Hundreds of cyclists pedaled against the grain Friday morning.

They pointed due south along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail as the dense mob of RAGBRAI riders headed north  toward Whittier out of Hiawatha.

Locals said the “off route” strategy through Cedar Rapids could cut at least 20 miles out of the 65.6 mile day from Hiawatha to Coralville. Most of the first half also sticks to paved trail.

Team Spam calculated even a more optimistic shortcut.

“It’s 35 miles and flat straight to the end town,” said Neilly Berger, of Sycamore, Ill., with a can of spam fixed atop her helmet.

“I love the smell of beer in the morning,” said another male rider who zipped along the southern shortcut before 9 a.m.

Heading south on the trail meant skipping Whittier, Springville and potentially Mount Vernon, depending on where riders pedal from Ely, which marks the end of the Cedar Valley trail. Mount Vernon marks 30 miles into the official Friday route.

The 50-plus mile Cedar Valley Nature Trail, spanning from Cedar Falls to beyond Cedar Rapids, served as the primary nexus for riders moving throughout Hiawatha Thursday and Friday.

Local riders, like Jen Scott and Todd Jacobs, both of Cedar Rapids, became de facto bike-traffic directors in Hiawatha while waiting for friends at the trailhead.

They sent riders north, along the official route (as encouraged by RAGBRAI officials), before preceding that direction themselves. They knew about the southern shortcut, but wanted the full-distance experience.

“It was nice to hop on the trail this morning and know exactly where I’m going,” Scott said.