By Karuna Ang /The Gazette
4:10 UPDATE: Betty and Dean Nezerka signed up to host RAGBRAI riders this year. A lot of riders, in fact.
The husband-wife duo got up early Thursday morning to do the final preparations before support groups and riders rolled into their backyard.
This year, there will be 53 tents and 78 people camping out in their backyard and part of their neighbors' backyards. Due to the hot weather, the couple's neighbor has set up a make-shift shower for riders to use to cool down.
"There were three towns that they couldn't find any place for us to stay," explains Michelle Madden, a rider from West Des Moines. "It's really nice to have people open up their homes to strangers. It takes a lot of trust, and it is nice that people do it."
"I tell everybody if they want to do RAGBRAI, try to get hosted," says Lori Jewell, one of the drivers for her group. "You'll have your addresses, you don't have to fight for a spot, and you can go right to that place." Jewell and her group enjoyed their stay at Cherokee when another couple hosted them there.
"They came out, and we cooked meals," explains Jewell. "They sat around with us all night, and we got to know them and their kids. It was really hot, and they invited us, so eight of us slept in their home that night."
Click here for more RAGBRAI information, including a photo gallery, event locations and interactive map.
By Cindy Hadish /The Gazette
2:50 UPDATE: By Thursday afternoon, RAGBRAI cyclists were making their way through downtown Cedar Rapids and elsewhere in the city.
Patrick Mazur, 44, of Bay Village, Ohio, near Cleveland, happened upon the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Czech Village.
Riding with a team of 65 people raising money for Parkinson’s disease, Mazur said he had been to Slovakia and his family is researching their Slovak roots.
“This is great that this is here,” he said of the museum. “I bet my parents will drive out here sometime.”
Bringing visitors back is one of the far-reaching goals of the ride, along with a temporary spike in business.
Hand-drawn chalks signs on the sidewalk outside Parlor City Pub and Eatery, 1125 Third St. SE, directed bicyclists to parking in the back and to 56 beers on tap inside.
“I need a cold beer,” said Mike Kaska, 56, of Cedar Rapids, who rode from Marshalltown and plans to ride to Anamosa on Friday.
While RAGBRAI is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, with some riders having been with the ride all four decades, many, like Kaska, were making their first trip.
“Me and my buddy talked about it for 40 years,” said Kaska, who works for a painting contractor. “We finally decided to do it.”
By Cindy Hadish /The Gazette
11:15 a.m. UPDATE: Dan DeBakey woke up at 3:45 a.m. today in Marshalltown and made it to Cedar Rapids before 10:30 a.m.
Even he wasn’t among the first RAGBRAI riders to roll into town.
“A few people were in front of us,” said DeBakey, an Iowa native living in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. “Some people leave at 3 a.m.”
Cedar Rapids is an overnight stop for the annual weeklong bike ride across Iowa.
More than 10,000 cyclists are expected to converge on the city today, camping overnight at three sites or staying with family and friends or in hotels.
Streets are closed throughout the day for the route coming into Cedar Rapids. The Second and Third Avenue bridges also are closed to traffic to prepare for tonight’s Counting Crows concert.
DeBakey and his cousin, Edward Ford of LaCrosse, Wis., who are both in their 50s, said many of the towns they passed through were not yet ready for cyclists, but the weather was perfect for the ride.
That contrasts with Wednesday night’s thunderstorms that canceled the Little River Band concert and other events in Marshalltown, and the triple-digit-temperatures that riders endured at the start of the week.
Ford, a Cedar Rapids native, said the two were headed to Czech Village to meet another cousin for kolaches.The Czech Village/New Bohemia district will be the site of Friday morning’s Breakfast on the Bridge as cyclists leave Cedar Rapids on their way to Anamosa.