Coe College meets RAGBRAI -- Iowa's greatest college tackles the nation's greatest bike ride.
Monday, March 12, 2012
Full RAGBRAI route announced
Written by TODD ERZEN and MICHAEL MORAIN
Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first. With Sioux Center, the starting point of the 40th RAGBRAI, actually being 12 miles away from the nearest tributary of the Missouri River, what are riders to do about the traditional dip-the-tire-in-the-water-before-traipsing-across-Iowa thing?
Ardith Lein, one of Sioux Center’s RAGBRAI co-chairs, said three previous turns as the event’s launching pad have taught city officials that bicyclists/vagabonds are nothing if not flexible.
“We take our fire tanker truck out to the river and pump it across the street at the start,” Lein said. “It’s worked fine, but if the diehards want to ride out to the river that’s fine, too.”
Open Space Park, the primary gathering spot for this year’s RAGBRAI, is located in the immediate vicinity of the Sioux County Fairgrounds, a local heritage village and Dordt College.
Orange City: A history lesson beckons in the first leg of the RAGBRAI route: Orange City was named after William I, the Prince of Orange, who led the Dutch revolt against the Spanish that finally led to independence for the Netherlands in the mid-17th century. The city’s 76-foot tall windmill — when measured from the ground to the highest-reaching vane — is a modern reminder of that Dutch heritage, as is the tulip festival held every May. A mini-tulip festival is scheduled for the RAGBRAI stop at the town square, featuring almond patties and Dutch letters from the Dutch Bakery, Woudstra brats, sausage-filled pastries called “sauchijze” and the breakfast from heaven known as Dutch puppies: waffles dipped in chocolate and served on a stick.
Alton: Golf enthusiasts may want to work in a tee time at Sioux Golf and Country Club, the oldest continuously operated golf course in Iowa. Course founder W.S. Slagle was first introduced to golf in 1888 during a trip to the East Coast and proceeded to convert a pasture into an Alton fixture that was named Iowa’s 9-hole course of the year in 1993. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (712) 756-4513 for more information.
DAY 2 Cherokee: RAGBRAI riders should fit in just fine in a town that celebrates Fat Tuesday every year by racing its women through downtown while they wear a dress, apron and kerchief and carry a frying pan, complete with pancake, that must be flipped at the beginning and end of the 415-yard course. Fun behavior like that is known as just another day that ends in “y” on the annual bike ride across the Hawkeye state. But more cerebral pleasures also await at the Sanford Museum and Planetarium, www.sanfordmuseum.org, which was both the first planetarium and first accredited museum in Iowa. It boasts a collection representing the fields of archeology, art, astronomy, geology, history, natural history and paleontology. Pilot Rock, two miles south of Cherokee on the east side of Highway 59, is an enormous boulder of red Sioux quartzite that measures 160 feet in circumference and is 20 feet high. It was revered by the Native American population that once lived in the region.
Schaller: It’s “Popcorn Days — The Sequel” for RAGBRAI riders who weren’t around to enjoy Schaller’s annual event. Known as the popcorn capital of the world, Schaller was home to Bango and Jolly Time popcorn until the companies moved in the 1980s after more than 60 years as the major industry in the area. A public pool will welcome all comers. Lobos, the town’s only restaurant, offers scrambled eggs and biscuits and gravy in the morning and rib eye sandwiches for lunch. And have we mentioned the beer garden? “The bar will be open as soon as it is legal to start serving,” said owner Sam Wandrey. (That’s 6 a.m., by the way.) Wandrey also makes a nice Bloody Mary.
Sac City: Things have changed since RAGBRAI riders last passed through town in 1995. The Sac County Cattle Company was named maker of Iowa’s best burger in 2010, and there is now a barn that houses the world’s largest popcorn ball. The 5,200- pound, 28.8-foot-at-the-equator behemoth was created in 2009 but is actually the third attempt at popcorn ball fame by proud Sac Citiers. The first, a mere 2,225-pound pipsqueak, was bested in overall size by some other town that shall remain nameless, and the second one gave in to mold and decay. The goal with the third, said brainchild Shirley Phillips, is immortality. “They had to tear the rafters out to shove it in the barn,” she said. If all the popcorn ball excitement proves too much for you, there are also two swimming options in town, one indoor and one outdoor.
