Thick, wet heat hung over Tama-Toledo as riders on RAGBRAI's 50th anniversary edition raced a looming rainstorm to Thursday's overnight stop.
Their prize at the end of the route was a more welcome kind of shower: a car wash converted for human use.
"My friends had told me about this, but they didn't give me the details. I had this image of this open space where they were going to be just hosing us down or something," laughed Rita Law, a first-time rider from Delaware. "I thought it was great that they built these individual shower stalls with a little shower head. It was really like a shower!"
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S&S Car Wash in Toledo divided its indoor car wash bay into 20 shower stalls built of 2-by-4s and plastic sheeting. One of the biggest water hookups was diverted into the shower heads, explained manager Ethan Novotny.
S&S employees said they'd already had about 70 showerers by 3 p.m., as hordes of riders were still arriving in town. "I was told that we could be expecting up to 500, if not more," Novotny said.
Thursday's ride into Tama-Toledo was the longest, hottest and hardest of the week. Temperatures hovered near 100 degrees as riders traversed almost 90 miles of hills between Des Moines and Tama. The already-challenging route was made harder by a 2-mile gravel stint near Colfax.
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Kentuckian and first-time rider Peter McCormick said the day was "grueling."
"Lots of hills, lots of heat and headwind. The three H's," he said. "It was pretty tough."
McCormick and his pals used the S&S showers to rinse off after the long day. They agreed it was the best shower of the ride so far.
"The showers had the perfect temperature water," McCormick said.
The Tama-Toledo Aquatic Center also was ready for riders. In addition to its locker rooms with showers, the center opened its pool to passers-by who needed a dip. Riders were limited to a two-hour window of swim time to prevent overcrowding.
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"We've seen multiple (pools) before on the ride, and they weren't open. ... I was like, 'Y'all are losing a lot of money!'" said rider Olivia Plunkett of Vermont.
Plunkett said Thursday's ride was "great" despite the heat, thanks to the downhills along the way and the overcast skies. Finding the pool was a happy accident.
"I'm so grateful that they welcomed this ridiculous event into their space," Plunkett said.
"And they figured out a way to let us in, and not have it be nuts to butts," said Free Cross, another Vermont rider.
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Tama and Toledo, with a combined population of just 5,500, is the smallest overnight town of the 2023 ride.
Tens of thousands of visiting riders set up camp in yards across twin cities and in the fields of the South Tama County High School. Toledo Heights Park hosted a '70s-themed festival, complete with an Earth, Wind and Fire cover band and headliner Foghat.
"We have had an amazing day and it’s because the executive team spent months planning and they rocked it and knocked it out of the park today!" Katherine Ollendieck, executive chair of the Tama-Toledo RAGBRAI committee wrote in a text message.
Katie Akin is a politics reporter for the Register. Reach her [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @katie_akin.More:More:More:More: