Looking for ideas to celebrate a brother…

RAGBRAI 2017, hopefully, will be my fourth RAGBRAI, a modest number compared to the many other riders I have met during my first three. Still, I am grateful for the three RAGBRAIs I have ridden and the nonchalant question that began the whole odyssey. Over a Sunday meal with the family, my brother Bernie casually asked if I would be interested in joining him on the 2011 RAGBRAI. My ambivalent response betrayed my ignorance, and not until my wife pointed out the fact that riding the RAGBRAI was not just a silly summer adventure for two middle aged brothers but a proclamation. For my brother it would be a declaration of victory after battling with bronchiolitis obliterans organizing pneumonia or BOOP, a serious lung disease. Completing the RAGBRAI would denote my brother’s return to a way of life almost taken away. There was just one hitch: to accomplish his goal he needed to appease the concerns of his family; he needed a pedal pushing Sancho Panza to complete his Rider’s Errant.

During the 2011 RAGBRAI, we were overwhelmed with the never ending river of riders streaming eastward; dazzled by the mosaic gatherings of lycra wearing harlequins bunched beneath trees eating pork chops and pie; dumbfounded by the little league baseball fields and high school football fields furrowed with the tops of pup tents. Waiting in line, normally an inconvenience, turned noteworthy as a riders from Dallas, Texas joke around with brothers from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Our cameras couldn’t capture the million stories shared riding RAGBRAI, the laughs exchanged over pork loin sandwiches and fruit filled pies, or the friendships formed among the corridors of temporary settlements.
We two brothers, from Philadelphia, had fallen in love with the RAGBRAI, our fellow riders, and Iowa. Our family quickly tired of our incessant stories to the point where Bernie and I often found ourselves together isolated reminiscing about the ride. We vowed to return for RAGBRAI 2013 and we did, but I believed, after our second RAGBRAI, that it would probably our last if we couldn’t talk others into coming out with us, but then things changed.

The fevers which ravaged my brother’s body back in 2010 returned. It turned out the bronchial disease he battled was a secondary condition to an unknown, deeper issue. The cause of the ebb and flow of fevers was a mystery. The doctors at Johns Hopkins could not fully understand why his blood levels were abnormal until they saw the images of his spleen. It had expanded to the size of a football, revealing the fact that it was devouring his red blood cells. Why they did not know, but it needed to be removed. Once the surgery was completed all his levels returned to normal and the fevers stopped. The family exhaled, but perhaps too soon.

Alone with my brother in the hospital we decided, perhaps unconsciously as means of motivation, that we would return to Iowa for the 2015 RAGBRAI. Then lightening found its mark a third time. Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system, knocked the wind out of all of us. If not caught in time, Guillain-Barre causes a paralysis that spreads from feet up through the chest. It does not spread further as death results if it reaches the lungs. Though most people recover from Guillain-Barre, some experience lingering effects, such as weakness, numbness and fatigue. Bernie, we were all told, was lucky, having been diagnosed early, but still his legs were paralyzed. RAGBRAI 2015 did not look promising, but our return to Iowa was a carrot that helped pull my brother forward as he fought both physical and mental demons. In the end, somehow, he found the strength to drag both of us back to Iowa for our third RAGBRAI.