Lake View: The 957-acre Black Hawk Lake, which is the southern-most glacial lake in the United States, is located within Black Hawk State Park. Swim at multiple beaches; check out the lake’s historic stone piers built during the Great Depression; enjoy some time out of the saddle at Boulder Beach mini-golf; walk the two-mile long “Stubb” Severson trail through the Black Hawk Game Preserve to access the Witches Tower on the highest point overlooking the Black Hawk Lake area; pay homage at the statue of the great Sac Indian Chief Black Hawk, which stands 11-feet tall and was sculpted in 1934 by a participant in an arts program under the direction of Grant Wood; and visit the Lake View Historical Museum’s collection of 130 stuffed-and-mounted species of birds.
Auburn: This is the childhood home of magazine publisher Roy Reiman, who overcame an early two-edition bust with Pepperette, a magazine aimed at teenaged cheerleaders and band and pep-squad members. He went on to establish a thriving business in the 1970s with the help of Farm Wife News and other agrarian titles. Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University in Ames is named after the Auburn product. Make a pit stop at Dolly’s Bar and Grill or Van’s Cafe, where the cinnamon rolls are a must.
Lake City: For starters, Lake City no longer has a lake. Dried up. Long gone. If RAGBRAI riders still see a body of water beckoning somewhere in the distance, that is the heat stroke talking and they should find some shade.
A tranquil field trip to Bowie International, manufacturer of Hurricane Motorsports’ fiberglass kit cars, is a possibility for auto enthusiasts. (Visit www.hurricane-motorsports.com.) Lake City is also home to the nationally prominent Dobson Pipe Organ Builders, but tours are not available. September is usually reserved for an annual chili cook-off, but maybe the locals won’t be able to wait that long.
Stratford: One possibility surrounding the town’s name is that an English railroad official named it after Stratford-on-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. RAGBRAI riders would probably have caught on to a literary theme anyway, based on street names such as Shakespeare, Tennyson, Milton, Byron, Goldsmith and Burns. Stratford is located on this year’s Karras loop, inspired by one of RAGBRAI’s founders and intended to make one day of the event weigh in at more than 100 miles in length. In this case, 104.5 miles to be exact. Need some inspiration to take on the additional 23.3-mile bonus trek? How about local legend John Jonas, who pushed a wheelbarrow loaded with all of his belongings to take part in the California gold rush in the 1850s. His return to the Midwest three years later repeated the feat. So give up after 81.2 measly miles or heed the call of a man who knew how to get across a state or two.
Lehigh: Nearby Brushy Creek State Park has a beach ready to host tired and sweaty bikers on the west side of one of Iowa’s largest man-made lakes. Check out www.stateparks.com/brushy_creek. html. If food is more important to you, the locals are very proud of the cheeseburgers at both Jay’s Bar and Grill and the Riverside Tavern.
DAY 4 Webster City: It’s a cultural two-for-one as RAGBRAI’s overnight stay coincides with the opening night of the 95th running of the Hamilton County Fair (www.hamiltoncountyfairia.com). “You can’t get much more American than that (combination),” said Kent Harfst, Webster City’s director of recreation and public grounds. A similar stamp of approval was given the Boone River and Webster City when they were elected the 2007 River Town of the Year. One of the tributaries to the Boone River features some of the best whitewater in Iowa and canoe or kayaking rentals will be available for those who need an adrenaline rush above and beyond RAGBRAI
Also worth a visit is the Kendall Young Library, 1201 Willson Ave., which is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Webster City pioneer Kendall Young and his wife, Jane, provided for the building and support of a free public city library in 1896, and construction of the Beaux Arts style library was completed in 1905. Special features include gold marble columns from Africa, terrazzo and mosaic floors, stained- glass windows and a stained-glass dome. Library collections include the Abastenia St. Leger Eberle Sculpture Collection, the Foster Doll Collection and the Van Ness Native American Collection. Visit www.youseemore. com/nilc/KendallYoung.
