RAGBRAI is headed north for 2020. See the towns that thousands will visit on this year’s summer ride.
After a downright frosty January, talk of ice cream sundaes, lakeside camping and baseball games conjured summer memories as RAGBRAI announced its 2020 route through north-central Iowa Saturday night.
The 48th annual Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa — pedaling from July 19 to 25 — will start in Le Mars and end in Clinton, home of the LumberKings minor league baseball team. In between, riders will stop overnight in Storm Lake, Fort Dodge, Iowa Falls, Waterloo, Anamosa and Maquoketa.
“There will be a lot of ice cream consumed on that weekend,” said Kevin Richards, a bike shop owner in Le Mars. Home of Blue Bunny Ice Cream, the city bills itself as the “Ice Cream Capital of the World.”
RAGBRAI riders make it to the top of the hill at Rand Park while nearing the finish of the 427 mile route on day seven, Saturday, July 27, 2019, in Keokuk, Iowa. (Photo: Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen)
Tavis Hall, executive director of Experience Waterloo, boasted of his city’s spirit and diversity.
“We really want to show what Waterloo has to offer,” said Hall. “We want to showcase our awesome folks, awesome things and awesome city.”
Clocking in at 420.3 miles with 12,306 feet of climb, the 48th edition of this roving cycling celebration will be the sixth shortest in ride history. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be too easy — with the route coming in as No. 29 for most feet of climb, bicyclists should plan spring training rides with Iowa hills in mind.
The full route, including pass-through towns and vehicle directions, is expected to be released in March.
Capping off a night of fun with an emotional moment, RAGBRAI announced that this year’s ride would be dedicated to Jim “Greenie” Green, a former ride director who died in June after suffering a stroke two years earlier.
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The RAGBRAI founders statues honoring John Karras and Donald Kaul were unveiled at the Iowa Bike Expo Saturday morning.
Des Moines Register
As director, Green famously instituted much-needed safety regulations and curtailed the ride’s frat-party feel in favor of a more family friendly atmosphere. (Don’t worry — a healthy dose of revelry is still very much encouraged on the route.)
The biggest mark Greenie left on the ride was creating the Dream Team, a program offering disadvantaged youth a chance to participate in RAGBRAI for free. If Dream Team members complete training rides, make good grades and finish their river-to-river journey, they receive new bikes.
In addition to the ride dedication, RAGBRAI donated $10,000 to the program in Greenie’s honor Saturday night. That money will ensure 10 youth participants a chance to experience RAGBRAI this year, said Anne Lawrie, RAGBRAI’s senior marketing director.
Presenting the check were Greenie’s daughters, Julie and Joanie, who recalled their father’s dedication to the ride and the wide array of people associated with it who he treated as part of their family.
“Once you met a Green you were always a Green,” said Joanie.
Starting about 20 miles east of the Missouri River, the 2020 ride will hug the U.S. Highway 20 corridor before dipping south on the fifth day toward Anamosa. The route continues its southward trajectory on the seventh day when it rolls into Clinton for the Mississippi River dip.
While none of this year’s overnight stops are new to RAGBRAI, the route features four towns — Le Mars, Maquoketa, Iowa Falls and Waterloo — that haven’t hosted RAGBRAI in at least a decade.
For two — Maquoketa and Iowa Falls — it’s been 16 years.
“Now I have an excuse to clean my house because I have a feeling I’m going to be hosting a few,” joked Jeff Burchfield, an Iowa Falls middle school principal and dedicated RAGBRAI rider for Team Love Shack who was wearing a jacket that declared him “Mayor of RAGBRAI.”
Day 1’s itinerary from Le Mars to Storm Lake, clocking in at 60 miles with 2,373 feet of climb, will again feature an optional gravel loop and the Mile of Silence, during which boomboxes are quieted and conversations cease in remembrance of bicyclists killed while riding.
The most difficult day will be the fifth, which takes bicyclists on an 85-mile, 3,078-feet-of-climb trek from Waterloo to Anamosa.
That day will also include the Karras Loop, an add-on route that pushes Thursday’s total mileage over 100, allowing energetic cyclists to claim a century ride before RAGBRAI’s end. It’s named for ride co-founder John Karras, the 90-year-old bicycle enthusiast who is usually camped out for selfies and autographs halfway through the loop.
The last two days, which see riders roll into Maquoketa and Clinton, will be comparatively easy, having just 43 miles and 1,650 feet of climb and 35 miles and 1,260 feet of climb, respectively.
