SIGOURNEY — Chuck Luster is one of the more inspirational RAGBRAI riders I’ve met this week.
While most people rode around 70 miles on Thursday, he pedaled 110 miles, completing the optional century loop.
That in itself is impressive, but that’s not what makes Luster so memorable.
What makes Luster, 77, of Hiawatha, impressive is he was in a wheelchair after a severe bike crash until 11 days before RAGBRAI.
And here he is, pedaling every mile.
“I still limp a little when I have to get off my bike and walk through the small towns,” Luster said. “But it’s not bad on my bike.”
Cyclists pedaled into the heart of Hawkeye country on the leisurely rolling hills of Eastern Iowa on Friday. Iowa City was to play overnight host to the thousands of cyclists, the riders’ colorful buses and support teams for the first time in 42 years. RAGBRAI started in 1973.
For me, it was a proud feeling biking across the state and pedaling into my hometown and along the familiar roads and trails.
Day 6 departed Sigourney Friday morning and stopped in Harper, Keota, Wellman, Kalona, Riverside and Hills before reaching Iowa City. The route clocked in at 57.6 miles with 1,413 feet of climb.
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The full week, which travels from Onawa in the west to Davenport in the east, packs in 428 miles of biking.
While some cyclists ride a day or two of RAGBRAI, Luster has ridden every mile every day for years. This year is his 30th.
He rides with the Cedar Rapids-Marion Road Hogs. The team has 50 to 55 members, mostly from the Linn County area. They camp and patronize church dinners among other vendors.
Luster loves to bike.
He rides 12,500 miles a year on average, although he may miss that mark this year. Several serious injuries put his RAGBRAI participation at risk this year.
He crashed his bike — about 200 feet from where his car was parked at the Boyson Road trailhead — after a 54-mile ride May 19 on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.
He went down hard, breaking his clavicle, suffering five cracks in his hip, rib and pelvis area and painful road rash on the side of his body, he said.
An ambulance took him to Mercy Medical Center where he stayed for four days. He was released to Northbrook Care Center for rehab. He stayed there until July 3.
“I couldn’t put any weight on my legs,” he said.
He was in a wheelchair until a doctor cleared him to walk July 11, he said. Almost immediately he got back on the bike and, with RAGBRAI just 11 days away, it was the ride across Iowa that drove his recovery.
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“It could have ended his cycling career,” Jean Barbaglia Wenisch said. “But, with his eye on RAGBRAI, he was diligent with physical therapy and followed all the doctor’s orders.”
Barbaglia Wenisch is a good family friend who has “ridden several thousand miles listening to his jokes and stories about his 10 siblings.”
Luster said he was determined to ride this year.
“When I talked to my doctor about RAGBRAI, I would not take no for an answer,” said Luster, who retired from Rockwell Collins in 2006. “I don’t like to miss it.”
He loves passing through all of the small towns, the camaraderie and the accomplishment of riding. This year, the opportunity to ride around the field inside Jack Trice Stadium at Iowa State University in Ames is a memory that stands out.
The ride has been a challenge but manageable, he said. He takes it easier going up the hills than normal and generally rides a little slower.
Luster and other riders will continue Saturday, on their way to Davenport for the final leg of the ride and the traditional tire-dip in the Mississippi River.
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