Expecting the unexpected is a given for any RAGBRAI cyclist.
But even some veterans were caught off guard by the shouts of merry Christmas and snow flakes falling in Runnells Wednesday.
It only seemed fitting that before pedaling through the “Christmas in July” themed streets, riders awoke to an uncharacteristic chill in the air. With a low temperature of 63 in Des Moines, some riders even started their morning in a jacket.
“This is the first year I’ve ever needed a jacket,” said Cindy Bertelsen, of Gretna, Neb.
In Runnells, Bertelsen and her husband Doug were immediately captivated by the Christmas lights and decor, a bicycle-drawn sleigh with Mr. and Mrs. Claus inside and a snow machine pumping out a miniature blizzard.
The live Southeast Polk High School marching band also was a big hit, demanding the attention of thousands of riders rolling down Brown Street. On multiple occasions the band challenged the mass of riders to a dance off, which did not disappoint.
“These kids rock. They’ve been out here going nonstop since 8 a.m.,” rider Patrick Hansen said around 9 a.m., noting the band recalled fond memories of his own high school band days.
Hansen, who recently moved to Grinnell, donated extra money to the band booster club with the purchase of two waters.
“These guys are awesome. Runnells is awesome,” he said.
Another rider, Jason Hemmer, of Des Moines, could not have dressed more appropriately for the occasion. Hemmer had been sporting a decorative Christmas tree on his helmet and an elvish-looking shirt since he started the ride yesterday in Perry.
His team of eight riders selected “Christmas in July” as their theme for this year’s ride, which happened to coincide with the theme in Runnells.
“One guy on our team grew his beard out to look like Santa,” Hemmer said.
Locals said the event was perfect.
“This is our own Iowa State Fair in Runnells,” said Nancy Moore, who had never seen anything like it in the city since arriving in 1947. “It’s exhilarating.”
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