Our long week-long trek across Iowa is over and we’re heading for home.

We’d like to thank our Friday night overnight hosts, Paul and Elizabeth Davidson Hopkins. They are both 1983 Simpson grads. When Paul came to Simpson, he brought with him his family’s tandem bike. It looks a little different these days as he rides it in a lot of parades, but it still works great and holds lots of great memories. Here are Elizabeth and Paul in front of their home in Clinton:

Thanks for everyone who helped make Team Simpson’s journey a hot but ultimately triumphant success.


As everyone packed up their duffle bags and stowed their air mattresses for the last time, the riders had some time to reflect on the week that was RAGBRAI XL. What follows are some of their impressions and memories of riding with Team Simpson.

Beth Coffey ’85 – It was HOT!! Last year was hilly. This year was hot! But what I liked best about this year was spending time with people on the ride that I hadn’t spent a lot of time with before. It was fun. Our hosts were phenomenal. I absolutely loved the pools!

Wendy Vasquez, ’88 – The last half of the week was awesome. It helped me forget how awful the first half was. I’ve done a lot of RAGBRAI rides but doing it with Team Simpson was really fun. This will be my last RAGBRAI for awhile. Because both my husband and I ride, our kids miss their activities and they’re getting old enough now where that matters. Maybe I can be a day rider if it works out.

Kelley Kirts, ’86 – If this year was as hard as it gets, I’ll be back again next year. But I need to get in better shape. I was in “Team C” shape this year. I need to be in “Team B” shape next year. The support team was great.

Miles Kirts, ‘16 – I had lots of fun. I really liked the Century ride and I will definitely be doing it again. It was great riding with John Taylor. The guy never changed gears!

Bryan Gregston,87 – What? We’re not riding tomorrow??

Amy Gregston, ’87 – (Rolls her eyes at Bryan) All I can say is Buttonhole is cycling nirvana!

Cindy Butler, Friend of Simpson – This was my first RAGBRAI and it was a lot of fun. The people were so friendly and generous and trusting. In Cedar Rapids, an 88 year old woman welcomed us, perfect strangers, into her home. The hospitality was great and our hosts and support team were great too.

Paul McConeghey, Friend of Simpson – The heat didn’t get to me too much but the headwind Tuesday was killer. This was my first ride and I’ll do it again. But with a tailwind this time!

James Coon, Friend of Simpson – I’ve been on RAGBRAI before but this is the first year I have ever finished the whole ride. I’m pretty proud of that but I couldn’t have done it if Ryan Goodrich hadn’t encouraged me all the way. Team Simpson has a great set up and support team which helps a lot.

Ryan Goodrich, ’94 – Even though it always seemed like our host homes were uphill, they were always welcoming and accommodating to us which was great. This is my third year with Team Simpson and its support group is phenomenal. A good memory was the last day, I got to our picture site 3 ½ hours early thinking I’d take part in whatever was going on there until everyone else arrived. But there was nothing there. No food, no drinks, no shade. Across the road was a lady – Sandy – in an RV waiting for her husband. She had chairs and food and invited me over to join her. We sat and talked and I found out that her grandson was born on the same day as my son! I think that was my guardian angel for the day.

Mark Hilger, Friend of Simpson – This is my second RAGBRAI. The last one was in 1989. One of my favorite memories of this year’s ride was at the beer garden in Mt. Vernon. They had a little girl’s dance team perform and it was just so cute. You could tell they had been practicing for weeks for their performance. Plus, where else but RAGBRAI could you be in a beer tent at 9 am on a Friday? Beer and donuts…it’s not just for breakfast anymore! Team Simpson’s support team was great, too.

Teresa and Chad Layland, Friends of Simpson – We found out in Marshalltown that we had a fair weather tent. It didn’t hold up too well in the storm! We love riding with Team Simpson every year. Everyone is so hospitable and the host families are fantastic. There was a great waterslide outside of Cedar Rapids that was a lot of fun. We’ve ridden parts of the week before but you always felt like you were leaving the fun and not seeing it through to the end. This year was great and we’ll do it again next year. And I think Chad started the Buttonhole craze. He got a sample in Lake View and that’s what got everyone interested in it.

