By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
COOPER, Iowa, July 25, 2015 — When I reached Vern Terlouw by phone on a recent early morning when it was already hot, the 83-year-old farmer in the Sully area southeast of Des Moines was doing about what you might think a guy like him might be doing.
“I’m sitting out here under a shade tree, looking out across the farm and having some coffee,” said Terlouw.
But then he confirmed what I’d heard — that, yes, in the next day or so, he was going to have his wife Gloria drive him to northwest Iowa so he could ride his bicycle several days on the 43rd RAGBRAI (the Des Moines Register’s Bicycle Ride Across Iowa). And then, yes, Terlouw continued, he is indeed planning to join a group of 35 to 40 friends in Iowa City on Monday morning, July 27, to begin a 24-day, 1,200-mile bicycle ride to Washington, D.C.
“I’m signed up for it,” he said of the ride to the nation’s capital. “I’m pretty old, I know, but I’d like to think I can do it. I guess we’ll see. I suppose I should be sitting in a rocking chair, and come to think of it, I am most of the time. But I still enjoy riding my bicycle, too.”
That has included touring on bicycles in the Netherlands, Ireland and three weeks this past May & June in hilly southwestern Spain.
Terlouw will be the oldest of the group on what is being called the “Iowa 150 Reunioin Tour.” They are celebrating a lot of things — let’s start with life itself — by doing this ride. But they’re mainly doing it to mark the 20th anniversary of the “Iowa 150 Bike Ride/A Sesquicentennial Expedition,” which was a ride across the U.S. in 1995 by 308 Iowans.
Carla Offenburger and I led a group of about 15 volunteers who organized the Iowa 150 back then. We did it for fun, but we also did it to promote the Iowa Sesquicentennial Celebration, which a year later in 1996 was going to celebrate 150 years of statehood. We had a 48-foot-long, high-tech display trailer that traveled the 5,048 miles with us from Memorial Day to Labor Day that summer. In it, were photos, videos and graphics that provided a great look at Iowa history and the state as it was in ’95. Every evening, we’d have “Iowa Parties” around that trailer, with our bicycle riders popping and handing out free bags of Jolly Time Pop Corn (from Sioux City).
It was quite a show. But what was even more of a show was seeing America from the seat of bicycle at 12 to 15 miles per hour. We were a group who ranged in age from 10 to 78 back then, from a wide variety of careers and circumstances. But I don’t think there was a single one of us who wasn’t totally inspired by all we saw and experienced. And because we were experiencing it together, the friendships we formed that summer have had an amazingly strong bond.
Since then, our group has had a twice-a-year printed newsletter. We have an email chain. We’ve had reunions every couple of years. When the group has had a funeral, two dozen of us often show up. Lori Willert of little Bolan up near the Minnesota border, Sue Green of Cedar Falls and Cyrena Buschmann of Sigourney in southeast Iowa have used the organizational skills they learned as school teachers to keep our group together.
Willert has taken the lead on putting together some exotic bicycle rides for the group of old friends and some newcomers, too. They have ridden the full length of the Mississippi River. They rode two-thirds of the Lewis & Clark Trail one summer, and the other third the next summer, winding up on the West Coast.
And now Willert has organized this “Iowa 150 Reunion Tour” to Washington, D.C.
“About 35 are going with us, although I’m not exactly sure who’ll be there with us in Iowa City to ride out the first day,” she said. “About 30 plan to ride the whole way. A few more will join us in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and ride on into Washington, D.C. We plan to go a pretty direct route from Iowa City to Cambridge, Ohio, and then from there, we’ll use pretty much the same route we used in 1995.”
That will take them across the tip of West Virginia, then east across southern Pennsylvania, south from Gettysburg through Maryland, then into D.C. They expect to arrive out in front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Aug. 19.
After a boat ride together on the Potomac River on Thursday, Aug. 20, the group will scatter for home. Willert will be hurrying back to North Iowa so that on Monday, Aug. 24, she can begin her math teaching duties at Northwood-Kensett High School.
One of the youngest riders in the group will be Willert’s own daughter Kelsie, 17. She will be riding the same Trek bicycle that her mother rode across America in 1995. That summer, Lori wrote a weekly “Letter From Lori” to the Northwood Anchor newspaper, sharing some of the adventure with the homefolks. Kelsie is going to be writing those letters for the Anchor from this trip.
As I wrote a week ago, Carla and I are not riding with the reunion tour. We’re saving our money for a 25th wedding anniversary trip next year to Ireland, where we hope to do some bicycling. But we will be in Iowa City Monday morning to bless and cheer this group as they start their ride to Washington, D.C.
They are up to the adventure, I am sure.
I will follow them closely via social media, texts and phone calls. And I’ll write some updates right here, too.
You can email the columnist at chuck@Offenburger.com or comment using the handy form below here.