Saturday, November 13, 2021

RAGBRAI Co-Founder Karras Dead at 91

Tweet from Phillip Jones, co-writer of the story announcing John Karras' death.
 If you've read this blog for enough years, or are a pretty hardcore fan of cycling, you know what RAGBRAI is. I don't have to tell you anything more than the name. That's how big, how world-wide the ride has become. 

RAGBRAI was founded by two "Des Moines Register" writers named Donald Kaul and John Karras. The story about the death of Karras recently and the backstory on RAGBRAI can all be found here in the "Des Moines Register's" online site

Everything you thought you knew about RAGBRAI and stuff you may not have known is in that story at that link. (I learned a few things even!) So, I won't cover any of that here. Go click that link, read up on RAGBRAI and John Karras and come back... I'll wait.....

A (poor) scan of a 1980 article about the crossing of Iowa in a day by bicycle
Okay, so by the late 70's this RAGBRAI thing had gained some traction and it was quickly becoming a byword in Iowa. If you cycled, the general populace figured- well- you must be trainin' fer Ragby, right? And for competitive types who were training for crits and road races, well it got kind of annoying. 

As far as I can tell, this got into the craw of four area cyclists here and they pretty much said, "Pshaw! RAGBRAI takes a week to cross the state? We can do that in a day!", and then they, as the saying goes, put their money where their mouths were. They actually pulled of the stunt in the Summer of 1980. 

Well, if you've been listening and paying attention, you already know what is coming next. The story of how Trans Iowa got started is rooted in response to the "Iowa In A Day" stunt from 1980. Which is a response to crossing Iowa in seven days on RAGBRAI. So, in kind of a round-about way, John Karras and Donald Kaul's idea ended up inspiring us, Jeff Kerkove and I, into doing Trans Iowa. 

That event kicked off the modern gravel scene. That ended up becoming the number one biggest competitive and recreational cycling movement since the 1970's "Bike Boom". And that is pretty freaking amazing. 

And to think it all started out from a love of seeing Iowa from the seat of a bicycle.


Phillip Cowan said...

I was always amazed at the number of people who had come from overseas to ride RAGBRAI, especially UK and Australia. I think every US cyclist should do it once for the bucket list but I'm not sure I would cross an ocean for the experience. Maybe it was the lure of a chop by Mr Pork Chop.🙂

Guitar Ted said...

@Phillip Cowan - Your comment reminds me of a time at RAGBRAI where we had sat down for a pancake breakfast somewhere on the route that year. A gentleman sat next to me had a strange accent and when I asked where he was from he told me he had come to Australia to ride RAGBRAI.

I guess I could understand it from the aspect of the time spent here. A week of riding, and possibly a little more for sight-seeing. What I thought was even more crazy was the idea of the folks who came from the UK and Germany to ride Trans Iowa! They didn't even have the excuse of possibly eating Mr. Pork Chop's offerings!

OkieBrian said...

I am retired Navy, have been to a lot of interesting places around this world and actually lived in Sicily for three years. In 2000, this pilot in our sister squadron tells me about this event in Iowa and the Air Force sends a huge group up there every year. He wants to get some Navy riders together to make a showing. So 2001, about 15 of us are loaded in a van heading to Iowa. You can hear the stories, look at photos online, but it is something you definitely have to experience to understand. I end up doing it three times, but that first time was the best. I would easily put it in the top five things I have ever done in my life.

The second year, I did run into another rider that had traveled from Italy for the event. Amazing!