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Route Inspection Ride: Day 5 – Altoona to Grinnell

  • 9 June, 2011

by T.J. Juskiewicz, RAGBRAI Director

The weather finally got the best of the RAGBRAI Route Inspection pre-riders as severe thunderstorms stayed right over the route for the entire 57-mile day.  Only Vern Willey of Altoona, who started early, stayed ahead of the storms on a bike.  A large group of cyclists gathered at 8:00am at Altoona’s Sam Wise Park to ride the RAGBRAI Route.  Severe weather delayed the start until 9:30am.  The group re-gathered at 9:30am only to watch large bolts of lightning explode all around them.  The radar showed system after system continue to roll into the area.  At that point, the official pre-ride was scrubbed, but the route inspection continued via vehicles.

The day’s ride is about 57 miles and about 3,300 feet of climb.  The day has a few nice hills to it, especially Mount Colfax that will produce some groans.

The Route Inspection Pre-riders Team is documenting the route with a custom software program invented by Rich Ketcham of Ames.  Ketch is riding the week with the pre-riders and supplying much needed humor and sound effects along the way.  Rich is the mastermind behind the GeoBike web site that documents every stat known to mankind about the RAGBRAI routes.  His new HazTrack software documents with pinpoint GPS waypoints, every pot hole, crack, bad railroad crossing and other potential hazards along the way.  This data is relayed to county and state engineers so they are aware of the potential road hazards.  The engineers do a great job, with limited resources, to repair the roads along the route.  The ones that can’t be repaired are marked with signage to warn cyclists of potential hazards. 

Here are some facts and points of interest from each town.


This town of over 2,000 people will be the first breakfast stop just 7 miles outside of Altoona. RAGBRAI has visited the community of Mitchellville four previous times, the last time occurring in 2006.  The last time RAGBRAI visited Mitchellville, the town had a water pipe burst knocking out the town’s water supply.  Luckily, the Air National Guard flew into action to supply water for the thirsty riders.

Mitchellville will have local and out of town vendors serving food for riders.  The Legion will be serving pancakes and sausage.  The Park will have entertainment and games for RAGBRAIers.

Thomas Mitchell came to Iowa in 1840 and was the first white settler in Polk County.  He was very friendly with the Indians.  Upon learning that the railroad was coming to the area, he moved to the current area and founded Mitchellville.  He was very active in the Underground Railroad and helped runaway slaves. Mitchell built the Universalist Church in 1868 that still stands today.

Colfax (Meeting Town)

This town of 2,223 people has some huge plans for RAGBRAI riders.  RAGBRAI’s last visit to Colfax occurred in 2006.  Riders will remember climbing “Mount Colfax” from previous visits to the town.  Riders will be rewarded for their climb with tattoos and water at the peak of the hill.

Riders will step back in time during a visit to Weirick Drug Store in downtown Colfax.  The drug store was built in the late 1800’s and includes many artifacts from their early years.  Riders can sit at the new renovated (actually renovated in 1963!) Old Fashion Soda Fountain and enjoy a malt, Cherry Coke or milkshake served by a soda jerk.  (Hey Chuck O, you can buy me that malt you owe me here!) Their specialty treat is the Skunk River, which is Chocolate and Peanut Butter. Brenda Weirick Pierce has worked around the store since grade school and now owns the historic store located at the corner of Howard and Walnut.  Stop by and say hello to Brenda!

Other fun things in Colfax include a live chainsaw carving of the RAGBRAI logo.  Over 600 pounds of ice will be carved before it melts starting at 9am.  Sheltered Reality’s young drummers from 9am-10:30am and local DJ’s will entertain riders.  Windstream Communications will have their internet trailer in Colfax.

The history of Colfax includes a high mineral content well that was discovered near Colfax while drilling for coal in 1875.  The city flourished with this new discovery and trainloads of people visited the town to discover the healing powers of the fourteen mineral springs there.  Nine hotels offering mineral baths and spa treatments opened to house guests, and four bottling companies opened to produce bottled mineral water for the masses. In 1912-1913, the city received funding to build a Carnegie library and the library is still in use today. The booming business of the city’s mineral springs industry declined and died out as the Great Depression swept the country.  The mineral spring water will be available to “heal” sore riders!


This Jasper County town of just over 1,000 people has hosted RAGBRAI just once before back in 2001.  Baxter has a theme of “A Little Slice of Heaven” to entertain RAGBRAIers during their stop.  Not only will they have gobs of pie, but even the O’ Kelly’s Steak & Pub will have “Apple Pie Shots” in sticking with the theme. 

The Congregational Church will be handing out free popsicles accepting freewill donations for wounded soldiers.   The Bethany United Church will have a chicken luncheon as they attempt to raise funds for a new church roof.  Several school groups will also have food booths along Main Street.  The veterans will have flags for freewill donations to help fund an extension to the town memorial at the end of Main Street.

The town’s two bars will each have a beverage garden where live bands and DJs will entertain riders. 

A neat stop is Robin’s Bakery Barn on Main Street.  Her specialty is Bread Dough Taco that will be made fresh.  Robin prepared these tasty tacos for the pre-riders along with delicious vegetarian lasagna.  You must try the cake balls and cupcakes for dessert.   

