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Day 1: RAGBRAI pumps energy into tiny Turin

Cyclists enter Turin during the first day of RAGBRAI 46 on Sunday. (B.A. Morelli/The Gazette
Cyclists enter Turin during the first day of RAGBRAI 46 on Sunday. (B.A. Morelli/The Gazette
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By B.A. Morelli, The Gazette

TURIN — Turin once was a bustling little town.

Multiple grocery stores, a couple of shops and a creamery operated. The creamery is where locals came to sell eggs and milk. That’s how Ralph Wickersham, 88, remembers it in his early years in the 1930s after moving from Omaha.

“It used to be a quite little burg,” Wickersham said.

Present day, Turin is a shell of its former self, but still holding strong as the population has dipped from more than 100 to about 65. They still have a mayor and a town hall.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of bicyclists participating in RAGBRAI, or the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, pedaled through breathing a sense of vibrancy Turin hasn’t seen in years.

Turin was the first stop of RAGBRAI 46. Cyclists pedaled 43.5 miles and 1,558 feet of climb Sunday, or 62.3 miles and 2,627 feet of climb with the optional gravel loop.

Departing from Onawa, stops included Turin, Soldier, Moorhead on the optional gravel loop, Ute, Charter Oak and ended in Denison.

The route continues for 428 miles over seven days, ending in Davenport on Saturday, but not before stopping in Iowa City on Friday.

RAGBRAI is one of the state’s major tourism draws and shines a spotlight on many of the small communities that make up the state.

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For Turin, which lost its grocery stores and post office, Sunday was the most people who’ve visited since RAGBRAI pedaled through 14 years ago, Wickersham said.

While riders saw a small town, which may blend in with the many other small towns they will see this week, locally RAGBRAI was an important event.

Wickersham was one the volunteers for the Turin United Methodist Church. It hosted a pancake breakfast, which competed with a stand offering breakfast burritos and another offering coffee and pastries.

Churches and other organizations capitalize on RAGBRAI’s market. Wickersham and United Methodist were raising money to redo the roof and basement of their 125-year-old church. If the building fails, it probably will not be saved, he said.

“We had a good turnout 14 years ago, and we doubled it this year,” Wickersham said. “I won’t be around if they come back in another 14 years.”

Later in the day, Danielle and Jeremy Creese were running a stand selling chicken sandwiches and drinks to benefit autism research. Their 8-year-old daughter Kenley has autism, and they hoped to raise money for day camps and speech therapy.

“This is more people than we will see all year,” Danielle Creese said.

More than just money, it was a networking opportunity. She said a number of health care professionals left emails and phone number and asked questions about whether they had tried different methods.

Monday’s route travels 72 miles east to Jefferson.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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