RAGBRAI 2022 Winners

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Each year my RAGBRAI team and I joke that we are “winning” the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. It’s a joke because it is a “bicycle ride”, not a “race”. It’s a rolling event that rumbles from town to town on its path from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River. Nobody’s technically a winner in the literal sense of the word as it’s not a competition. But those who reach the end while having fun, they are really the winners of the event.

However, the communities are winners too. And, at least in my eyes, there are select communities that rose to the challenge and put their best foot forward. Communities that rolled out the red carpet for bikers and the ensemble of support staff, vendors, and throngs of people who want to party each night. These communities make out as winners for the week-long event.

Most of the communities along the way did a great job in handling the mass of activity thrust upon them as the steamroller that was RAGBRAI 2022 came through. However, pointing out one “meeting town” and one “overnight town” that appeared to excel above the rest seems apropos.

Meeting Towns

Let’s start with the meeting town. As bikers traverse the route each day, there is one community along the way that is designated as a “meeting town”. Typically this community is roughly half-way through the day’s route. It serves as a point where support drivers can meet up with riders to provide supplies and tools for repairs. The support drivers can also partake in the activities available at the meeting town, often downing some lunch with the riders of his/her team.

Usually, the meeting town isn’t big enough to be an overnight town. But these communities still need to be big enough to handle the masses of bikers craving a mid-day meal. They also have to support a sizeable chunk of the support vehicle traffic as well. There can’t be just a few food trucks, roadside stands, and rows of porta-potties.

For as small as they are, many of the meeting towns do an amazing job. Anthon had a good beer garden, a selfie wall, and amazing steak sandwiches at the Fireside Steakhouse. Newell had the best and most organized setup for support drivers.

Best Meeting Town – Marble Rock

But Marble Rock won the event this year for the meeting towns. They had a unique water feature near the entrance to fill water bottles and get some water splashed on yourself. Unfortunately, I was only able to get a picture of the back side of it. But their overall historical theme was well sold to the riders that came through town. Well-preserved historical structures were attended by residents dressed in period clothing. They even had a few different activities that tied back to the historical theme. The town also offered free wi-fi and a beer garden with a D.J. playing hits and a classic rock cover band.

Although Marble Rock was such a small community they did a great job of routing traffic through town. Support drivers were well-directed to the southeast part of town with ample parking, whereas the bikers rode through town on a completely separate route.

This little picturesque town on the Rock River did things right.

Marble Rock RAGBRAI Water Feature

Marble Rock RAGBRAI Water Feature

Marble Rock Barbershop

Marble Rock Barbershop

Marble Rock Log Cabin

Marble Rock Log Cabin

Marble Rock Calaboose

Marble Rock Calaboose

Marble Rock Pony Express

Marble Rock Pony Express

Overnight Towns

Often, the overnight towns are larger communities. It’s usually a county seat with ample road infrastructure, parks, and open space to accommodate the massive influx of visitors. These cities are often more critiqued due to the demands put upon them for the time that they host the event. It is essentially a two-day event for these communities. The more intensive riders arrive in the morning of the first day. While the stragglers many times stumble out of town the next afternoon.

All the overnight towns did a great job in handling the horde of bikers staying overnight in their communities. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to check out Ida Grove’s as celebration, as I was enjoying the activities at a nearby winery (an agritourism session for another time). Emmetsburg held their events in a great setting in Soper Park next to their Five Island Lake. Mason City’s center of activity was a well-kept downtown loaded with architectural history and intriguing craft breweries.

Best Overnight Town – Pocahontas

But Pocahontas stood out the most for me. From the exuberant support vehicle traffic directors to the adequate spread of porta-potties (No, I won’t call them “kybos”), they did many things right. Organizers threw a wrinkle in the mix with some amateur wrestling earlier in the night. Something to watch and get a kick out of while munching on a pork tenderloin sandwich. They also landed Pop Rocks, a great cover band that put on quite a show.

But of course, the urban planner in me was drawn to the large canopies that were placed along Main Street for the event. These mesh canopies look as though they are carried into place with a forklift and cranked up to provide a little shade for the masses as they mulled about. They were certainly a unique eye-catcher for urban design geeks like me.

Pocahontas Wrestling

Amateur Wrestling in Pocahontas

Pop Rocks Pocahontas

Pop Rocks playing in Pocahontas

Canopies in Pocahontas

Canopies in Pocahontas

Folded Canopy in Pocahontas

Folded Canopy in Pocahontas

Standing Out Above the Rest

The communities of Pocahontas and Marble Rock rolled out the red carpet at a level above and beyond the others along the RAGBRAI 2022 route. This is not a slight to the rest of the communities that were involved along the way. They all performed admirably during the annual bike ride across Iowa. I for one, am looking forward to what next year’s communities have in store for the riders.

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