RAGBRAI 2021 IS HISTORY

31 July 2021 Des Moines Register::

New director looks back on a successful first ride as RAGBRAI 2021 rolls into history

Dieter Drake’s first year as director of RAGBRAI was a bit like the route he chose: a little hilly but indisputably beautiful. There were moments as easy as a downhill tailwind — like watching the sun rising over corn in Le Mars with thousands of bikes ahead of and behind him.
He also got to experience his first-ever yoga class accompanied by more than 50 goats in Lytton, where he enjoyed a slice or two of strawberry rhubarb pie. “I was a kid in a candy store seeing all these people come out and put in all this dedication over the last 18 months now getting this done,” he said. “For some of these pass-through towns, it’s really just four to five hours, but they put a year’s worth of work into it, so it’s an amazing inspiration to be a part of.”

Then there were the uphill climbs: The heat peaked Wednesday in the mid-90s and hovered not far under that for most of the week. There also was the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the cancellation of what was supposed to be Drake’s first Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa in 2020. It also forced some shuffling of overnight towns, which meant some extra miles, especially on Day 1, when Sac City substituted for Storm Lake. It complicated fundraising, too, and some towns struggled to find enough volunteers. RAGBRAI stepped up its share of support to help the roughly 60 municipalities involved. The daily meeting towns got $10,000 apiece, a contribution that hadn’t been made in years past, Drake said. Overnight towns each received $32,000, with about $15,000 of that dedicated to charities of the town’s choosing. “We really wanted to make sure they came out ahead and at least take the edge off their finances. That was really important for us to do that this year,” Drake said. “Absent that, I think a lot of these towns couldn’t have pulled it off this year.” He said he plans in the next few years to maintain and increase that assistance.

There was nothing either Drake or RAGBRAI could do about the heat, but he said he heard from town planning committees that they put in extra work to make sure riders were hydrated, including setting up free water stations and mist tents. Many riders said the Wednesday ride, which had seemed ominous because of an excessive heat watch from the National Weather Service, turned out to be one of the best of the week. Drake wasn’t able to spend much time among the riders this year, but that’s about the only thing he didn’t do. Running on little sleep, at least at the beginning of the ride, he said, he spent his days driving straight to overnight towns to meet with public safety officials and coordinate the support-and-gear vans, better known as Sag Wagons. “My focus was public safety on the ride because if we didn’t get that right, we couldn’t do anything else,” he said.

When he stopped for a meal, he found a favorite in longtime RAGBRAI vendor Mr. Pork Chop, which daily served hundreds of riders its thick-cut, Iowa-style chops. During his time in the towns, he would often be stopped for interviews or chats with locals and riders alike, fielding one question above all others: After this year’s northerly Le Mars-to-Clinton trek, what’s in store for next year? Drake’s keeping that a secret, though he and his team already are planning out the next two to three years, including RAGBRAI L — the 50th — in 2023. “No hints,” he said. “There will be pie, there will be bikes, there will be a little bit of humidity.”

For now, he’s taking a brief break to go home to Colorado and relax after more than a year and a half of work has come to a successful conclusion. And after being surrounded by thousands of bikes for a week straight, he may finally be able to get on one himself, he said. As prepared as he was for the ride, Drake said he was still caught a bit off guard by the natural beauty of Iowa’s landscape. “Iowa’s just an incredible place to ride a bicycle,” he said. “That wasn’t a surprise, but I think it was probably a surprise to some of the new folks who came to RAGBRAI.” It was to Kevin Nielsen, who finished his first RAGBRAI on Saturday in Clinton by joining his 15,000-plus companions in the annual ritual of dipping their bike tires in the Mississippi River. Nielsen couldn’t talk his friends or family back in Oxford, Nebraska, into joining him this year, but he hopes to have some takers next year. “It was a little emotional coming down the last stretch,” he said. “It feels like an accomplishment. It feels like you really did something.” Like Drake, he said it’s the people who make RAGBRAI special. Nielsen said he enjoyed meeting new friends among the other cyclists, and that he never got tired of being welcomed by the residents in town after town. “It’s a state fair for bikers,” he said. “It’s been a blast.”

Also ending his first RAGBRAI, Tony Scudiero of Eagan, Minnesota, was grateful not to be spending any more nights in a tent, and for the people he met along the way. “I met more people than I can remember their names,” he said. Though she’s ridden 10 RAGBRAIs, for Christine Chinhema of Des Moines, dipping her tire never gets old. She said the ride allows her to prove to herself that she is capable of more than she believes she is. “It’s emotional,” she said. “Like, I really survived it. When you look on paper, you’re like, 400 miles — how am I going to do that? But it’s chunk by chunk, and I really did it. It’s a testament to the fact that we can do more than we think we can.”

RIDE RIGHT

10 Replies

Rob Fuller, July 31, 2021 at 11:27 pm

Chapeau to the RAGBRAI 2021 crew! All our our adventure goals were met and we rode away with new plans for “the next” RAGBRAI. Ride on!!!!!

