RAGBRAI-made couple celebrated 20 years of marriage with family-filled ride

Twenty-three years ago, when Carla Leyen suffered a heat stroke on RAGBRAI, a man named Kevin Leyen helped her out.

Earlier this month, Carla Leyen, 55, and Kevin Leyen, 57, of Reinbeck celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary.

A few days later they were back on the RAGBRAI trail, where in 1998 Kevin asked Carla to marry him.

The couple’s history with the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa goes way back and extends in many directions.

Carla’s brother, Steve Van Deest, was a RAGBRAI legend.

Van Deest helped raise awareness about adaptive riding as he, a quadriplegic RAGBRAI rider, road a hand crank bike in more than a dozen RAGBRA’s alongside his sister between 1996 and 2008.

He passed away in 2017 and was honored with a memorial RAGBRAI ride last year.

It’s not difficult to imagine that, for Carla, the great bicycle tour across Iowa is about family.

Two daughters and four grandchildren accompanied Carla and Kevin on this year’s route. Their youngest companion is 10 months old.

Kevin joked that they never get anywhere very fast the first couple days of RAGBRAI because they end up running into so many people they know.

“You can’t get any biking done because you’re talking to everybody,” he said.

Carla and Kevin Leyen got engaged in RAGBRAI in 1998. The ride is a family affair for the Reinbeck couple. They were accompanied by two daughters and four grandchildren on this year’s route. From left to right: Carla Leyen, 55, Audrey Leyen, 20, Merrick Selmeski, 10 months, Maggie Selmeski, 7, Maddox Selmeski, 4, Kevin Leyen, 57, Myles Selmeski, 2, and Rachael Selmeski, 36.

As they all sat in the grass Monday afternoon alongside a road leading out of Stuart, Carla showed off her gold wedding ring in the shape of a bicycle as Kevin recalled the day he proposed, 21 RAGBRAIs ago.

He’d planned to pop the question along the bike route outside of Cedar Falls, where they’d both attended the University of Northern Iowa.

It would be in a farmyard, just the two of them.

Instead, clad in a tuxedo on top and bike shorts on the bottom, Kevin was surrounded by TV cameras, newspaper reporters and about 150 bikers after his brother tipped them off to the surprise.

Meanwhile, Carla, who was about two miles away, had just been mooned by a stranger and was on the lookout for anyone trying to pull the same stunt again.

Instead, she found Kevin, who handed her a personalized ring and asked her to spend the rest of her life with him. She said yes.

After the bicycle dust settled, reporters asked Carla what was going through her mind during the proposal.

“I thought someone was going to moon me,” she told the reporters, her family on Monday giggling as they heard the story again for the umpteenth time.

A few years later a stranger approached Carla at RAGBRAI.

“I owe you an apology,” said the man from St. Louis who admitted to mooning her years earlier.

Carla and Kevin didn’t have the wedding ceremony during RAGBRAI, but they did have their almost 3-month-old daughter join them on the route the year after.

They haven’t stopped since. This is Carla’s 29th and Kevin’s 24th RAGBRAI.

“I keep asking her ‘what’s the exit plan?’ because the only one I see is I’m going to die on a hill,” Kevin said, sending his family into stitches.

But in more seriousness, he said, RAGBRAI really is all about family.

They didn’t do anything special during RAGBRAI to celebrate two decades of marriage.

They didn’t need to.

“Look at it, we’ve got grandkids,” Kevin said with a laugh. “We procreated all over the place.”

As the temperature began to drop and the sun started to fall back down to the horizon, the family got ready to hit the road again.

Some jumped back on their bikes, others piled into their family bus, named Team Caboose.

Their motto?

“If you’re behind us, you’re way off track.”

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