RAGBRAI XLIV Countdown – July 24-30, 2016
Friends of RAGBRAI

Blog

Thoughts from Grampa RAGBRAI



By John Karras, Co-Founder of RAGBRAI

With RAGBRAI XL (that’s 40, to you non-Roman-numeraly hip dudes) looming ever closer, an unwanted fact keeps bonking around in the back of my mind: That fact is that I am one year younger than Clarence Pickard was in 1973, when Donald Kaul and I launched this general silliness.

Well, so what? you say. And so something, I say.

And that something is, simply, will I be able to live up to the example that wizened little fellow, delightful and accomplished as he was (four years in the Peace Corps, professor at ISU, county agent, farmer, taught Hindus they could eat eggs if they kept the rooster out of the chicken yard), set 40 years ago? Ah, yes, as Terry Thomas might have said, there’s the rub.

Clarence showed up—maybe 5’5”, maybe 100 pounds—in Sioux City that August Saturday in 1973 in a pith helmet covered with duct tape and with a green and white woman’s Schwinn 10-speed that he’d purchased two weeks before. Asked about training miles, he said, “I rode around the block a couple of times.”

We all figured he might make it to the Sioux City city limits, but not much beyond. The truth is he rode every bloody mile of that first year’s insane route, including the 100 miles from Des Moines to Williamsburg and the sixth and final day’s 80 miles from Williamsburg to Davenport.

Have we ever repeated that route? If anyone had insisted on it I would have resigned from The Register and insisted on erasing my name from anything associated with RAGBRAI.

The route was dumber than anyone today could imagine. The only part of it that any of us had looked at was the stretch from Des Moines to Williamsburg, which Kaul and I and a few friends had ridden a few years before as part of our journey to becoming touring cyclists. The rest of the route—Sioux City to Des Moines, Williamsburg to Davenport—was terra unknown. Indeed, we encountered at least half a mile of gravel on the way into Moscow, IA, a town we hadn’t known existed.

But back to Clarence.

Not only did he have this clunky bike that probably weighed half as much as he did, he also hadn’t the foggiest notion of how to shift the gears. 

The levers were mounted on the handlebar stem, as was common at that time. Clarence thought the proper positions for both were as far forward as they could go, or as far back, which meant, of course, that he was always in the wrong gear.

I caught up with him as we were approaching the dreaded Boone Hill out of the Des Moines River valley and mentioned that we were approaching a really difficult hill and I thought he would be much happier climbing it if the left lever were as far forward as it could go and the right lever as far back (which, of course, would put the bike in its first, easiest gear).  I saw him later in the day and he said, “That sure did help.”

Yes, he was slow. He also fell off his bike frequently. He’d become such a household name by the time the ride reached Iowa City that an elementary school there let all the kids outside to watch Clarence come by. He saw them, stopped and promptly fell off the bike. Then, picking himself up he swept off his pith helmet and did a deep bow. The kids went nuts.

Okay, so what does any of this have to do with me and RAGBRAI XL?  Just this: As I approach Clarence’s age, can I measure up?

As this is being written, friends, we are nine-plus weeks from the start of RAGBRAI XL, and at this  point, I ain’t measuring up.

Okay, okay, Ann and I are living at 9,000-plus feet here in Summit County, Colorado, so I can make some excuses about elevation and whatnot, but the simple fact, at this point, is that I can’t cut it. We struggle up small hills for a total of five miles and then retire to the condo for naps. That ain’t RAGBRAI-quality riding, but I’m going to keep working on the legs and hoping to make it.

Stay tuned for more….. Thoughts from Grampa RAGBRAI

John Karras is the former copy editor at the Des Moines Register who co-founded RAGBRAI in 1973 with columnist Donald Kaul.  John plans on riding RAGBRAI XL this summer.  He and his wife Ann now reside in Dillon, Colorado.

13 Responses on “Thoughts from Grampa RAGBRAI

Debbie (Jackson) Geiger

May 17, 2012 at 7:21 am

John:
You can do it! Think of another old bicyclist who is now trying out the trails in heaven.
Debbie
Daughter of John Jackson

Sandaltan

May 17, 2012 at 9:05 am

There will be a piece of pie with your name on it John…but ya gotta come and get it. Counting on seeing you in July in Iowa.

RIDE RIGHT

Profile photo of jerryphelps

jerryphelps

May 17, 2012 at 12:45 pm

John–It will be great to see you in the Team Skunk camp. I’ll buy the first beer.

Marji

May 17, 2012 at 6:42 pm

We’ll have to plan to meet up on the ride! Keep training!

Steve B

May 17, 2012 at 7:21 pm

I was on that first ride and was infected with the cycling bug. I hope to see you on the ride!

Osh Barb Andersen

May 18, 2012 at 12:10 pm

You can do it! It will be great to see you again. I was a teenager who rode out with a bunch of bicycle friends/fiends from Ames to meet you and Donald Kaul that first year and escorted you into town. The next morning we rode with you as far as Polk City. Thanks!