Kamrar: Riders can stop in Kamrar for breakfast and a quick photo with the second-hand firetruck the local fire department bought from the New York fleet that raced to the Twin Towers after the 9/11 attacks. (Window decals honor New York firefighter Terry Farrell, who died on 9/11. Coincidentally, he had donated bone marrow in 1993 to a 6-year-old girl from Nevada, Ia., who visited him in New York after her surgery.) Jewell: Stop by Katie’s Café for a fresh scone — the blueberry and peach ones go fast — and a round of bowling at Axis Lanes, a local hangout that often hosts live music. Follow the route south of town to Little Wall Lake, a glacial souvenir that has become a popular spot for camping, speed-boat races and migratory birds — but probably not at the same time.
Story City: Ditch your bike for a ride on this town’s 99-year-old carousel, where hand-carved animals and a whirling tub have been spinning around since their 1982 restoration. Grab a bag of popcorn or try your luck in surrounding North Park, where local bakers are sure to show off their Norwegian roots with piles of homemade kringla. Their doughy figure-8s are perfect for hanging a few extras on the handlebars of your bike.
Roland: The Scandinavian pride continues in Roland, even though Mayor Roger Fritz pointed out that the town name’s Spanish equivalent is Orlando. “But we lack a Disney World,” he joked. What they don’t lack: a local history museum, a decent bar at the American Legion post, and a new park, which is still under construction. The park can’t open soon enough for the local kids — and there are a lot of them. Fritz said that of the 1,284 folks in Roland, almost one in four are younger than 14, making the town one of the youngest in the state.
McCallsburg: Just down the road from Roland, this town is home to the state’s oldest mayor: 88-year-old Wallace Loney, who has held the office for 24 years. He’ll be glad to pose for a photo, but you’ll have to make it quick. “I’ll be running around to see if people need anything,” he said.
St. Anthony: If you’ve run out of kringla, stop for bite to eat in St. Anthony, which was named for two of its early pioneers: John Saint (grandfather of the actress Eva Marie Saint) and Anthony Pierce. Head straight for Flatheads Bar & Grill, which serves a mean mix of Cajun food most Tuesday nights (crawfish, gumbo, shrimp po’boys) and a pork tenderloin that has attracted statewide praise. Postmaster Joi Benedict recommends the sweet potato fries and sweet peach tea, a concoction of peach schnapps and iced tea “that doesn’t have enough alcohol to really get you, but it’s a nice refresher.” Like many small towns, Saint Anthony’s post office may be gone by the time RAGBRAI rolls through, but Benedict hopes to have a special stamp for visitors who’d like to postmark a souvenir card. (The next wave of closures is slated to be announced May 15.)
Clemons: For a different kind of souvenir, step up to the plate at the Clemons ballpark to re-enact a 1940s exhibition game between the local team and the St. Louis Cardinals. (The Cards won.)
Marshalltown: Riders will finish the day here, where they can feast on loose-meat sandwiches at the original Taylor’s Maid-Rite. For live culture, sample the dozen daily flavors of frozen yogurt served at the Purple Cherry. Want more culture? Check out the Impressionist paintings at the Fisher art center or the Iowa movie memorabilia at the beautifully restored Orpheum Theatre. Visitors can explore the 160-acre Grimes Farm and Conservation Center or bike a victory lap around the quarter-mile clay oval at the Marshalltown Speedway.
Garwin: The day’s route follows the path of a windstorm that ripped through Tama and Benton counties last July. The so-called “derecho” winds tore through at speeds that topped 100 miles per hour, cutting a path of destruction up to 15 miles wide. In Garwin’s city park, you’ll spot almost 80 new trees that were donated by the Iowa Speedway in Newton. You’ll also see a handful of community buildings in various states of repair.
“We’re still regrouping, still recovering,” lifelong resident Phyllis Konicek said. “But we’re going to survive. We’re a surviving people.”
They’re also a baking people. The last time RAGBRAI visited, Konicek and a friend made 850 cinnamon rolls that “were gone in nothing flat.” They plan to do it again this year.
