Team Curbside Prepares for Annual Bike Ride
By Susan Thompson
It won’t be long before Iowans see vans and buses loaded with bikes headed west. The Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) July 21-27 starts in Council Bluffs and ends in Keokuk. In between, riders will stop overnight in Atlantic, Winterset, Indianola, Centerville, Fairfield and Burlington. One of those buses will be loaded with Team Curbside members, which is based in Panora, and has members from many locations. Dan and Barb Wollner founded the biking group.
The couple has been at Lake Panorama since 1981, when he was hired as the LPN grounds superintendent. Barb started as the course horticulturist the same year. The pair met while attending Iowa Lakes Community College in Emmetsburg, where they graduated with horticulture degrees. Their three children were raised in the log cabin they built in 1983 near the #13 green.
Barb was the first to ride RAGBRAI. 1975 was its third year, and the route started in Hawarden in northwest Iowa and ended in Barb's hometown of Fort Madison. A couple of high school friends from Fort Madison suggested Barb join them for the ride, and she did.
But life happened and Barb’s next RAGBRAI was number 19 in 1991. Dan's brother had been following the biking stories over the years. He and a cousin wanted to try it, and asked Barb to join them. Dan’s parents drove a van pulling a pop-up camper, eight-year-old son Jacob and his cousin went along for fun, and Barb, brother Dave and cousin John rode.
The next year, Barb rode with some friends and Dan helped drive part of the week. In 1993, Dan refused to drive—he wanted to ride! Since 1993, Dan has ridden every mile of every day for the full week. Barb rode every mile for most of those years, too, but recently has cut back to about half of the week.
In the beginning, the Wollners biked with a small group. Gradually they added more family members—brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and sons Jacob and Ben, so they used the name Team W to register with RAGBRAI. One year Dan, Jacob, Ben and several other team members were sitting on the curb having a cold beverage and watching the crazy parade of bikers, and the name Team Curbside was born.
Jacob and Ben still ride when their jobs and babies allow. Dan says their daughter Bailey rode for several days one year and said she couldn’t understand what her family sees in it. “It's not for everyone, I guess,” he shrugs.
The team added Sandy Lowe of Panora, then more friends joined as family members stopped riding. “Our numbers slowly grew to an average of 25 riders,” Barb says. “We try to keep between 25 to 30 because of what our bus and the overnight hosts can support.”
“We started with mostly Guthrie County friends, but the group has evolved,” Dan says. “We have riders from all over Iowa and have had riders from Illinois, Washington, California, Kansas, Minnesota and New York. They are college friends, family of friends, and friends of friends. Our only ‘rule’ is that we are a riding group. If you want to be a team member, you need to train enough to be able to ride every mile of every day.”
Team Curbside has had a bus since 2003. It was already a RAGBRAI bus with a deck on top to transport the bikes, plus the interior benches moved to provide space for people, luggage and a primitive shower.
The bus can hold 22 people, bikes and luggage tubs for the trip to the start town or the return from the end town. There are people who can't start and end in Panora, so they get alternate transportation to the start and finish, but are with the team for the week. Over the years, the team has had several drivers to get their support vehicle to the next town each day. Their present driver is Gary Soreide, who used to be a rider but was promoted to Wagonmaster.
“This year we have 20 week-long riders and 10 half-week riders,” Dan says. “We charge $25 per day, which gets team members the bus, cold beverages and snacks. That also covers bus maintenance, gas, insurance, and storage. In addition, registration with the Des Moines Register is $175 for a full week rider.”
Each year RAGBRAI hosts about 10,000 registered riders, but it’s estimated the number of riders is closer to 20,000. “We are all registered riders,” Dan says. “Registration gets you RAGBRAI. There is an amazing amount of staff and preparation for a ride this big, plus law enforcement at busy intersections, medical staff that patrols all day, and hundreds of port-a-potties across the daily route, just to name a few amenities.”
