Cross-state ride rolls into northern Iowa

RINGSTED, Iowa – As the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa made its appearance in Emmet and Kossuth counties Tuesday, the two towns pulled out all the stops for the influx of 10,000 riders.

“It’s a lot bigger than the last times they’ve been through,” observed Norman Rasmussen of Ringsted who was working the information tent west of town. “How can you even count them?”

According to the RAGBRAI website, entries are limited to 8,500 week-long riders and 1,500 day riders. The site states that in recent years there have been too many entries, so riders were turned away.

However, those who were out Tuesday were festive and in good spirits.

“It’s a wonderful day,” said Cindy Meyer of Marshalltown, Iowa, who along with Linda Finders, also of Marshalltown, was enjoying the sound of local group Heart Song performing in Ringsted.

“Good music, people are having fun. Now we just need to find a bathroom,” she added with a laugh.

“Our first biker came through at 4:29 this morning,” said Barb Christiansen, an organizer for Ringsted’s RAGBRAI committee. “We also had 250 riders that stayed here overnight. But since 6:30 this morning, it’s been a steady stream.”

“At one point it was so crowded, they had to get off their bikes and walk once they hit town,” Rasmussen said. “Right now, we’re seeing the tail end, when you see most of the partiers.”

It’s a far cry from the original RAGBRAI in 1972, when only 114 riders made the trek. Since then, the ride has attracted people from all 50 states, and from more than 20 countries.

The RAGBRAI trail has gone through all 99 Iowa counties, including 828 towns, and had 127 overnight stops.

One person who has been around for more RAGBRAI’s than not is Paul Bernhard, aka Mr. Pork Chop of Bancroft. Bernhard debuted his pork chops at RAGBRAI in 1982, the first time the event went through Bancroft. Bernhard retired from Mr. Pork Chop several years ago. It is now run by his son, Matt. Both were on hand and featured prominently in Bancroft on Tuesday.

“He loves it when he can interact with people,” Matt said of his father, who was set up in a gazebo with plenty of shade. “He loves being able to give people crap and getting it back.”

“You don’t know me, but I’ve eaten many of your pork chops,” said Rick Schultes of Carroll County, Iowa, as he greeted Bernhard on Tuesday.

Another rider from Knoxville, Tenn., also marveled at Mr. Pork Chop.

“I’ve seen you do the pork-chop call on video,” said Steve Bohanan.

“They always want to hear the call,” Bernhard marveled. “I remember I’d be yelling it, and there’d be a group 10 to 15 feet away, and some girl would come up and say, ‘I haven’t heard the pork chop call yet.'”

He was willing to demonstrate Tuesday, as many people whipped out their phones to record Bernhard’s famous, “Porrrrk Chop!”

There was a long line waiting for those famous pork chops.

“We’ve been green since the beginning,” Matt said as he turned a giant grilling tray of pork chops. “The way we describe it, you grow the corn, shell it, take the corn off and feed it to the hogs to fatten them up, slaughter the hogs, and then cook them up with the corn cobs in the fire. How natural is that? The circle of life.”

Pork chops weren’t the only thing on the menu. In Ringsted, the traditional Danish treats were quickly purchased, and both towns had plenty of food and drink to offer.

But most important for many was the time spent with friends and making new ones.

“I’ve had lots of visitors today,” Bernhard said. “All 10,000 of them.”

RAGBRAI stayed in Forest City overnight and will continue to Mason City today.

On the Web: ragbrai.com