Stories along the route make RAGBRAI special for Grinnell alumnus

Aug. 5, 2019 — Some mornings during RAGBRAI Mike Daley ’72 would be up and riding his bicycle as early as 5 a.m.

Being an early riser was advantageous in avoiding crowds and the hottest parts of the day, but the main reason was it allowed Daley to get to his favorite part of the journey quicker – talking to people, from fellow Grinnell alumni to lifelong residents of towns he was passing through.

“For me RAGBRAI is about collecting stories along the way – biking from town to town is the means for doing so,” Daley says. “We passed through about 50 towns so there’s ample chances to talk with the locals, and those conversations are what I’ll remember the most.”

Many Grinnell College alumni rode in RAGBRAI (The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) this year, which began in Council Bluffs on July 21 and wrapped up in Keokuk on July 27. Riders traveled a total of 427 miles on the route and climbed 14,735 feet during the week, though Daley noted his final mileage total was 480.

Team Grinnell riders gather for a team photo before hitting the bikes during jersey day on Friday.
Team Grinnell riders gather for a team photo before hitting the bikes during jersey day on Friday.

For the past seven years, the College has partnered with Grinnell’s local bike shop, Bikes to You, to sponsor the group on the annual July ride. Team Grinnell – a group of 41 Grinnell College alumni and friends of the College – was back at it again for the ride this year.

Although the mainly southern Iowa route didn’t come close to Grinnell this year, there were several meet up opportunities for Grinnellians. A RAGBRAI dinner was held for 102 riders, alumni and friends of the College on July 23 at Simpson College in Indianola. In addition, Grinnell College tents greeted riders with refreshments along the route in some meetup towns, such as Avoca and Bloomfield.

“It was great interacting with alumni, friends, and parents of Grinellians,” Daley says. “The dinner was halfway through the ride after the shortest day, so everyone’s spirits were high and there was so much good camaraderie. I find it fascinating to learn what Grinnellians are doing with their lives.”

A resident of Holland, Michigan, Daley is a masters swim coach for the Holland Community Aquatic Center. Most of his career was in higher education administration, with an encore career as a swimming coach or instructor. He studied economics at Grinnell and was on swim teams coached by Ray Obermiller, who became a mentor and longtime friend of Daley’s. Obe, as he was affectionately called, was even the best man at Daley’s wedding.

In 2009, Daley made a $50,000 gift in honor of Obermiller to name the Daley Meet Management Room in the lower level of the Charles Benson Bear ’39 Recreation and Athletic Center Natatorium.

Betsy Mathre Quist ’86, left, Dan McGrath ’86, and Sarah Jolie ’87 celebration the completion of RAGBRAI in front of the Mississippi River.
Betsy Mathre Quist ’86, left, Dan McGrath ’86, and Sarah Jolie ’87 celebrate the completion of RAGBRAI in front of the Mississippi River.

2009 was also the first year Daley participated in RAGBRAI. He has gone on to ride it seven times. Many of those rides preceded ironman triathlons, which Daley competes in every other year. In 2013, Daley missed the triathlon in order to attend Obermiller’s memorial service in Grinnell. He dedicated the 2015 triathlon to the coach. The race announcers even told a story about the dedication when Daley crossed the finish line in Mont-Tremblant, Canada.

“In retrospect, the RABGRAI ride and training kept me connected with Grinnell and connected to Obe a special way,” Daley says.

This year’s RAGBRAI route was fair and included plenty of challenging hills and sweeping vistas of classic Iowa corn fields, Daley says. He also enjoyed the big beautiful long curves along the Mississippi River on the final two days of the ride.

Ray Obermiller was inducted into the Grinnell College Athletics Hall of Fame in 1995.

Mike Daley ’72, left, 104 years young George Wertz, and Tuesday, pose for a group photo outside a home in Walnut on the first day of RAGBRAI.
     Mike Daley ’72, left,
     George Wertz, and Tuesday.

When talking with locals, he’d often ask for a fun fact about the town where they resided. On day one of the trip, Daley pulled off for a break in Walnut. He struck up a conversation with a women named Tuesday and her family members, who also had unique names. While chatting, a 104-year-old man dressed in a red shirt and red cardigan came by before sitting on a porch.

Everyone in Walnut called him Grandpa George. Tuesday explained to Daley that George rents out houses and goes around and sits on the porches of each periodically.

“That’s quintessential Iowa and why I do RAGBRAI,” Daley says. “It’s not the hills or biking; it’s the small town wonderful people, and going about finding them.”

—by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

Ray Obermiller was inducted into the Grinnell College Athletics Hall of Fame in 1995.

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