Once the bike route is announced, the search begins for local residents in the overnight towns willing to host the team. “Usually a team member knows someone who knows someone who lives in each overnight stop,” Barb says. “We camp in their yard and all we ask is bathroom privileges. We talk about the day’s ride over a cold beverage while we set up camp and wait our turn for the shower, and chat with our hosts about their town and families. Then it's off to one of the many local churches or schools or civic groups serving food, and entertainment the overnight town provides.”
The team’s bus and jersey features the letters EFM, which stand for Every Friendly Mile. EFM started with Dan's sister Anne. She came to Iowa from the state of Washington each summer and rode at least 15 RAGBRAIs. One year she and a few friends rode from Washington to Iowa on the Lewis and Clark Trail and joined the team in western Iowa to ride RAGBRAI. The next year she and her husband rode self-contained from Washington to Iowa, rode RAGBRAI, then kept on going to her son's house in Boston.
Then Anne was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She rode RAGBRAI one more time while in remission, but passed away in 2015. In 2016, Team Curbside members wore “Remember Anne” wristbands in teal blue in her honor. Each year Dan and Barb pick a day to wear one of her old Washington bike club jerseys and stop for a Beekman's ice cream—her favorite food stop on the ride.
The team’s bus and jersey also feature a stick figure named Wilson. When the group was Team W, members would hold their hands in the shape of a W in pictures. So Jacob drew a stick figure holding his hands in a W for some team t-shirts.
“After the movie ‘Cast Away’ came out, someone noticed our guy looked like the face on the soccer ball, so now our stick guy had a name,” Dan says. “Once we changed to Team Curbside, Wilson came along as our mascot. When we are trying to get the attention of a teammate in a large crowd, or acknowledge teammates as we pass each other on the road, we holler Wilson!”
Several years ago, Team Curbside started using a “rating board” to add even more humor to their annual ride across Iowa. “The board is a fun answer to the very common question, are you winning the race?,” says Dan. “RAGBRAI is definitely not a race. We have fun randomly posting the names of teams we know and events during the week—like a broken down bus.”
Barb agrees the rating board is fun, and random. “There’s no real order or reason to what we do. Maybe a team hosted a party, so their name gets moved to first. Or we rode with a team for a while, and just to nudge them, their name gets posted behind Team Curbside,” she says.
To reinforce the fact RAGBRAI is not a race, there are no winners, and because it is funny, the Team Curbside jersey has a second place trophy sticking out of its back pocket.
Team members train by riding….a lot. “We are so lucky to have the Raccoon River Valley Trail here in Guthrie County and we definitely take advantage of riding it,” Barb says. “There are multiple long rides and many short fun rides all over the state to take part in, too.”
Barb has a goal of riding at least 500 miles before RAGBRAI. Dan’s goal is at least 1,000 miles. “I really enjoy riding on the Raccoon River trail in the evenings after work to relax and get my miles in,” he says.
Ask the Wollners what they like and dislike about RAGBRAI and you get the same answer. “We like RAGBRAI because for the most part it is 20,000 people on vacation. Everyone is there because they like to ride bicycles,” Dan says. “And the worst part is 20,000 people—a lot of waiting in lines, and bikes too close together.”
But there are more likes than dislikes. “We have been riding long enough that we have friends on many other teams, and every year is a reunion,” Barb says. “Another plus is ‘Iowa nice.’ The towns we go through put so much effort into providing food and entertainment and showing off the best of their communities. You really get to see Iowa up close when you are on a slow ride across the state.”
Team members don't ride as a pack. “Some people like to ride early to beat the heat, others like to sleep in,” Dan says. “Some riders are slow and steady and take their time. Others are stronger and faster. Somehow we manage to see each other off and on all day.”
The Wollners say Team Curbside is always evolving. “Members come and go as jobs and families change,” says Barb. “We always have new members who want to join us, and past members who love to come back when they can. It's our bike family.”
This year’s RAGBRAI is the 47th edition. It covers 427 miles. And you can bet at least Dan Wollner, and probably most other Team Curbside members, will ride “Every Friendly Mile.”