RAGBRAI 2018, part 2: Lincoln Highway, roses, and Maytag blue cheese

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Today was another unbearably hot day, but I loved this section, even though one of the roads was closed and the route went through very familiar territory.

I got an early start – 6:40 a.m. – and headed back to Jefferson to start my second day-trip driving the 2018 RAGBRAI route. Today, my goal was to drive THREE days of the actual bike ride: Jefferson to Sigourney.

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I arrived in Jefferson (population 4,169), the third overnight town, at 7:20 a.m., and was not surprised to see very little activity, even though it was the Fourth of July. I was reminded of the Hamilton lyric – “It’s quiet downtown” – as I walked around Jefferson’s pretty square. Jefferson is the Greene County seat and has some wonderful architecture, both downtown and in its residential areas.

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Jefferson’s RAGBRAI theme, “Highway to Bells,” obviously refers to the Mahanay Bell Tower in the center of the square. Apparently there’s rooftop art that can be seen from the tower’s observation deck, but of course that was closed at that hour of the day.

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However, I did locate Sally’s Alley (115 E Lincoln Way), a renovated alley space with the outdoor photography of Sally White, a native of Churdan, Iowa. The alley features large bird photos and original poetry (below).

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Also on the square, Greene Bean Coffee was open for business! Just off the square is a fun ice-cream place, the Twiins Shoppe (below). Jefferson is definitely ready for RAGBRAI with its super-cute bike banners.

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Heading out of town, riders will be on a relatively flat section of the Lincoln Highway and will pass by the Junction Township Cemetery, established in 1874. They’ll also see a fair amount of tall corn.

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The first pass-through town today, Grand Junction (population 824), emphasizes its Lincoln Highway connection with a pretty garden and a bunch of Lincoln Highway signs.

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Dana (population 69) isn’t much more than a road sign.

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On this stretch of county highway, I encountered a one-lane road with a pilot car, and I felt sort of bad that they had to work on the Fourth of July, especially in such ridiculous heat. I also passed a lot of wind turbines.

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And then I arrived in Ogden (population 2,044), home of a memorable blue-and-white-striped water tower and some cute July 4th decorations (above).

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The scenery changes dramatically as you head into Boone; this is the Des Moines River valley (above). The RAGBRAI route goes very near the famous Kate Shelley Bridge. I didn’t visit it today because I’ve seen it before (and blogged here), but if you’re interested, you should go for it because it’s pretty cool.

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I’ve spent a lot of time in Boone (population 12,661) over the years, so I wanted to do something different today. I drove past the Boone County courthouse (and the now-ubiquitous Freedom Rock) and by Mamie Eisenhower’s birthplace.

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Which brings me to some fun facts about Boone:

  • Mamie Geneva Doud Eisenhower, First Lady of the United States, wife of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, was born here; Mamie Eisenhower Avenue, one of the main east-west streets in Boone, is named in her honor.
  • According to Wikipedia, the city of Boone was originally called Montana (until 1871). Seriously.
  • Boone is home to the first Fareway grocery store and Casey’s General Store (a company I love and appreciate for providing public restrooms all across Iowa).

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Boone is also famous for its Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad trains, which I hate to admit I’ve never ridden.

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I dropped by this morning just to see if the trains were running, and they were not, but a sign on the door said there would be one train today at 1:30 p.m. This could be a fun activity for cyclists. If you don’t want to take time to ride the train, you can visit the James H. Andrew Railroad Museum & History Center or just stop by and look at the cool locomotives.

Or stop by the Boone Brewing Co. (Roxie Red is my fave). Or go downtown Boone and check out the awesome antiques and vintage stores – another one of my blog topics.

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The RAGBRAI route was originally scheduled to go through Ledges State Park, one of my favorite places to hike in central Iowa. I tried to follow the route, but the road was closed due to high water. The route has now been officially changed to bypass Ledges, so you’ll have to take my word for it – it’s a great place. (I’ve mentioned it in several blog posts, but here’s the one I like best.)

I tried a workaround and couldn’t find one, so I took Hwy. 17 to get back to the route. I didn’t bother to stop in Luther (population 122); sorry, Luther.

