RAGBRAI XLIV Countdown – July 24-30, 2016
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RAGBRAI celebrity Taco Johnson helps dad, son connect

The madcap odyssey of RAGBRAI can be difficult enough to explain to adults, let alone a 4-year-old boy who misses his daddy.

So you can understand Brian Klitzke’s dilemma. He told his son Ken, 4, that he was leaving for a week to ride his bike across the state for the first time. And sorry, son, but you can’t come.

How to make the boy understand and simultaneously stay better connected with him throughout the week?

Eureka! The universal, ageless antidote for the doldrums: Legos.

Thus most diminutive rider on the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa and an aspiring folk hero, the Lego minifigure known as Taco Johnson, was born.

Klitzke set up his own @a_lego_ragbrai Instagram account, tucked a tiny yellow-faced Lego minifigure in his jersey back pocket and has snapped more than 60 iPhone photos this week.

“You feel really silly,” said Klitzke, 30. “You’re a grown-ass man and you’re saying, ‘Can I take a picture with my Lego friend?’”

Taco has been pictured on RAGBRAI with a flat tire on his bike.

Standing in line for the Kybos.

With a banana.

Riding a water slide.

He even climbed into the front shirt pocket of RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz.

“This is a way of bringing a little bit of the family with,” said Klitzke, who works in compliance for ING’s insurance division in Des Moines.

It’s also similar to the Flat Stanley Project, a concept pioneered by a Canadian teacher in the 1990s in which kids photograph a two-dimensional cutout figure and share their travelogue with friends.

Klitzke tries to keep the photos as politically correct as possible.

“I feel like it gets harder and harder each night,” he sighed.

Keep in mind that Klitzke is ringleader of the drastically shorter and more densely raucous KAGBRAI, Klitzke’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Along Ingersoll (as in the bars of Ingersoll Avenue).

He also has a younger son, Fritz, who just celebrated his first birthday Monday. That kid’s comprehension of Taco Johnson will have to wait a year or two.

Why the name Taco Johnson?

When Klitzke met all the kids at his son’s daycare, he wanted to give them a name easier to pronounce and remember than his own. And Ken loves tacos.

So the dad introduced himself as Taco Johnson.

“The kids went wild,” Klitzke said.

And when Klitzke asked his son what his Lego minifigure should be called, of course Ken suggested Taco.

This diligent dad of RAGBRAI is like a lot of alleged grown-up guys: Klitzke sold most of his Legos at a garage sale years ago and has regretted it ever since.

He thought everything was awesome about “The Lego Movie” released earlier this year and agreed that it should win the best-picture Oscar.

I caught up Klitzke and his friend and ING coworker Aaron Clayberg (on his fifth RAGBRAI) amid the sea of campers’ tents in Waverly. Klitzke held up Taco toward the sunset and struggled to get his iPhone camera to properly focus.

“What is this guy doing?” Klitzke imagines his fellow RAGBRAI riders thinking to themselves whenever they see him splayed on the ground lining up a shot along the route. “Is he playing with ants?”

At Tuesday’s overnight stop in Forest City, where Klitzke attended college, he picked up extra Lego props for Taco to pose with, including a banana and a turkey leg.

The Instagram account has swiftly accumulated dozens of followers. One fan and fellow RAGBRAI rider was so enthusiastic that the burly, tattooed man from Minnesota convinced Klitzke to meet in person.

Taco has traded jabs with another toy icon on Instagram also riding RAGBRAI this year, @thegreatworkoutken.

Klitzke is careful not to photograph himself with Taco. The integrity of the narrative must remain intact.

Yes, Taco’s final photo of the week likely will be a Mississippi River tire dip.

I told Klitzke that I can imagine this taking off. By next year’s RAGBRAI he could lead a team full of riders from Denmark with corporate sponsorship.

Klitzke says he’s willing to wear a minifigure-shaped yellow bike helmet. But 40 or so miles per day tends to be his limit on a bike. So Taco might be having more fun than he is.

“I don’t know who you are but these pics are AWESOME!” One commenter posted on Instagram. “My sister-in-law rode for several days & in liking one of her pics I found yours. Thxs for the fun & laughs!”

“People seem to enjoy a Lego person having fun in a human thing,” Klitzke said. “It’s really weird.”

And it’s awesome.


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