With highs in upper 90s predicted, towns prepare to help RAGBRAI riders cool down

  • 26 July, 2021
  • Robin Opsahl, Philip Joens

It’s July. It’s Iowa. It’s hot.

Really hot.

Like in National Weather Service-issues-heat-watches hot.

The weather service has posted a heat advisory for Tuesday, and riders on the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa pedaling from overnight town Fort Dodge to Tuesday destination Iowa Falls can expect temperatures reaching into the mid-90s.

The weather service has posted an excessive heat watch for Wednesday, when destination city Waterloo is expecting temperatures in the upper 90s — and a “feels-like” temperature of 106.

The riders already made it through a tough day Sunday, when they covered 84 miles in heat that reached 93 degrees. Monday, with a high of 91, was a more moderate 67 miles.

Still, strenuous outdoor exercise in high temperatures can lead to heat stroke, hyperthermia and heat cramps. The weather service on Twitter is advising RAGBRAI riders to take shade breaks, wear light clothing and drink plenty of water.

The Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management also recommends wearing wide-brimmed hats to protect your face and head, using sunscreen with high a high SPF, eating well-balanced light meals and — RAGBRAI riders aren’t going to like this — limiting alcohol consumption.

Cities along the RAGBRAI route are making plans to help riders cool down. In Iowa Falls, RAGBRAI organizers have a command center set up in City Hall. They’ve been in contact with Hardin County’s emergency management systems and are preparing to have volunteers driving throughout the town in golf carts, distributing ice and water, said Jeff Burchfield, who heads the city’s RAGBRAI committee.

“We’re working with what the curveball this heat wave has thrown at us,” Burchfield said.

Luckily, he said, Iowa Falls has many spots to escape the heat. The city is opening up five locations for visitors to tube down the Iowa River, and Dougan’s Landing, a park and boat launch on the downtown waterfront, also will be a “tire dip” and wading spot for cyclists.

“But just like you think of the challenges that we face as a result of the heat, we also talk about the challenges we face as a result of additional people on the river,” Burchfield said.

While most of the river is shallow, there are sections that can get up to 17 feet deep. Emergency services will be on call to ensure everyone stays safe on water and land, Burchfield said.

In Waterloo, Lindsay Pieters, marketing director for Experience Waterloo and member of the city’s RAGBRAI community, recommended cooling off Wednesday in the city’s air-conditioned museums, many of which will offer discounted tickets to RAGBRAI participants. They include the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum.

Pieters said visitors also can cool off at the splash pad near the Riverloop Ampitheatre, where bands will perform from 3-11 p.m., culminating with headliner the Purple Experience featuring Marshall Charloff, a Prince cover band from Minneapolis.

The Young Arena, home of the Waterloo Blackhawks, also will also be open during RAGBRAI festivities so riders can watch the Olympics on the giant screen, Pieters said.

“During the festival, there will be a lot of spaces for people to take a break and cool off,” she said. “We want to make sure everyone’s staying cool and hydrated while having fun in Waterloo.”

One rider tip: Get an early start. On Monday, some riders had started arriving in Fort Dodge by 11 a.m., well before the day heated up.

The good news is that after Wednesday, the heat should moderate. Thursday, when riders have an opportunity to extend the distance to 110.8 miles with the optional Karras Loop, is expected to top out around 90. And Days 6 and 7 are both forecast to have highs of 82.

On Monday, Jeff Novak, 14, of Lincoln, Nebraska, was looking forward to the Karras Loop “century” as he cut through a headwind out of the south between Lytton and Lake City.

Accompanied by his great aunt and uncle, who have been riding RAGBRAI since 1992, he is on his fourth RAGBRAI after riding the three preceding ones.

Now a veteran of long rides, he noted that Sunday’s ride had been tough, “But it actually went by pretty easy if you got in a line with someone.”

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