The heat of the first day drained every ounce of energy Bernie had. If the weather remained as hot as it was on the first day, Bernie had no chance of getting through the second day let alone the entire week. As my brother slept in our tent, I made a call to the leader of our adopted bike club, the Regulators. It was decided that I would call the Regulator’s bus if Bernie couldn’t get going in the morning or was suffering out on the road. That night I stared at the ceiling of our tent pondering the wisdom of our coming out to Iowa, but my prayers were answered when in the early hours of the morning the skies opened and a passing summer rain cooled the hot roadways to be ridden on the second day.
The cooler ride revitalized my brother, but even though, he should not attempt the Karras Loop on the third day. When I stepped into our tent to tell him my opinion about not riding the loop, Bernie immediately told me that he would pass on trying the loop and completing the century. He then apologized and asked if I would pick him up a patch. Today when I think of his apology and his request I immediately fill up. Riding into Radcliffe to pick up a patch for my brother was such a simple request; I am eager to pick him up another patch in 2017.
Days three, four, and five, Bernie struggled, but on the other side of day five waited Bernie’s wife, daughter, and future-son-law. In Mount Vernon we would meet up and my sister-in-law would ride with my brother for awhile. We rolled into Mount Vernon and spotted my niece waiting for us. On my brother’s face alighted a smile I will never forget. Having family and friends nearby on the last two days of the ride made our third RAGBRAI special and made it possible for Bernie to reach the Mississippi. There was nothing left in him when we coasted down into Davenport and circled Credit Island. He apologized for his inability to ride well a number of times during the week but I like to think he believed the struggle was worth it as we stood side-by-side at the bank of the Mississippi River.
We had talked about returning to RAGBRAI 2017 during our ride back to Pennsylvania. We also strategized how we could get others to join us. The problem is there is no more us to join. The fights my brother fought and won left him wounded in the heart. He died Friday, September 25, 2015.

Like many fellow riders who have lost, I find my brother tangled up in my memories and my words, especially when I am on my bike. I want to ride one more RAGBRAI for Bernie, but I do not want it to be in memorial ride but a celebratory parade. I hope, aboard my brother’s gold framed Lewinsky, this coming RAGBRAI will be both reminiscent and a continuum of what my brother loved. I would like to ride and meet as many participants as possible as that was my brother’s favorite aspect of the RAGBRAI, the people. The RAGBRAI was a gift given to me by my brother, and I would like to extend by brother’s gift of sharing with others with a simple hello and thanks to as many riders, drivers, support staff, state troopers, vendors, and locals as possible. How to do this I am not sure. I am hoping the RAGBRAI community could help with some ideas, so I would love to hear back from you.

20 Replies

Amanda, January 2, 2017 at 9:50 pm

That was a very touching story. The only idea I have is a sign on your bike. My brother and I thank you. That would be a conversation starter. Look for me. Princess crown and license plate. Take care, my friend!


T. Gap Woo, January 2, 2017 at 11:18 pm

My condolences to you on your loss. “Family” is the best friend we ever have and such a loss is difficult to take.

Princess Amanda has a great idea. May I add to her suggestion? If you have an orange safety flag on your bicycle, add a flag with his name to the staff. I intend to memorialize my sister in this manner.

BTW, look for my Pennsylvania license plate “TGAPWOO” and listen for my ooga horn. Although I won’t infringe on Princess Amanda’s crown, I’ll be wearing a pig snout visor under my helmet, in memory of Mr. Porkchop. Perhaps we can talk Phillies baseball and Flyers hockey under a shady tree somewhere in the middle of Tall Corn Country.

See you along the I-O-Way in July.


KenH, January 3, 2017 at 7:41 pm

You will see bikes with signs on the back, flags, and helium filled balloons carrying messages of one kind or another so all those ideas will work and are somewhat common. Last year there was a rider who was doing the ride in one of those pedal car things with his father who had stage 3 or 4 cancer. You could also get a custom jersey or tee shirt made fairly cheaply. Teams often attach things to their helmets so they can find each other more easily in crowds, who hasn’t seen Team Spam with the Spam cans on top of their helmets? Maybe there is something you could put on your helmet that would have been special to your brother. One year many of us wore a red/white knee length sock on our right legs and a blue/white sock on the left in memory of Carter Lebeau. Any item of clothing or team jersey that would typify your brother could be used to commemorate him.

I sing in a church choir and in 2015 we lost an elderly, well loved member. The choir was asked to sing at his funeral and completely on a whim those of us in the back row left the seat he normally occupied empty for the service. I guess that could have gone either way but the family told us afterwards that they really appreciated that gesture. I mention this not so much for your benefit as for those in the same situation who may stumble onto this thread and want some ideas for their own commemoration. You plan to ride your brother’s bike and I think that is a fitting way to honor his memory. Another thing one could do is to ride a tandem and leave the stoker’s seat empty.

We are all sorry for your loss, moved by your story, and we honor your intentions to honor him. It is good that you had this time to share RAGBRAI with him. One way to continue to honor him is to continue to do the ride. Perhaps in the future you can do it with his daughter and some day, with his grand children.