Kent

May 18, 2012 at 12:17 pm

John:Let me know if you guys need a bed to sleep in during your stay in Webster City.

susie scott

May 19, 2012 at 5:26 pm

We’re counting on you. We’ll all cheer you on every single mile and give you the best draft the US of A has ever known. Ride on!!

Jim Conzemius

May 19, 2012 at 7:07 pm

I’ve always maintained that despite the efforts of you and Mr. Kaul, which are immense, RAGBRAI would not be RAGBRAI without Clarence Pickard. He sparked something, and the light never dimmed.

Profile photo of havencoffeehouse

havencoffeehouse

May 20, 2012 at 4:23 am

There will indeed be as many pieces of pie as you care to eat with your name on them. Stop by Haven in Marshalltown to claim them on July 25th. It’s the least we can do for Grampa RAGBRAI and the legacy you have given the world. Thank you.

bicyclejim

May 21, 2012 at 8:06 pm

I still cherish your book, especially “bananas and beer,” and I still pronounce RAGBRAI correctly. This year is my second ride, at age 67, and I’m looking forward to 2028. Best of luck to you!

Terry

May 24, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Grandpa, I hope you find it within you to ride the route this year. But, if not, the journey has been worthwhile. Ride strong, ride safe and until we meet again.

Robert

July 22, 2012 at 8:24 pm

you are still on the planet, I remember your old colums,. See clean living worked.

Leave a Reply

Latest Blog Posts

  • RAGBRAI Training: How Much Riding Should I Do to Prepare for RAGBRAI?

    This is probably the most common question I receive so chances are you have wondered about this as well. I’ll start by giving my standard answer. I suggest ...

  • Chris Charron (1961-2016)

    We are saddened to learn that Chris Charron, of Maxwell, IA, passed away on Friday while visiting his daughter and grandchildren in Pennsylvania.

  • Remembering Chris Charron

    The thoughts and prayers of the ‪#‎RAGBRAI‬ Nation are with the family of Chris Charron. Chris had a huge heart and always thought of ways to help others.

  • A Reminder About RAGBRAI Registration

    The deadline for online week-long registration is April 1. You must have your entry submitted and payment made by April 1, don’t wait until after the lottery to submit your ...

  • RAGBRAI Route: Saturday, July 30 - Washington to Muscatine

    Here is the complete route from Washington to Muscatine. The ride encompasses 49.7 miles with just 1,314 feet of climb. Riders will visit all first-time towns on their ...

  • RAGBRAI Route: Friday, July 29 - Ottumwa to Washington

    Here is the complete route from Ottumwa to Washington. The riders will enjoy 68.5 miles that includes 2,541 feet of climb. Riders will make welcome stops in Hedrick ...

  • RAGBRAI Route: Thursday, July 28 - Centerville to Ottumwa

    Here is the complete route from Centerville to Ottumwa. The route travels 50.7 miles with just 1,999 feet of climb. The morning ride over Rathbun Dam is a ...

  • Hydration Tips from nuun: 5 Tips to Stay Hydrated

    Here is the first in a series of hydration tips from nuun as you prepare for RAGBRAI. nuun is the official hydration sponsor of RAGBRAI. Staying hydrated is easier ...

  • RAGBRAI Route: Wednesday, July 27 - Leon to Centerville

    The route treks mainly east for 65.1 miles with just 2,708 feet of climb. You can tell friends that you rode your bike to New York, Bethlehem and Mystic ...

  • RAGBRAI Route: Tuesday, July 26 - Creston to Leon

    Here is the complete route from Creston to Leon. The route travels 58.5 miles with a challenging 3,318 feet of climb. You will get to ride some nice ...

Latest Videos

  • Darrel Harken of Riceville said goodbye to his daughter Grace as she headed home on her bike. Moments later he and his other daughter Hannan stop at a car accident only to discover the woman who was hit by a car is Grace.

  • Where will RAGBRAI ride in 2016? See the full RAGBRAI XLIV route including overnight and stopover towns.

  • Register reporters talk with RAGBRAI founder John Karras about the announcement that RAGBRAI and the Des Moines Register were working to create a statue of Karras and fellow founder Don Kaul.

  • RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz talks about the southern Iowa 2016 route. "We haven't been to some of these towns in a long time!" he says.

  • Miss the live RAGBRAI 2016 overnight town announcement show? Join Kyle Munson, Michael Morain as they chat with RAGBRAI riders and towns vying for a spot on this year's route. And learn the overnight towns, of course!

  • Watch as RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz unveils the 2016 RAGBRAI overnight towns. The route is heading to the southern cities of Glenwood, Shenandoah, Creston, Leon, Centerville, Ottumwa, Washington and Muscatine.

  • Get the details on this year's RAGBRAI overnight towns in southern Iowa.

  • Join the "Tr3s" amigos for the 2016 BACooN ride June 18 on the Raccoon River Valley Trail. There will be a plethora of bacon.

  • What will the route go for RAGBRAI 2016? Register reporter Kyle Munson and Michael Morain try again to get the early scoop.

  • This year's logo theme is "It's time to take a break."

Find us socially

Email Signup

Sign up for the latest RAGBRAI news and notes (if there is no news in a day, you won’t get an e-mail).

© 2016 RAGBRAI | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy