueville on the way to Clinton. As always the hospitality of the people of Iowa in the eight host towns and the 45 pass – through burgs made the ride one to remember.
July 24-30, 2005
What better place to launch RAGBRAI XXXIII than in Le Mars, a first-time host town and the self-proclaimed, First Ice Cream Capital of the World, especially when the temperature was pushing into the triple digits. Opening day temperatures aside, this edition of RAGBRAI weighed in as one of the flattest in recent memory with the route running along the extreme northern third of the state.
From Le Mars to Sheldon, cloud cover kept the temperatures from reaching the boiling point. That night the riders fell asleep to warm conditions, but were awakened when a freak storm with winds clocked at over 70 mph sent campers scurrying for shelter inside the local high school. The next morning throughout Sheldon, the effects of the storm were evident with tents blown away, RVs damaged, and the tragic death of one participant who was struck by a falling limb while in his tent. A bit waterlogged, riders headed to Estherville and suffered further wet conditions as a cool, steady rain followed them most of the day. Besides providing cover from the rain during the trip through Fort Defiance State Park, the canopy of trees held giant snow flakes as a magical greeting to the overnight in Estherville. The rain ended Monday night and temperatures cooled as the riders headed toward Algona, 62 miles down the road.
The century loop passed through the town of Bradgate which was virtually leveled by a tornado the year before. The riders found out that “the town that is too tough to die” was ready to greet them as they completed the longest century loop in the ride’s history – 38 miles. The next day’s ride to Northwood was set aside as “It’s Another Day In Paradise” in memory of Dr. Bob Breedlove, an ultra-marathon cyclist who was killed in late June while participating in the Race Across America (RAAM). In honor of Dr. Bob, many riders wore orange, his signature color, and attended a ceremony in Northwood, where Dr. Breedlove’s memory was honored with a gubernatorial proclamation.
The comfortable temperatures and fairly flat terrain continued through Thursday to Cresco. All good things must come to an end and did when riders began to encounter their first real hills as they wound their way past Amish farms that dotted the landscape outside of West Union. The final day to Guttenberg was the shortest, but hilliest with a nasty 10% grade climbing out of the town of St. Olaf. What goes up must come down and the riders negotiated a screaming downhill to end on the shores of the Mississippi River on July 30.
July 23-29, 2006
How powerful a spell does RAGBRAI cast over the first-time rider? Just ask seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong who participated in the ride for a couple of days. After just a few hours on the road, he was hooked and promised to be back for the entire week next year. The overnight towns along the route this year had a great mix of rookies like Sergeant Bluff, Waukee, and Marengo, two had not hosted in many years, Ida Grove, and Newton, and two veterans, Coralville, and Muscatine. All of the towns performed like seasoned professionals. As was promised, the route was short but challenging with the first three days guaranteed to get your attention.
The riders left Sergeant Bluff the first day and headed back in time to Ida Grove and the town’s medieval assortment of Knights and castles. The next day started out as hot and hilly as the first day, but with fewer towns to stop in on the way to Audubon. The final stretch from Manning to Audubon will go down as a mini version of Saggy Thursday with its unrelenting hills, headwind and heat making the last 21 miles seem like an eternity. Some riders were so delirious when they reached Audubon that they swore that they saw a giant bull on the side of the road. Their eyes were not playing tricks on them, it was Albert, a 30-foot tall, 45-ton concrete bull that the town is famous for. On to Waukee where the hills finally came to an end about 15 miles from the end of the day’s ride. Waukee pulled out all of the stops with a great central setup and top notch entertainment. The only damper was a storm that hit later in the evening.
Wednesday morning found the riders on the road heading east to Newton and one of the biggest crowds ever witnessed on RAGBRAI. Lance Armstrong, who had jumped on the ride outside of Elkhart, spoke to a crowd that engulfed the downtown square that evening. As the premier spokesman for cancer research, he spoke to the crowd, which included many cancer survivors, about what still needs to be done in the fight against the disease. He promised to return next year to bring attention to the cause in a state that has a powerful say in the selection of the next president.
