Iowa 150 Reunion Tour reaches Washington DC to end 1,200-mile ride


COOPER, Iowa, Aug. 19, 2015 — About 50 people on the “Iowa 150 Reunion Tour” completed their 24-day, 1,200-mile bicycle ride  on Wednesday by pedaling up the National Mall to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. 

Most of those on the Reunion Tour had also ridden in 1995 on the “Iowa 150 Bike Ride/A Sesquicentennial Expedition,” which was a 5,048-mile ride across America, promoting Iowa’s 150 years of statehood.  And that ride 20 years ago also ended on the National Mall.

“We’ve really had a great ride,” coordinator Lori Willert, of Bolan, Iowa, said by phone Sunday night from Gettysburg, Penn., where the group spent the weekend. “Most of the way, we’ve had tailwinds, sunshine and mostly cool temperatures.  One morning when we started riding, it was only 50 degrees.” 

There have been 35 to 40 people riding on most of the tour, which left Iowa City, July 27, headed for Washington, D.C.  Another dozen to 15 additional Iowans joined the group in Gettysburg, and rode the final three days into the nation’s capital.  The overnight stops enroute were Monday in Owings Mills and Tuesday in Rockville, both of those towns in Maryland.

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Among those on the “Iowa 150 Reunion Tour,” which finished Wednesday, Aug. 19, in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday night, at the Best Western Hotel in Rockville, they all celebrated with a party.  It included the finals of a “Roadside Treasure Contest,” in which they showed off crazy items they found along their route; a talent show, and a memorial service for the 48 members of the “Iowa 150” group in 1995 who have died. 

There were 308 registered for that ’95 ride, ranging in age from 10 to 78.  Carla Offenburger and I were the coordinators of that adventure. We spent 100 days on a meandering route from Long Beach, Calif., to Washington, D.C.  From that experience together, there were a couple of marriages, a couple of divorces and many great friendships that continue today. 

This summer’s “Iowa 150 Reunion Tour” had riders ranging in age from 6-year-old Clyde Clemens and his 9-year-old sister Sylvia Clemens, of Homer, Alaska, grandchildren of the bicycling Bakken family of Decorah, Iowa, to 83-year-old Vern Terlouw, a still-active farmer from Sully, Iowa.  Ride director Willert, 50, said the average age of the reunion group was “about 65.” 

All did well, she reported Sunday night, adding that the most serious injury was a sprained ankle.

Of course, bicycling is only part of the fun they had.  In Kewanee, Illinois, hometown of legendary Iowa bicyclist the late Dr. Bob Breedlove, several of the riders stopped for visits with the sister and brother of “Dr. Bob.” They toured two or three museums along their route.  In Marysville, Ohio, they were welcomed to town by the mayor.  In Columbus, Ohio, they were given tours of the Ohio State Capitol.  In Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, local resident Janna Kisner, who in 1995 hosted Iowa 150 rider Jerry Triplett, of Winterset, Iowa, came to chat with the reunion riders, even though Triplett is among those who have died.  Between the towns of Mill Run and Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania, several of the Iowans toured the famous Frank Lloyd Wright-designed estate, “Fallingwater.”

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Shown here visiting “Fallingwater,” the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed estate in Pennsylvania, are Lori Willert, her mother Linda Nydegger and Lori’s daughter Kelsie Willert.  Grandmother Linda has been driving the motor home that has been the mobile headquarters for the “Iowa 150 Reunion Tour,” and the overnight home for the three.

The vehicular traffic on their bike route — which generally was on secondary or county roads — had not been bad until they reached southern Pennsylvania, where tanker trucks involved in the new natural gas “fracking” industry were crowding the Iowa bike riders.  It became hectic enough that Willert checked in with the Pennsylvania State Patrol and, on their advice, did some re-routing to roads that had fewer trucks. And one day — from Connellsville to Somerset in Pennsylvania — the group skipped the roads and used the Great Allegheny Passage, which is a recreational trail with a crushed rock surface.  East of Somerset, Willert said, “we were out of the fracking region.” 

In Gettysburg last Saturday and Sunday, many in the group toured the National Military Park, Museum and Battlefield, site of some of the fiercest and most deadly fighting during the Civil War.  Some took a 3-hour guided tour on bicycles.  Others took a tour on horseback.  Others did driving tours. 

On Wednesday, after riding to the Capitol, the group pedaled on to nearby Alexandria, Virginia, where many were staying at the Hilton Alexandria Old Town.  Jason Dorpinghaus, a native of Coon Rapids, Iowa, and an alumnus of the Iowa 150 ride in 1995, now lives in Alexandria and hosted the whole Iowa 150 Reunion Tour for a meal at his home, which is near the hotel.  Adding an un-official welcome to the Washington, D.C., area was Craig Erdmann, a native of Northwood, Iowa, who now lives and works in the capital city. 

Willert  said that on Thursday, many in the group will bike on trails, or ride in vehicles, the 13 miles from Alexandria to Mount Vernon, the estate of U.S. President George Washington.  After touring the mansion and grounds, many will do a boat tour on the Potomac River. 

On Friday, most in the group will be heading back home to Iowa.  On Monday, Aug. 24, Lori Willert will be back in the classroom at Northwood-Kensett High School, where she teaches math, and her daughter Kelsie Willert, 17, who has also been riding on the tour, will be starting her senior year at St. Ansgar High School. 

Kelsie Willert at Pennsylvania downhill CROPPED.jpg

Kelsie Willert is shown here at one of the extreme downhills (and climbs) that challenged the bicyclists in southern Pennsylvania, some of which is mountainous.

You can read earlier stories about the “Iowa 150 Reunion Tour” on this website.

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