RAGBRAI draws cyclists
SHELDON, Iowa — Amid corn and soybean fields that stretched as far as the eye could see, bicyclists from all over the country set off on a seven-day journey across northern Iowa early Sunday morning on the first leg of The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI).
An estimated 10,000 bicyclists are participating in the 2014 ride, embarking on a route that had them camping out in Rock Valley on Saturday night and finishing the first leg in Okoboji. Tonight’s stop is in Emmetsburg, with Forest City, Mason City, Waverly and Independence as nightly stops before reaching the end of their journey Saturday in Guttenberg. Bicyclists will log a minimum of 491 miles on the journey, with many traveling additional sightseeing trails along the way.
The most serious of the bike riders began the first leg of their journey by 5:30 a.m. Sunday from Rock Valley, hoping to beat the heat predicted to settle over the region by late morning.
Scott Wynia was one of more than 100 volunteers on the welcome committee in Sheldon, the official meeting town for Sunday’s ride. He said the first riders came into town by 6:30 a.m. — before the volunteers had even finished setting up.
The Sheldon City Park served as a shady spot for riders to stop off for a smoothie or fill up on protein-packed pork chops on a stick. Nineteen vendors, including local church groups and nonprofit organizations, served up everything from ice water to fruits, nuts and sandwiches.
Wynia’s role on the risk management committee was to welcome the bicyclists to Sheldon, point the way to the bike route, the vendors and the watering stations.
“Basically I’m trying to keep the bikes rolling,” he said, then paused to welcome another group of bicyclists.
“Now we’re starting to get those on the bike route but not here for speed or anything,” Wynia said of the bicyclists entering the park shortly after 9 a.m.
Ken Bell of Clark, S.D., was one of those bicyclists. At nearly 72 years old, this is his first RAGBRAI.
“I thought why not — I’ll try it. What the heck. I like to ride a little bit around town,” he said. “It’s a good challenge and you meet people from all around the world.”
Bell said he likes the RAGBRAI trek because it’s not a race — everyone can go at their own pace. He prefers to stop in the towns along the way because of the good people and the good food.
“I can tell everybody it’s a good day to be alive,” he shared. “You think you’ve got problems and then you see people who are handicapped or something and they’re riding.”
Bell was bicycling on his own, but his wife of three months was taking part in RAGBRAI by car. She went directly from Rock Valley to Okoboji to get set up before he arrived.
“We’re on our honeymoon,” Bell said with a smile.
His goal on the journey is to “have a pleasant day; and just to finish it.”
A group of bicyclists wearing brightly colored tie-dyed T-shirts proclaiming they were Team Jazzed were also taking a break in Sheldon. Gina Kaufman said the Cedar Rapids-based church group included 23 bikers, and has expanded to include participants from Texas, California, Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota in the four years since their first RAGBRAI team ride.
“It’s just been amazing,” she said of the ride. “It’s just overwhelming — Iowa hospitality!”
Fellow team member Diane Jones grew up in Iowa and now lives in White Bear Lake.
“I miss Iowa a lot,” said the Oelwein native. “There’s nothing better than an Iowan.”
A bike enthusiast, Jones teaches spin classes and does indoor cycling a couple of times a week. To prepare for RAGBRAI, she’s also gone on some longer treks of 25 to 30-plus miles.
Bicyclists Steven Meyer of Cambridge, Mass., and Claire Bretschneider of New York City were hoping youth and enthusiasm would get them through their first-ever RAGBRAI.
“We’ve both been cycling for a while, and we’ve heard lots of other people who have done it and said really great things,”said Bretschneider.
“We both commuted a lot for work all the time and we wanted to find something to really push ourselves,”added Meyer, who recently moved from New York City to Massachusetts. “She’s done some longer rides; this is my first big, long trek.”
While Meyer, who grew up in Chicago, had been to Iowa before — just not northwest Iowa — it was Bretschneider’s first visit to the Hawkeye State.
“There’s a lot of corn,” Bretschneider commented on the first day’s journey.
“I never thought of the Midwest as having such big hills and all this landscape,” added Meyer. “Seeing the expanses of agricultural land here is kind of unlike anything else I’ve seen.”
The Iowa landscape is something Dave Breckenfelder of Oconomowoc, Wis., is certainly accustomed to. A native of Muscatine, he is taking part in his 32nd RAGBRAI ride. The annual bike ride is in its 42nd year.
“It’s a fun, healthy vacation,” Breckenfelder said of his reasons for taking part in the bicycle trek year after year.
He is one of about 70 participants in the Melon City Bike Club from Muscatine on the 2014 RAGBRAI route.
“You always look forward to the end, but it’s just whatever comes, comes,” he said of the journey. “It’s the unexpected things that surprise you — you remember them.”
All riders were slated to be on their way out of Sheldon by 1:30 p.m. Sunday, with passes through Melvin, May City and Milford before reaching their Sunday night destination in Okoboji.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.