• Sun March 04 2007
  • Posted Mar 4, 2007
RAGBRAI XXXV: A chance to go flat out Cyclists will make the grade, but don't count on Mother Nature to make it easy. BY RICHARD DOAK AND BRIAN DUFFY REGISTER STAFF WRITERS Here's a bit of geology that should be of interest to cyclists considering whether to commit to pedaling the 477 miles of RAGBRAI July 22-28: pass-through towns RAGBRAI FAQ Western Iowa's rugged Loess Hills don't extend much north of Sioux City. Why does that matter? Because the annual cross-Iowa bicycle tour begins in Rock Rapids, which is about as far north as you can get in Iowa. The Loess Hills aren't even visible on the horizon from there. Which means there will be no long, steep climbs to test the conditioning of cyclists on the very first day. Or, for that matter, on the second day. Or the third. Or the fourth. Or the fifth. If you've always thought about riding RAGBRAI someday but were worried it might be too strenuous, this might be the year for you. Not only does this route miss the Loess Hills, it then sweeps across flat north-central Iowa. How flat is it? After the overnight towns were announced in January, one local cyclist blogged "that if you placed a marble on the town square of each of these little 'burbs it will stay there, and you'll be able to see every other marble from your vantage." It's so flat that on Day 3 of the ride, we swear the steepest grade isn't even a hill, it's the approach to the bridge over Interstate Highway 35 in Franklin County. (A quick disclaimer: RAGBRAI can't predict the weather. If heat and headwinds turn the going on a flat course more grueling than riding hills, forget what we said about this being an easy year.) Officially, RAGBRAI XXXV is the third easiest and the third flattest, according to Rich Ketcham of GeoBike, who has nifty software to figure feet of climb along the route. (For elevation details, see Some other facts about the route: • It's all on hard-surfaced roads. There is no gravel, barring last-minute route changes. • It's not completely flat. The first five days vary from flat to undulating to occasional small hills, but nothing very strenuous. The final two days get into the hills and valleys of eastern Iowa. The majority of tough climbs are on the last day into Bellevue, and some steep, curved downhills there will require caution. • Flat doesn't mean an absence of scenic views. Look for limestone outcroppings along the West Branch of the Des Moines River and enjoy the ride through Backbone State Park, Iowa's oldest. The Fairbank-Amish Boulevard near Independence passes through one of the nation's largest Old Order Amish settlements. • Cedar Falls, the overnight stop on Wednesday, boasts that it's the gateway to more than 80 miles of paved trails. • It will be a ride to get reacquainted with towns that haven't hosted overnight stops for several years, including Humboldt (1985), Hampton (1990), Independence (1982) and Dyersville (1989). • First-time towns RAGBRAI has never passed through include Havelock, Rolfe, Cornelia, Dumont, Kesley, Aplington, Stout, Denver, Klinger, Fairbank and Otterville. Some of the flavor of this year's towns are offered by their slogans: Laurens, "the busiest little town in Iowa"; Denver, "the cleanest little town in Iowa"; Aplington, "northeast Iowa's best-kept secret"; and Bradgate, "the town that wouldn't die" after a 2005 tornado. In Marathon, look for an old commercial building that is literally plastered with antique advertising posters. As always, it's the flavor, fun and hospitality of Iowa towns that make RAGBRAI special. Let's do it again.

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