Volunteers direct bicyclists as they roll into Grinnell on Thursday, July 27, the fifth day of the 2023 RAGBRAI.
By J.O. Parker
“We will be back,” said Tracy Hamlin of Birmingham, Ala., as she and her sister, Kari Helton, took a break in Grinnell on the fifth and one of the hottest days on the 50th Anniversary of RAGBRAI.
The sisters were among thousands who made the 90-mile trek from Des Moines through Altoona, Mitchellville, Colfax, Newton and Kellogg before arriving in Grinnell, the final pass-through town before ending the day in Tama/Toledo.
“It’s so much fun,” said Tracy of the ride. “We might just move here.”
“Thanks for the hospitality,” added Kari, who also lives in Birmingham as the two enjoyed their first RAGBRAI.
Teri Angcos of Steamboat Springs, Colo, who also riding her first RAGBRAI with husband, Bob, said it’s been really nice to see all the small towns giving their best.
“Everyone has been so great and welcoming,” Bob said as the two cooled off before rolling out of town.
In spite of the nearly 100-degree heat and high humidity, it was a great day and Grinnell was a shining star and a Jewel on the Prairie for the bicyclists rolling through town.
As many as 300 volunteers, all wearing bright pink T-shirts with “Grinnell, the Jewel of the Jubilee,” logo printed on the front, helped showcase the Grinnell community.
“Welcome to Grinnell,” could be heard ringing across the airwaves as bicyclist rolled into town to a bevy of volunteers giving directions, handing out water, selling tickets and making the day special for the thousands of bicyclists. And they did it with a smile.
Central Park was a hubbub of activity throughout the day as bicyclists enjoyed a bite to eat from one of the many vendors along Broad Street, took a quick nap under a shade tree, listened to various bands performing on the Central Park stage or caught up on social media.
“Rachael Kinnick and the chamber team did heroic work to pull off an event for up to 40,000 visitors,” said Steve Langerud, a Grinnell Chamber Board member and volunteer on the RAGRBRI planning committee. “The community volunteers the chamber organized really made the day work. It simply could not have happened without the chamber, the city, law enforcement officials, emergency services and the citizens of Grinnell.”
Steve said he and Tammy Jones, also with the Grinnell RAGBRAI planning committee, were at the official information station all day.
“We heard so many kind comments about the beauty and cleanliness of Grinnell and the reception by the community,” said Steve. “It was a brutally hard day for many riders and we thank the staff at Unity Point and the medical tent downtown for their work. It was a joy to represent our community to people from all over the world.”
“We simply could not have done it without the help and support of each and every one of our volunteers: from setup to teardown, route support to hospitality, food and beverage to entertainment, photographers and everything in between - our volunteers truly helped make our community shine,” said Rachael Kinnick, Grinnell Chamber of Commerce Director.
“This is the best stop over town,” said Ryan Clark, who was on his first RAGBRAI. “Grinnell is easy to get through and there are lots of choices.”
Mark Smalley, a native of Marquette, Iowa who now calls Los Angeles home, was on his 20thRAGBRAI and the first in eight years.
“For me, this year is a coming home reunion,” he said.
Mark was joining his dad, Don, who lives in Marquette and is on his 28th RAGBRAI.
The father, son duo are part of “Team No Rules,” a group of friends and family who ride RABGRAI together.
“This (Team No Rules) started as a small family affair and grew to include a nucleus of friends with people coming and going,” said Don. “I have always liked challenging things and RAGBRAI is a challenge.”
And Mark chimed in, saying that he attended the University of Iowa.
“I had to ride through Ames,” he said with a chuckle. “I had a touch of Little Brother Syndrome while there.”
“When we arrived in town, people were handing out water,” Don said. “Grinnell is really organized with people telling you where everything is.”
Natalie Mindrum of Chicago, who attended Luther College in Decorah, was on her first RAGBRAI.
“It has always been something I wanted to do,” she said of RAGBRAI.
Putting it off for a number of years, Natalie, who is a vegan, found a 45-member plant-based bicyclist team, “Powered by Plants,” and that put her on the road to riding RAGBRAI.
“RAGBRAI has been actually what I thought,” said Natalie. “People have been so friendly and every town has been organized. It is a testament to the great State of Iowa.”
Greg Snyder of St. Charles, Ill., who was on his sixth RAGBRAI, said the event is a collective of shared experiences.
“You can go on a bicycle ride anytime,” said Greg, a retired lawyer who was on the ride with his brother, a retired judge. “People go on RAGBRAI to be together. Everyone talks to everybody.”
Linda Long of Spencer, Iowa said she and her husband lived in Texas for 35 years before moving back to Iowa three years ago.
“My husband said it’s so we could be closer to RAGBRAI,” she said with a chuckle.
Angie Radcliffe, a volunteer with Renewed Hope Furnishings, an outreach of Friends Church of Grinnell, said it was a great opportunity for volunteers to get out there and meet and greet the riders through the outreach’s food stand on Broad Street.
“Greg Lincoln headed up this venture with his expertise in roasting flavored nuts,” said Angie. “We also sold flavored popcorn, Gatorade and water. Sixteen volunteers worked in our stand, selling products, and talking with lots of folks.”
Angie said RAGBRAI was a great opportunity for the outreach to share the message of the ministry as well as learn from riders what messages many of them were bringing,”
“The temperature was hot but the riders still came; they were so kind and complementary of Grinnell,” Angie said.
Angie said the goal of the day for Renewed Hope Furnishing was to raise funds toward a building as the outreach currently operates out of four storage buildings.
“We did make a small profit and are so thankful for the opportunity we were given,” said Angie. “Thank you RAGBRAI riders. We thoroughly enjoyed getting the chance to meet you. Thank you Grinnell Chamber of Commerce for all of your hard work in preparing for this big day in our community.”
“In spite of the heat, the Grinnell Community was able to pull off a good event and welcome thousands of bicyclists,” said Shane Hart, general manager of the Grinnell College Golf Course and Grinnell Chamber member, who had a booth at RAGBRAI. “We appreciated the visitors on July 27, but want them to know they are welcome back anytime.”