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RAGBRAI riders return for family, friendliness

August 2, 2012
By Jimmy Gillispie - Sports Editor ( , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Thousands of bicycle riders rolled through Tama County last Thursday as they made their way to the Mississippi River on Saturday.

Yes, the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, better known as RAGBRAI, made its annual trek across the state for the 40th year. This year's route passed through central Tama County, with stops in Garwin and Clutier on Thursday morning.

"I'm having a great time," said Eric Sorensen, Oak Park, Ill, who was celebrating his 49th birthday on Thursday. "This is a lot of fun. It's amazing that so many people come out and it's a great spirit."

Article Photos

Rory Huerter, Cedar Rapids, checks his equipment, while his two sons take a water break Thursday morning in Garwin. Huerter and his sons, Nik, 10, and George, 6, returned to the RAGBRAI together for the second year.

Almost every RAGBRAI rider has a different reason for tackling the annual seven-day bicycle ride that encompasses 471 miles from Sioux Center to Clinton. Some are bicycle enthusiasts, some enjoy the time with family, while other's claim they are a bit crazy.

"I met a couple that told me I had to do RAGBRAI," Mary Swanstrom, Dayton, Minn., said. "They had done it nine times. I thought who in their right mind would do the same ride for nine years? First of all, you can't be in your right mind and second of all, it's never the same. We decided to be 'loons', which is short for lunatic and it's also the state bird of Minnesota."

Swanstrom was completing her 20th year of RAGBRAI during one of hottest years of the bicycle ride. She was traveling with her grandson this year.

"My grandson is experiencing RAGBRAI as a 'loon' for the first time," she said.

They met up with a fellow Minnesota resident during the ride and spent time together in Garwin.

"As a life-long Minnesotan, I have to say Iowans are nicer," said Laurie Halm.

Swanstrom agreed that the friendliness of the towns' residents is what makes the RAGBRAI such a great event. The ride rolls through six to 10 towns a day and most riders stop in each town, while the town's residents welcome the riders. Different towns are chosen as host cities at night, while others are stops along the way as each year's route is different that the previous.

"That's what bring everybody back," Swanstrom said. "If you see the hospitality here, you can't find it anywhere else like this. People are so darn friendly in Iowa. People here will give you the shirt off their back."

Some riders simply come back because of the company they are riding with each year. Sorensen and his brother-in-law, Dan Hawkins of Colorado Springs, Colo., were two of their family members in the RAGBRAI this year. There were more along for the ride.

"This is a big family experience," Sorensen said of his first time at RAGBRAI. "I've always wanted to do it. We've talked about doing it for years and this was the year."

Time spent with family was also the reason Rory Huerter of Cedar Rapids came back to the RAGBRAI this year. A year ago, Huerter and his two sons rode three stages and they came back this year to do the same. Huerter has been a part of the RAGBRAI around 10 times.

"We were going to do four, but we're going on vacation after this," Huerter said. "This year's he's doing about 240 miles and last year he did about 250."

Huerter and his two sons, Nik, 10, and George, 6, started on Wednesday and were finishing on Friday in Anamosa, where the boys' grandparents live and the rest of their family was waiting for them.

"It's a lot of fun," Nik Huerter said.

Huerter has a child's seat pulled behind his bike with their equipment and food. George Huerter rode in it last year, but this year he has his own bike, which is welded to the back of his dad's bike. They both pedal. Meanwhile, Nik rides along side on his own bike.

"They complain about how slow I go," Huerter said. "Of course, I'm pulling all of our supplies. It's a lot easier when you have someone hauling all of your stuff, but this is more adventurous.

"They really enjoy biking," he said. "I knew they would like it. Last year, he (younger son) rode in this, but this year we got this trail-behind bike for him."

On Thursday, the big story from the night before wasn't the Little River Band concert in Marshalltown. Instead, it was the thunderstorm that rolled through the area late Wednesday evening and night. Hard rain and strong winds changed plans quickly that night.

"It was pretty exciting," Huerter said. "We weren't sure if we were going to find our tent when we got back to the campsite, but it was there. It worked pretty well for us."

Others had to move from their tent and go inside a barn. Swanstrom and her grandson were luckily staying at a friend's house that night.

"We stayed at a repeat home stay," Swanstrom said. "We stayed with friends we met eight years ago in Marshalltown. They have an apple-berry farm and it was lots of fun. We camped at their place. Our tent has mesh on top so we can stay cool, so everything got wet. We moved into the barn and slept there.

"I don't mind if it rains at night," she said. "It's really nice and I know the farms all need it. We're lucky if it comes at night. I felt bad for the town last night. They did so much preparation for us to come. They did a great job welcoming us."



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