On Thursday, the riders experienced cooler weather as they made their way to Marengo. The day was filled with stories of “Lance” sightings, from a pie shop in Sully to a beer garden in Montezuma. Friday from Marengo to Coralville, the ride was a short one at 48 miles with one particularly nasty hill outside of Cosgrove. As the riders came into town, they were honored as the first to ride a stretch of road finished just for RAGBRAI. Coralville had a great venue set up to host the riders, where Armstrong again spoke. He received a Hawkeye jersey presented by University of Iowa Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz. Riders traveled through West Branch, the hometown of Iowa’s only President, Herbert Hoover. The final leg of the ride was an easy spin down to the Mississippi River town of Muscatine which has hosted RAGBRAI five times.
Check out the photos from the ride: Best of RAGBRAI 2006
July 22-28, 2007
The general consensus among the riders polled was that RAGBRAI XXXV should be remembered as one of the best. Besides being one of the easiest in terms of distance and feet of climb, the weather more than cooperated, with just a little good old Iowa heat and humidity thrown in. All of the towns, both pass-through and overnight, were more than memorable. A few that stand out were the kids Q&A with Lance Armstrong in Spencer, the collection of antique cars in Eagle Grove, the Amish Road outside of Fairbank, and the Field of Dreams in Dyersville. The scenery out on the open roads that stitched these towns together was some of the most picturesque that you will find anywhere in Iowa.
The ride was so much fun this year that the riders didn’t want it to end. Usually the last day sees most riders making a mad dash to the finishing town, this year they lingered much longer in the pass-through towns and along roadsides as if to savor every last mile of the ride.
Check out the photos from the ride: Best of RAGBRAI 2007
July 20-26, 2008
It has been a while since RAGBRAI has started in Missouri Valley, but it was obvious that there was no rust on the welcome that they gave the riders. They had everything including a hill-climbing contest for those who wanted to get their legs ready for the rest of the week.
As the riders headed out of Missouri Valley under a robins egg blue sky and comfortable temperatures they were treated to the lush green scenic vistas that western Iowa is famous for. To gain the best views the riders had a to do a bit of climbing, and climb, or walk they did, for virtually the entire day with the exception of a 5 mile stretch from Underwood to Neola. The towns such as Beebeetown, Underwood, Neola, Minden, Shelby, and Tennant were perfectly situated to give the riders the respite that needed before pushing on down the road to Harlan.
This has been Harlan’s fifth time hosting RAGBRAI and they didn’t miss a trick. Their historic downtown area served up a feast not just for the stomach but for the eyes as well with a classic county courthouse and a square that is surrounded by many architectural gems.
The Harlan to Jefferson day was to be the toughest stretch that the riders would face all week. With close to 5,300 feet of climb over 82 miles and most of the towns front loaded on the route the riders had a feeling that they were in for a challenge. The towns of Kimballton, Elk Horn, Exira, Coon Rapids and Scranton made sure that they took the sting out of the ride with great set ups. Riders knew they were close to Jefferson when they looked up and saw the 162-foot Mahanay bell tower on the horizon.
Jefferson hosted the official good bye to a true legend of RAGBRAI, Mr. Pork chop, Paul Bernhard. The day from Jefferson to Ames was a recovery day with very little climbing, with one exception, on a short day of 57 miles. The riders entered the first extended stretch of the old Lincoln Highway as they passed through Ogden and Boone on their way to Ames. Riders were in an upbeat mood even while they climbed the one big hill of the day into Boone. What helped was the impromptu entertainment courtesy of one of the RAGBRAI teams that enlivened the climb. The riders were treated to a trip around the scenic Iowa State University campus as they made their way into town. The city of Ames in conjunction with Iowa State put on a benefit concert for the victims of this year’s floods, featuring the rock group Styx.
The day from Ames to Tama-Toledo saw the riders traverse the longest section of the historic Lincoln Highway as they passed through Nevada, Colo, and State Center. An Abraham Lincoln look a like greeted the riders in Nevada, Colo showed off their newly renovated Colo Café and service station that dated back to the 1920s, and State Center painted an X on a downtown street showing that the riders were actually at the center of the state. The rest of the day saw the riders push on through rolling terrain as they visited Albion, Green Mountain, Le Grand and Montour before ending the day in Tama-Toledo. The cool temperature coupled with a great venue kept people downtown well into the evening.
Rain, cool temperatures and a nagging headwind tested the riders as they left Tama-Toledo on their way to North Liberty. The climb out of Vining was probably added to the list of items that were not enjoyable this day. The ride dropped down into Chelsea, which had seen much of it’s downtown flooded until just shortly before RAGBRAI. The route ran flat through Belle Plaine before picking up the rollers outside of Luzerne which continued for the remainder of the day through Blairstown and the Amana colonies of South, West, and Homestead. Outside of North Liberty riders began to see flags sporting the Jolly Roger and as they entered the town proper they passed a scale model of a pirate ship.