Selected from more than 200 interested towns, the 2020 route will see riders camping in a mix of populous cities and smaller, more rural communities. Iowa Falls comes in as the smallest stop, with 5,036 inhabitants, and Anamosa and Maquoketa are only slightly larger.
Dieter Drake announces seven long-awaited towns that riders will cross this summer.
Des Moines Register
“We’ll have a great time, as always,” said Leeanna Boone, director of the chamber of commerce in Anamosa, which last hosted the ride in 2012. “People always enjoy Anamosa. We won’t disappoint.”
Last year’s route stayed in the southern half of the state and featured an unprecedented Mississippi River double dip when riders camped in the old port towns of Burlington on Day 6 and Keokuk on Day 7.
In 2018, the route hugged the U.S. Highway 30 corridor in central Iowa after two years of going to either the extreme south of the state (2016) or the extreme north (2017).
In 2015, the route returned to its 1973 origins, tracing roads from Sioux City to Davenport. Two stops on this year’s route, Storm Lake and Fort Dodge, were also on that original 1973 journey.
About 20,000 registered riders, with participants hailing from all 50 states and a host of international locations, descend on Iowa every year to be part of the “oldest, largest and longest recreational bicycle touring event in the world,” according to the RAGBRAI website.
One of the people coming from farthest away may be Larry Gallo, a retired Air Force master sergeant who heads the Air Force Cycling Team. He said he flew from Vicenza, Italy, where he works as a civilian on a U.S. Army base, to attend the announcement party — and will be back for the ride, which he’s been doing for 15 years.
He said his team tries to be the “guardian angels” of the ride, offering assistance, both medical and mechanical, to anyone who needs it.
“We get a lot of enjoyment out of it,” he said.
RAGBRAI was founded in 1973 by two Des Moines Register columnists, Karras and Donald Kaul, who died in 2018 during the week RAGBRAI was ambling across the state.
Both bike enthusiasts, Karras and Kaul famously fell into creating what became a cultural behemoth.
“We had no plans to turn it into the legendary event it is,” Karras previously told the Register. “We just wanted to go on a bike ride and have the Register pay for our expenses.”
Making his debut as ride director, Dieter Drake told the crowd at Saturday’s announcement that he had already learned three things about RAGBRAI.
“It’s about Iowa, it’s about bicycling and it’s about family,” he said. “And you’re part of it.”
Town by town: About RAGBRAI XLVIII
Saturday, July 18, 2020: RAGBRAI will be in Le Mars (Photo: SUZANNE MILOSEVICH/REGISTER MEDIA)
Saturday, July 18: Le Mars
- Population: 9,996
- History: Second time as host; returning after 15 years; previously kicked off the ride in 2005.
- Fun fact: Welcome to the Ice Cream Capital of the World! Home of Blue Bunny dairy, Le Mars claims to produce more ice cream from a single company than any other city in the world. The Plymouth County seat is also the hometown of Paul Rust, most recently the creator and star of Netflix’s “Love.”
- Learn more: Lemarsiowa.com.
Sunday, July 19, 2020: RAGBRAI will be in Storm Lake (Photo: SUZANNE MILOSEVICH/REGISTER MEDIA)
Sunday, July 19: Storm Lake
- Population: 10,458
- Mileage (from Le Mars): 60.1 miles
- Climb: 2,373 feet
- History: Seventh overnight visit; returning after five years; previous stops were in 1973, 1978, 1987, 2001, 2010 and 2015.
- Fun fact: Home to Buena Vista University, Storm Lake is known for boating, fishing and lots of water fun in the sun. But riders can have Christmas in July by visiting Santa’s Castle, which features one of the country’s largest displays of antique Christmas knick-knacks.
- Learn more: Stormlake.org.
Monday, July 20, 2020: RAGBRAI will be in Fort Dodge (Photo: SUZANNE MILOSEVICH/REGISTER MEDIA)
Monday, July 20: Fort Dodge
- Population: 24,098
- Mileage (from Storm Lake): 72.6 miles
- Climb: 1,153 feet
- History: Sixth overnight visit; returning after five years; previous stops were in 1973, 1987, 1995, 2004 and 2015.
- Fun fact: Experience prairie life in the 19th century at the Fort Museum and Frontier Village. Visitors to the fort can also see a replica of the Cardiff Giant, a sculpture of a 10-foot-tall man made from gypsum mined in the area. The original sculpture was displayed in New York as the remains of a real giant before a lawsuit forced its owner to revealed his hoax.
- Learn more: Fortdodgeiowa.org.
