Months-worth of work culminated in a big event last weekend.
Countless volunteers and residents handing out high-fives along the road greeted thousands of bicyclists Saturday as RAGBRAI ended its annual ride in Clinton. It was a long road for the bikers (471.1 miles to be exact) but they couldn’t have been happier when they dipped their tires in the Mississippi River.
As a child, RAGBRAI rode through my hometown, but I was too young to truly grasp the impact it had on the region. After seeing last weekend’s festivities, I’m convinced this will be the highlight of 2012 for Clinton.
People from all over the country and the world came to Iowa to see what the state had to offer. By the time they reached Clinton, they were able to see a great riverfront and meet smiling faces from all over. Sure, they created a traffic jam along South Second Street and a few other roads, but that was expected. Drivers were told to stay home during that time and all the road closures were printed in the Clinton Herald prior to the event.
If you were lucky enough to see everyone and meet some of the riders, you would realize why the hype was so large before the event.
As a person who regularly covers festivals and events in town, I was delighted by how nice everyone was when I came up from behind them and started taking photos. Generally people give me a double take when I come out of nowhere and start snapping photos of them. It takes me a few minutes to reassure them that I’m from the newspaper and not someone who just enjoys disrupting someone’s privacy at a public event.
Everyone was willing to talk to me (another shocker since that’s not usually a luxury most newspaper people enjoy) and I was captivated by the vast array of stories.
One of the best stories I stumbled upon was a biker who seemed just a little happier than everyone else when dipping his tire into the river. He doused himself with a drink after finishing and then lifted his bike way above his head, just a little higher than what I saw from others.
The man, Bradley Sutliff, 47, of Davenport, was riding in his fourth year in RAGBRAI, but he was able to complete the ride as a deaf man, overcoming obstacles along the way like others that enter the ride with various disabilities.
Nothing seemed to stop many of these riders; not even distance.
Toward the end of day, I talked to a man who was ringing cowbells next to Wendy’s on South Second Street. He had finished the race earlier, but decided to show support for his fellow comrades, willing them to the end. He was in no hurry, even though he had to travel to Toronto, Ontario, on Sunday.
Paul Pottorff camped for four days while driving from Seattle, Wash., to Sioux Center, while Bob Stout came from Wasilla, Alaska, to see his daughter in RAGBRAI.
Surprisingly, a lot of people I talked to told me this was their first time.
David Goldfrah, of New York City, said his friends had done the bike ride, but he had never gotten around to it. This year was different, and he couldn’t hold back his excitement about what a great time he had during the week-long ride.
“It’s exhilarating,” Goldfrah said. “I rode really well. I’m in love with my bike.”
Gretchen Hand, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was also on her first RAGBRAI trek. She rode from western to eastern Iowa with her new husband Jim Hand.
The two were one of many couples who rode on the bike ride.
First-timer Betsy Donahue, of Overland Park, Kan., received a nice Clinton welcome after she dipped her tire in the Mississippi. Scott and Sally Judge, along with their son Dominick, were handing out free lemonade and treats to riders after they finished the ride. That, along with other volunteers helping out everyone once they finished, portrayed Clinton in a good light to the people I talked to, and that means a lot for not only RAGBRAI and Iowa, but to this area, just in case they ever visit again.
Everyone involved in making Saturday happen should be commended. Clinton came out as a winner and hopefully RAGBRAI comes back a little sooner than last time.
Scott Levine is the Associate Editor of the Clinton Herald.