STRATFORD - This year's Karras Loop of RAGBRAI will take participants on what organizers say may be the most challenging loop to date. Riders who make that trek on Tuesday may be pleasantly surprised to find a cool and inviting oasis in the town of Stratford.
"Luau on the Loop" is the theme for the special events planned by the town's RAGBRAI committee. A group of about five people are organizing the event, including Mary Sealine, who along with Tammy Johnson is handling the hospitality and entertainment tasks.
"We did some brainstorming to figure out what would attract people and be kind of fun," said Sealine. They nixed the obvious Shakespeare theme and instead went with something that would be cool and refreshing.
"Tammy came up with the idea of Luau on the Loop. That way we could be festive and have beach wear on," she said.
Sealine said that RAGBRAI officials were pleased to have a town on the Karras Loop planning special activities for the riders.
The riders will enter the downtown to find a city block cordoned off. The street will be an open venue, featuring a beverage and food garden. Dan Runge who owns Rungo's in downtown Stratford, was in charge of the beverage garden. Sealine said Hannah and Marcia Fritz had created several signs for the venue and the committee had also used the talents of local graphic artist Dan Beach, the husband of Nan Beach who is in charge of vendors. Rachel Cahill is in charge of logistics for the event.
A T-shirt, designed by Dan Beach, is available at the Stratford Hardware store. At the city's website, www.stratfordiowa.com, riders can also order shirts and other commemorative items.
A variety of food and beverages will be available and music entertainment will be provided by local musicians. Sealine said the local churches, the grocery store, a restaurant and a tea room will provide the food for the events. She said she hoped to have Stratford Stride grilling for the event. The Stratford Lions will also be selling snacks and drinks, she said.
"We'll have some games - the limbo, hula hoopers, bean bag toss and a windmill putting golf station," she said. The town also has a photo opportunity ready for the riders depicting a farmer's luau.
"We'll have a nice big entrance sign and the first 2,000 riders who stop in Stratford will receive a Hawaiian lei," she said.
Sealine said the committee has also designed some Burma Shave-style signs that riders will see as they the approach the Karras Loop.
"Most may have made up their minds about whether they are riding the loop, but you never know. We hope the signs will draw a few more into Stratford," she said.
"We've got a little area blocked off with a canopy and soaker systems to mist the riders. We wanted to make a nice little fun area," she said. "The whole idea is to encourage riders to get off their bikes and stop for a bit in Stratford."
Of course, those who ride the loop will receive a commemorative patch from RAGBRAI officials, but they will have to visit the oasis in order to collect that prize, Sealine said.
The cyclists will also be invited to sign a banner denoting their progress on Karras Loop.
She said the volunteers will start to get ready around 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday, with early riders expected between 9 and 10 a.m.
"This is a great opportunity to showcase not just the town but the Iowa hospitality that the RAGBRAI does all along the route.," she said. "I think it gives some of those businesses that may be struggling a little boost."
Sealine said the event also means that some riders may return to Stratford someday to shop or have a meal.
"They may remember a cool shop or some neat people or fun things to do," she said. "Maybe another time when they are traveling, they'll think about stopping in Stratford again."
Stratford officials said that RAGBRAI passed through the community 40 years ago on the very first ride.
"We're pleased to be part of this year's ride," she said.