The riders took the round about way to their next overnight stop of Tipton. If you looked at a map you would notice that the distance between the two towns is not that far as the crow flies. Since the riders can’t fly we took them the long way through some great towns. The stop in Lisbon saw the riders back on the Lincoln Highway through to Mount Vernon, then off to the other “M” towns of Martelle, Morley, and Mechanicsville before heading down the red carpet and into Tipton, famous for it’s Hardacre independent film festival.
The last day saw the riders heading towards their first visit to the Quad Cities area in a long time. The route ran through Bennett, New liberty, Maysville, Eldridge, Argo and down the hill into the renovated and very picturesque river town of Le Claire. While small in size the town is used to handling big crowds. Every year they have a tug of war competition with Port Byron on the other side of the river. The rope for the tug of war goes across the river. The event brings in over 30,000 people. They are the only community along the entire Mississippi River that has an official permit to close river traffic while the games are going on.
Check out the photos from the ride: Best of RAGBRAI 2008
July 19-25, 2009
Perhaps the “coolest” RAGBRAI ever! That was the general consensus among the riders. Of course, we are talking temperatures. RAGBRAI riders usually dread the four H’s, but not this year. Yes, there were hills and occasional headwinds, but the heat and humidity took the year off.
RAGBRAI started its 442 mile journey in Council Bluffs with a perfect 70 degrees for the traditional RAGBRAI Expo staged at the Mid-America Center. Those in search of a tire dip took a short ride to the Missouri River and traversed the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge that crosses over to Omaha. The evening festivities concluded with a performance by the Barenaked Ladies, who performed an ad-libbed song, “Rocking RAGBRAI”.
RAGBRAI riders were treated to 52 miles of rolling hills as they navigated the Loess Hills on their way to Red Oak. One of the highlights in Red Oak was a dust devil twister snatching up a tent and depositing it 50 feet up, on top of a church steeple. Stanton’s children invited riders to join them for a traditional Swedish dance on stage during Monday’s 72-mile day that ended in charming Greenfield. Drizzling rain didn’t dampen the spirit as riders enjoyed the tiny Main Street Iowa community, the smallest of the overnight towns on this year’s RAGBRAI.
On Tuesday, skillet tossing in Macksburg delighted the masses and one of the famous Covered Bridges of Madison County was a great photo opportunity in St. Charles as riders trekked some 77 miles to Indianola. This was Indianola’s first time to host RAGBRAI, home of RAGBRAI legend Clarence Pickard. Indianola pulled out all of the stops including hot air balloons, a jet flyover and entertainment by the Johnny Holm Band.
What might be remembered as one of the most enjoyable days in RAGBRAI lore, the 44-mile tailwind-aided ride seemed like a half-day to most folks. The community of Milo was highly entertaining with their M.A.S.H. themed stop and Lacona soaked up the rest of the afternoon of sunshine before riders arrived in Chariton. The town square of Chariton was packed with RAGBRAIers until the wee hours. Later in those wee hours a quick hail storm walloped Chariton before giving way to sunshine.
Thursday’s 77-mile ride to Ottumwa featured the Karras Loop around Rathbun Lake. Several thousand riders opted for the 100 miles while other enjoyed the tiny hamlets along the route including Bethlehem, Iconium and the state of Iowa’s new Honey Creek Resort. After dodging a few storms, riders had a blast at Ottumwa’s water park, the Beach, before concluding the evening at the Bridgeview Center for great tunes and a laser light show. Mount Pleasant was Friday’s destination as riders stopped for great hospitality in Packwood and Whoopie Pie in Brighton along the 75-mile jaunt. The Old Threshers Ground saw campers scampering for cover as severe storms approached before miraculously changing direction to everyone’s delight.
The final day was a short 43 miles to Burlington to the traditional tire dip in the mighty Mississippi River. Riders were challenged to rattle the “Snake” with a ride to the top of Burlington’s Snake Alley, the “Crookedest Street in the World”. The day was marred with the tragic loss of Dr. Donald Myers of Rolla, Missouri during the day’s ride.
RAGBRAI XXXVII will be a ride to remember for great towns and those remarkably cool temps.
Check out the photos from the ride: Best of RAGBRAI 2009