Monday, July 23, 2012

SCHALLER — Thousands of bicyclists poured into downtown Schaller to beat the heat this morning, refueling with frozen oranges and splashing under sprinklers before tackling what could be the most brutal stretch yet of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa — the afternoon’s remaining 30-mile trek to an overnight stop in Lake View under an unrelenting sun that has cast a heat advisory over the entire state today.

Temperatures hovered in the 80s this morning, but they are expected jump into triple digits by the afternoon. And the forecast is not expected to let up at all this week for the more than 20,000 participants of RAGBRAI XL.

But it’s not breaking the spirit of riders like Pam Lueth, of Kansas. For her, it just means more ice cream.

“It’s hot out here, and it’s pretty miserable in the afternoon,” she said. “But we’re all diehards. It’s fun. It’s the adventure. It’s being in places that you wouldn’t ordinarily stop if you were driving along on the highway. It’s a party, and it’s enjoying life.”

RAGBRAI has seen extreme temperatures before, but perhaps not the unrelenting string that has gripped Iowa this month. Organizers are stepping up precautions to combat the dry conditions, asking the Iowa Army National Guard to distribute water along the bike route and having emergency vehicles follow the riders just in case.

Cyclists are doing what they can to stay cool and hydrated.

Dave Umland, 47, of Des Moines, scored a shady strip of land on a quieter Schaller street where he cooled off with his seven-person crew.

“It’s getting hot now,” Umland. “It’s mid-morning, and it’s getting hot. It’s been great so far, but it’s getting hot now.”  

His antidote for the next leg of the ride: break often and drink even more.

Shari Schmidt, of Ida Grove, slathered on suntan lotion during a quick break. On the bike, the 46-year-old creates her own breeze but said she feels the heat kick in once she stops pedaling.

“The heat when we come in — that’s the worst of it,” she said. “I don’t mind the heat when we’re riding, but when we get into camp there’s not enough air-conditioned places.”

Shirley Steele, of Washington, said this year’s conditions sparked memories of a brutal 1999 summer when the asphalt roads stuck to her bike tires. The 79-year-old has seen 35 years of RAGBRAI. Lounging in a blue lawn chair today, she washed back Trail Mix and popcorn with a cool glass of lemonade as she recalled previous rides.

“We had seven days of heat last year,” she said. “I thought we couldn’t have seven days of heat again — that would be too much of a coincidence.”

After the overnight stop in Lake View, RAGBRAI on Tuesday will roll through Auburn, Lake City and Lohrville on the way to Webster City.