CEDAR RAPIDS ó While thousands of bicycle riders across Iowa ó and the nation ó have trained and anticipated this weekendís start of RAGBRAI for a long time, itís doubtful that anyone is more excited than Clarence Boesenberg.
You see, Clarence is 86 years old. This will be his first RAGBRAI.
"Iíve always wanted to do it and this is my first chance," says Clarence, a lanky 5-foot-10 and 145 pounds.
His journey will be both bittersweet and beneficial.
For 29 years, Clarence wouldnít leave the side of his wife, Ruby, for more than a couple of days at a time. His wife since 1949, sheíd had a stroke that paralyzed her right side. She died last October.
But his ride will be a family affair ó grandson Eric Doty of Chicago will accompany him on the entire 470-mile trip (tent camping all the way) while son, Mike, of Johnston and grandson, Joel Doty, of Cedar Rapids will ride part of the way.
Lest you think Clarence isnít ready, consider that heís ridden 3,600 miles since January. Heís logged nearly 35,000 miles on his bicycle odometer the last 13 years.
"I did 70 miles yesterday," he says, relaxing in his northeast Cedar Rapids home just a short ride from the Cedar River Trail along I-380. "Iíve done 100 miles in a day a couple of times this year."
Born in South English, Clarence grew up on farms near Marion as the middle of five boys. Chores, from milking cows to tending the garden for his mother, didnít stop him from playing basketball. He also rode a bike ó the one shared by all ó to Marion and even Cedar Rapids on occasion.
But, bike riding took a back seat as Clarence served in the Navy during World War II, worked a stint at Quaker Oats and spent 38 years as a pressman at LeFebure Corp.
A couple of decades ago, as his knees began to give out, Clarence started riding a bike for exercise. He bought a used Schwinn Varsity 10-speed.
"I got a real expensive one at a garage sale," he jokes. "I paid $5 for it."
That bike was good enough as he had his knees replaced in 2007. He even took it on a few days of RAGBRAI when the ride came close to Cedar Rapids. But it was destroyed two years ago in an accident that could have killed Clarence.
He was riding on the trail near Center Point Road, cruising around a blind corner when suddenly two riders from the other direction appeared in front of him. The collision sent Clarence headfirst over his handlebars, landing on his helmet which cracked. He broke his leg, shattered a wrist, mangled his jaw. He spent three days in intensive care, a total of a week in the hospital. His jaw was wired shut for three weeks.
"The doctor wasnít too optimistic about my jaw healing," he says, flexing his lower jaw. "And it didnít."
But Clarence took inspiration from his mother, Catharine Erteld of Millersburg, who rode a three-wheeled bike until she died at age 99.
Physical therapy put Clarence back in the saddle the fall after his accident and Remicade injections every three months for his Rheumatoid arthritis keep him there. He now rides a yellow 1979 Schwinn Le Tour which is ready for RAGBRAI.
"Itís just going to be so much fun, going through all the little towns," Clarence says. "Itís an experience."
And, for the first time at 86, better later than never.
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