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2022 RAGBRAI Expo brings foam, salt tabs and tens of thousands of cyclists to Sergeant Bluff

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RAGBRAI Day Zero

Kelly and Tom Koenigs of Sergeant Bluff sit in the shade during RAGBRAI Day Zero on Saturday.

Cyclists from around the world gather in Sergeant Bluff on the eve of the first day of RAGBRAI.

For the entirety of Saturday, Sergeant Bluff was the center of attention in Iowa.

Tens of thousands of cyclists, hundreds of support team members and dozens of vendors descended on the town of 4,901 for the 49th edition of RAGBRAI. Though the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa wouldn't "officially" begin until Sunday at dawn, crowds came motoring on in in their buses and vans to get set up and to scope out the "Day 0" Expo.

Just in the parking lot of Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School, vehicles with plates from California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas and Washington could be seen. RAGBRAI is expected to draw more than 20,000 people this year and will weave through Ida Grove, Pocahontas, Emmetsburg, Mason City, Charles City and West Union before ending in Lansing. Temperatures are expected to stay in the 80s for much of the week.

By noontime, campgrounds were already encircling the school. Staffers at a stand for Letsche's Bike Shop dutifully tended to the needs of riders.

SMASH Food Trailer and a self-proclaimed "Pork Crew" served up food and drinks as country music wafted through the air.

"You're in your own little bubble here," said Shanon Tysland, a second-time rider from Edmonds, Washington who brought along his entire family (including four kids, age 11 or younger) to the weeklong, 462-mile ride. "I did it five years ago. It's a cool experience. We just love the atmosphere and it's great family bonding."

Foam Daddy?

For kiddos, and their parents, the park at 901 First St. in Sergeant Bluff had the splash pad running as well as a "foam party" with a live DJ. At any one time, a handful of children could be seen darting in and out of mist-spraying playground equipment or dumping buckets of water on each other. A dozen more would frolic through mountains of foam unleashed by a machine called the "Foam Daddy."

As for adults, the Expo, which overtook Fourth Street, offered more bicycle-minded booths than any one person could possibly patronize in a single day. Included in the wares available for purchase: A device that charges a person's phone as he or she pedals, plentiful amounts of salt tabs, packets of pickle juice, helmets in all the colors of the rainbow and something called a "Crud Cloth," which is meant to act as sort-of shower-on-the-go. Certain folks were selling items for local causes.

"We are raising money for the Siouxland Youth Wrestling Club today," Mike Beaves of Jack's Kettle Corn said.

Staffers, largely volunteers from in and around Sergeant Bluff, would circle around the Expo grounds on a regular basis to make sure that.

Al Ackerman, a Sergeant Bluff resident who pitched in to help out at the information center, said the past few days of prep work were among the most hectic of the six-month run-up Sergeant Bluff had to hosting its second-ever RAGBRAI launch (the first was in 2006). Still, any stress Ackerman was feeling was superseded by love for Sergeant Bluff.

"We just have a great town and I love helping the town," Ackerman said.

Amber Bliss, a coordinator for the information center, said that organizers saw a steady trickle of people all day long.

"We have had people asking us questions nonstop but it hasn't been overwhelming. It's been hot, we had to help someone with heat exhaustion, but other than that it's been good."

Come novices and hardened vets alike

At least one truism of RAGBRAI is that the level of experience can vary wildly, even within friends groups getting out on the trails together. 

Don Litton journeyed 750 miles from Rowlett, Texas (an eastern suburb of Dallas), to participate in his first-ever ride across Iowa while his buddies, Scott Russell and Bob Frank (both from Texas), were respectively on their 10th and 21st RAGBRAIs.

"I never had a bike good enough to do this," Litton said. That changed when Russell sold him one of his own bikes and wore him down with tales of RAGBRAIs gone by.

Frank, an Omaha native, said his first few years of RAGBRAI he would ride "alone" but he never felt lonely.

"I just enjoy being out with cyclists and RAGBRAI is like a big party," Frank said. As he gets older, Frank said the toughest part for him, really, is the 100-mile day which will be from Emmetsburg to Mason City this year.

Friends Drew Engelhardt, Meg Schwenzfeier and Amee Amin ventured out for their inaugural ride from North Carolina and Washington D.C. Schwenzfeier and Amin are doing the biking while Engelhardt provides support from a van. The two also said the 100-mile day was the thing they were dreading most while Engelhardt said he was most-concerned about finding them at the end of the day.

First-timers Yuji Tanaka and Yifan You, both of Santa Clara, California, worried aloud about the 100-mile day as well but also were delighted at the chance to camp and to sample a variety of foods. Just a few of the offerings at the Expo were burger, Mexican and barbecue related.

Tom Williamson, a Rochester, Minnesota, resident, didn't seemed scared of the 100-mile day. According to him, the most-difficult aspect of RAGBRAI is the work beforehand. 

"The toughest part is to get out and do the training necessary to have fun," he said. "If you're undertrained, you'll have a miserable time."

As for what he's most-looking forward to, that's an easy one.

"You get up in the morning and you know what you're going to do," Williamson said.

Jared McNett is an online editor and reporter for the Sioux City Journal. You can reach him at 712-293-4234 and follow him on Twitter @TwoHeadedBoy98.

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