It would be completely understandable if few or any of the thousands of RAGBRAI riders noticed the fact they headed into Riverview Park on “Prum Strasse” (Prum Street), named after Fort Madison’s sister city in Germany.
But Mario Rogus did. He knows exactly where Prum is, although it’s not all that close to where he lives, which is Cottbus. If that doesn’t ring a bell, it’s about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Berlin.
His fellow German, Frank Winkler, lives by the Baltic Sea.
So how did they end up in Iowa for a state-wide bike race? Simple: Rogus has friends in Arizona.
Alyson Stephens of Arizona City and John Sutton of Eloy have been on RAGBRAI twice and contacted Rogus about making the long trip for the long trip. “(Sutton) managed to convince me to join his team,” Rogus said.
While Rogus and Winkler may earn the prize for longest distance traveled, Iowa hosted several people from each coast.
Rita Zito is from California, but don’t make any big-city stereotypes about her as if she’s from Los Angeles or San Francisco.
She hails from Clovis, which, despite its 90,000 population, is considered a “hick town,” she said. It’s agricultural based, with ranches and fig growers, and nearby Fresno gets slammed as well by late night talk show hosts.
She was only in Fort Madison about an hour when she declared, “I love this town.”
Zito was waiting for her husband, Ron. Also waiting was her daughter and son-in-law, Rebecca and Darrin Kruse (pronounced Cruise, not KRU-zee), and grandaughter Allison.
They’ve been to communities with “old town” tourist attractions, but they were a little big too dressed up.
Fort Madison, however, was “not pristine, but it’s real,” Zito said. “I appreciate that.
“It’s authentic. You can tell it’s rich in history with the old buildings. It makes me want to explore your city.”
They had spent the night in Burlington to avoid the rush, but they were more impressed with Fort Madison. “This epitomizes small-town America. Clovis tries to maintain the smalltown feel,” and a regular event is a “fig dig” for one of the crops prominent in the area.
From the other coast came Jim Young and his wife Louisa Hackett of Montclair, N.J.
They had never been to Iowa before but midway through the ride, Young said he told some Iowans that he was going to try to talk his friends from New Jersey and New York to move to Iowa.
“You can’t have a ride like this on the east coast,” Young said. “It’s gorgeous, spectacular.”
“Every single person I’ve meet has been beyond nice,” Young said.
In contrast, Young and Hackett visited northern California last year and its wine country. The scenery was nice but the people “were too fancy pants,” Young said.
“We had no idea how beautiful it was here,” Hackett said. So compared to northern California, Iowa had the hospitality and “the beauty is just as spectacular. The riverfront is beautiful.”
Young was especially impressed with Fort Madison as the people cheered and clapped for the riders as they finished.
“Fort Madison couldn’t be more welcoming,” he said. “They say it’s not supposed to be a race, but it feels like it.”
The New Jersey residents met a couple from Papillion, Neb., near Omaha: Amy and Jamie Wallingford. They later met for Saturday breakfast at the Ivy Bake Shoppe.
“This is phenomenal!” Amy said of the local restaurant. “We asked at the YMCA where a good place to eat was, and they recommended this.”
Hackett said, “It’s good that the local stores are open. You actually get to see the (town’s) people and not just the vendors.”
Amy said some of the towns they rode to seemed to have shut down for the event as most of the local stores had closed signs on them.
race built for two
It sounds like an Iowa-Minnesota joke: “Did you hear about the Minnesota man who wanted to impress his new bride so he took her on a honeymoon to Iowa?”
No joke. Bob and Laurie Larson of Lakeville, Minnesota (near Minneapolis-St. Paul) married this past June. Bob had already ridden on seven RAGBRAIs and Laurie on four, each of them on their own bikes.
But for their honeymoon, the Larsons got a tandem bike and finished the week-long ride in Fort Madison, dipping their front tire in the Mississippi around 9 a.m.