RAGBRAI launches from western Iowa

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CHEROKEE, Iowa Cyclist Barbara Vitsky, of Jacksonville, Fla., ducked out of the hot sun Sunday to check out a T shirt stand on Cherokee, Iowa’s Main Street. She was decked out with plastic grapes on her helmet, a necklace made of wine corks and a grape patterned bike jersey.

Vitsky and three friends form the Grapes of Wrath cycling group, named after John Steinbeck’s famous novel. On Sunday, they had just finished the first leg of RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, traveling from Sioux Center to Cherokee. The ride ends Saturday in Clinton.

“It is the 40th anniversary of the ride, and we are all 70 this year, which are nice even numbers. We figured we might not make it to 80, so we came,” Vitsky said.

“I’ve had a beefsteak tomato debate with these people. My uncle grew beefsteak tomatoes in New Jersey and I said to this person that surely theirs couldn’t be as good. I was proven wrong,” she said.

Vitsky was joined in Cherokee by throngs of cyclists in bike cleats and jerseys who were enjoying the festive atmosphere at RAGBRAI’s first stopover. Cheap Jerseys china The crowd grew as more riders rolled into town after pedaling the 54 miles from Sioux Center.

“When we left, it was still pretty dark. You looked up the road ahead of you and it was just a bunch of flashing red lights and helmets,” Shannon Letsche of Marcus, Iowa, said.

As the sun came up, those red lights turned into a “sea of people” filling the right hand side of the road.

Outside her store, people leaned their bikes up against the building, and Dave Gotto and Sue Reid of Yorkshire, England, stopped to enjoy a bit of shade.

Gotto sported a 25th RAGBRAI shirt from when they rode across Iowa in 1997.

“It’s just totally unique. Our friends back home say things like, ‘Well, it’s a bit flat isn’t it. What are you doing that for?’ You can’t explain it to people who haven’t experienced it themselves,” Reid said.

As part of the “international set” the two got a bit of extra attention. About 10 miles outside Cherokee, a group of onlookers was set up alongside the road with a big sign encouraging riders to “shout where you’re from,” Reid said.

Updated: October 5, 2016 — 6:03 am

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