Tuesday, July 21, 2020: RAGBRAI will be in Iowa Falls (Photo: SUZANNE MILOSEVICH/REGISTER MEDIA)
Tuesday, July 21: Iowa Falls
- Population: 5,036
- Mileage (from Fort Dodge): 51.9 miles
- Climb: 854 feet
- History: Fourth overnight visit; returning after 16 years; previous stops were in 1978, 1995 and 2004.
- Fun fact: Enjoy the great outdoors at Calkins Nature Area, home to a natural history museum known for its Native American artifacts collection, or the Rock Run Creek Trial & Bridge, which allows visitors hike over its eponymous waterway.
- Learn more: cityofiowafalls.com.
Wednesday, July 22, 2020: RAGBRAI will be in Waterloo (Photo: SUZANNE MILOSEVICH/REGISTER MEDIA)
Wednesday, July 22: Waterloo
- Population: 67,798
- Mileage (from Iowa Falls): 72 miles
- Climb: 1,938 feet
- History: Fourth overnight visit; returning after 10 years; previous stops were in 1974, 1985 and 2010.
- Fun fact: Watch a John Deere tractor be assembled and learn more about modern farming during an hourlong tour of the company’s factory.
- Learn more: Experiencewaterloo.com.
Thursday, July 23, 2020: RAGBRAI will be in Anamosa (Photo: SUZANNE MILOSEVICH/REGISTER MEDIA)
Thursday, July 23: Anamosa
- Population: 5,507
- Mileage (from Iowa Falls): 85.1 miles
- Climb: 3,078 feet
- History: Fourth overnight visit; returning after eight years; previous stops were in 1991, 2002 and 2012.
- Fun fact: Technically outside Anamosa, the famous Hula Hoop Tree is just weird enough to warrant a side trip. Starting in 2015, hula hoops began appearing on the branches of a leafless tree in Jones County. Today, it’s adorned with hundreds of the circular toys, leading to a recent discussion of whether the tree was a safety hazard. Thankfully, this whimsical roadside attraction is still standing.
- Learn more: Anamosa-iowa.org.
Friday, July 24, 2020: RAGBRAI will be in Maquoketa (Photo: SUZANNE MILOSEVICH/REGISTER MEDIA)
Friday, July 24: Maquoketa
- Population: 5,998
- Mileage (from Anamosa): 43.3 miles
- Climb: 1,650 feet
- History: Fourth overnight visit; returning after 16 years; previous stops were in 1978, 1994 and 2004.
- Fun fact: Explore the Maquoketa Caves State Park, including the Natural Bridge, which forms an arch 50-feet above Raccoon Creek, and the aptly named Balanced Rock, a 17-ton boulder precariously positioned on the edge of another formation.
- Learn more: Maquoketaia.com.
Saturday, July 25, 2020: RAGBRAI will be in Clinton (Photo: SUZANNE MILOSEVICH/REGISTER MEDIA)
Saturday, July 25: Clinton
- Population: 25,184
- Mileage (from Maquoketa): 35.3 miles
- Climb: 1,260 feet
- History: Sixth time as host; returning after eight years; previously marked the end of the ride in 1978, 1985, 1994, 2004 and 2012.
- Fun fact: Take in a Clinton LumberKings minor league baseball game or check out the Sawmill Museum, which details the history of the Midwest’s lumber industry and the barons who ruled the Mississippi River.
- Learn more: Cityofclintoniowa.us
Register for RAGBRAI
- Weeklong rider registration ($175) is due April 1.
- Daily wristband registration ($30 per day) is due June 1.
- Weeklong nonrider registration ($35) is due June 1.
- Information about registration can be found at ragbrai.com/registration.
- Additional information about RAGBRAI can be found at ragbrai.com/about/general-information.
- Specific questions can be addressed to email@example.com.
More RAGBRAI goodies
- Download the RAGBRAI app for Android or iPhone to get the latest updates, photos, videos and maps you can use offline once route details are released in March.
- Subscribe to the Just Go Bike podcast for fun conversation on biking, trail and training suggestions and to meet Iowa’s favorite biking personalities.
- Get this year’s biking gear at the RAGBRAI shop.
- Find the best stories, videos and photos (and buy them!) at RAGBRAI.com and DesMoinesRegister.com.
- Follow RAGBRAI on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for fun links, updates and photos.
- Check back in March when the pass through towns and route details are announced.
Courtney Crowder, the Register’s Iowa Columnist, traverses the state’s 99 counties telling Iowans’ stories. She’s a parallel parking master acquainting herself with gravel roads. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8360. Follow her on Twitter @courtneycare.
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