Clutier: Save some room, though. The Czech town of Clutier will offer more kolaches and crescent-shaped rohlicky than you can shove into your spandex shorts. A good place to start is the Czech Point Restaurant & Pub or the 110-year-old Bohemian community hall, known as the Zapadni Cesko-Bratrska Jednoty. (Say that three times fast.)
Garrison: This is the hometown of Mildred Kalish, who wrote about her Depression-era childhood there in the 2007 memoir “Little Heathens.” The book’s nationwide success surprised no one more than the first-time author herself, who was 85 at the time.
Vinton: See if you can spot all nine murals a roving gang of artists known as the Walldogs painted in 2000, and the extra one they painted during a return trip several years later. There is plenty of three-dimensional art, too, thanks to local chainsaw sculptor Brian Parr, who turned dozens of the town’s storm-damaged trees into outdoor sculptures. One of the town’s other claims to fame is the 150-year-old Iowa Braille School, which includes among its alumni Laura Ingalls Wilder’s older sister Mary.
Shellsburg: If the park or historic concrete bridge look familiar, you may have seen them in “The Final Season,” the 2007 movie about the high school baseball team from nearby Norway. (Shellsburg’s main drag was better suited for filming than Norway’s, which has a noisy railroad crossing.) But the biggest draw these days might be Coop’s Roadhouse, the beer garden at the Pearl Street Social Club, or the candy counter at Divine Decadence, where you can gobble down chocolate-covered potato chips.
Are they any good? “Yes they are. Oh, yes they are,” the town’s city clerk, Nancy Deklotz, said with a note of reverence.
Cedar Rapids: Riders will finish the day in Cedar Rapids, which is eager to show off its progress since the Cedar River flooded its banks in 2008. Out-of-towners can poke around the historic Czech Village or visit the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, which was recently hauled to higher ground. Other sites worth a stop include the historic Brucemore estate, the 75 restored cars at Duffy’s Collectible Cars, and Grant Wood’s studio, which is managed by the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. The city will join the Register to host a special 40-year celebration for RAGBRAI.
Feel free to sleep in the next morning: The day’s ride to Anamosa is a measly 42 miles. Along the way, swing through Springville for a tenderloin at Shelly’s and catch up on local gossip with the coffee group that meets every morning at Casey’s. If coffee isn’t your thing, take a nap on the lawn by the gazebo at Butler Park. There’s time.
The route passes next through tiny Viola (pronounced VYE-ola) before coasting into Anamosa, home of the Grant Wood Art Gallery and the National Motorcycle Museum, which displays more than 250 rare and vintage motorcycles dating back to 1903. But don’t get any ideas: motorized bikes are taboo on the RAGBRAI route.
Oxford Junction: The final day’s ride into Clinton winds through a handful of towns that barely show up on the map, including unincorporated Hale and Elwood. You can start the day off right with a trip to the Old Stone Jail in Oxford Junction, which housed prisoners in the town’s early days. If you manage to escape, hop on a get-away bike and pedal as fast as you can to Lost Nation. But linger at your own risk: Many of the local kids were extras in the 2009 remake of the horror movie “Children of the Corn,” which was filmed here. “It was pretty corny,” Mayor Jim Schroeder said, without intending the pun.
In some ways, the town’s real history is actually spookier. Local legend claims that a group of Native Americans overtook some pioneers in wagons who had split from the group and lost their way. An old cemetery in town turned into their final resting place.
Delmar: The train depot in Delmar re-opened last summer as the Delmar Depot Railroad Museum almost 30 years after it welcomed its last freight train. More than 1,500 artifacts tell the story of the railroad’s early days, including the so-called “orphan trains” that once brought thousands of out-of-state kids to work on Iowa farms.
From there the route curves through Charlotte (pronounced shar-LOT), which has an old covered bridge. Find killer cheeseburgers at Dad’s Place, then head to Goose Lake before the final 13 miles into Clinton. After riders dip their front tire in the mighty Mississippi, they find ways to celebrate the end of the ride: with a glass of wine at the Wide River Winery, a meal at the Candlelight Inn overlooking the new marina, or a round of blackjack at the Wild Rose Casino and Resort.