116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
ANAMOSA — Even after enduring five days of scorching heat and hundreds of miles of pedaling, RAGBRAI cyclists were in high spirits Thursday as they rode into town after the longest day on this year’s route to spend the night.
Thursday’s 84.7-mile trek, the lengthiest of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, took cyclists from Waterloo to Anamosa, with a meeting stop in Center Point. Riders next head 64 miles to DeWitt.
MORE PHOTOS: See more images from RAGBRAI in Linn County
The seven-day ride across the state is back after a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, and seasoned veterans and first-time riders alike were out in force. An estimated 15,000 cyclists are participating in this year’s ride, which ends Saturday in Clinton.
Riders looking to add an extra challenge to the day Thursday could take the optional Karras Loop — named after one of the ride’s founders, John Karras — a loop that brought the day’s mileage to over 100.
Return of a beloved ride
As riders began to arrive in Anamosa in the afternoon, sweat and exhaustion did not deter a festive atmosphere, with cyclists and visitors taking in musical performances, food vendors and many places to enjoy a cold beer.
The centerpiece of Anamosa’s RAGBRAI plans for greeting riders is the 25-foot tall “God Bless America” statue, a giant work inspired by the figures in Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.” The town hopes to keep the statue, valued at $880,000, permanently. A sign next to the statue encouraged riders and onlookers to make a donation.
Jan Nierling, of Mason City, says she has participated 20 times in the annual bike ride. She was walking in town with her bike, wearing a colorful tutu she made herself.
Nierling, 63, said she keeps coming back because of the people she meets along the route — and because the training needed to complete the ride keeps her in shape.
“It beats getting old,” she said.
Pigs and prom dresses
Before the day’s ride ended in Anamosa, cyclists arrived around midmorning in Center Point, the Linn County town serving as the meeting town for the day.
Center Point’s stop was pig themed — derived from the town’s annual pork day celebration.
For Center Point Urbana High School students, the event was a chance to raise funds for their prom. Students donned sparkly prom dresses, and one even dressed in a giant pink pig suit for cyclists to take photos with.
Cole Werner, 16, said the stunt raised at least $80 for the post-prom event. He sported a rhinestone-studded purple prom dress over his T-shirt, taking pictures with riders.
“I was a little shy at first — but you get used to it,” he said.
Riding on six wheels
While most choose to complete the ride on bicycles, a few have found alternate modes of transportation.
Arnav Shah, 35, from New York City, is completing the entire route on his in-line skates for the second time.
“We’re here because one, we want to have a fun time, we love to skate,” he said. “And two, we want to show what’s possible on skates. That it’s something very accessible to people and you can get to some pretty cool places. ”
Shah brought along a group of six fellow skaters, who are gliding through the week without saddle sores.
He was completing the Karras Loop, also known as the century loop, skating over 100 miles Thursday, and encouraged some of his more reluctant teammates to come along.
“They’ve gone from ‘there’s no way I’m doing the century loop’ to ‘I’ll consider it’ to ‘I’m getting my patch,’” he said. “That’s been the progression.”
First-timers hit the road
While the roads of RAGBRAI are packed with many veterans who have done the ride for years, some are taking their first trek across the state this year.
Alex Paterson, 31, from Ames, moved to Iowa two years ago and knew it was one of the things he had to check off his list while living there. He cycled four times a week to train — but still was in for a surprise with the terrain.
“I was told Iowa was flat — I have been lied to,” he said. “I climbed more today than I ever have in my life.”
Despite riding for the first time, he also decided to take on the challenge of the century loop.
“Look, I’m here. I’m going to do the loop. I have to,” he said. “As soon as I started climbing I was like — this is fine. It was miserable, it was pain — but this is the ride now.”
Cindy Berndt, of Parker, Colo., visited Iowa for the first time for RAGBRAI. She had planned to come with a team. But when the group fell through, she and her husband committed to doing the ride on their own.
Berndt, 41, said the ride so far has been difficult — but enjoyable.
“I have not come across one person who is unhappy,” she said. “And even when we’re miserable in the heat, they’re still happy. It is pretty cool to be around thousands of positive people all day long, even when we’re all struggling.”
Comments: (319) 368-8827; email@example.com