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hoffbird, August 1, 2021 at 8:13 am

Most of the passthough and overnight towns were great. In my opinion, Ackley was the best passthrough town by far (great organization, look, and local enthusiasm) and Dewitt was the best overnight town (same great organization, look, and enthusiasm). It was obvious those towns (as well as most of the other towns along the route) valued RAGBRAI and loved having the riders in their towns.
I was very disappointed in the setup and local interest in Waterloo though. It was as if Waterloo couldn’t care whether RAGBRAI was in town or not. No food or services within reasonable walking distance of Waterworks Park, long shuttle waits, no information on church dinners (other than the churches’ signs on the ride route), downtown was dirty and had little to offer outside the RAGBRAI compound, etc. If a few food trucks had been stationed at Waterworks Park, they could have sold out. There were probably 2000+ people camping in that huge park–definitely a HUGE missed opportunity.
The Mississippi dip site was a disappointment too. You had the beautiful river just a few hundred yards downstream and you chose to put the dip site in an algae-choked canal instead? I understand the canal site was probably safer but yuk, not a good first impression for people who’ve never seen the mighty Mississippi before.

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Gallagher, August 1, 2021 at 9:20 am

I wrote RAGBRAI officials last night to thank them for the very short final day this year. In past years, when the final day is 60 or so miles, people tend to blow through the pass-through towns in order to catch charters. This year allowed people to give the pass-throughs the love they deserve. I hope the short final day can continue in the future!

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“Bicycle Bill”, August 1, 2021 at 5:35 pm

I hark back to the early years (my first ride was RGBRAI VI) when the last day might be as short as 20 – 25 miles. That changed following the debacle in Elkader. While it later came to light that many of the Elkader peccadilloes were being perpetrated by what I refer to as “local talent” (people from the area who showed up merely for the party, and carried on long after many of the riders were back in their tents at the campgrounds), RAGBRAI officials — in a well-meaning attempt to mollify the final overnight towns – started making the Saturday leg longer and longer so that riders, knowing that they still had a ‘full’ day ahead of them on Saturday, would rein themselves in and the partying in places like Elkader wouldn’t get so far out of hand.

It seemed to work, too, at least for a time while it was still the norm for riders to do for themselves. However, little by little we saw the rise of ‘teams’ and their ‘party buses’, clubs with their own support and sagwagons, and just ordinary people who pressed a non-riding relative into following along with with a camping trailer or Mini-Winnie, so the parties in some cases could (and did) go on until the wee hours and a lot of people never even bothered to ride the final day.

-“BB”-

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Rob Fuller, August 1, 2021 at 9:20 pm

Hoffbird, I agree.

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jdeutmeyer, August 1, 2021 at 11:56 pm

Kudos to the organization. More KYBOS this year with much shorter bathroom lines. More community food services in smaller towns. ( Sometimes in the form of a large common booth for several local organizations ). I would discourage small towns from selling shirts. Unsure if this is pushed by RAGBRAI or a town leader idea. Most riders do not have space to carry more stuff. I saw towns with piles of shirts that will take years to get rid of.

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Robert, August 3, 2021 at 8:07 pm

Waterloo did a good job as an overnight town. Rolling into the city I was greeted by workers at two different businesses that were passing out refreshing freezer pops. There was a good bike trail that I rode to my nephew’s house in Cedar Falls. I was impressed by both the downtown and the riverfront including the waterfront trail. The river-side amphitheater was a great place to watch Kevin Burt’s concert. Waterloo Bicycle Works is a cool bike shop in a historic building. I got some delicious beer from Single Speed Brewery, which was also in a well-restored historic building. Mayor Quentin Hart gave us a gracious welcome. KWWL, the local TV station, did live coverage of RAGBRAI. In the past I have only driven through Waterloo on the highway. After my RAGBRAI experience I look forward to going back for a longer visit.

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Dueywife, August 4, 2021 at 12:06 pm

I was happy to be back on RAGBRAI and all felt right with the world as I was rolling along the Iowa highway.
I did feel that the pass-through towns were not prepared for the crowd. I’m used to seeing 3-4 large vendors for breakfast + town organizations and for the days we were able to get out we found that only 1 large vendor + a couple of town organizations serving. Certainly put a lot of pressure on both and food ran out quickly. Lytton was the best prepared I felt during the days we were out with plenty of pie and a pancake feed. I was quite disappointed when we got to Cherokee on Sunday and the severe lack of vendors. We were tempted by the ribeye sandwiches which we couldn’t find on the main street, asked a local volunteer who told us they were hiding down an alley in a back parking lot. Talking to other riders they had the same feedback. From pictures I saw from later in the week, more of the standard vendors were out, so I’m not sure if RAGBRAI tried to space vendors out during the week to put the focus on communities, but the community vendors were very ill-prepared. I was sorely disappointed by Sac City. Their public pool charged regular rate $7 for a cold shower and sauna dressing room and the shuttle(s) were always full as they came by our camp site. In chatting with the host of the lasagna feed in Sac City, they had been told to only prepare for 500 riders. He knew better and made sure portions were large. When you consider how many riders AND support there is coming in, you need more than a few hundred meals.
All in all, it was great to be back out on the road in Iowa. There is something very special about your state and how welcoming you are to visitors. And just something special about rolling down the highway with bicycles as far as the eye can see. I’ll always be back :)

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Bachetta rider, August 9, 2021 at 2:07 pm

I agree about Sac City. But I am very grateful that they even hosted us with all of the uncertainty. Very difficult for a small town to rally the troops even in good times. Especially a town like Sac City that doesn’t even have a high school. That made for difficult shower options. Our team had a portable shower. My back up plan would have been a garden hose instead of a $7 cold shower at their pool. I was one of the lucky ones to enjoy the lasagna at the Lutheran church. The staff was very friendly and helpful.

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Simplykatieb, August 18, 2021 at 4:48 am

am looking to buy the souvenir tee off someone. I am sad I missed it (my first full RAGBRAI was this year) and would take any size. I would pay $35 for the $10 shirt. Please let me know.

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