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  • Thu August 04 2005
  • Posted Aug 4, 2005
Thousands of RABRAI bicyclists turn Woden, Titonka, Crystal Lake, Thompson and Lake Mills into bustling cities By Bob Fenske Of The Summit Bill Weber caught RAGBRAI fever almost as soon as he began pedaling a bike, and that zeal for one of the biggest bike rides in the world brought the Everett, Wash., man to downtown Crystal Lake last Wednesday morning. A paper dolphin sat atop Weber's helmet as he and his fellow Goleta Valley Cycling Club riders took a break near Crystal Lake's most dominating landmark -- the bullhead statue, of course -- and he talked about what had brought him to Iowa for a week of bike riding. "You know, by the time you've put in a 100 miles on a bike, you've heard of RAGBRAI," he said. "Everyone who loves a bike knows about it. It's like a quest to ride on it." And he certainly wasn't alone last week as more than 10,000 bicyclists and scores of support vehicles transformed small towns like Woden, Titonka, Crystal Lake and Thompson into small cities. The towns, with populations in the hundreds, hosted thousands of bicyclists taking part in RAGBRAI. Along the route that would take the annual bike trip to its overnight stop in Northwood, folks in small towns along the way did brisk business and made friends from around the globe. "We've sold to people from Florida, Colorado and California," said Crystal Lake resident Joyce Tovar, who had a Watkins booth set up while her husband, Frank Tovar, sold his tin-man yard decorations. "Frank even talked with a guy from Spain, so he got to use a little Spanish," Tovar added. "Is this great or what?" Maybe that's the best word to describe the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa's 33rd edition. For a day -- and then some -- the bikes ruled the roads of North Iowa. Raising big bucks Don't get Paul Golke wrong, for the director of Camp IO-DIS-E-CA loves getting his bike and pedaling for miles and miles. But RAGBRAI isn't just about bikes for Golke; instead, it's about raising thousands of dollars for the Lutheran youth camp he runs. "We use this as a fund-raiser," he said, "although truth be told, I love the ride, the people and the atmosphere so it's not work to me. I've met people from all over the country -- and the world, for that matter -- and it's just another way for us to get our message out and have fun." His Camp IO-DIS-E-CA card contains a verse from the sixth chapter of Mark: "Come with me, by yourselves, to a quiet place where you can rest." And ironically, RAGBRAI, which certainly is the antipathy of that verse, helps the camp do just that. The support drivers As scores of bicyclists made their way around town, Dan Gaulke sat in his lawn chair and watched RAGBRAI come to Crystal Lake. The Hubbard man sipped on a pop and said hello to the passing cyclists and waited for the folks he supports to find their way into the small Hancock County town. "I tried doing the bike thing one year for a half-a-day, and let me tell you my hind-end told me I was a better support driver than a bike rider," Gaulke said. Support vehicles -- ranging from cars to vans to old school buses -- are a vital part of RAGBRAI, which this year ran for 485 miles (523 miles if bikers rode the "Century Loop" on Tuesday) between Le Mars and Guttenberg. And they could be seen all along the route, but as morning gave way to afternoon, many vehicles cut through Forest City on their way to Northwood. "The cardinal rule on this thing is not to be late," said Des Moines resident Carl Everham, who was filling his van up with gas. "If I'm late, trust me, I hear about it." No. 1 in Crystal Lake As bicyclists made their way into Crystal Lake, they were greeted with a sign that read, "The Cookie Jar: Voted the top restaurant in Crystal Lake." "Of course, we're the only one," said Bobbie Garrison, who along with her husband Leo, owns the eatery. "But hey, we ought to have a little fun with this thing, right?" Along with the fun came brisk business, which actually started late Tuesday night when about a dozen RAGBRAI riders rode into town, far ahead of schedule. Even without the premature dozen, the Garrisons were ready for a big day of business. The Garrisons, along with family members and friends, went to bed at 5 Wednesday morning and awakened a half-hour later. "We're tired," Bobbie Garrison said as she washed dishes, "but once Leo and I got a little coffee in us, we were ready to go. ... But I guarantee you it won't be a late night tonight." Definitely the food On Crystal Lake's Main Street, Dan Randall held up a piece of sweet corn and smiled nice for the camera. The Osage man's sister, Forest City resident Deb Blaser, snapped a photo of