The Ottumwa Courier

July 26, 2013

Fairfield hosts Iowa's biggest party with RAGBRAI

Ottumwa Courier

---- — FAIRFIELD — Jachin Otte stood in front of a vendor's stall, waiting on a friend who was looking over the merchandise.

Otte was easy to spot with a black-and-gold University of Missouri jersey. He didn't attend Mizzou. In fact, his home is closer to this year's RAGBRAI route than the university. But he still supports his home-state team.

It's relatively easy to see how someone from northeastern Missouri could wind up on RAGBRAI this year. But Otte was waiting on Bill Dillon, who hails from Virginia. That's a bit more of a trip.

“I did an internship up here,” Dillon explained.

This year is the first RAGBRAI for both Otte and Dillon. Both said they enjoyed it, even though the routes through southern Iowa are known for having hillier terrain than when RAGBRAI treks through the northern part of the state.

“It's a challenge, for sure,” said Dillon. “But the towns have been really nice to us. They've been really encouraging.”

Dubuque's Martin Fesler was getting supportive reactions, too, because of his “Metropolis” jersey. No, not Superman's Metropolis. Fritz Lang's 1927 film. He bought it “a number of years ago” after seeing a vendor who had biking shirts that featured old movies.

“I get two, three compliments per day on it,” Fesler said.

Making the compliments sweeter was the fact Fesler was in a competition with a friend to see who got more comments. His friend was wearing a Cubs jersey, and Fesler was winning.

The Fairfield square steadily added people as morning blended into the afternoon. Food vendors on one side sold everything from gyros and salmon poppers to the more traditional tenderloin sandwiches.

The repair shops were busy, too. The riders have put a lot of miles on their bikes in the past few days. Some sought out routine maintenance, while others needed more serious repairs. The acrid smell of spray-on lubricants spoke to a steady business.

Between the two areas was the Peru Amateur Circus, an obvious tie-in with the “Cirque de Fairfield” theme. Two large trampolines usually had two or three aerialists bounding between platforms. Behind them were a handful of jugglers keeping their clubs in the air.

That scene played out for hours in front of the At Home Store, where Rosie Witherspoon shifted the business hours for the day. She said she does the same when the Art Walk is going on since open stores on the square offer a better ambiance and, of course, the chance for more sales.

“When you own a business, what you really love is meeting people, and you really love it when people come from out of town,” she said.

And few things in Iowa draw out-of-town visitors as effectively as RAGBRAI.

Witherspoon compared the atmosphere to the holidays. Yes, business goes up and that's always good. But people were in a good mood as well, ready to relax and celebrate as a community.

“It's blissful. It's like Christmas,” she said.

The feeling more like a party later in the evening, when Fairfield attempted to use RAGBRAI as a springboard to shatter the world record for the most people wearing fake mustaches. The line to participate stretched for blocks and, assuming organizers followed the rules, Fairfield obliterated the old record.

Joelle Hess, of Lancaster, Pa., was one of the participants. When asked why a 13-year-old would do such a thing, Hess admitted being able to tell classmates she helped set a world record was a factor.

This was Hess' first RAGBRAI. She enjoyed it.

“I think it's kind of like a giant block party,” she said.

When the crowd roared and did the wave while wearing mustaches, it was easy to see she was right.