Tue, Jul 17, 2012 | by RAGBRAIShare
by John Karras, RAGBRAI Co-Founder
So here we are, about to embark on the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa XL. Who might have guessed that there would be more than one of these when Donald Kaul and I invented the thing back in 1973? No one, that’s who.
Indeed, it wasn’t until 1975, the third incarnation,that it was called RAGBRAI — followed by the silly Roman numeral affectation, of course.
I’ve missed four — the first in 1987 with a heart attack and the second in 2003. That last was my first opportunity to join in as just a rider, rather than as the ride’s host, and I stayed home because I feared I’d find myself running on like the typically intolerable oldtimer who tells everyone, “That ain’t the way we used to do it,” or words to that effect. I then missed 2010 and 2011 with legs that were betraying me.
I’ll be there this year, though, even if only to stand at the ending intersection and hand out “Karras Loop” patches to the loony riders who complete it. (Riders who complete the Karras Loop and that day’s ride will travel a staggering — literally — 104.5 miles.) I’ve been working diligently on the legs and hope to join those fellow loonies for at least a few miles of this year’s route.
A couple of years ago, T.J. Juskiewicz, RAGBRAI organizer and director since 2004, asked me what I’d like to see happen on RAGBRAI-L. “Good grief, Teej,” I said, “I’ll be dead.”
“I didn’t want to bring that up,” he said.
Well, with 10 years to go and still being vertical, here are my hopes for the 40th: Temperatures in the low 80s, no rain, no accidents along the way, and nothing but singing and general jollity. Happy faces and healthy knees and elbows. No sunburn, no headaches, no nausea and no road rash.
Yeah. And there really is a Santa Claus.
But no matter how this year turns out, I’ll always have those many years of memories, both good and bad, but mostly thrilling or just plain amusing:
- The surprise of seeing hundreds show up in the parking lot in Sioux City at the start of the first ride in 1973, when Kaul and I expected no more than a few teenagers, if anyone.
- The stress in the second year when some 3,000 showed up in Council Bluffs and we had no idea where they would find accommodations for the week, besides fearing that someone among us would surely be hit by a car and die.
- Carter LeBeau in his multi-colored silly socks riding at least part of all 39 RAGBRAIs, and expected again this year.
- Huck Thompson’s record of having ridden every mile for at least 35 RAGBRAIs until a bout of flu stopped him. He broke down and wept upon having to quit.
- The stunning beauty of so much of Iowa in the early morning hours with valleys full of mist lending a feeling of mystery to the cool landscape.
- The days of absolute misery with road temperatures well above 100 degrees by 2 in the afternoon, the days of beating all day against headwinds up to 30 miles an hour, or the very few days of constant light rain with temperatures in the 50s.
- The surprise and dismay of cyclists from elsewhere who had joined RAGBRAI believing that Iowa is flat.
But there’s one that looms high above all the rest: The sight of women in their 50s weeping with joy on the banks of the Mississippi River after a week-long major physical achievement with absolutely no help from or involvement with a man.
That one made me realize that we were really onto something big with RAGBRAI.
JOHN KARRAS, a retired Des Moines Register editor and writer, together with Register columnist Donald Kaul founded the cross-state bicycle ride that became RAGBRAI. The ride has grown into the longest, largest and oldest bicycle touring event in the world, attracting thousands of riders each year from throughout the United States and a surprising number of foreign countries. Karras now lives in Dillon, Colorado.
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