Thursday, August 22, 2013

Second-best thing about RAGBRAI

I fully expected the food and the other bikers to be highlights of my RAGBRAI experience. What I didn't expect was how much fun I'd have touring small towns in Iowa.

I'd heard of Pella and knew it was a popular place to visit, and I'd passed through Hedrick and Fort Madison en route to my college town, but the majority of these places, I would never have seen and loved.

OK, sure, these towns really rolled out the red carpet for RAGBRAI. I doubt they'd be this appealing to me, if I weren't visiting as part of a totally hedonistic organized road trip.

But surely the enthusiasm of their welcomes/farewells — Des Moines residents literally applauded as we rolled past — deserves some praise in return!

I think Pella and Keosauqua were my favorite towns, though Oskaloosa and Fairfield had some darn good parties. 
At the Vermeer Mill. When we arrived in Pella, my thirst became for touristy sights, not beer or Bloody Marys.
Bike sculptures were definitely a thing. Pella's offering, seen here, was much less creepy than Oskaloosa's — there were stuffed figures sitting on bikes, leering at us as we rolled into town. 
Is Bussey famous for anything? No idea. It's a beautiful mural, though, and I'll remember it fondly for the pizza (and free beer) I consumed there as an appetizer for ice cream a few miles later.
The Mississippi River, as seen from behind a bar in Bonaparte, 20 miles from the end of the route. Twenty miles back, we'd agreed that Keosauqua would be the only stop until Fort Madison. So naturally we pulled in at Bonaparte and ordered two "River Waters" each. (That's iced tea and vodka.) And ... a shot. 
West Point was our second post-Keosauqua stop. I think we originally stopped so we could go to the bathroom. We did accomplish that, but we also climbed up Mount RAGBRAI and visited a pizza parlor ... and ordered a pitcher of beer ... and topped it off with ice cream.
I loved where Fort Madison dumped us out at the end — downstream from the prison, right by the fort, within sight of the neat suspension bridge and underneath another stellar example of bike art.
The last thought on tourism and RAGBRAI: I regained an appreciation for the downtown square while passing through and staying in these towns.

Kirksville, Mo., where I went to college, had a decent farmers market and craft festival in its downtown square, and so when we scarfed dinner in the shadow of Oskaloosa's courthouse and did wine-inspired yoga in the grass of Fairfield's square, it brought back some fond memories without the bittersweet feeling that those days are gone.

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