When RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) officials said the first day of the 2011 ride would be hilly, they weren’t kidding.

With nearly 4,300 feet of climb facing riders on Sunday’s 60-mile trek from Glenwood to Atlantic, it was certainly a challenge.

But before I get ahead of myself, I’ll bring you back to Saturday. My charter arrived in Glenwood at around noon, and stepping off the bus was like stepping into a sauna. It took me perhaps four minutes to set up my tent, and I was drenched with sweat in that short time.

The afternoon brought with it a few short rain showers, which were always followed by more sweltering heat. Right when I thought the rain was done, and I was downtown seeking some food, the city’s storm sirens sounded to warn of possible heavy thunderstorms and hail. It must have concerned some of the vendors, as they immediately began disassembling their booths. Fortunately, all we got out of it was some rain.

An interesting thing prior to that was a flyover, and multiple times, by a Stealth B-2. That really caught the attention of everyone.

I always enjoy the people I meet on RAGBRAI, and Saturday was no different. I had a long conversation with a guy who rode his bike from Oregon just to do RAGBRAI. He left Oregon on June 2 and made it just in time for the ride. The most amazing thing? No flat tires at all in that span.

I also had a Clintonian sighting, as I ran into Paul Wiederholt and Jerry Paisley. I’m sure I’ll see more friends from Clinton as the week progresses.

On Saturday night, I had a chance to showcase my smart-aleck talents. Not wanting to pay $5 for a piece of pizza uptown, I rode a few blocks to Casey’s to buy one for a couple of bucks. After waiting in a long line, I finally got to the counter only to have a guy butt in front of me to ask the clerk for directions to a place in Glenwood.

She didn’t know, but I chimed in, pointed to the northeast and said “Well, you see the courthouse up there about three blocks?” He said he did, and I replied, “Well, you don’t want to be going that way.” OK, I stole that from the John Wayne movie “The Quiet Man” and I thought it was quite funny, but I’m not sure he did.

Sunday’s ride began with a 9-mile (hmm, that sounds like a title for an Eminem movie sequel) trip to Silver City and a 19-mile ride to Carson. The route was filled with multiple steep hills.

The most impressive thing in Carson was a Ferris wheel built by a local welder, with bikes spinning around representing each town on Sunday’s route. He called it “Ferris Biker’s Day Off.” Pretty catchy, I thought.

From there it was 15 miles to Griswold, where the hills had less grade but seemed longer.

We followed with an 8-mile ride to Lewis, which was supposed to be the location of the world’s largest bike. I’ll be honest, I never saw it, though I’m guessing it was among all the other things at the elementary school.

We finished the day with what should have been an easy 8-mile flat ride into Atlantic, but it wasn’t so easy due to a tough head wind. As we arrived in town, riders were given free Coca-Cola as Atlantic prides itself on being the “Coke Capital of Iowa.”

I’m looking forward to the rest of the day, since I lived here for 5 1⁄2 years some time ago. Besides seeing people, I’m also hoping to take a look at the newspaper where I used to work.

Well, today it’s off to Carroll. I’ll check in later.

Ted Schultz is Grinnell College’s Sports Information Director and former Clinton Herald Sports Editor.