Matt Olsen, ‘09 – This is my third full RAGBRAI and they’ve all been with Team Simpson. It was a tough week, the hottest one yet. I used to think it was worse to be cold and miserable than hot and miserable but this year changed my mind about that! It’s a really fun and good group and I enjoyed it very much.

Sarah Hale, ’12 and Greg Weno, ‘13 – This is the first RAGBRAI for both of us. It’s fun that we’re the only current students on the ride. The water towers were amazing because that means you’re coming into the next town and that means salvation!! We enjoyed meeting people from all over. People you just start talking to during the ride and in the towns. We stopped at every pass through town except the last day when we were trying to make it for the picture. Greg loved the tenderloins because they were so big and cheap. Sarah enjoyed smoothies all across Iowa.

Steve Ellis, ’90 – The best thing about RAGBRAI was being able to finish. When I met up with the team, it helped me. The heat was bad but I took time to rest and cool down. I will probably ride again next year depending on where the overnight towns are. I also ride some bike rides in Wisconsin. I had a good time.

Ryan Hildreth, ’05 – This year, I have ridden my bike eight days…one 16 mile training ride and RAGBRAI. I enjoyed the ride but I would have enjoyed it more if I had trained for it. The Century day was a high point for me, riding 109 miles in what we called 4-H…heat, humidity, headwind and hills. It was also fun riding through Lake City and Lohrville because it’s close to where I live. I had some friends in Auburn who made a big sign for me that said, “RYAN H., STOP IN FOR A COLD ONE” so I did, even though it was only 7 am. And riding with Team B for a couple of days was a blast. I learned the ways of Jeff McQueen! When the whole team rode together into Clinton, I got goose bumps because people were cheering for us and recognizing that we’re from Simpson College. That was cool. Team Simpson is made up of a lot of smaller groups but we mesh together because we’re all connected to the college. I mean where else would I get the chance to hang out with four Ph.D.s?

Dave Enzler, Friend of President Byrd – The ride was fun but the first three days…they weren’t so much fun. But the support made it much easier. Knowing you’re going to have a place to stay, gracious hosts, bathrooms, food, snacks, drinks…it helps a lot. Riding with Team Simpson is a great experience. You can really tell this is a very special place. I’ve ridden on other rides with other teams and none of them have this much passion and pride. And it’s because they are a part of Simpson and it’s something very special. It was really cool riding into Clinton as a group and having people cheer for us. And it was fun riding with John and getting to spend time with good friends.

Burton Kirkwood, Friend of President Byrd – John has always been a mentor to me and Dave too, so I was glad to spend this week with them. I now have a connection to Simpson that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Bob, Chris and Kelley do a great job putting this together and organizing it so we don’t have to worry about anything. Dave and I logged over 500 miles this week which was our goal. I thought it was awesome how we took over people’s homes each night and they welcomed us with open arms. The heat was phenomenal and the wind was tough early on but after that, it was a great ride.

John Taylor, Friend of Simpson – As I played music all along the route, some of my favorite moments had to do with that. Like when I rode by an elderly lady watching the bikes go by and she heard my music, got up and started dancing right there on the sidewalk. Literally hundreds of riders guessing the names of the TV shows as I played their theme songs along the route. I played “Celebration” as we entered Clinton and so many fans lining the road were dancing. Hearing countless riders say they loved my music and one rider, after riding behind me for 10 miles, pass me and say that was the most fun he’s had on RAGBRAI. Playing “Name That Tune” with everyone in camp. Aside from the music, I thought the tough conditions made it even more rewarding to complete the ride. I felt proud to be included in Team Simpson. I love being able to leave all my “everyday” routines behind for a week. I enjoyed riding with Miles, pushing him and showing him that an old guy can still be competitive. And the sight of that Tiki Bar at our host home in Cedar Rapids was amazing!

