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June 10, 2014 09:55 PM

The Long Ride To RAGBRAI

It was a cold January evening that changed the events of a July weekend for Rock Valley and Okoboji, Iowa. Nearly 25,000 people will soon be riding their bikes through town for RAGBRAI.

For Rock Valley, this is the first time they've been part of the event, and they will be the city that starts it all.

"The City of Rock Valley and the city council has applied through RAGBRAI for the past 10 to 15 years. We are finally part of it," Rock Valley RAGBRAI committee co-chair David Miller said.

"It was a great night in Des Moines when they announced that. We were thinking now we can show off Rock Valley. We haven't got a chance to do that for 42 years and now we get to do it," Rock Valley Mayor Kevin Van Otterloo said.

The process of making the city ready for this major event began immediately.

"This is a whole different entity. When you try to figure out how you're going to fit 20,000-25,000 people in a town of 3,500, the task is a little daunting," Miller said.

Daunting, but not impossible.

"There's different committees working on the entertainment, on the beverage garden and vendors, the food vendors, the big bike expo that's coming into town and camping and lodging and hosting people," Van Otterloo said.

"I would say it's impossible to log the hours. We've got 10 people on the executive committee, we've got 19 committees. We figure to need about 500 to 700 volunteers," Miller said.

One extra piece of the RAGBRAI puzzle Rock Valley has to manage is the first-day bike expo, which they plan on putting in the high school parking lot.

"It's a first-day only during RAGBRAI. It is the largest bike expo in the United States. It's a big part for the first town to have that, which also adds to the volume of people that come to the first day," Miller said.

Once the riders take off from Rock Valley, they will head to Okoboji for an overnight stay, something the Iowa Great Lakes have never had until this year.

"For the last 10 years, RAGBRAI hasn't come through here, so that was one of the things that we all were very excited to find out that we had finally been chosen," Okoboji RAGBRAI committee chair Di Lorenzen said.

Just like Rock Valley, the Okoboji volunteers are planning ways to house and entertain nearly 25,000 riders.

"They gave us this big, huge manual of everything from A to Z that you need to do to be an overnight stay," Lorenzen said.

The struggle for this group is that there isn't a central location for everything. Venues are spread out over a nine mile area.

"We have an extra feat because of the area around here being kind of spread out, the Iowa Great Lakes. So, we knew it was going to be a challenge," Lorenzen said.

That makes communication for all the volunteers extra important.

"We've got and then we're also on Facebook and, really, it's about getting the information out to the community and getting everybody really excited about this opportunity to have all these riders come through," Okoboji committee member Carina Woodward said.

Okoboji is no stranger to hosting large events. Two weeks before the riders arrive, thousands will pack the area for the 4th of July, and organizers are looking at this as one more major gathering.

Over the years, RAGBRAI has hosted riders from all over the country and even the world, and some consider this race a global showcase for small-town Iowa.

"It's this whole group of people who maybe have never been to Iowa. They've definitely never seen Okoboji or the lakes area, so we get this opportunity to show them how much fun we have here," Woodward said.

"That's what RAGBRAI is all about, to really showcase your community and really show them what Iowa is all about. Whether that's hospitality, jobs, working, housing, schools, all that," Miller said.

So, will they be ready?

"We can make sure that all the guests have a great experience when they come to Okoboji. Not just if you come here on the 4th of July to visit, but as a RAGBRAI rider coming into town and having 35,000 other people at the same time," Lorenzen said.

"Rock Valley will look like a town that's ready. We've got everything in place from traffic routes, campgrounds, places to entertain, places to hang out and camp," Miller said.

Now, all they need is the riders to arrive.

RAGBRAI will run from July 20th to July 26th and will cover 418 miles starting at the Big Sioux River in Rock Valley and ending at the Mississippi River in Guttenberg.

For more information about the event, visit the official RAGBRAI website.

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