By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer
A week spent biking 471-miles through grueling heat, challenging inclines and strong winds concluded Saturday as thousands of RAGBRAI riders dipped their tires into the Mississippi River to symbolize their accomplishment.
This was the 40th year of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.
The last time Clinton was the ending town was 2004. Thousands of riders arrived in Clinton on Saturday, some as early as 7:30 a.m. Temperatures hovered in the 70’s for the first wave of riders, with a cool breeze to match.
Look back: Complete RAGBRAI coverage.
Julie Kaftan, 54, of Council Bluffs, concluded her 15th RAGBRAI on Saturday. The ambitious biker was finished and packing by 10:30 a.m., when the first large wave of riders was rolling into town.
“We’ve had hot weather before, so I go early. I go before noon and find some shade.” Kaftan said she felt great after completing the ride across her home state.
“Other than needing to sleep, I could ride tomorrow,” she said.
Three years ago she nearly died because of a brain injury she sustained during a bike accident. The accident also pulled her away from RAGBRAI for two years. While her husband wasn’t entirely thrilled with her return to biking, Kaftan said she was grateful that he understood how much it meant to her.
“This is my happy pill, biking and running. I grew up in Iowa and it’s so amazing to experience all the towns I’ve never been to,” she said.
View photos from the conclusion of RAGBRAI (story continues below).
The bulk of riders arrived between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. They were welcomed by helpful volunteers offering, among other things, cool, refreshing water.
The temperatures Saturday provided relief to riders who trekked hundreds of miles from the starting town of Sioux Center through 100-plus degree days.
Steve Ballou, 63, of Orlando, Fla. completed his sixth RAGBRAI Saturday.
“This year was a hard one. The two days with the worst heat were Tuesday, a 109-mile day. It felt like you were going due east into a hair dryer. Wednesday was easier, but it came after Tuesday,” he said.
Ballou met his teammate, Jim Borelli, 53, of Overland Park, Kan., at the first RAGBRAI they
both completed six years ago.
“Finishing this year I’m probably as excited as I was the first year,” Borelli said.
Riders entered off of Iowa 136/Main Avenue and made their way down Springdale Drive, Bluff Boulevard, Third Street and Ninth Avenue North.
Police escorted riders across busy intersections including Ninth Avenue North and Second Street to ensure a safe end to their trip.
Volunteer Vivi Smith, who manned the boat ramp for a good portion of the largest influx of riders, said she had no problems. Volunteers at the boat ramp offered to take photos of the thousands of riders as they dipped their tires and lifted their bikes into the air triumphantly.
First-time rider Sara Kuelenkamp, 21, of Lakeville, Minn. said her favorite part of the ride was stopping in all the towns.
“It was fun. The first few days were really hot,” she said. “I’m ready to go home.”
The parking lots surrounding LumberKings' stadium were full of buses, RV’s and rows upon rows of baggage waiting to reunite riders with their own beds. Riders also flocked to the booths of hot food, cold beer, massages, and bike shipping and repairs.
The palpable feeling of accomplishment filled the air through Saturday evening as riders made their way to homes across the country.
By night a calm had settled over the river front.
Stop signs decorated with brightly colored team signs, disassembled traffic barricades lying next to the streets, subtly glowing lights from the RV Park and few tents in Riverview Park and buses rolling out of town were remnants of the frantic, exuberant day.