People & Places

RAGBRAI 47: Cedar Rapids cross-country septuagenarian biker honoring American Legion

Annual ride across Iowa begins Sunday in Council Bluffs

Larry Ritland, of Cedar Rapids, poses for a picture in front of the American Legion in Columbus, Neb. He is planning to bike across the country to raise awareness for the American Legion and will join up Sunday with RAGBRAI. (Courtesy of Larry Ritland)
Larry Ritland, of Cedar Rapids, poses for a picture in front of the American Legion in Columbus, Neb. He is planning to bike across the country to raise awareness for the American Legion and will join up Sunday with RAGBRAI. (Courtesy of Larry Ritland)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — By the time Larry Ritland spins his first pedal next week on RAGBRAI, he will have already biked more than 2,000 miles.

The 71-year-old Cedar Rapids man plans to connect with the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa on Sunday in the midst of a cross-country bicycle ride to raise awareness for the American Legion.

What better way to get attention for a cause than during one of the world’s most popular biking events, he said.

“It’ll break the solitude,” he said, noting he will be riding with a group called Team Jazz. “I will have 10,000 riders with me rather than just myself.”

The Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War started June 6 in Ocean Shores, Wash., and pedaled back to Iowa early this week. He gave himself time to get back home and rest in his own bed for a few nights.

On Sunday morning, he will be among more than 10,000 riders to begin a biking journey across the state as part of Iowa’s annual midsummer tradition of pedaling from the western border to the eastern one.

This year is the 47th RAGBRAI, a novelty attracting people from around the world started by two Register journalists on whim. The route is 446 miles long with 15,069 feet of climb over seven days, making it one of the easier ones in history.

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This year is a southerly route beginning Sunday in Council Bluffs along the Missouri River and ending the following Saturday in Keokuk along the Mississippi River.

The closest RAGBRAI gets to Linn and Johnson counties this year is Fairfield, where the riders will stop overnight Thursday.

The weather forecast appears promising most of the week with daytime highs hovering in the low 80s, with 50 to 60 percent humidity, winds under 10 mph and mostly sunny skies.

The exceptions are Sunday, when it is expected to rain in the morning and winds could reach 15 mph, and on the ride’s final two days, when the temperature is expected to reach 90.

RAGBRAI Director T.J. Juskiewicz said the severe flooding that ravaged communities along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers earlier this year will have some impacts, but they will be minimal.

Water over roads just weeks ago has receded and the roads repaired, but some festivities in Council Bluffs, Burlington and Keokuk are being altered. For example, the Missouri is too high too safely dip in a tire, a ceremonial act at the start and end of the week.

"Keokuk is working to have dip site at the river, but there is still mud, debris and driftwood," he said. "They are working hard and probably will be right up to that day to make sure we have a safe site to dip."

Ritland's cross-country American Legion advocacy also lines up with RAGBRAI this year. 

RAGBRAI is honoring the 100 year anniversary of the American Legion during the ride on Monday. That day, from Atlantic to Winterset, features stops at seven active American Legion posts, and a ceremony honoring the organization will be held at 6:15 p.m. that evening on the main RAGBRAI stage in the downtown Winterset Square. 

Ritland said he is pleased RAGBRAI is paying its respect. 

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Ritland has been stopping at American Legions in communities along the way and plans to continue on RAGBRAI. On June 1, he biked 100 miles between Legion posts in Linn and Johnson counties to mark the organization’s 100th anniversary.

“I am doing this to raise attention for the American Legion and try to get younger people to join,” Ritland said. “It’s sad to say the Legion has gotten somewhat of an older, old-man image. Old men march in the parades. The bike part, in my view, can help attract younger veterans.”

Ritland has been biking 50-70 miles per day with his wife traveling behind in a vehicle with cold meats, water and snacks. He plans to continue riding after RAGBRAI ends and hopes to arrive Aug. 18 in Washington, D.C., “if my old body holds up.”

He plans to stop by all military branch memorials. Since there is not one for the Army, he plans to stop at the World War II memorial, and wants to connect with Iowa U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.

Forty days into the ride, Ritland said he feels “pretty much how I did on the first day.”

He said RAGBRAI not only offers camaraderie, but focus in keeping in shape much of the year.

“I think everyone who grew up in Iowa has heard of RAGBRAI has always had a hidden agenda to ride RAGBRAI,” he said. “At least, that was me.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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