Starting RAGBRAI in Council Bluffs gave riders an easier “in” to the starting point than in years past.

Some of the riders’ journeys began at Eppley Airfield in Omaha, which gave them access to urban hotels, eateries and the Tom Hanafan Pedestrian Bridge that connects Omaha and Council Bluffs.

While some arrived to the area on Friday night, others arrived Saturday, filing into the first-come first-serve campgrounds outside of the Mid-America Center, just in time for the RAGBRAI Expo.

Outside of the expo’s main stage was merchandise galore for these riders — padded shorts, bicycle shirts, water bottles and food packs — anything that would have made the starting point in Council Bluffs that much more memorable.

In addition to live music and festivities at the beer garden, businesses on the 100 Block were prepared for their journey. Some opened at nontraditional hours and served breakfast, offered discounts and invited visitors to watch the riders pass by in the first couple miles of their journey.

For Victoria and Rich Menold, second and fourth time RAGBRAI riders, starting in Council Bluffs was easy.

“It’s nice to start in Council Bluffs because it’s easy to get into Omaha. We stayed in Omaha last night, took photos and crossed over on the pedestrian bridge,” Rich Menold said.

Riding among 50 Good Beer team members, the couple is from Florida, taking the week off to trek across Iowa. Starting today, they would be already making their way to Atlantic, a 60-mile ride.

“It’s nice to see a change of scenery. Everyone on bikes for a week going through the same towns — regardless if we’re fat, tall, skinny or short — we have to get to the same end town,” Rich Menold said.

From Council Bluffs, riders will travel about 60 miles to Atlantic. Some will choose to take the gravel loop to McClelland to Underwood for an additional 18 miles.

“People on our team are like family. We communicate throughout the year. You see people you haven’t seen in 12 months, it’s like Christmas,” said Victoria Menold. “It’s good to catch back up and talk.”

From Council Bluffs to Keokuk might sound like a treacherous 430-mile trek, but some riders have been doing this — and preparing for this — for years.

“This year I’ve ridden about 2,500 miles so far,” Rich Menold said. “We’ve done the Great Allegheny Passage from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. before.”

“That ride gave me confidence to do RAGBRAI,” Victoria Menold added. “I’ve been practicing for hills.”

Before leaving Council Bluffs, it’s traditional RAGBRAI practice to dip the rear bike wheel of your bike into the Missouri River, signifying that you’ve started the route. Many did that Friday and Saturday before heading to Atlantic.

Tomorrow, they will go from Atlantic to Winterset, another 68 miles. On Tuesday, the route goes from Winterset to Indianola, only 39 miles, but the next day, riders will go 78 miles from Indianola to Centerville. On Thursday, riders will go from Centerville to Fairfield for about 65 miles. On Friday, they will go from Fairfield to Burlington, 57 miles to the final stretch. On Saturday, riders will go from Burlington to Keokuk and dip their front wheel in the Mississippi River to end their route.

With higher Missouri River water levels due to recent flooding, the RAGBRAI committee in Council Bluffs did not recommend dipping wheels at the riverside in Council Bluffs. Because it is tradition for riders to do this, the Pottawattamie County Community Foundation sponsored nontraditional tire dips using water and rocks from the Missouri River.

The nontraditional tire dip allowed riders to dip their wheels into the water and take photos in front of an enlarged backdrop of the Missouri River.

“Since we’ve had flooding and safety issues, we created a tire dip station that has actual Missouri River water and a backdrop so they can replicate that,” said Donna Dostal, president and CEO of the foundation.

“Safety was the number one concern,” she said.

Saturday’s RAGBRAI Expo at the Mid-America Centers helped send riders to Atlantic with memories of live music, food and fun.

Their journey has only just begun.

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