CLEAR LAKE, Ia. – I had an inkling that Wednesday was the easiest RAGBRAI day in history when I zoomed by the Mr. Pork Chop bus before 9 a.m. and rolled into Clear Lake before 10.
But then I also found the data to back it up — and not just the balmy 75 degrees midday in Clear Lake with a gentle breeze and fluffy clouds overhead.
Rich Ketcham of geobike.com was inspired by the grueling heat and hills of the first day of RAGBRAI XIX, in 1991, to track precise stats on the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. While Wednesday’s 38.5 miles from Forest City to Mason City was only the fourth-shortest day, it was the easiest when you factor both distance and feet of climb.
The perfect weather and a lakeshore for everybody to flock to just pushed it way over the top.
Radio journalist Scott Horsley of NPR’s No Pie Refused team pointed out that if every day on RAGBRAI was like Wednesday, nobody would feel like they earned it.
“This is the best day of bicycling we’ve had this year,” gushed Mark Wyatt, president of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition.
“We’re flying. It’s flat. Everybody’s happy.”
On a more serious note, riders certainly deserved Wednesday after a grueling 80 or 100 miles Tuesday, complete with vicious headwinds. And this RAGBRAI, sadly, has seen at least one heart-attack fatality.
So Wednesday was the collective happy sigh of RAGBRAI.
It was so easy that Steve Smartt from Nashville, Tenn., had time to stand on the hallowed stage at the Surf Ballroom, site of prototype rocker Buddy Holly’s final concert, and noodle “Mony Mony” on his trumpet alongside a guitarist who wore a glittery gold hat and cape.
It was so easy that the sag wagon driver reported a total of just three passengers shortly after noon.
It was so easy that bicyclist Christopher Peters of Iowa City sported a three-piece polyester suit.
“I’m trying to class this ride up a bit,” he said and struck his best GQ pose.
It was so easy that Brad Prendergast and his 66 fellow riders with Team CUBS (Chicago Urban Bicycling Society) had plenty of time to stage their signature RAGBRAI game, Kybo roulette.
“You could do any mileage on a day like this,” Prendergast said.
A fundraiser for Camp Courageous in Monticello that caters to disabled campers, this is the first time the CUBS have played the game in half a dozen years.
David Goodman stood in the street in front of a row of five green Kybos. His fellow team members stood in front of the doors, each holding a piece of paper with a different number. Players bet $1 and chose the number of the door they expected to open first. Goodman occasionally shuffled numbers to prevent game-fixing.
RAGBRAI riders occasionally were surprised to emerge from the Kybos to the cheers of a winner.
It was so easy that Don Russell, who writes a weekly beer column for the Philadelphia Daily News as Joe Sixpack, had time to linger at Lake Time Brewery. He interviewed owner Bob Rolling, who opened the craft-brew hotspot 13 months ago, and praised his “nice and roasty” Park Bench Porter.
Russell, 58, has spent 40 years in journalism and logs about 1,500 miles annually on his bike.
“I would like to see something like this in Pennsylvania,” Russell said of his first RAGBRAI. “We got hills — that’s the problem there.”
Finally, it was so easy that Gretchen Imhoff and Brian Denney of Springfield, Ill., had time to wed on the Clear Lake beach, decked out in the signature red-and-white-striped jerseys of Team Waldo. (The team tends to lose track of a rider daily — hence, “Where’s Waldo?”) The couple met through bicycling shortly before RAGBRAI two years ago and decided to become a tandem here rather than elope.
“Why not (get married) doing something that we love with everybody else?” Imhoff said.
“They’re with a different drummer,” explained Cathy Denney, the mother of the groom.
Her son’s philosophy had been to “take her on RAGBRAI, and if she lasts that, she’s a keeper.”
The wedding had been scheduled for noon, but a combination of media interviews, late arrivals and emergency beer runs delayed it by two hours.
Friend of the couple Chris Hickersberger of Costa Mesa, Calif., officiated as an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church. His key test of faith was entering his credit card number online.
The groom’s black top hat was secured to his bike helmet with nylon straps.
The bride wore not only a frilly white skirt but also a bicycle necklace that (as were the couple’s rings) was made by the Denney family at its jewelry business.
Team Gumby had a big presence among guests as bicycling friends also from Illinois.
The “open bar” was a shopping cart with canned beer on ice that was rolled out to the beach when at last it was time for the ceremony.
A group of RAGBRAI riders nearby played a game of hacky sack with a dirty sock rolled up tight with rubber bands.
Imhoff and Denney exchanged vows as bicycles rolled through town square, riders frolicked in the water and boats floated on the horizon.
“From the fields of Iowa to the mountains of Colorado, we share a special connection,” Denney told his bicycling bride during the ceremony as they exchanged custom vows.
That passing mention of mountains in the name of romance was about as strenuous as it got on RAGBRAI’s most perfect day of all.
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