Michrider !!!, January 4, 2017 at 9:50 am

Amanda: That was a very touching story. The only idea I have is a sign on your bike. My brother and I thank you. That would be a conversation starter. Look for me. Princess crown and license plate. Take care, my friend!

Princess Amanda, I thought you wore a tierra!!!


Dave Morgan, January 5, 2017 at 5:39 pm

I appreciate you taking the time to read my story about my brother. I will keep a lookout for the “Princes crown and license plate.” Hope to see you out on the road this summer. Best.


Dave Morgan, January 5, 2017 at 5:49 pm

I hope we do run into one another in Iowa so we can celebrate your sister and my brother together. My brother was I major Phillies fan. When he was a kid he liked to watch the games on PHL17 and keep the scorebook. I can remember after the second Stanley Cup being at the Flyers parade with him, our other brother, and our dad. Hopefully this summer we can celebrate a deep run into the playoffs by the Phly Boys. Best.


“Bicycle Bill”, January 5, 2017 at 8:52 pm

Uh, Michael …..





Michrider !!!, January 6, 2017 at 11:51 am

“Bicycle Bill”: Uh, Michael …..

Beebs, yes of course!!!


John Fontaine, January 14, 2017 at 7:38 am

Hey Dave,
I’ll be looking for you! How about a sign on your back or bike that sez Ask me about my brother. Or Do you love your brother?.

My wife and I will try to find you and enjoy a cold beverage with you.

I get to train today as it will be 72 degrees here in Louisiana


tomthebike, January 16, 2017 at 12:26 pm

Hi Dave
We are Team of Police Officers. We mount a Flag of Our Fallen Brothers & Sisters on our bicycles with their picture, name, department & EOW date. Its our way of bringing awareness to Police Officers who die in the Line of Duty. We also have nice Team Jerseys. Perhaps a flag or jersey would work for you. There is a Jersey company who will make custom jerseys from 1-100 they are http://www.jakroo.com My condolences to you and your family, your story of him was an excellent tribute. You can see pictures of us at Iowa COPS website or Facebook. Give us a shout at Ragbrai this year.


LawnchairMan, January 18, 2017 at 9:06 pm


I was moved to read your story to my wife. She has an excellent idea of having arm bands made that say “Bernie”, or “Brother Bernie”. Choose his favorite color. Maybe a colored arm band is all you need. I would wear one, just let me know the color. Perhaps we could designate one day of Ragbrai as Bernie’s Day.

My condolences,



Dave Morgan, January 25, 2017 at 6:46 pm

I wanted to make a correction. I finally picked up my brother’s bike from his house and brought it home. I laughed when I saw the name on the bike frame; he would have be shaking his over the fact that his brother, after three RAGBRAI’s together, never noticed the proper spelling of his beloved Lynskey Titanium not Lewinski! It makes me laugh quite heartily imagining the look on my brother’s face.


Melinda Blankenhorn, February 2, 2017 at 9:41 pm

What a beautiful story and tribute to your brother. I will definitely look for you, as I am riding in memory/celebration of my husband’s life. He battled Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) for three years, three months and passed on 12/12/16. I am a newbie to biking, but he loved to ride and watch cycling on t.v. I am using the training as a way to manage my grief/anxiety and keep me moving. The event gives me something to look forward to, as I am doing it with high school girlfriends. I’m not sure what I’ll have on my bike, but keep your eyes out for me, too!


mlwalk, February 3, 2017 at 9:32 am

Thank you for posting this story, it has inspired me to invite all of my siblings and any of their siblings to join me this year on RAGBRAI. Will any of them take me up on it? doubtful but I am going to give it a try.

As far as a way to celebrate him, you will be celebrating him every time you ride. Maybe you can take one of his jerseys and carry it with you or dip it at the start and end.


Robert Weiss, February 9, 2017 at 1:49 pm


Last year was my first RAGBRAI. I promised I would continue this ride until I can no longer. I feel I ride for the people like yourself that I’ve met.

I hope somehow we cross paths in the 2017 ride. Your story was moving and if I had a brother I would want him to be like you.


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