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Accolades aplenty for Charles City RAGBRAI stop

Accolades aplenty for Charles City RAGBRAI stop
RAGBRAI riders cross over the Main Street bridge headed toward downtown Charles City on Thursday morning. Press photo by Lydia Gessner
By Bob Steenson,

It’s kind of like Christmas – after weeks and months of preparation and anticipation, it’s here and gone in a day – like a Christmas where 20,000 of your closest relatives drop by, expecting to be fed and entertained.

RAGBRAI descended upon Charles City beginning Thursday morning, took over much of the city and stayed through the night. But by Friday morning there were diminishing signs it had ever been here at all.

“I believe the success of our sanitation and recycling was evident by the next day. It looked like RAGBRAI didn’t even come through town,” said Ryan Venz.

“We had wonderful volunteers and that was the key to our success in these areas,” said Venz, the RAGBRAI Executive Committee co-chair for housing, campgrounds, showers, sanitation and recycling.

Brady Garden, the other co-chair of that committee, said he was very impressed with how well the volunteers did, specifically with keeping the downtown area clean throughout the entire day.

“Every time we checked on them, they always had a great attitude,” Garden said.

Venz said they received several compliments on how organized everything was coming into town. Several people in RV’s had positive comments about having the old Kmart parking lot as a “command center” to direct them to before heading around town.

“We planned as best as we could in the port-a-potties, showers and water-filling stations to make sure we met the needs of everyone,” he said.

Venz said he loved the conversations he was able to have with riders from all over the world, but his favorite memory of the event was working with all the volunteers that are required to pull off a RAGBRAI overnight stop.

“It made me so proud to be a lifelong resident of Charles City and see what we are able to do when we come together,” he said.

Anne Benning, chair of the executive committee for hospitality, info center, publicity, social media and volunteers, said she was in awe of the organization that the team had for the last 6 months setting timelines and sticking to them, while tackling challenges and implementing new ideas along the way.

She said one challenge was, with all the different people and different details involved, it was sometimes difficult to know who had the latest information, but “grace and patience” allowed them to pull it off.

“I am very proud of the team I worked with,” Benning said.

Cory Mutch, who worked on the publicity and marketing team and is a veteran RAGBRAI rider, said he heard many compliments on how good the signage and directions were, especially in a river town where not all the streets are straight north/south and east/west.

Still, he said, if and when the next RAGBRAI comes through he’d like to go digital with the signage, with information available to download into an app so the riders wouldn’t need cellphone service.

“I would love to make a digital route that the riders could program right into their bike computers that would take them directly to their hosts or campgrounds,” Mutch said.

Mutch said his favorite memories of the planning process are how unprepared everyone thought they were at the start, only in the end to be told by riders that Charles City was “one of the most organized and best overnight towns of the ride.”

“I loved talking to people from town about how much fun it is having the riders stay with them and the friendships they have formed. I heard so many compliments on the fact that by 10 the next morning you wouldn’t have even known that an event of this magnitude was here the day before,” Mutch said,

“This makes me so proud of everyone that was involved and all they did in their roles to show 20,000 people how great of a city we live in,” he said.

Phoebe Pittman said her main job as hospitality chair was done before the riders ever arrived. For example, her committee was in charge of decorations, “and we opted to keep it simple and just let Charles City shine.”

“I did simple bike theme decorations on light poles on the Main Street bridge and with the help of Cory Mutch we had selfie stations around town which I was happy to see riders using,” she said.

This was the third time Pittman had helped prepare for a RAGBRAI visit to Charles City, and she said every time she sees things and learns things that can be tweaked if or when RAGBRAI comes by again.

For example, she said there could be some small changes in T-shirt sales – and noted that there are still shirts available “at the discounted price of $15” – but said that for the most part, “an event of this size that is approaching its 50th year really has its own rhythm that we just have to learn to dance to!”

Pittman said one of her joys is meeting riders and seeing the community through their eyes.

“So many riders had nice things to say about our town. It was a great reminder that we live in a pretty good place,” she said. “I also enjoy working with all of the volunteers willing to give their time to help showcase our home to 20,000 guests. To see our hard work pay off and be noticed and appreciated by the riders is a truly great feeling.”

Ginger Williams, the recording secretary for the committee, who takes an overview on keeping everything running together smoothly, and who was helping organize a RAGBRAI visit for the third time, said it was a ton of work, with lots of meetings, phone calls and endless text messages, but she felt everything went well.

“I loved hearing from riders on that day, commenting on the ease of finding their campgrounds, the roomy layout of our downtown, and the great entertainment line-up. Their feedback means a lot,” she said.

“I am always appreciative of the new friendships that are formed and strengthened when a group of people work together to pull off an event like this,” she said. “As funny as it sounds, the late-night and early-morning clean-up shifts were memorable, as we were all tired, but having fun anyway!”

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