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Monday, May 2, 2016

Struck Strikes Out : Uh, maybe this RAGBRAI thing will catch on...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Even at this advanced age after burning many candles at both ends too many times, I distinctly remember many things about the very first RAGBRAI ride, the oldest, longest, largest touring bicycle ride in the world.

The World!

I was a baby reporter fresh out of college back in 1973 when Des Moines Register employees "Over The Coffee" columnist Donald Kaul and Register editor John Karras dreamed up the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.

Karras, like Kaul an avid bike rider at the time, had suggested to Kaul that he ride his bicycle across Iowa and write columns about his experiences from his own perspective while utilizing his rapier wit and gargantuan stones.

That first trip included 114 riders - all Iowans - accompanying the fashionable, trend-setting duo west to east across this great state, from the Missouri River to the Mississippi.

Today, as many as 20,000 to 25,000 people participate in RAGBRAI.

By then gaining a bit of a following, the third RAGBRAI in 1975 began in Sioux City and spent the first overnight in Cherokee. Assigned the story, I drove south of Cherokee to the Highway 31 and U.S. Highway 59 intersection to photograph and meet the riders. I visited with Kaul and Karras there and made plans to interview them later at the Skyline Motel on South U.S. 59 in Cherokee.

That motel is still there and many of us are elated to this day that it can't talk.

Anyway, as I was leaving the intersection in my MG convertible, Kaul hollered "Bring The Beer!"

So, I did.

The interview went great and as Kaul and Karras shared their sentiments that they didn't know how big this RAGBRAI thing would get, or how long they were willing to organize and do it, at a leisurely pace, the three of us went through a case of a certain adult beverage canned and bottled in St. Louis.

Man, we talked, we laughed, we peed. And I wrote one heckuva story, I think. If I recall, my lead was, "Uh, maybe this RAGBRAI thing will catch on."

With that third RAGBRAI numbering a couple thousand riders, I recall tents and bikers pitched all over Cherokee - in the parks, the school grounds, the green spaces, and front and back yards of countless homes.

The Riders flooded Spring Lake Park jumping in freely to cool down. They descended in hordes on the groceries and gas stations for the essence of life - food and beverages.

This community made no great plans in preparation for the event and RAGBRAI III, still in its relative infancy, came and went without much of a squabble.

In preparation for this year's RAGBRAI XL, a formal steering committee of some talented Big Cheese, 17 other related committees each with vital duties to organize and plan for, and hundreds of local volunteers have been meeting regularly for more than six months to prepare for all the riders and their support people and vehicles.

A rolling circus in each community it passes through, RAGBRAI will be greeted by the thongs...well, perhaps...the throngs of people who will treat them like the rock stars many are and many more perceive themselves to be.

Today, RAGBRAI attracts riders from all 50 states, and 17 foreign countries. It has covered more than 25,000 miles across Iowa in its 39-year history, with more than a half million riders pedaling at least part of those miles.

Since we've been married, my wife and I have hosted riders in our yard each time and have become friends with many of them that extends to this day beyond RAGBRAI.

We're especially fond of a certain legendary Cedar Rapids KCRG TV Sports Director John Campbell and his wife, Mary, who are faithful RAGBRAI riders who file daily ride reports to that ABC affiliate.

John was recently named Iowa Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswiters Associaton. He also has been inducted into the University of Iowa Kinnick Wall of Fame for his coverage of Hawkeye football, among all other Hawkeye sports.

Reserved, dignified, and the epitome of decency, the Campbells will again be camping in my yard and I'm hurriedly trying to locate a throne and crown that'll fit in their tent. It would make John and Mary very ill at ease, but make a great photo for this print media proponent!

Also, this year we had to turn down hosting Register columnist Kyle Munson because we couldn't accommodate his entire Team Sauerkraut, and Kyle told me that old "Iowa Boy" Chuck Offenburger and his lovely wife Carla, and retired Register RAGBRAI honcho Jim Green (think of Eastwood in "Pale Rider"), were riding this year.

It's another story writ long ago, but "Offie" and I go way back and it's always a treat to see one of Iowa's greatest journalists. Especially on my home turf and knowing Chuck and Carla are on the mend from some serious medical issues the past few years.

Simply can't wait for all these guys.

Man, I'm starting to get pumped. How about you?