DES MOINES - The host cities for the 2012 Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI XL) were announced to a crowd of more than 1,000 people at Veteran's Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines Saturday by T.J. Juskiewicz, director of RAGBRAI.
The 40th annual ride will start July 22 in Sioux Center and travel 471.1 miles across the state, ending in Clinton.
The first night's stop will be right here in Cherokee, which has previously served as a host city in 1982, 1998 and 2002.
This summer, as many as 15,000 bicycle enthusiasts from around the world are expected to be rolling into town on Sunday July 22, before heading to their next stop, Lake View, on Monday morning.
"We're just excited to be able to welcome so many people to our city," said Hering-Kent. "We especially want to be sure we spotlight our historic Main Street and our downtown area."
Hering-Kent said that officials in Cherokee County will be organizing volunteers to prepare for the massive influx of people, and if the past is any indication, there should be plenty of people who will be willing to help welcome the RAGBRAI riders to town and make them feel welcome.
Tom Letsche, owner of Letsche's Bike Shop, is a regular RAGBRAI participant as his shop is one of 10 authorized RAGBRAI bike repair shops, all of which travel with the cyclists on the border-to-border ride, taking care of bike repairs and maintenance as required. Letsche has worked on RAGBRAI for 12 years, but also rode it as a cyclist prior to his current involvement.
He said he thinks RAGBRAI is a "fabulous event" and felt great about the community of Cherokee being chosen as a host city this year, saying that is great for the community at large and the business community in particular.
He said local motels have already been booked solid, as many riders anticipated possible routes before the route announcement was made and booked their rooms at several possible locations. Hopefully, said Letsche, those people remember to cancel their reservations in the towns which were not selected to be on the route.
Another Cherokean with a long association with RAGBRAI is Ron Oman, who first became involved riding in RAGBRAI 31 years ago, and for the past 27 years has operated a charter service to transport RAGBRAI riders and equipment around the state. Many of those years he operated the charter and also rode the route as a cyclist. Oman was present in Des Moines last week when the route announcement was made, and was excited when Cherokee was chosen as a host city. Oman will pick up several riders at the Omaha airport this year and transport them to Sioux Center for the start of the ride. He has two 24 foot-long trucks which can hold 250-300 people, and the trucks also have canopies that riders may sit under at campsites, as well as beverages and a place for riders to charge their cell phones.
Oman has been assisted by fellow Cherokean Dave Ladwig for several years, and many of the members of Cherokee's Little Sioux Spokes Folks bike club, of which Oman is a member, often go on RAGBRAI also.
One member of the club, who will be riding on his 11th RAGBRAI this summer, said he is excited about Cherokee being one of the stops this year, saying that he had kind of anticipated that the city would be chosen this year, as it had been 10 years since the last Cherokee stop, and he figured "it was about time again."
The official route for RAGBRAI riders will be chosen by the Des Moines Register, and will not be announced until late March or early April. Ten years ago, when Sioux Center was the beginning point and Cherokee was the first night host, the route went through Marcus and entered Cherokee on C-38, but Letsche said "who knows?" what route the people at the Register will map out this year. Letsche said the RAGBRAI route usually tries to stay off of the main highways.
Cherokee City Administrator Don Eikmier admitted he's new to RAGBRAI and all that it entails, but this week was already being pro-active and reaching out to Hering-Kent and others to show the City's full support for the one-of-a-kind global event.
"The City will embrace RAGBRAI and do all we can that it is organized and representative of all Cherokee has to offer its visitors," said Eikmeier. "We'll need dedicated volunteers to step up and help us put Cherokee on the map once again."
Eikmeier said he and Hering-Kent will be meeting with the RAGBRAI director next week to start formulating plans.
Several local committees must be formed to cover the many tasks ahead, and Eikmeier said he is compiling a lits of volunteers and urges any and all to step forward and volunteer to help this community host the fun-filled, festive affair.