SPENCER _ RAGBRAI 2007 is officially under way!

The opening leg of the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa brought us from Rock Rapids in far northwest Iowa to Spencer, nearly 76 miles away.

It wasn't too difficult of a ride, other than a little headwind while going south in the later stages.

We spent a bit of time in Rock Rapids Saturday night attending the festivities downtown.

That evening I learned a valuable lesson, one I should have learned in my two previous RAGBRAI outings _ never, ever put up your tent near a shuttle stop at the main campground.

After I went to bed, I was consistently interrupted by the shuttle stopping and people _ I'm guessing pretty sloshed by the loud and slurred speech _ would get off and try to figure out where they'd put their tents.

Luckily this came to a halt in the wee morning hours and I finally got some sleep.

Prior to taking off Sunday morning, I stopped for coffee at a convenience store named Todd's Beer Cave. First I thought that was just the name of the liquor portion of the store, but no ... Todd's Beer Cave appeared to be the name of the entire store.

The business boasts the coldest beer in northwest Iowa, but at 6 a.m. I didn't feel like checking the validity of that claim.

Before I took off, an older gentleman came up to me, pointed at my Nebraska Cornhuser flag and said, "If somebody hits you, it won't be because they can't see you ... it'll be because they're aiming at you."

That answered the question I had about getting any grief for flying a Husker flag on my recumbent bike and wearing a bicycle helmet that looks like a Nebraska football helmet while riding in the Hawkeye State.

But, believe it or not, I only heard a few other unflattering comments about the Huskers while having at least three dozen people say, "Go Huskers" or "Go Big Red."

Apparently a lot of people on this ride have good taste!

We rode under very comfortable conditions for the first half of the ride, almost a little chilly. Of course it helped that the sun was under a thin layer of clouds.

Our first stop was George, 14 miles from Rock Rapids.

I noticed there were other towns in the area with people's first names and was curious, so I asked a volunteer.

She told me she didn't know about Leland and Melvin, but George and Edna were the children of a railroad conductor. Apparently two towns needed names, and he named them after his kids.

From there it was nearly 13 miles to Ashton where I rode with a man from Logan, a town in southwest Iowa. I told him I ran college track with someone from that area and, sure enough, he knew Rick Den Herder. Small world!

After that we went another 14 miles to Melvin, where Melvin Moose Days t-shirts were on sale.

The town's celebration got its name from a stray moose who wandered, probably from Minnesota, to the area and hung around, mostly in people's fields.

The 800-foot beast was a huge local attraction until his untimely death in 1990 after getting hit by a car.

To honor his memory, Melvin began it's Moose Days celebration. The nice people there even gave me a nice Melvin Moose temporary tatoo.

The 12-plus mile trek from Melvin to Hartley was tough as the south wind picked up. It was bearable, though, since the hills and heat weren't bad.

After that is was nine miles to Moneta and another 13 to Spencer, where we're spending the night at the Clay County Fairgrounds. The fairgrounds are the site of what is deemed the "Greatest County Fair."

I just got done showering between the cattle barns in an area typically used to wash off livestock. Sounds kind of gross, but not bad at all.

Anyway, on Monday we head to Humboldt. I'll check in with you then.

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