If it's July and you're in Iowa, then it's time for RABRAI (Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa)! (Follow the link if you want to learn more about the event. ) It's the biggest party of the year with upwards to 15,000 cyclists from all over the world participating. Even Lance Armstrong is going to ride the whole way this year (or so the rumors say).
They start off dipping their back tires in the Missouri River and ride the week across Iowa until they hit the Mississippi River where they dip their front tires. It's totally fun for everyone (not to mention a HUGE economic boost to the small towns they go through). Registration is limited to 8,000, but many bikers join to ride along for a few days and never register. There are many, many support people who follow along as well. So, not only the towns that they stay in, but the towns that they pass through, are included in their party.
As we were sitting in the Painted Pony yesterday, twelve very wet and very nervous cyclists burst into the bar about six o'clock shouting "There's a tornado out there!!!". Another thing about Iowa in July is that horrific storms and tornadoes can blow up in a heartbeat in this heat and humidity. Luckily there was no tornado but these poor folks had been caught in the torrential rain and straight-line winds (I heard reports later of 70 mph winds). They'd ridden in from Iowa City and had stayed the night before in Humboldt. They got caught in the downpour about 3 miles south of town and hid out in a machine shed.
A lot of people will ride from their homes out to the start of the trip. Iowa City is a LOT closer to the Mississippi than it is to the Missouri, so they'd already been on the road for two days. The group had men and women every age (20-somethings to 50-somethings) and, in spite of their frightening experience, they came in good spirits.
After eating supper they got back on their bikes to ride to Mallard (where I'm sure they would stop and party some more) and finally on to Emmetsburg where they would spend the night. By this time it had started to pour again and even though we tried to get them to stay in West Bend for the night, they started off on their next leg of the trip. Well - most of them anyway. Two women with more sense than the rest asked if we could take them to their motel in Emmetsburg. They'd had their fill of riding in the rain and were tired after eating. So we loaded their bikes in the back of the truck and headed west to Emmetsburg.
This is just something that Iowans do for RAGBRAIers. When we lived in Onawa, RAGBRAI started off from there two times. Both times we opened our home to those bikers who were not lucky enough to get a motel room or who didn't feel like pitching a tent for the night. It was quite a sight I must say. Bodies and bikes everywhere! Since living in West Bend, RAGBRAI has come through twice as well. It takes quite a while for 8-10,000 bicycles to ride through your town, especially when half of them stop to party for a while. (Man! Those people can drink!!) We've met some really nice people, just like last night. It was a blast.
Oh - and this picture? I took this of my neighbor's house yesterday. See that spout thingy on the edge of her house? It was raining so hard and the wind was blowing so strong that the rain was blown out of her downspout. Imagine trying to ride a bike in this.