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I was grumpy about the backtracking, but then I saw a bunch of horses in a field between Luther and Ames, and that made me happy. I stopped my car, got out, and walked to the fence. Man, they came running over to see me like I was carrying a bushel of whatever it is horses like to eat. I took a bunch of pictures and they actually let me pet their sweet faces.

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So, now I’m in Ames, which is so weird, because I live in Ames. My house is practically on the RAGBRAI route, so I stopped there to use the bathroom. I mean, why not? And then I went to Provisions (on Airport Road, in the ISU Research Park) and bought an almond croissant, which I definitely recommend. Actually, you can’t go wrong with anything in the bread/pastry/dessert case at Provisions.

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Ames (population 66,498) is home of Iowa State University – Cyclone country! The theme for this overnight RAGBRAI stop is “Cycling Power: Taking the state by storm;” the route will actually feature a ride through Jack Trice Stadium.

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Beyond that, there’s just so much to do in Ames. There are art museums, athletics, Reiman Gardens, and the amazing Iowa State campus. Ames has awesome shops, restaurants, and bars, both in the Main Street corridor (overflowing on this day with people there for the July 4 parade) and in Campustown. If you want to eat in a restaurant, here are my suggestions: The aforementioned Provisions, Stomping Grounds (Campustown), The Café or +39 (both on the north side of town), Great Plains Sauce and Dough (Main Street, but only if you are really hungry – this is a heavy-duty pizza). Other people rave about Hickory Park. I don’t eat barbecue, but I do like their ice cream, and it’s an iconic spot in Ames. Torrent Brewery just north of Main Street might be a fun place for RAGBRAI-ers, too.

Ames also has excellent parks and an aquatic center that I’m guessing would feel pretty good to anyone who’s been on a bicycle seat all day. Also, there’s my house. I know of at least four people who will be camping in my backyard, so stop on by.

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The next morning, as riders leave Ames along Lincoln Way, they’ll head to Nevada (population 6,805), the Story County seat.

In doing my research for this drive, I learned that Nevada (pronounced Na-VA-da) was named after the Sierra Nevada mountains. Huh? Um, there are no mountains here. If anyone knows this backstory, please let me know.

I also learned that there’s a place called Evergreen Lane located at 1204 H Ave. I read that it was an Italianate home with a carriage house, one-room schoolhouse, 1850 log cabin, and gardens, all on six  acres.

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I had to drive around a bit, but I finally found it. A sign said the grounds are open to viewing at all times, and that it’s the private property of Nevada Historical Society. I also met a guy across the street who said he keeps up the property and gives tours.

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Nevada also has a nice, historic downtown with some cute shops that I need to go back to visit.

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After Nevada comes Colo (population 876), also on the Lincoln Highway. Colo is actually located at the intersection of the historic Lincoln Highway and the Jefferson Highway. The intersection is marked by the historic Reed/Niland Corner, which includes a museum/diner and a cool vintage gas station.

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I spent quite a bit of time in the next town, State Center (population 1,468), partly because I enjoyed being there and partly because I got turned around and it took me forever to find the RAGBRAI route to get out of town.

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State Center, named for geographical center of the state, boasts that it is the Rose Capital of Iowa. And it also has a grocery store museum (106 W. Main St), which I’ve wanted to visit ever since I started this blog (and if that makes me a nerd, so be it), but it’s only open in the summers, on the weekend, from 1-4 p.m. Today I peeked into the window and it’s just as cute as you’d imagine it to be. So, I’ll drive back over one of these weekends. It’s managed by the State Center Historical Society.

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The downtown area was looking extra patriotic today since it’s a holiday, and I enjoyed peeking into the shop windows, especially the Junker Shop. Then I attempted to find the rose garden (300 3rd St SE), because you can’t be in the Rose Capital of Iowa and not go to the rose garden. It’s a pretty place for sure, with tons of different kinds of roses and a couple of small shelters, a bricked walkway, and charming statuary.

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After visiting the rose garden, that’s when I got turned around and couldn’t find my way out of town, but I did find a fun mural and some beautiful old homes (below). And got stopped by a couple of trains.

