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  • Posted May 1, 2012

If you build it, the beer and the tacos will come.

Excellent article written by Rodd Erzen of the Des Moiines Register

[BIKEIOWA Note: These kinds of accolades definitely help to showcase and solidify what Iowa's trail system has become.]

If you build it, the beer and the tacos will come.

Turns out that ol’ Iowa cornfield magic doesn’t just apply to baseball diamonds. Complete a 25-mile-long, $15 million recreational trail between Woodward and Ankeny after eight years of trying and several new watering holes will pop up out of the local farmland to keep riders — ahem — hydrated along the way.

In fact, some bicyclists are already calling the High Trestle Trail — named for the 13-story-high, half-mile long river bridge that is its most prominent feature — a “little RAGBRAI.”

The east-west stretch between Woodward and Slater has embraced that calling in particular, with Madrid’s Flat Tire Lounge getting the ball rolling with a grand opening not long after the trail was completed last spring. Next on the scene, just last month, was the Nite Hawk Bar & Grill in Slater, and later this summer the Whisl’n Donkey will open in Woodward on the trail’s west end along with a six-acre campground for weary and/or otherwise impaired travelers to rest their heads.

Nite Hawk owner Shawn Birdsall said the same kind of passion that led countless RAGBRAI riders to detour off the official route last summer to get a look at the High Trestle bridge has kept cyclists coming through town every month since.

“It’s been astronomical,” Birdsall said. “Basically, if there is not snow, they are riding on it and it’s at all hours of the day.”

Some may be riding strictly to train for a race. Most, though, seem to be looking for a broader experience that includes equal parts healthy living, the outdoors, good company and that little something extra to make it all go down smoothly.

Ankeny’s Bill Young was one of those pedaling through Slater earlier this month and found the something extra to be the signature apple pie shots served at the Nite Hawk.

“This is what we ride for,” Young said. “We ride to get to places like this.”

A more candid assessment came from Des Moines’ Patty Guevara while visiting the Flat Tire.

“My ideal bike ride is 50 miles with three bars in between,” she said.

Of course, it was the grandeur of the celebrated High Trestle bridge that was largely responsible for drawing an average of more than 500 riders per day to the western-most part of the trail between April and August of 2011, according to Lisa Hein of the Iowa National Heritage Foundation.

“It’s blown everybody away with its popularity,” Hein said. “It’s elevated the importance of trails in Iowa so much that all of the area trails want to connect to the High Trestle Trail now.”

But keeping the trail a fan favorite year after year will be all the more likely with festive food and drink stops regularly positioned along the way. Patios located within 25 yards of the trail, calling out with their siren song of live music, grilled burgers and adult beverages, are an enticing force to reckon with.

Let’s face it, folks, resistance may be futile.

“We are from Waukee,” Sue Edwards said earlier this month. “We could have rode west but we came here because we wanted to check out the Nite Hawk.”

Over at the Flat Tire, preparing for a big crowd again in year two of operation has caused the Madrid establishment to up its game bit by bit. The Radish restaurant in Grimes is bringing in its grub every Saturday and Sunday, including breakfast, to a new trail-side deck addition. And the number of beers on tap at the Flat Tire has been increased to 14, many of the premium variety.

“We are catering to what the bikers want because they seem to enjoy the finer things,” said Flat Tire manager Karen Mahoney. “They are the nicest people and they bring so much atmosphere.”

Thursdays at the Flat Tire also feature Tacopocalypse, biker-chef Sam Auen’s moveable feast that got its start farther south on Tuesday nights at perhaps the granddaddy of central Iowa’s bike trail oases: the Cumming Tap.

Bob Moural bought the bar, located adjacent to the Great Western Bike Trail that connects the south side of Des Moines to Martensdale, with his mother after RAGBRAI pedaled through town in 1997.

“That’s when we realized there was money to be made from bikers,” Moural said.

Auen said his experience up in Madrid last summer was “really amazing” in terms of watching the city and its residents come to embrace its regular stream of spandex-clad visitors. The mix of bicyclists and townies at the Flat Tire on any given day makes for a one-of-a-kind experience.

“It really has kind of a RAGBRAI vibe,” Auen said. “The (locals) are moving in some cases from tolerating it to enjoying it.”

Back in Des Moines, Orlando’s on Park Bar & Grill owner Pat Renda has spent the last decade serving bikers from his Great Western trail head location. Wednesday karaoke nights are timed to occur with the Cumming Tap’s steak night, making for an eight-mile trip in between that Renda said is often enhanced with help from liquored snow cones.

That’s right. Snow cones with booze in them. Enjoy.

To the extent that tasty stuff like that is finding its way onto the High Trestle trail, Des Moines’ Anet Brommell will keep coming back for more. She biked to Ames four times last fall to watch Iowa State football games and on one occasion actually slept on the High Trestle bridge — that’s frowned upon, by the way — in an aborted attempt to finish the long ride back home with her friends.

Now Brommell’s hearty bunch will change its travel itinerary, she said, and get to the trail sooner to have some post-game fun at one of its bar stops. As for where everybody sleeps later on, they make no promises.

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