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  • Thu July 10 2008
  • Posted Jul 10, 2008
by Mike Conklin · July 09, 2008 In all deference to the residents, the tiny Iowa towns on the RAGBRAI route often look the same to many riders. Vining? Been through it several times, but it could just as easily be Kimballton in my book. Was that Neola? No, Green Mountain. Well, where was the Casey’s? That’s why it may come as a surprise to learn some in my biking group have a soft spot for Morley (pop. 83). We’re glad to see Mayor Mike O’Connor’s community on this year’s route. Every once in a while a community – no matter how small – makes an impression with riders. Maybe it’s a local musician playing an organ, distinctive food, a friendly library with air conditioning, or a unique souvenir handed to us as we pedal into town. In Morley, it starts with the architecture. I love that old gymnasium that stands on top of a hill overlooking the town. To me it is a classic piece of history that, like one-room school houses, Carnegie libraries, and small-town opera houses, is fast disappearing from the American countryside. If you’re 60 years or older, and grew up in rural Iowa, it is impossible to be inside that time-warp of a building and not imagine long-ago Friday nights with boys’ and girls’ basketball teams from now-defunct Morley High School battling, say, now-defunct Martelle High School. Meanwhile cold, winter winds blew outside. The gym is cramped, of course. There couldn’t have been much diving for loose balls with walls a few feet from the sidelines. Anyone driving for a layup had to pull up in a hurry unless they wanted to land on a stage or suffer a concussion. You don’t have to imagine the players’ faces. The last time I was there, decades-old senior class pictures decorated the walls – classes that had as few as four or five students. Now, the photos serve as some sort of archeological evidence that this gym once was full of adolescent energy. There is still another reason veteran riders appreciate Morley. The last time RAGBRAI passed through a few years ago, this was the first stop for us on what had been a rainy morning on long stretches of gravel road. Bicycles were covered with mud and, worse, our chains were grinding on the accumulation of sand and pebbles. This was not good, but, as riders pulled up to the gym, friendly Morley residents were there to alertly greet us with hoses. They sprayed the gunk from our bikes in a very welcome gesture that undoubtedly saved many of us from a dreaded breakdown later in the day. It’s random acts of kindness like this that really distinguish towns on the route – no matter how small. (Editor’s Note: Mike Conklin, a former Chicago Tribune reporter who teaches at DePaul University, is a graduate of Lisbon High School and Cornell College. This is his 15th RAGBRAI.)

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