Memories of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa tend to melt into one continuous blur of hills and pork and sweaty spandex. And after 42 years, each ride can seem pretty much like the one before — except when they don’t.
The Register’s Kyle Munson and Michael Morain compiled this list of the Top 10 highlights that distinguished this ride from all the others. These are the “Remember when . . .” stories riders will swap when they regroup for next year’s route-announcement party in January 2015.
Rock Valley’s recovery. The northwest Iowa town of 3,500 known for Dutch heritage and a growing cluster of small manufactures nearly had to cancel as RAGBRAI’s launchpad when it was soaked in a flood a month before the ride. But Mayor Kevin Van Otterloo and his citizens rallied, embracing RAGBRAI as a centerpiece of their recovery. The town where many residents were driven out of their homes by floodwaters managed to house riders in school classrooms and throw a fitting first party. Photos: RAGBRAI in Rock Valley
The Emmetsburg headwind. The proudly Irish town in Palo Alto County put its own twist on that old Irish blessing about the road rising up to meet you and the wind being always at your back. Bikers pedaled south into a punishing headwind on the way into town Monday, then north into the wind on the same road the next morning. Maybe it was a leprechaun’s curse. Photos: Into Emmetsburg | Leaving Emmetsburg
Lightning-rod Lance Armstrong. RAGBRAI officials welcomed the dethroned king of the Tour de France back to Iowa with open arms, but the jury was still out among riders. Both his late arrival for a guest-bartending gig in Rock Valley and his tweet about a lost green duffel bag in Forest City prompted a burst of wisecracks (and worse) on social media. But that didn’t stop people from trying to catch a glimpse of him in person. Ultimate Lance Armstrong RAGBRAI photo gallery
Mr. Pork Chop homecoming. Famed RAGBRAI food vendor Paul “Mr. Pork Chop” Bernhard, who retired from the road in 2008 to let his son take over bicycling’s iconic pit stop for carnivores, reveled in the chance to greet his fans one more time. Tuesday’s route stopped halfway in Bernhard’s hometown of Bancroft, where the gleefully irreverent Mr. Chop sat in the park gazebo downtown and traded one-liners with a continuous procession of bicyclists. Even Armstrong dropped by to pay tribute. Celebrating a legend in Bancroft
The easiest day ever. Statistically, Wednesday’s 38.5-mile ride from Forest City to Mason City was the easiest day in RAGBRAI’s 42-year history, when you factor both mileage and feet of climb. (Hmm…It was also the day the Register’s executive team chose to join in. Coincidence?) The breezy parade along the north shore of Clear Lake ended with a beach party. Munson: Wednesday was so easy (How easy was it?)
The rowdy beach wedding. Since Gretchen Imhoff and Brian Denney courted on bicycles and more or less fell in love on RAGBRAI, a two-wheeled wedding with all their Team Waldo friends seemed like the natural choice. So the happy couple pedaled their way to Clear Lake, circled around a shopping cart full of beer beneath a shade tree, and finally became a symbolic tandem on the beach as RAGBRAI Nation cheered them on.
A different kind of Music Man. Who knows what Meredith Willson would have thought of Poison frontman Bret Michaels’ concert in Mason City, but riders and locals showed up in full force to see the rocker do his thing Wednesday night. Opening act Warrant performed well but failed to make the obvious RAGBRAI joke about their biggest hit, “Cherry Pie.” 28 photos: Bret Michaels in Mason City
The rain. Riders enjoyed a sunny week until Friday, when storm clouds delivered a cold shower all morning. Hundreds crammed like sardines into the school in Tripoli, only to re-emerge into a chilly wind. Grim determination gave way to happier spirits when the sunshine broke through.
RAGBRAI remembers. Riders wore hundreds of pairs of red- and blue-striped socks Friday in honor of late RAGBRAI stalwart Carter LeBeau. That was just one collective visible sign of how this bicycle ride as it ages has taken pains to pay tribute to the characters that helped establish it. RAGBRAI pedals ever forward but doesn’t forget to honor and memorialize its colorful past. Story: Riding to remember
Hellish hills. Unlike Friday’s rain, everybody saw this one coming: Saturday’s rippling river valley between Independence and Guttenberg was mountainous compared to the table-flat farmland of northwest Iowa. Many riders ended up walking the worst hills or paused to slump on the roadside, nursing a freshly squeezed limeade. Entire Amish families at on their front lawns and gazed at the struggling bicyclists with what could have been bemused expressions. Photos from Saturday
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