DAY 4, WEDNESDAY: Des Moines to Knoxville
Climb: 2,920 feet
Depending on how early riders roll out of Des Moines, they can stop in Runnells for mimosas at the Rosey Acres Winery or something a little stronger at the town’s two bars. The winery’s tasting room is an 1890 bank, where co-owners Tom and Karen Diltz pour samples of Iowa-grown Paradise Mist (which goes in the mimosas), Rising Sun and a deceptively named red called Attitude.
Riders will see snow bales, carolers, mistletoe, sleighs and Christmas cookies as they ride. The town’s theme is “Hills, Chills and Wheels.”
A cyclist traffic jam might slow things down in Monroe, where a line will probably stretch for miles outside the Jersey Freeze. The stand’s soft-serve ice cream has a loyal following, including the folks at Thelma’s Treats, who pack the ice cream into the snickerdoodle and chocolate-chip cookie sandwiches sold in central Iowa.
The ride to Knoxville isn’t hilly, exactly. But it’s definitely “bluffy.” Along the way, take a break at Iowa’s largest lake, Lake Red Rock. The creation of the lake once caused six towns to be flooded.
Entertainment: Listen to 13 Iowa bands. Main stage entertainment includes Kevin Gordon, the Diplomats of Solid Sound and Brother Trucker. Opening acts include Joe and Vicki Price, Matt Woods, the River Monks, Chad Elliott, Thankful Dirt, the High Crest, Dustin Busch Trio, Typical Males, Rumble Seat Riot and Retro Jukebox.
DAY 5, THURSDAY: Knoxville to Oskaloosa
Climb: 2,808 feet
Before he became a soldier, buffalo hunter, bouncer, miner, boxing referee and sharpshooter, Wyatt Earp was just one of the neighborhood kids in Pella. His boyhood home is part of the Pella Historical Village near the town square. Pella’s famous tulips will be gone by July, but riders can still enjoy the city’s other Dutch-themed attractions. For example, riders can visit the country’s largest working windmill.
Bussey’s claim to fame is a two-story mural that local artist Todd Spaur completed last year to thank the town for helping him recover from a near-fatal car accident. He was featured last summer on the “Today” show and in a Des Moines Sunday Register feature. He’ll greet RAGBRAI riders as they roll by.
The sound of the Oskaloosa city band will welcome visitors to town, just like it has for more than a century. The paid musicians are carrying on a local tradition that started in the 1860s and never stopped. Their “new” bandstand was built in 1912.
Bookworms can visit the well-stocked Book Vault shop in a former bank.
Real worms can make themselves useful on fishing hooks in nearby Lake Keomah.
And history buffs can pay their respects to Becky and Jennie, the mules that rest in peace at the Nelson Pioneer Farm Museum. They pulled cannons during the Civil War before returning to the 1844 Nelson homestead, where they died years later at the ripe old ages of 34 and 42.
Entertainment: The Nadas and the Fishheads perform on the Oskaloosa main stage, with the Oskaloosa Municipal Band warming the crowd up beforehand.
DAY 6, FRIDAY: Oskaloosa to Fairfield
Climb: 1,222 feet
The road out of “Osky” winds through some of the smaller towns on this year’s route, starting with unincorporated Cedar and then on to Fremont (pop. 743), Hedrick (764), Martinsburg (112) and Packwood (204).
Take a break in Fremont, where there will be livestock face cut-outs and a large hay bale pig to feature in your photos. Antique lovers will enjoy visiting Preaching Pickers near Hedrick. The antique store was featured on HGTV’s show “West End Salvage.”
The city of Packwood will display customized welcome messages on its sign. The town purchased this sign with the money it raised when RAGBRAI went through previously.
Then there’s Fairfield, the Jefferson County seat that Oprah Winfrey called “America’s most unusual town” recently. Over the past decade or so, both the Maharishi School of Management and the neighboring community of Maharishi Vedic City — named for an Indian guru — have drawn thousands of folks to the area to practice transcendental meditation and sustainable living. Fairfield is a mix of small-town Iowa and the world. There are more restaurants per capita than San Francisco, and at last count, they represented cuisines from more than 10 cultures.
Entertainment: The Spazmatics perform on the main stage. Peru Circus performers, 34th Army Band Sidewinders and the Jefferson County Green Band open.
DAY 7, SATURDAY: Fairfield to Fort Madison
Climb: 2,427 feet
During the final dash toward the Mississippi, riders can see the 19 mounds where woodland Indians buried their dead in a patch of land that overlooks the Des Moines River in what is now Lacey-Keosauqua State Park. The park was originally named Big Bend, for the curve in the river, but was renamed to honor Iowa Congressman John Lacey, who campaigned for conservation decades before Teddy Roosevelt took up the charge. (“Keosauqua” is a Native American term for a snowy or slushy stream.) Keosauqua is also home to the Van Buren County Courthouse, Iowa’s oldest courthouse and the nation’s second-most continuously used courthouse.
Bonaparte, like its namesake, is small but mighty. The riverfront district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, and locals have preserved many of the old red-brick buildings. The Meek Pants Factory is now a B&B. The old grist mill is now Bonaparte Retreat, a restaurant that could feed a French army.
When in Birmingham, visit a log cabin built in 1923. The cabin is not connected to Abraham Lincoln, but Lincoln is tied to the town because his supposed first love, Ann Rutledge, lived in the area.
The 406-mile ride ends in Fort Madison, where riders can dip their tires at “one of the most beautiful and accessible riverfronts in Iowa,”
Fort Madison chamber coordinator Sarah Cantrell said.
Fort Madison’s theme is “Bikes, burgers and paradise — the Florida of Iowa.” The town says its location in Iowa is similar to Florida’s location in the U.S.
Entertainment: On the main stage in Fort Madison see the Cherry Gun Band.
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