WASHINGTON — Don Kaas celebrated his 77th birthday on Sunday, July 24, which just happened to also be the first day of the annual Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa — or RAGBRAI.
In the weeks leading up to the 420-mile trek across the state, Kaas, the founder and CEO of Iowa Fuel Power in Cedar Rapids, decided to do something special. Not only would he take part in RAGBRAI, he’d attempt to involve several other members of his family in an effort to create a one-of-a-kind bonding experience.
“When I saw it was July 24 that it was starting, this would be a good year to involve more members of my family. I thought it was something special,” he said.
Don’s son Jim Kaas was already signed up to participate in the 44th annual RAGBRAI. He’s been taking part since 2010. Together, the father-son team has stayed together for almost every leg of the seven-day journey.
The something “special” came Friday as the two men were joined by the next generation of cyclists in the Kaas family for the 68.5-mile leg from Ottumwa to Washington. Three of Don’s seven grandchildren — Jennifer Kaas, 14; Kyle Kaas, 12; and Jessica Pospisil, 9 — and one great-grandson, Phoenix Kaas, 7, were along for the ride.
The family rolled into Washington around 2:30 p.m., Don Kaas said.
“It was an easy ride because we had a tail wind all day,” he said, noting he was a bit concerned about how Jessica and Phoenix would do on the long route. The team had one bike with a tandem attachment so the younger children could take a breather from time to time. While Jim Kaas completed the entire leg, Don Kaas and the kids went about 30 miles.
“That’s a long way for those kids,” he said. “It was a long way for me, too, but it was a very good experience.”
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Another grandson, Adam Kaas, 30, plans to join Don, Jim and Kyle on Saturday’s final leg of RAGBRAI — a 49.1-mile trek from Washington to Muscatine.
“I think I will have accomplished something by riding RAGBRAI,” said Don Kaas, who completed the entire event from start to finish last year. “Doing it with our family is also an accomplishment and this will also be the first year Jim has done the whole thing.”
TJ Juskiewicz, director of RAGBRAI, said each day of this year’s event has seen about 20,000 cyclists take to the course. The event began in Glenwood and also included stops in Shenandoah, Creston, Leon and Centerville.
On Friday, the small city of Washington, population 7,200, was crawling with upward of 30,000 people, according to estimates from community officials helping to host an evening of fun as is tradition at each overnight stop.
Dean Kurtz, co-chairman of the entertainment committee for Washington’s festivities, said the town provided an afternoon of local music, as well as an evening featuring performances from Midwest bands. The downtown square was filled with vendors selling food.
While the stops are fun for riders who often camp or stay in the homes of locals, Chris Owens, 48, of Cincinnati, said the best part of the experience is making new friends.
Owens said her group started out with five riders, but grew to 12 as new relationships were forged.
“Every day is just a new day and you meet the best people from all over the country, even the world,” Owens said.
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Kurtz, himself, has made new friends through RAGBRAI — relationships that have stood the test of time.
In 2000, the last time RAGBRAI came through Washington, Kurtz hosted a group of riders from Las Vegas called the High Rollers at his home. That same group is back again this year and planned to stay overnight once again at Kurtz’s home.
As for Don Kaas, he said cycling is a great way to stay fit. He became interested in his health after failing a physical at age 42. He said he decided if he didn’t change his lifestyle soon, he might not make it to age 50.
Now at 178 pounds and 5-feet 9-inches tall, Don Kaas rides at least 15 miles a day. In training for RAGBRAI, he pushed it to 20 miles per day.
Jim Kaas, who serves as president of Iowa Fuel Power, said he supports his father’s endeavor, but admits it is a challenge.
“It’s obviously a physical and mental challenge to spend a week in the hottest weather, taking whatever mother nature throws at you,” he said. “To do it with a bunch kids is another challenge.”
Both Jim and Don Kaas say they plan to participate in next year’s RAGBRAI and Don hopes many of the younger family members will join in the ride.