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  • Kyle Munson
  • Tue January 28 2014
  • Posted Jan 28, 2014

The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa unveiled its eight overnight towns Saturday night for its 42nd run. More than 1,200 bicyclists convened in downtown Des Moines for the occasion — perfectly timed amid the cabin fever of a frigid, snowy January. My Register colleague Michael Morain and I meanwhile, gabbed our way through a live broadcast for the thousands of riders who watched and tweeted from afar.

Be sure to read about the entire, 418-mile route, from Rock Valley to Guttenburg. (The precise route with all the pass-through towns will arrive in mid-March.)

In no particular hierarchical order, here are 10 things I learned at the route announcement party:

1. Book a table early at the Northwest Steakhouse in Mason City. — The Mason City delegation proclaimed the restaurant a midweek highlight — and no doubt a welcome departure from roadside fare, with such finery as table service and silverware. Morain concurred that none other than Des Moines entrepreneur John Pappajohn (of Pappajohn Sculpture Park fame) has recommended this eatery that opened in 1920.

2. Mr. Pork Chop Jr., Matt Bernhard, will stage a second annual bike ride in April. — The Kossuth County vendor family renowned on RAGBRAI for its signature pink school bus and billowing smoke from sizzling pork chops last year launched the “Mr. Pork Chop Thaw Ride” — a single-day trek of about 40 miles to celebrate spring. The second annual ride based in Bancroft will ramble around Iowa’s largest county Saturday, April 5. Details TBA.

3. It’s not easy to find a new place to launch RAGBRAI. — Rock Valley debuts this year as a new overnight town at the starting line — an increasingly rare feat after 42 years of bike routes. This town of 3,354 RAGBRAI hosts is situated 10 miles east of the Missouri River Big Sioux River, so an extra pedal west for the ritual tire dip will be required. But that’s no different than the fellow Sioux County town of Sioux Center where RAGBRAI began in 2012.

4. Okoboji is going to be ready, wild and willing for its first RAGBRAI overnight stop on Sunday, July 20. — The Iowa Great Lakes resort community already is chock full of revelers in the summer, so why not add 10,000 more bicyclists and their support crews to the mix? The raucous Okoboji crew at the party — missing the Winter Games there this weekend — rattled off more essential restaurant and nightspot recommendations than I can remember.

5. This is the year of bacon and bicycles. — Blue Ribbon Bacon Fest kingpin Brooks Reynolds will be busy next weekend at his wildly popular food extravaganza in Des Moines. And then he and RAGBRAI also teamed up to launch the 71-mile “Bacoon Ride” June 28 on the Raccoon River Valley Trail.

6. St. Patrick’s Day in Iowa will have a sequel in July. — I might have convinced Emmetsburg to include corned beef and cabbage on its RAGBRAI menu for its overnight stop on Monday, July 21. (I do ride under the banner of Team Sauerkraut.) The proudly Irish town loves to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, so some type of green theme is likely for bicyclists in July.

7. The Adaptive Sports Iowa Team continues to be an inspiring presence on RAGBRAI. — OK, I didn’t exactly learn this Saturday night at the route announcement party. I already knew this after pedaling uphill alongside Adaptive Sports Iowa bicyclists who refused to let their physical impairments prevent them from enjoying the trail with everybody else. The team was presented with RAGBRAI’s Rider Cup award Saturday night in what was a stirring moment.

8. There should be less of an excuse to skip this year’s Karras Loop. — RAGBRAI Director T.J. Juskiewicz noted Saturday night that Tuesday’s “Karras Loop” day — an extra loop in the route to push the 73-mile ride from Emmetsburg to Forest City past 100 miles — will be bookended by two easy days. So the 41 miles Monday from Okoboji to Emmetsburg and the 36(!) miles Wednesday from Forest City to Mason City should prod more newbies to notch their first “century” ride (100 miles within a day). Check all the route stats on the RAGBRAI interactive map page.

9. Speaking of RAGBRAI co-founder John Karras, he’s still beloved for creating this unpredictable, goofy rite of summer. — Karras also attended Saturday night, helped unveil the overnight towns and received hearty cheers and a standing ovation.

10. It may be a flat route, but it ends with a steep incline. — This 42nd RAGBRAI route is the third shortest and second flattest in history. But the final day’s trek from Independence to Guttenburg will sweat the saddle-sore throng with 3,073 feet of climb — more feet of climb than the 1,919 residents of Guttenburg.

Time to give my bike a tune-up and get back on the trail to train. See you on the road this spring, RAGBRAI Nation.


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The Northwestern Steak house is the best steak you will ever have. Unless things will change for Ragbrai, you'll need to line up before the doors open and stand in line for a table. They don't take reservations. Well worth the wait. I've been going there for 30 years, and would still be considered a rookie.

#1 - pondhopper posted Jan 30, 2014


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