The Ottumwa Courier

June 28, 2013

Osky prepares for pack of pedalers

By CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier staff writer

---- — OSKALOOSA — Oskaloosa will double its population in one day.

On July 25, around 12,000 cyclists will cycle 52 miles from Knoxville to Oskaloosa as they wind their way through a nearly 500-mile journey across Iowa during RAGBRAI, the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, which is entering its 41st year this summer.

Cyclists will camp out for the night in Oskaloosa before zooming to Fairfield the next day. Oskaloosa was chosen for an overnight stay for the fourth time since the bike ride's inception.

While this isn't Oskaloosa's first time hosting RAGBRAI, a decade has passed since the town's last overnight stay. The town's biggest obstacle this time around was planning for the slew of campers and RVs that will roll in behind the cyclists.

"When we had them here in 2003, there were 45 RVs we had to deal with," said Jon Sullivan, director of the Oskaloosa Area Chamber and Development Group. "Now there are 600. So the dynamics of how we're putting this together have absolutely changed."

Cyclists will be spread throughout the city at different locations: Edmundson Park, Southern Iowa Fairgrounds, the Oskaloosa Elementary School, Lacey Recreation Complex, First Church of the Nazarene, Oskaloosa High School and William Penn University.

There are also only 150 electrical camper hook-ups available, so they'll be snatched up on a first-come, first-served basis, he said. But he's not worried about the remaining campers.

"Most have their own generators, so it's not a real big issue," he said. "What we're finding is the more fluent riders now are wanting to have someone drive a vehicle for them because they want to sleep in the same place every night. They'd rather sleep in a camper than on a floor or in a garage, under a tent, whatever. We're getting more sophisticated riders, and that's their preference."

It will take 800 volunteers to make the overnight stay successful, he said, all of which have been coordinated by the town's 20 RAGBRAI committees.

"It's like telling chickens to get in line and all march in a straight line — it doesn't quite work that way," he said. "But we've got people that work well with others and some good leaders and co-chairs."

The town's theme, "Ride Hard, Dance Harder," as well as its logo, a pig sporting a cyclist's helmet and tutu, was chosen by the town's hospitality committee.

"The thing we're most proud of for the stop here in Oskaloosa is back in October, Travel and Leisure Magazine was looking for the 15 most beautiful town squares in the country, and they chose Oskaloosa," he said. "We were the only one chosen in the entire Midwest. So RAGBRAI has been playing this up very heavily. 'Come visit the most beautiful town square in the Midwest.'"

The night will be filled with food and entertainment, he said, with something for everyone. The Nadas and the Fishheads will provide the night's entertainment with the Oskaloosa Municipal Band as the opening act.

"We have a paid city band that's played every night in the summer for 142 years," he said. "We welcome everyone to come up and enjoy the evening. But we're putting Ottumwa in charge of the weather. You need to have a joint prayer down there to make the sun shine and make the clouds go away."

For more information, head to www.oskyragbrai.com.

— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to @ChelseaLeeDavis.

Oskaloosa RAGBRAI's Decorated Bicycle Contest gives the community an opportunity to create pieces of art around blue-painted bicycles (provided).

All businesses are encouraged to pick up and decorate a bicycle and create a work of art around the RAGBRAI theme and their business or personality. Individuals may also enter. Bicycles can be picked up at the chamber of commerce. All bicycle submissions will be on public display along the route coming into Oskaloosa on July 25. The winning bicycles will be featured downtown.

Entries can be returned to businesses at request or will be recycled in the upcoming community for Blue Zones. Winners in both the individual and business categories will be given $50 in Osky cash.

Competition guidelines:

-- Artwork must be suitable for the Oskaloosa RAGBRAI theme (Ride Hard, Dance Harder) and may also be themed around a business or personality. Other information: The statewide 2013 RAGBRAI symbol includes a pig and the color blue.

-- A Blue Base Bicycle is required (provided).

-- The entry form must be filled out with the name of the business or individual creating the bicycle. A number will be assigned to each bicycle entry for judging. Entry forms are available at the chamber of commerce when the bicycle is picked up.