I first reconnected with the Pieper cousins in June in California, and when I shared that I was a cyclist and going to the Tour de France, they told me about the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). I was intrigued. Then on my Trek Tour, Sandy from Ohio told me more about it and several other people in our group had done it too. They all recommended I give it a go.
I went to Iowa with the resolution of learning as much as I could about RAGBRAI so I could ride it July 2015. If you are not familiar with RAGBRAI (rag- bri), it is the oldest multi-day ride in America. About 10,000 riders cycle from the Missouri River on one side of Iowa, clear across the state to the Mississippi River in 7 days. Everyone describes it as a moving party.
The route changes every year and it is announced on January 24. The registration is only $160 for the week, and competitive to get a slot. I will increase my chances of getting in if I ride with a team.
When I was in Decorah, Darrel and Betty shared their stories from 13 years of riding RAGBRAI. They have learned over the years to take a motor home. They ride with the Decorah Trolls. They encouraged me to form a team and rent a motor home and ride. I want my kids to come with me and I have a couple of friends who might be interested so that is a possibility.
Then I met my cousin John and he invited me to join Team Larry. They rent a trailer for their gear and bikes and stay at people’s houses and in tents along the way. This is very appealing to get the full experience. (Although my kids are probably snickering at the idea of me sleeping in a tent.) An air mattress will be a must.
Apparently there are also trucks that you can rent for showers and others with bunks. It sounds like the entrepreneurial spirit is inspired during RAGBRAI.
I am already training for my 4 day December ride in New Zealand. I will just keep pedaling so I can ride across Iowa in July.
One of the highlights of my time in Stuart was riding a giant combine with Cousin Leo. Everywhere we drove in Iowa we saw corn stalks drying in the field or soybeans dropping their leaves both awaiting harvest. The rain had delayed the schedule a bit.
Leo was anxious to get the combine out and try it out a bit on his own place. I jumped at the offer to go for a ride. The tires are bigger than me and you have to climb up a steep ladder to the cab. The machine is very complex and powerful. The cab is designed with a floating lumbar seat for the driver and relatively quiet.
Leo and Geri make a great team and they were getting the cutter heads onto the front and checking the machine to make sure it was ready for its maiden voyage for 2014. Both of them drive it at different times and they are both knowledgeable about its operation and maintenance. The big red Case International Harvester tractor costs half a million dollars, so it is important to keep the thing running as many years as possible.
We clampered into the cab and began driving down to the bottom of the first field. Alas one of the chains broke on harvesting part of the machine, so we had to abort our mission. I was impressed that this machine uses a chain much like my the chain on my bike, albeit much bigger. Unfortunately, the parts store sent the wrong size connector so in spite of everyone’s best efforts, we did not get to harvest. Another visit because I am not waiting so long to return to Iowa.
When they send me the video of them harvesting, I will post it here.
In my mind Stuart, Iowa is mecca for #Pieperfest14. Our cousins live in West Des Moines, Pella, Waukee and Decorah; however, Great-Grandma Pieper lived in Stuart (technically Dexter) so it is where all roads lead. Just off of Interstate 80, it is easy to reach.
Cousins Leo and Geri bought Grandma’s place and remodeled it. We can still find many traces of Grandma’s simple life in the pitch of a roof, or the lilac bushes in the yard. It is not hard to find, yet our gracious cousins met us at the Americinn where we dropped our bags and had us follow them out there. We enjoyed a big steak feed, toured the old home place and looked at Geri’s homemade quilts.
The next day we had our first relaxed morning and went into Stuart to take pictures of the former bank where Bonnie and Clyde robbed the bank. Later at Marty and Sandy’s lunch, Cousin Bob told me how late Uncle Marvin unknowingly pulled Bonnie and Clyde’s car out of a ditch, and where in Dexter many of the gang were killed in a shootout. Jesse James’ gang also raised a ruckus in these parts.
We had a great time catching up with various cousins including Mary who always was so sweet to me when I was little. Jeanette and some others went to the cemetery in Anita.
We all ended the day around the fire in the fireplace at Marty and Sandy’s. Everyone was just enjoying one another’s company and no one was in a hurry to go home.
We continued our tour of cousins and drove from Des Moines to Decorah—after a stop in Bondurant to find Auntie J’s old home place, then north on I-35 and then across the state to the northeast corner in driving rain. We arrived later than we expected and a little emotionally wrung out from navigating in the rain and on unfamiliar roads. We checked into the historic hotel right on main street and then met our cousins and their friends for happy hour.
We had a very happy hour trying locally brewed beer and sharing stories with cousins Terri and Chuck and their friends Darrel and Betty. We then got the windshield tour of Decorah including Luther College, where many of the buildings were designed by Uncle Jack Thompson (now deceased).
We went for another big meal at McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita restaurant. Jeanette and I were beginning to feel like pigs being fattened for bacon and chops. I am going to have to figure out how to navigate the caloric landmines before I visit again.
Decorah takes great pride in their Nordic heritage. The high school mascot is the Vikings and the highlight on the summer calendar is Nordic Days. My cousins Terri and Chuck have a gem of a gift shop specializing in Norwegian gifts called Vanberia.
The next morning we met Terri and Chuck for breakfast (more bacon) at the hotel restaurant, Restauration, a spin off the name of the boat that brought the first Norwegian immigrants to America. Jeanette joined them for a quick trip to the cemetery to honor loved ones and I stayed behind to handle some memos and other work.
We met up and went shopping. Jeanette found a dress shop she really liked and I found the Blue Heron Knittery. We each made additional contributions to the local economy.
We said our goodbyes and then checked out the Norwegian-American museum. Vesterheim is an excellent small museum that focuses on the story of the Norwegian emigration to the USA. I also took a photo of main street (at top of post) as we got ready to leave town because it was heartwarming to see an intact small town not ravaged by edge of town Walmarts or strip malls.
A real whirlwind trip, we then drove back to Des Moines and on to Stuart.