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I sort of bypassed Melbourne (population 820) and headed directly to Baxter (population 1,102). By now it was so hot that my glasses were steaming up every time I got out of the car. Heading out of town, I encountered the Chichaqua Valley Trail, a bike path I used to walk on a regular basis. It was like running into an old friend.

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On the road into Newton, I slammed on my brakes to photograph two giant metal insects in front of a home. I have no idea what that was about, but I thought they were cool. (Here’s the grasshopper, above. I think the other one was a praying mantis.)

I’ve spent a lot of time in Newton (population 15,034) because I go there four times a year for magazine press checks. Newton is probably best known for its Maytag Dairy Farms, the Iowa Speedway, and as the former home of the Maytag Corp. plant that manufactured washing machines and such (now home to TPI Composites, which makes enormous wind turbine blades). Of those three things, the dairy farm is definitely my favorite, so I headed there as I came into town.

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To my surprise, it was open! On the Fourth of July! I was shocked. I went inside and bought a wedge of their famous blue cheese and took note of a group of folks on the lawn, building a set for the Des Moines Metro Opera, which was performing Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land” the very next day. Who knew? Maytag Dairy Farms is located at 2282 E 8th St N – just follow the signs.

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After that surprise visit I headed downtown. I really like the courthouse on the square (Newton is the Jasper County seat), and there are lots of murals in the downtown area, which I also enjoy (above). My favorite place to eat, Uncle Nancy’s, is on the square, too, but it was closed for the holiday. Dang! I was so hoping to get a cold drink there, or maybe even a shake. I also really like a gift shop on the square called The Farmer’s Wife.

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Newton’s an overnight town on the RAGBRAI route, and its theme is “Aloha Mahalo.” Like many of the RAGBRAI themes, I have no idea why.

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I will admit that after leaving Newton I was hot and tired and had less enthusiasm for the rest of the day’s route. And I’m in a car! I can’t imagine how this would feel on two wheels. But today was just out-of-control hot and humid.

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I stopped in Reasnor (population 190) to photograph a pretty barn (above) and a big-ass house up on a hill, surrounded by lush lawn and grazing horses (below).

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The road outside of Reasnor is a bit hilly as you head into Sully (population 819) and Lynnville (population 390), which seemed to me like one town. Even the water tower has both names on it (below). Sully has a winery, a nice city park, and the Coffee Cup Café.

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I came upon Ponderosa Lake before arriving in Montezuma (population 1,462). There was boating activity and other water sports on the lake, which seemed like a good idea, given the heat.

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Montezuma is also home to Diamond Lake Park and the Montezuma Country Club and golf course. There’s a pretty city park and quite a nice downtown, with the Poweshiek County courthouse at the center of the square.

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I learned, after my visit, that Montezuma’s downtown is a National Historic District; it’s also part of the (eternally confusing) Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area. Banners on the square proclaim that the town is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2018. Way to go, Montezuma!

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I was amused by the abundance of street signs in tiny Deep River (population 269). Apparently a river named Deep River flows nearby, but I never saw it.

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Keswick (population 240) has a sad-looking business district (below). I did a little research on Wikipedia to see what might be interesting about this town and learned that the Burlington, Cedar Rapids, and Northern Railway built a 66-mile branch to What Cheer via Keswick in 1879.

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Also, the town is named for Keswick, England, the home town of a local woman who had offered lodging to the track-laying crew. Okey dokey.

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At long last I made it to Sigourney (population 2,059), the fifth overnight town on this year’s RAGBRAI route and the last town I planned to visit today. Sigourney has sort of an adorable town square with some nicely restored storefronts, an antique mall, restaurants, The Garden Gate shop, and remnants of some recent patriotic event on the lawn of the Keokuk County courthouse – there was very festive red, white, and blue tissue confetti all over grass.

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Sigourney is named for poet Lydia Sigourney, whose portrait is in said to reside in the foyer of the courthouse. The overnight town’s theme is “Where Pigs Fly.” Of course it is.

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It took me more than 12 hours to drive this three-day section of the route, from the time I left my house in Ames to the time I got back there. It rained on me, driving home, and the temperature dropped 20 degrees.

Next up: The last two days of the 2018 route – Sigourney to Davenport!

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