Baxter is also very cycling friendly due to the Chichaqua Valley Trail.  This scenic recreational trail begins just east of Bondurant and extends for 20 miles to Baxter.  This trail is paved from beginning to end, making it popular with rollerbladers as well as cyclists and hikers.  Along the trail, one will spot mile markers showing the distance to Kansas City for this former railroad route. The trail also crosses stone bridges dating from the Wisconsin, Iowa & Nebraska Railroad that built this rail line in 1885.

Rock Creek State Park

Rock Creek State Park is the only state park on the RAGBRAI route this year.  This 602 acre lake is mostly known as a camping hot spot and is one of central Iowa’s most popular boating lakes. Any size boat motor may be operated at “no wake” speeds. When you get off your bike you can rent a pontoon, canoe, hydroski or paddle boat at the Rock Creek Marina to enjoy your afternoon on the lake.  The lake’s 15 miles of shoreline gives anglers a chance to try their hand at catching bass, crappie, bluegill, catfish, saugeye and bullhead. The deepest water is approximately 18 feet and the average depth is about nine feet. The lake is excellent for trolling or casting.

The Rock Creek Marina store will also be serving food and drinks.  The Rock Creek Lake Alliance will also be serving items to benefit the State Park.


Thursday’s ride will conclude in Grinnell, which is home to Grinnell College.  It has been ten years since Grinnell last hosted RAGBRAI.

Grinnell is rightfully known as the “Jewel of the Prairie,” with some of Iowa’s hottest independent restaurants, a host of unique retailers and a legendary downtown.  Add in world-class athletic and recreational facilities, plus a thriving arts and culture community and you can see why Grinnell has been named one of the Top Ten Coolest Small Towns in America!


Entertainment will start at 2pm at the Gazebo in Central Park and will include popular area groups:
Too Many Strings Band: Folk music
Calle Sur: Latin Music

The focus will move to the mainstage later in the evening and will feature more area talent:
Whiplash: Heavy metal
Turlach Ur Bagpipes and Drums
Route 66: Country & Rock
Featured band


Central Park Activities
Farmer’s Market
Fun Photo Spots
Tiny Circus (stop motion animation) after dark
Karaoke in the evening

Grinnell Area Arts Center Activities
Handprint mural creation
Face painting
Decorate your unique Grinnell postcard
Bike decorating

Drake Community Library Activities
Bottlecap Art project
Friends of the Library used book sale    

Strand Theatre
Movies all day


Family Fun Park: Inflatables, graffiti & chalk art, lots of fun for all ages.
Free Family Movies outdoors on the Grinnell College campus after dark
Grant O. Gale Observatory on the Grinnell College campus open after dark


Faulconer Art Gallery on the Grinnell College campus
Grinnell Historical Museum, 2 blocks north of downtown, featuring Bicycle Evolution exhibit
Grinnell Arts Center Gallery-Iowa Emerging Artists Exhibit
Grinnell Railway Express Model Railroad Club exhibit
Guided architectural tours offered throughout afternoon of Historic Architecture of Grinnell

For more information on Grinnell check out

Times and schedule subject to change.

Day 6 – Friday, June 10

Hopefully the rain and storms will subside for our ride tomorrow from Grinnell to Coralville. This will be the route for RAGBRAI’s College Spirit Day, so we might see some collegiate colors tomorrow. Tune in tomorrow for another report from the Route Inspection Ride!

Happy 8th Birthday to my daughter Cami!


  1. Tom

    That was a rough patch of weather today for you all. Hard to forget Mount Colfax in 2006, we had a nice little stop in town that day, then that hill was just waiting there :)

  2. Doug Henninger

    Colfax is particularly memorable from 2006. It was there where I first spotted Lance Armstrong on RAGBRAI. The word spread quickly that he was behind us so I stopped at an intersection.Sure enough Lance and his entourage soon roared through.Mount Colfax didn’t slow them down.(Nothing compared to the French Alps).

  3. Laura


  4. Dixon

    T. J. & Wes, Sounds like the week has been eventful. Be sure to stop at Wilton’s world famous Candy Kitchen tomorrow. The Nopouloses know that you are coming. Thelma says she has some ham n cheese sandwiches and malts for you. Wish I was there with you all.

  5. JB

    By being forced to drive this day due to weather, the pre-riders may have missed the fact that there is a fairly large hill on this route as soon as you leave Altoona. It will have some riders walking. This day would be a good one to spend a little extra time getting loose or you’ll blow alot of your energy in the first five minutes. Can’t wait!!

  6. Cyfan

    2006 was my first RAGBRAI and I made it up Mount Colfax on my 30 year old 10 speed, this year will be a breeze with my Trek road bike.

  7. Grinnell Steakhouse

    When coming thru Grinnell on RAGBRAI Thursday July 28th, Please plan to visit the Grinnell Steakhouse for a relaxing steak dinner including our fabulous salad-bar, great service, cold beer and a full-bar… where carnivores, vegetarians and gluten-free diners gather together in comfortable air-conditioned dining-rooms with inside seating for more than 300. Bus available from downtown to the Steakhouse & Hotels. Hope to see you soon!

  8. o'kelly's

    O’Kelly’s has the largest beer garden you have ever seen on Ragbrai-Can easily hold 3,000 people with Jam Time entertainment performing live from 11:00-??two beer stations,Vodka Lemonade,The Hair of the Dawg Margarita’s,Apple and Cherry pie shots all on the spacious patio with Strip&Gonaked and all your favorite mixed drinks inside.Burgers,Braat patties and BBQ Beef sandwiches to provide the necessary base for more cold beverages.

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