The bulk of the RAGBRAI bicyclists — most wearing helmets and bright riding attire — started peddling through Walcott’s streets, which were lined with American flags, about 9 Saturday morning (July 30, 2011). The last one may have been the shirtless man who rode through at 7:30 Saturday night.
The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa began July 24 in Glenwood, Iowa, and ended Saturday in Davenport. Walcott was the final day-stop on the route.
It was a day to remember.
Scores of volunteers in lime green Walctoberfest T-shirts were ready for the participants. Ready to welcome them, ready to direct them, ready to assist them and, with the help of Iowa 80 Kitchen, ready to feed them items like pulled pork sandwiches, chips, fresh fruit and slices of homemade pie.
Walcott’s welcomes were evident throughout town. People sat in lawn chairs shouting encouragement and applauding. It was like the Walcott Day parade revisited. Harry Knutsen, who sat in a lawn chair across the street from his house on Main Street, waved and shouted, “Good morning. Welcome to Walcott!” to groups of riders.
Insurance agent Brent Arp, shielded from the sun by a large cowboy hat, greeted riders as they approached Victory Park, giving many high fives or, more accurately, low fives.
“I’ll buy the first beer,” Arp joked as some sailed by. Well, I think he was joking since he never pulled out his wallet or left his post to make good on the promises.
Dick Hagen was on hand, portraying Walcott founder Willie Walcott. His character is a community icon. Wearing a wrinkled, balding old man mask and dressed in a Walctoberfest T-shirt and trademark black suit, Hagen earned some smiles as he shook the hands of riders entering the park.
Walcott’s RAGBRAI stop was a well-planned production spearheaded by Mayor Jim Couper and organized by Kris Burt. Planning began in early February, well before the ride’s route was even finalized.
The day-stop took place in Victory Park. But other spots, like the Walcott Coliseum and The Lampliter, also welcomed participants.
One of the more popular places in Walcott Saturday, though, was the church lawn on the northeast corner of Main and James streets. Just before some of them stretched out on the shaded grass to relax a bit, riders stopped at a nearby fire hydrant equipped with four faucets to fill their bottles with fresh, cold water.
Public works director John Brockmann steadied riders’ bikes for them — most don’t have kickstands — and chatted with them. Some dumped water over their heads in an attempt to cool off.
Charlie Visek of Cedar Rapids was one of those stretched out in the church yard. It was his first RAGBRAI.
“I’m a virgin,” said the former baseball umpire and basketball official. He was riding with his son, Casey, who said they kept a 17-18 mph pace. Charlie said he’ll ride again next year because “this is my new activity.”
Also resting there was Brent Siemers of Kansas City. I asked him about the week’s heat.
“Wednesday was the last bad day heat-wise,” he said. “I am sure there were some struggles out there, but we left early and we had some cloud cover until 10 or 10:30 in the morning.” Camping out in a tent at night all week, however, Siemers said, had been uncomfortable because of the high humidity.
Another popular attraction was Bill and Joyce Hudson’s house on North Main. That’s because they had their 1937 Terraplane and 1935 Auburn on display out front.
Elwynn Taylor, ISU Extension climatologist, dressed in Cyclone red and gold, stopped his bike to get a closer look.
“It’s going to be warmer today than it has been the last two days, but there’s been some relief since the Sunday and Monday rides on this trip,” he told me. “And I think everybody’s had a great time even though there has been some real heat stress.”
This was Taylor’s first RAGBRAI. He did it because his granddaughter, who just finished her freshman year at Iowa State and lives in his basement, suggested it.
Also checking out the old cars was Tom Malone of Des Moines, who rode his first RAGBRAI in 1976 and his second last year.
He surprised me when he said the wind had bothered him more than Iowa’s heat.
“The wind’s been kind of in our face and made it more difficult,” he said. “Fair winds and smooth roads make a good RAGBRAI.”
In addition to the waving American flags, a rusting steel, larger-than-life giraffe greeted riders at Main and Bryant streets. And a steel horse, appropriately named Rusty, was on duty outside the Walcott Coliseum. Randal Soenke of Muscatine created both of them.
The park was where most of the riders gathered.
“It’s a great setup,” one said as he listened to a singer on the pitcher’s mound of the ball diamond.
Many admired the glockenspiel displayed by the Walcott-based American/Schleswig-Holstein Heritage Society. Others received needed bike repairs at a repair booth.
“We’ll get you going,” said a mechanic to a woman rider who had a problem with a wheel.
Walcott firefighters and Buffalo Ambulance medics handled some medical problems. They weren’t all serious. One biker had blisters on her fingers that needed to be bandaged and taped. Experienced riders told me that can happen from holding onto the handgrips, even with padded gloves.
A large white sign was provided so riders could write their name and where they were from. One of those signing was Dale Shreve of South Bend, Ind., who was on his first RAGBRAI.
“It’s great. It’s tiring,” he said with a sigh. What was his opinion of Walcott? “It’s nice. You’ve got a nice park here. It’s good to refresh in. You guys have been great.”
A mother and son from Mount Vernon, Iowa, Denise and John Mineck, lunched in a park shelter. She raved about the shade. He raved about the piece of pie he was eating.
One couple told food shack workers that Walcott was the friendliest town they’d encountered across the entire state.
But not everyone strolling around the park was a biker. Ruby Ferris of Maysville was on hand to see what was going on and to relive the time several years ago when her community threw out the welcome mat for riders.
“We sold 50 pies and 800 bananas at a dollar apiece,” she recalled. And visitors also petted retired racing greyhounds and donated $400 to the greyhound adoption service in Maysville.
Copyright 2011 by Creative Enterprises, Walcott, Iowa. This piece ran as an “Everyday People” column in The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.