RAGBRAI 2019, day 3: Winterset to Indianola

A few days after I drove the first two days of the RAGBRAI route, I started where I left off: in Winterset, Iowa. I had become lost on the gravel hills of Madison County at the end of that first day, but today I was fresh and ready to start again.

I knew I would find lots of opportunities in Winterset; it’s a great community (population 5,190).

The first thing I found? Corn. Not fields of corn, but actual corn you can eat, at a sweet corn stand right on the main drag into Winterset. I wheeled in there and bought a big bag from these guys:

Actually, I did one other thing before I even got to Winterset: I stopped at Covered Bridges Winery. Madison County has several wineries, and this one is right outside Winterset on Hwy. 169. I stopped by to take a few photos and was such a big fan of their logo that I almost bought a T-shirt! I like the wine names, like Francesca’s Folly (an easy-drinking blush) and Hogback Bridge (a sweet red), tasting room is modern and attractive. The winery has “Sunday Wine Down” events all summer, with free music, wine, and snacks for purchase. Given that I was driving the RAGBRAI route, I didn’t think it would be a good idea to sample the wine; I’ll wait and do that another day.

Back in the downtown area, I had already photographed the Madison County Courthouse, some of the surrounding shops, and the Iowa movie theater when I was here earlier:


I wanted to visit the John Wayne Birthplace Museum, but I did not want to pay the $14 entry fee. I’m not that enthusiastic about John Wayne.


Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison on May 26, 1907. His home is small and tidy.

Nearby is the Winterset Freedom Rock, painted by Ray “Bubba” Sorensen. This county’s rock features many of the military films starring The Duke, which seems appropriate.

I visited Roseman Bridge on my previous visit, but you can’t be in Madison County and only visit one covered bridge, right? So I went to the Cutler-Donahoe Bridge (below), which was built in 1871 but moved to Winterset City Park in 1970. It gets my vote as easiest to get to and with the least amount of gravel. And it’s just as cool as the Roseman bridge.


On my way out of town I stopped by the Cedar Covered Bridge (below), which is famous for all the wrong reasons. It’s been the site of arson and rebuilding (both in the early 2000s), which kind of makes me sick when I think about it. It has lost much of its historical beauty.

I mentioned in the Atlantic to Winterset post that I discovered a new (to me) Iowa Byway. And now, here’s another one! The Covered Bridges Scenic Byway. This route encompasses, obviously, the covered bridges in Madison County, but also other scenic natural, cultural, and historic areas. The route is 82 miles long.


Speaking of route, today’s RAGBRAI route is historically short. Actually, if you drove straight from Winterset to Indianola, it’s just 25 miles (and 31 minutes by car). Even with the never-direct RAGBRAI route, it’s still only 39.9 miles. Today will be a breeze for the bikers, compared with the hills they had to climb the two previous days.

Once the cyclists leave Winterset, they will not encounter any towns for quite a while. They’ll actually stop at Howell’s Greenhouse & Pumpkin Patch for a “RAGBRAI OASIS” sponsored by the Iowa Soybean Association. I stopped there, too, and think this will be fun for the riders.

It’s too early for pumpkins, of course (too bad; that would be fun), but there will be some of the normal fall activities retrofitted for summer (i.e., the pumpkin cannon becomes the gourd cannon). I spoke with some of the folks there, and they said cyclists should expect food vendors, booths, and other fun activities.

I nosed around in the barn shop and greenhouse, and I watched people playing with baby goats.

I was looking forward to visiting the town of Cumming. There’s an active bike trail that goes right past Cumming Tap, so that’s a great place to see cyclists stopping off for a refreshing beverage any time during the summer. Unfortunately, Wednesday afternoon must not be a hopping time for Cumming Tap or the bike path – or the town of Cumming, for that matter – because it was very quiet.

Cumming is also home to the Iowa Distilling Company (conveniently located right across the street from Cumming Tap). And also an old, preserved gas station.

Norwalk, today’s “meeting town” on the RAGBRAI route, is mostly a bedroom community. Its proximity to Des Moines and I-35 have spurred the growth in the community from 8,945 in 2010 to 10,590 in 2016 – and more today, I’m sure. Norwalk definitely looks like a suburb, with rows upon rows of newer homes – and more being built – plus schools, churches, and other signs of expansion. That’s in contrast to its tiny main street that has seen better days.

After Norwalk, it’s on to Indianola along R63. Indianola (population 14,782) is home to the annual National Balloon Classic and to the year-round National Balloon Museum and U.S. Ballooning Hall of Fame. I’ve really enjoyed attending the balloon events in August; in fact, attending my first one about 10 years ago was the inspiration to start a blog about Iowa.

Indianola is also home to Simpson College, a small liberal arts college. The college has 1,250 full-time and 300 part-time students.

Des Moines Metro Opera, a highly regarded opera company, also has its headquarters and performance space in the heart of Indianola. I arrived the main building – the Lauridsen Opera Center – just before the staff was leaving for the day to prepare for the evening’s performance. It’s a beautifully renovated space, located in the old Indianola Public Library building, one of the Carnegie libraries that are scattered throughout Iowa. I love the photos and quotes on the walls: “World-class opera grows tall, proud in the Cornbelt,” said the Chicago Tribune; “Don’t tell anyone, but Des Moines has good opera,” writes the New York Times.


Indianola’s downtown area gets my vote (so far) for Best RAGBRAI Signage with this mural featuring cyclists in silhouette:

I didn’t visit them, but three wineries are located in and around Indianola: Summerset, La Vida Loca, and Annelise. All are open for tastings and events.

With that, I headed back to Ames. I finished today’s route just in time for rush hour.



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