her older brother to preserve yet another RAGBRAI memory. "Make sure you get that older part in there," Blaser said with a laugh. Randall has participated in RAGBRAI off and on since 1987, although he rarely rides the complete route. This year was no exception. At the overnight stop in Cresco on Thursday, Randall departed the ride. "I work construction," he said, "so doing a whole week at this time of the year is fiscal suicide. But I love coming for the food. Man, it's just awesome. Every town has something you've got to try." And in Crystal Lake, it turned out to be the corn. Team Iffy's debut The noise that enveloped Crystal Lake as thousands of bicyclists passed through was, at times, deafening -- making cell phone conversations iffy. Just ask Team Iffy's Kathy Barsness, who was trying to coordinate a meeting of her team members in Crystal Lake. Finally, after two or three attempts, she finally reached common ground with the person on the other side of the call. But first, she explained her team's name. "It's supposed to be Iowa Falls Forever Young because that's where we're from," she said, before adding with a laugh, "but I think most of our friends in Iowa Falls thought it would be pretty iffy for us to make it because they didn't believe we would train for it." Thanking the sheriff Tom Lillquist stood at the intersection of Winnebago County roads A42 and R34 south of Thompson and received a year's supply of "thank yous." Hundreds of bicyclists thanked the longtime sheriff for helping control traffic at the intersection. Occasionally, he would hold the riders up for a second or two to allow the A42 traffic to make its way east or west. "Couldn't have asked for a nicer day," Lillquist said, "and most of the riders are just real polite. We don't get thanked every day on this job, so it's kind of nice to hear a few thank yous here and there." RAGBRAI Patience Lines streaked all over both Crystal Lake and Thompson as famished riders stood waiting for that great food. But the lines in towns along the RAGBRAI route are nothing compared to those in the overnight towns. "Last night, we waited a half-hour at Pizza Hut, and we were in the buffet line," Waukon resident Adrienne Gerst said. "One thing you learn on RAGBRAI is that patience is a virtue." They start 'em young In the Crystal Lake United Methodist Church parking lot, Zachary Truitt didn't want any help. The 2 1/2-year-old boy wanted to pump up the tires all by himself. "Me do it," he said emphatically to his grandfather, Larry Winegar. "He really gets into it," said his mother, Emily Truitt. "This is his first RAGBRAI and I pull him along. He just loves riding." The Runnells woman smiled and laughed before continuing. "Of course, mom's doing all the work so sure it's fun!" Small-town feeling Patrick Brennan is one of those guys you almost love to hate. He's 38 going on 25. The Omaha man has been riding RAGBRAI for 11 years, and one look at him and one knows this man is into physical fitness. "I really am 38," he said, "but I've always liked staying in shape. And RAGBRAI certainly doesn't hurt." As he looked for a place to park his bike in Thompson, he talked about the numerous small Iowa towns he has visited during his 11 years of cycling across the state. "They're all a little unique -- that bullhead in Crystal Lake you don't see every day -- but they all share one thing in common: They have the friendliest people you'll ever find." Going off-route Julie Hugo and Jim Gochala, two central Iowa residents, posed for a photo on Thompson's Main Street just after noon on Wednesday. Their day had been hectic, yet was hardly close to being done. "We like to ride off-route," Hugo said, "so we've been to Buffalo Center and, what's that place, oh yeah, Lakota, today." Still, they make it a point to overnight with RAGBRAI riders as often as they can. They do so for different reasons, however. "I just love the people," Hugo said. Gochala nodded his head in agreement, but a mischievous smiled crossed his face. "It's the beer," he said with a laugh. "Seriously, the people you meet along the way in towns like this ... it's just incredible." Just a great day By 1 p.m., riders were streaming in and out of Thompson. But Main Street remained crowded as RAGBRAIers learned why places like The Branding Iron are so popular with the locals. As in Crystal Lake, local volunteers greeted their visitors with a smile and a how-can-we-help attitude. "Isn't this just great," one Thompson resident yelled to another as both headed in opposite directions. Indeed, it was. Great. Absolutely fantastic. The weather was perfect -- sunny skies and mild temperatures. In other words, a great day for a bike ride.

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