116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CENTERVILLE - RAGBRAI cyclists didn't have to endure an extra 30-mile loop around Rathbun Lake on Wednesday but hundreds like Christine Chinhema did anyway.
'For the challenge,” said Chinhema, 35, who lives in Des Moines and is originally from Zimbabwe. 'I've never done 120 miles before.”
Plus, she heard one of the two founders of the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa - John Karras - was passing out ceremonial patches for those who took the optional loop. The annual midsummer ride, referred to by some as a state fair on wheels, has become one of Iowa's top tourism draws attracting tens of thousands of people.
Donald Kaul, who co-founded the ride with Karras when they both were journalists with the Register, died in 2018, and this year's ride - in its 47th year - is honoring him.
The loop, which is one of the many traditions of RAGBRAI, is now named the Karras Loop in Karras' honor. Typically, the extra mileage brings the total above 100 for the day, a milestone for some.
'I was hoping he would be here,” Chinhema said of Karras. 'It's like going back to the roots of where it started. History helps us understand where we are at.”
Karras, 89, looked on with a smile as cyclists came one after another to get their picture taken with him with the lake in the background.
Riders were treated to a sunny, mildly warm day, albeit the most challenging of the week on Wednesday. The official guide lists an 84.1 mile ride with 3,252 feet of climb, or 116.6 miles and 4,562 feet of climb with the loop.
The eastward route began in Indianola with stops at Lake Ahquabi State Park, Liberty Center, Lacona, Chariton, Millerton, Bethlehem, Confidence, Walnut City and Mystic before reaching Centerville, which is about 85 miles southeast of Des Moines.
The ride started Sunday in Council Bluffs and ends Saturday in Keokuk. On Thursday, riders will depart for Fairfield, which is the closest RAGBRAI gets to the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids corridor this year.
Stephen Isaacson, 52, of Overland Park, Kan., also opted to tackle the loop. Once a year he leaves work and home behind for a bike ride in Iowa. He brings a book to relax in the evenings and pedals every mile he can during the day.
'It's a week to myself,” Isaacson said. 'I come up here by myself and get away from the stress. I'm not on a schedule. The (end town) will still be there in a couple of hours. I enjoy cycling, so the more miles the better.”
When he gets back home, he said he puts the patches - he has collected five so far - in a drawer and stumbles across them in the middle of December, bringing back warm feelings to help get through the cold winter.
For others, such as Al Kuhn, 60, of Cedar Rapids, RAGBRAI is an opportunity to reconnect with family. Kuhn is one of five brothers with a long history of participating.
Now, children, nieces, fiances, spouses and in-laws join in for some or all of the week, riding as a team dubbed 'Oh Brother,” with specially designed jerseys.
About 40 miles into the ride Wednesday, the family regrouped in the shade of a church in Chariton where one of the convoy brought over three Casey's pizzas to help them recharge.
'There were a lot of hills out of Indianola,” said Kuhn's brother-in-law Roger Batterson, 55, also of Cedar Rapids. 'There were a couple of Jim Dandies. I was going into the second lowest gear I've got just to get up them.”
Logan Candill, 17, a senior at Chariton High School, was welcoming visitors as they crossed the Chariton town square. He helped facilitate a game called 'Throw to T.J.”
A life-size game action image of former Iowa Hawkeye T.J. Hockenson stood on display with a hole by his hands where people could test their accuracy with a football.
'The circle is too small,” Candill said. 'If you throw it within 6 feet he'll catch it.”
Candill and others were proud to tell of the connection of their 'humble” hometown guy to the thousands of people likely visiting Chariton for the first time.
'Everyone should know him,” said Candill, who plays on the Chariton football team. 'For this small town to have him picked No. 8 in the draft and be from here, that just doesn't happen.”
Those who reached Chariton early enough were treated to an 'anvil shoot,” in which they pack a 30- to 40-pound steel anvil with black gun powder and light the fuse, creating a chest-shaking explosion that sends the hunk of metal 30 feet up in the air before slamming back to the earth not far from where it launched.
Cyclists had to crest one final hill as they pedaled into Centerville.
Some walked. Most huffed and wheezed. Some exclaimed, 'not another one.” A Centerville police officer stationed at the top of the hill for safety urged them on.
''Bout got her whooped,” he said.
Mike Predaina, 29, of Madison, Wis., sat legs crossed soaking in the sun at the Indian Hills Community College campus waiting for the rest of his friends to arrive so he could set up camp. He'd just finished the ride and crossed under the welcome archway into town, marking the completion of the day's ride.
'I'm exhausted,” said Predaina, who is participating in his first RAGBRAI. 'Just finishing that long day, getting through the arch, it's a relief - a joyful relief - to be done.”