Hey, Spike! with a veteran cyclist’s story | SummitDaily.com

Hey, Spike! with a veteran cyclist’s story

Special to the DailyBicycling newspaperman John Karras in 1973.

Summit County is home to bicyclists of all abilities, whether it’s road or mountain.

And with that spoked enthusiasm comes events like the Courage Classic, Triple Bypass, Circle The Summit – Bob Guthrie Memorial Ride, Copper Triangle, Denver Post’s Ride the Rockies, and years back it was the pros’ Coors Classic, drawing world classers such as Greg LeMond and Davis Phinney and wife Connie Carpenter.

Currently, seven-time Tour de France champ Lance Armstrong of Aspen is reviving a major race event in Colorado.

Across the United States are annual big mileage cycling events – some are races and others are the “just to see if I can do it” types.

Touting itself as the earliest amateur fun event is the RAGBRAI – The (Des Moines) Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa , which will host its 39th edition in 2011.

So, what’s that flatlander ride have to do with us?

Answer: The founder of that peddle-across-Iowa calls The Summit home today.

John Karras lives over in Summit Cove in a Lake Haus condo with his wife of nearly 59 years, Ann, a fellow rider. They bought here in 1995 and then moved to being full-timers in 1998.

Now 80, John was a feature writer and copy editor for the Des Moines Register newspaper, and has ridden nearly all the RAGBRAIs.

“I’ve missed three of the 38; 1987 with a heart attack, one in the early 2000s because we didn’t want to return to Iowa four times in one year, and last summer’s because I was having breathing problems,” explains John. “I recently learned that my basic problem there is congestive heart failure and currently am under treatment.”

Asked his feeling about fathering RAGBRAI, John responds: 

“Warm and fuzzy all over. This thing developed from within, not from without. ‘Over The Coffee’ columnist Don Kaul and I had not the slightest intention in 1973 of creating an event. Our only goal was to determine if we were physically capable of doing the ride and at the same time getting The Register to pick up our expenses. A totally innocent exercise that became an event by demand.”

Both avid bicyclists, the official story goes like this:

John suggested to Don that he ride his bicycle across Iowa and write columns about what he saw from that perspective. Don lived in Washington, D.C., and wrote his column from The Register’s Washington Bureau.

Don liked the idea but issued the challenge that he would ride across Iowa if John rode with him. John agreed and the plan was approved by the managing editor.

The well-done RAGBRAI website tells of that first staging:

“An estimated 300 people showed up for the start of the ride in Sioux City. By actual count, 114 riders made the entire distance that first year. The number swelled to 500 riders on the stretch of the route between Ames and Des Moines.

“Among the many interesting people the ride attracted was Clarence Pickard of Indianola. This 83-year-old gentleman, who hadn’t ridden a bicycle much in recent years, showed up for that first ride with a used ladies’ Schwinn and rode all the way to Davenport, including the 100-degree plus day from Des Moines to Williamsburg, a 110-mile trek. “Pickard’s attire for the ride was a long-sleeved shirt, trousers, woolen long underwear and a silver pith helmet.”

Straddling a bike on lengthy rides became an on-going adventure for John, who rode the Denver Post’s Ride the Rockies tour in “2005, I think, and it damned near killed me,” he says.

The Karrases still ride their bikes around here. With whom?

“Oh, boy. They’re all fellow Seniors and our group rides Fridays in season; other than that, Ann and I usually ride alone, and not all that far. We live in the condo next to Scott “Scooter” and Becky McDill. I would ride with them if I were 40 years younger, but Becky gets from here to Montezuma in 37 minutes. It takes me at least an hour (on a good day) to the Peru Creek trailhead.”

RAGBRAI XXXIX is slated for July 24-30, 2011, and the tour route will be announced at a party on Jan. 29.

Enrollment is limited to 8,500. Starting on the west side of Iowa and riding eastward, the week-long tour usually covers about 450 miles.

More than 200 other rides have been established through the years based on RAGBRAI.

And as for Don Kaul today: He pens a column for insideriowa.com


Miles F. Porter IV, nicknamed “Spike,” a Coloradan since 1949, is an Army veteran, former Climax miner, graduate of Adams State College, and a local since 1982. An award-winning investigative reporter, he and wife Mary E. Staby owned newspapers here for 20 years.

Email your social info to milesfporteriv@aol.com

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