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Northwest Iowa farmer invites RAGBRAI riders to stop by, and they keep coming, and coming, and coming

  • 25 July, 2022
  • Cecelia Hanley

NEAR ANTHON — Lance Hamann turned out to be Iowa’s answer to Max Yasgur on Sunday.

Like the Woodstock, New York, farmer who famously allowed the promoters of a certain 1969 outdoor rock ‘n’ roll festival to use his land, Hamann didn’t really know what he was getting himself into.

He was looking to lure a few riders off the RAGBRAI route that passed directly by his farm by offering them lunch in hopes they would make free-will donations to his church, St. Paul Lutheran in nearby Midway. So he created a sort of playground for the Day 1 riders Sunday. RAGBRAI riders Sunday on his farm, situated along the Day 1 route seven miles southeast of Anthon and 11 miles northwest of Battle Creek.

Hamann’s idea started as a simple fundraiser for St. Paul Lutheran Church in the nearby unincorporated town of Midway. \Then he agreed to let Mr. Pork Chop, one of the rock stars among RAGBRAI vendors, set up shop on the farm. The promise of porky nirvana brought riders in like an anchor tenant at a mall.

Also on Hamann’s farmstead, the Maple Valley Anthon Oto Charter Oak Ute school district held a dunk tank fundraiser for its athletic programs. Other vendors offered lemonade and an FFA group had a petting zoo. Riders could even get pictures with an oversized bull or visit an ask-a-farmer booth to satiate their curiosity about the verdant landscape through which they’d spent the day pedaling.

Camric, left, Lance, center, and Kael Hamann in front of a bike sculpture that helped draw thousands of riders to a fundraiser on their farm Sunday, the first day of RAGBRAI 2022.

Thousands of weary riders in the crowd of more than 18,000 took a break at the Hamann place, their legs tired from the second-hilliest day of this year’s Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Sunday took riders 53.2 miles from Sergeant Bluff to Ida Grove, with 2,545 feet of climb.

It was a natural place to take a breather. At 1,475 feet above sea level, it’s the highest point on this year’s ride, and proved to be a perfect vantage point from which to watch riders laboring up the road from the valley below.

By early Sunday afternoon, demand was outstripping Hamann’s supplies.

“I’ve been trying to find propane tanks so we can keep the grills going,” he said. “We had no idea how this would go.”

“Not many opportunities to get people from all over the world to come out to the middle of a cornfield in Iowa,” said his son Camric, 18.

The St. Paul Lutheran fundraiser offered burgers, brats and sweet corn. Proceeds raised will support a church missionary and a roof project, Lance Hamann said.

Perhaps the biggest attraction proved to be a bit too popular. Hamann created a super-sized sculpture of a bike with hay bales for wheels and a frame and handlebars made of steel piping. Topping it off was a golf cart seat on a tall post.

“I thought people would think it’s cheesy,” Hamann said.

He posted a picture of it on Facebook and word of the fundraiser spread throughout the RAGBRAI social media ecosystem. In comments, all anyone talked about was wanting to get up on the seat of the bike.

By 1 p.m., riders who ignored the signs telling them to stay off had broken a weld on the seat post. Hamann shrugged his shoulders. Even though he had to babysit the rowdy late-day riders to keep them in line, they kept coming and coming.

“There’s activity everywhere,” Hamann said. “Everybody’s busy.”

Hamann’s farm sat at the highest point on the RAGBRAI route, 1,475 above sea level. The spot was a perfect place to look at riders coming up the valley.

His son, an ag business major at Iowa State University, marveled at the naiveté of some of the riders — including many from Iowa — about the industry that occupies more than 90% of the state’s land. At one point, he said, a rider at the ask-a-farmer tent asked why crops are rotated.

Even Iowans in cities like Ames don’t understand farming life, Camric Hamann said.

“That’s in the middle of a farm state,” he said.

But he was happy that they availed themselves of the opportunity for enlightenment. Eight farmers with different perspectives were on hand to talk to any rider who wanted to chat, he said.

“I find it interesting how little some people know about how their food is raised and where it comes from,” he said. He cited some who didn’t know the difference between a dairy cow and a beef steer.

“You can’t milk a cow and get meat from it, or you typically don’t,he said. “I found that was something that some people thought.”

As the final RAGBRAI riders started to filter past the farm, any annoyance was vastly outweighed by the gratitude the Hamanns felt for the visitors who filled the coffers of St. Paul Lutheran while enjoying their slice of heaven on a postcard-perfect Sunday afternoon.

Like Yasgur praising the Woodstock crowd for proving that “a half million young people can get together … and have nothing but fun and music,” Lance Hamann was happy to have hosted such an unexpectedly popular event.

“This is a better experience than I thought it’d be,” he said.

Philip Joens is on his 17th RAGBRAI. He has completed the river-to-river trek five times. He covers breaking news, city government and RAGBRAI for the Des Moines Register and can be reached at 515-443-3347 at pjoens@registermedia.com or on Twitter @Philip_Joens.

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