Late Week Musings from the sports desk
It was a family affair
By BRANDON HURLEY
RIPPEY – The cigar went down smooth.
It wasn’t a victory by definition, but it was close enough.
I successfully had met up with Dennis Hurley in Rippey on his first Bike Ride to Rippey (BRR) in 15 years.
The co-founder and my grandfather was content with a sub-par gas station cigar as he took in the sunny, blue skies of a 40-degree ride on the 40th run of BRR, the original winter bike ride. I even got him to pose for a three generation picture, though he refused to remove his sunglasses, despite my pleas.
True to his nature, I did not start the ride with my grandpa nor did I finish with him. He left Perry with little fanfare, and no entourage, choosing to cruise the back roads of west central Iowa alone.
“He’s always been like that,” my dad Jim told me. “He likes the peace of it.”
BRR held its inaugural ride Feb. 6, 1978 for a handful of riders, including my dad, Jim Hurley, and his dad, Dennis. At the time, it was one of the very first winter rides.
Dennis lived in Perry for 32 years and hadn’t been on BRR since he moved to Beaverdale in 2002. He actually was a participant on SAGBRAI in 1974 (the Second Annual Great Bike Ride Around Iowa), which today is known as RAGBRAI. He was inspired to create a ride during the cold, often dull, winter months. One that would get him out on the bike and out of the house.
He and buddy Jim Walstrom decided to create the “Coldest day of the year bike ride,” it brought in 22 riders the first year.
Kamikazes and peppermint schnapps became the official drink of BRR, many riders enjoyed it following the ride.
What ensued was something that would few ever could’ve imagined – the ride flourished and now averages well over 1,500 registered riders each year. From fat tire bikes, tandem bikes, road and mountain bikes, booze and funky outfits complete with teams by the bus load, BRR has become the RAGBRAI of winter. Dennis has been on parts of at least 10 RAGBRAIs, but he’s quick to point out that BRR has become the state’s second biggest ride, behind the nation’s largest ride, you guessed it, RAGBRAI.
Per the BRR Facebook page, more than 2,000 riders participated in the 40th annual ride.
The temps have fluctuated over the years, one particular ride saw wind chills in the negative 40s in the middle of a snow storm – riders were drenched in sweat thanks to the strong head wind. The peak years produce a welcome sweat, 65 was the record high and riders were out in shorts and t-shirts a few years back.
Saturday started out easy enough, yet rough. Going north literally was a breeze. With 35 MPH winds at our backs, we cruised up to a-not-so-thriving Cocktail Hill on Clover Avenue, usually one of the most happening spots on the 24-mile round trip route.
As my father and I and a few of his high school friends (he graduated from Perry High School 40 years ago) stepped off our bikes at Cocktail Hill, we soon realized why there wasn’t much of a party going on. The brutal winds from the south made it unbearable to stand on a gravel intersection surrounded by nothing but cornfields. The breeze was so strong the usual live band was nixed from the day’s activities.
The foreshadowing was unmistakeable, we were in for a treat when we made the turn west for the final four mile stretch into Rippey. The crosswind hindered our ride, as we averaged a mere seven to eight miles per hour and leaned into the wind to keep ourselves up right. It was a day when weather was truly the topic of conversation – many said these winds were the worst they had ever endured, and the ride wasn’t even half over.
We still had to trek back south for 12 miles, into a bone-chilling head wind.
When we pulled into Rippey and the local Sheriff’s department waved us on through an intersection, it felt as though we had completed a 70-mile day, not a mere 12 miles. So, excuse us if we took a break – a three-hour long pow wow to rest, recuperate and enjoy some snacks and refreshments.
But first, it was off to the Methodist Church to see if we could find the infamous founder.
We spotted him leaving the church, with my aunt Theresa and her friend. We told Dennis we had a few friends that were excited to meet him. It was off to our usual camp out just in front of the condemned Rippey Tap, where the second floor would literally sway with the music. It’s an iconic bar that would rock on well into the early morning hours during each BRR.
What I quickly learned this year, BRR is less about the actual ride and more about the relationships you build. We spend several hours hanging out in Rippey on a Saturday in February, mostly to try and avoid the wind but to drink in the excitement.
One of the riders flipped on a radio and we listened to ISU’s comeback against Kansas, and as a Hawk fan, I was admittedly entertained by the game. Again, it was more about the atmosphere.
What we later found out, was BRR is the Methodist Church’s largest fundraiser of the year, and they use that money to fund the annual mission trips. One of the riders in our camp out even recalled a time when he was a graphic designer, drawing up creations for, none other than the famous BRR ride, though he knew nothing of its popularity at the time.
Now, he’s quietly, yet proudly, one of BRR’s most passionate riders.
Fortunately, the pit stop for snacks, the ISU game and a general recuperation, we avoided the howling head winds on the way back. We may have spent nearly three and a half hours in Rippey, but no one has to know that and we had a much easier return ride to Perry. Of course, we stopped at Cocktail Hill one final time for the famous homemade burritos.
Dennis plans to make it back-to-back rides next year, hitting a personal milestone in the process.
“I want to do the ride again next year, I think it’d be cool to say I did it when I was 80,” he said. “It would sound cooler than 79.”
And just like that, with as little fanfare as when he strolled over to our rest stop outside of the condemned Rippey Tap, he was gone and on his way back to Perry. But he didn’t avoid the wind, and it hurt, even going downhill, they were going slow.
“Before, even on RAGBRAI, I never got in shape, just went on the ride,” Hurley said.
But this winter was different, he put on seven pounds over the holidays. He rode the stationary bike every other day to compensate.
“That really helped, I could tell,” he said.