MUSCATINE — Thousands of cyclists from across the country dipped their tires in the Mississippi River on Saturday to signify their completion of the annual Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, or RAGBRAI.
The Muscatine riverfront was packed with cyclists, Muscatine residents, volunteers, and vendors providing refreshments and souvenirs for the riders.
The Wherrys, of Cresco Iowa, were among the finishers. Keith Wherry, who has ridden in RAGBRAI 22 times, and his wife, Mary, who had just finished her 16th, said they enjoyed hearing the cheers of greeters as they rode into town.
Mary's favorite part of the ride was meeting people in the towns along the route and other riders.
"Mine was riding with my wife all week," Keith Wherry said with a smile.
Jimmy Kelly, riding for the fourth time, and his son, Brian Kelly, who was on his seventh ride, said they enjoyed the challenge of the more than 400-mile ride.
"I like doing endurance things," Jimmy Kelly said. He and his son are of Ankeny, Iowa.
Melinda Litten, of Hickory, North Carolina, came back to Iowa for RAGBRAI 40 years after her first ride. Originally from Muscatine, she rode in the first RAGBRAI to end in Muscatine when she was 16 years old.
“I feel fantastic; it was an exciting journey. Coming into Muscatine was amazing,” she said.
She said although the ride was very different than it was 40 years ago with no more than 3,000 people riding, the group of more than 15,000 was still friendly and fun.
“I can’t describe how wonderful everyone is; everybody’s in a good mood. You know they’re all hot and tired, but you just see the best of people,” Litten said.
The beauty of Iowa really came through, she said, because she wasn’t watching TV or checking her emails.
“It’s an amazing bike ride and I think that everybody should give it a try,” she said.
Litten said her homecoming was moving.
“Muscatine did a fantastic job of welcoming people in, and the riverfront just looked beautiful,” she said.
Nikki Dalton came from St. Louis to ride for the third time. She and her friends, Leigh Tedford and Tammy Huff, of Arkansas, wore bright sequined skirts, and said they loved every bit of the experience.
Dalton said she enjoyed having a break from her daily life, and meeting other riders. Tedford said residents of the Iowa towns the three passed through were welcoming.
"I've not seen that kind of support in forever," she said.
"The scenery was gorgeous, all the old farms, it was beautiful," Huff added.
Jon Seidel, Gary Long, Ellen Ray, Dan Benator and David Barnett came from Atlanta, Georgia to ride RAGBRAI.
"It's one of those bucket list bike rides you've got to do if you're an avid bike rider," Seidel said.
They wore colorful feathers in their helmets to keep track of each other, and said seeing Iowa was "tons of fun."
"I enjoyed the residents of Iowa, they were so welcoming, it's very nice," Long said.
Clark Blade and Curt Mavis, of Rochester, Illinois, crossed the country last fall on a recumbent bicycle and a recumbent tricycle, and said their fourth RAGBRAI ride felt much easier this year.
"It was a piece of cake," Mavis said.
Sue and Dave Myers, of Naples, Florida, rode a tandem bicycle.
"I couldn't keep up with him otherwise," Sue Myers laughed.
The couple said they enjoyed Iowans' friendliness, as well as the beautiful scenery along the way.
"And this is a nice venue, plenty of space to dip tires," Dave Myers said.
Many law enforcement and public safety officials rode in RAGBRAI.
Bill Nelson, a firefighter from St. James, Minnesota, said his first RAGBRAI went well, and he was enjoying Muscatine as the dip site.
"It's really cool, I love the architecture here and seeing the river is really cool," Nelson said.
Sheryl Phelps, of Muscatine, gave directions to bicyclists as they left the riverfront, heading either for the high school or Muscatine Community College to meet charter buses, vehicles or their families.
One of the many volunteers who helped make RAGBRAI possible in Muscatine, Phelps said she was glad she had the opportunity.
"I've met a lot of people from different places, it's been a lot of fun for me," she said.
Deb Wood, of Kansas City, said in her experiences with RAGBRAI, the Muscatine riverfront was a perfect way to end.
"It's the best dip site ever; this is awesome," she said.