Jacki, ’97 and Jason Askelson, ’97 – Building friendships with other Team Simpson members is amazing. Being able to see a team member absolutely melt down and say they’re done and then the next day get back on the bike and start again is inspiring. We love not being in the huge campsite, hearing Kybo doors banging all night and being with obnoxious people. We REALLY liked the tent service! All the jokes and laughing together, never knowing what will come out of McQueen’s mouth but it’s always funny. The slip and slide was great. Getting kicked out of the bar in Shellsburg is a memory. Laughing so hard our stomachs hurt. We have so much fun doing this together as a couple. Team Simpson is great and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it will ride again next year. It was fun getting to ride with both Bob and Chris this year.

John Mathias, Son of Simpson alums – Going down the slip and slide was pretty memorable. I loved cooling off in the water…any water. The day it was 105 degrees, I spent three hours being sprayed by a fire hose. The Counting Crows concert was awesome. When we went off route near Springville, we saw a cool barn, stopped, laid down and looked at the shapes of the clouds. It’s always entertaining listening to Jeffrey talk! Czech Village in Cedar Rapids was cool to see.

Jeff MCQueen, Friend of Simpson – The highlight for me was cuddling with Jason and Jacki during the storm in Marshalltown! Twice, while bikes were stopped at an intersection, I started the wave and it caught on pretty quickly. That was fun to see. Being a part of Team Simpson was a great experience – the people and the commitment to making it happen. I also am glad I have my new BFF, Chris Goodale!

And last, but certainly not least, John Byrd, Simpson College President and the person responsible for creating Team Simpson four years ago. – Well, it was a challenging week with the wind and heat but as always, it was a wonderful experience. The team is a great mix of alumni, friends, faculty, staff and for the first time this year, two current students. Everyone gets along so well with each other and supports one another. It’s a special chemistry and what makes the week so amazing. All of our hosts were fabulous, going out of their way to welcome us and make us feel so at home. Spending this week with my three good friends Dave, Mark and Burton also was a real highlight for me. As my last RAGBRAI as Simpson’s President, it was a bittersweet ride but I’m so proud to be a part of something as special as Simpson College. As we rode in to Clinton together as a team and heard people shouting “Go Simpson College,” and “Go Storm,” it makes you realize that something like this has an impact on people. Simpson College is alive and well, recognized and respected. It’s just been a great time.

A chair that was given to president Byrd on RAGBRAIAnd since this was  John Byrd’s final ride as Simpson’s president, the team presented him with his very own, personalized bag chair. Jason Luedtke ’10, husband of Kelley Bradder, wrote the following about the President and the gift of the “director’s chair.”

Four years ago current and retiring President, John Byrd suggested that Simpson College build a team of bike riders to participate in the rolling community that is RAGBRAI.  Team Simpson was born, fathered by John – ‘father’ being the operative word because, make no mistake about it, Team Simpson is a family.  It is a collection of alumni, staff, students and friends of Simpson that gather annually, greet each other like long lost friends, and immediately pick up on conversations that have been dormant for a year as if they occurred yesterday.  Just like in your family, there is the older brother, a young-at-heart grandparent, your favorite aunt, a younger sister and a crazy uncle.  The come from California, South Carolina and Colorado to share a laugh, ask about your kids and parents, and speculate on tomorrow’s forecast.  New riders are welcomed warmly and the absence of past riders is often lamented.  It’s become a matter of tradition that Team Simpson gather in the evenings to socialize, mock, plan and commiserate.  The collapsible camping chair has become as ubiquitous to the Team Simpson campsite as water bottles and bike pumps.  Team Simpson hopes that John thinks of us often and fondly whenever he uses his new customized chair.  His simple idea has become a place of familial comfort.  It’s a fact of life that kids move out, families spread out and people move on.  Even so, we wanted the father of an idea know that he will be missed.

President Byrd meets Simpson alum and Northwestern College President Greg Christy ’89 as RAGBRAI passed through Orange City

Star bracelets made by Sydney Vazquez daughter of team member Wendy Vazquez.

Previous Stories from the Road

Day 7

Day 6

Day 5

Day 4

Day 3

Day 2

Day 1