Karras Loop challenging, emotional for riders

John Karras

John Karras sits to take pictures with RAGBRAI fans.

RADCLIFFE, Ia. — Between human foosball, water fighting and pork burgers, the city of Radcliffe spent months ensuring there was plenty for RAGBRAI riders to do while taking a break from the Karras Loop, the optional add-on route that makes Tuesday’s ride more than 100 miles in a day.

But despite the pomp and circumstance of all the activities, one bare tent outfitted with just four chairs on the fringe of the park was easily the most popular.

Like bees awaiting a meeting with their queen, riders swarmed the small tent, lingering for their chance to take a selfie with the man who’s arguably the reason they’re all on this crazy ride: John Karras.

“That’s the guy that started this whole mess!” Michael Hester, 59, of St. Louis said. “Hey, wow, you the man.”

Anthony Diede, 44, of St. Louis (left) and his wife Gena Diede, 42, in Radcliffe. (Courtney Crowder/The Register)

Anthony Diede, 44, of St. Louis (left) and his wife Gena Diede, 42, in Radcliffe. (Courtney Crowder/The Register)

“I was on SAGBRAI,” said Jon Rosdail, 56, shaking Karras’ hand. Rosdail is originally from Pomeroy, but now lives in Granite City, Calif., “When I heard you’d be here, I decided I just had to come.”

Seated next to his wife and comfortably in the shade, Karras is quiet and quickly turns the subject away from his “RAGBRAI” celebrity, which is obvious from the growing line forming behind Miss Radcliffe Noelle Houck, 17, who was tasked with taking pictures.

“There’s a community around RAGBRAI that is just amazing,” said Karras, who swears this adoration hasn’t gone to his head. “Look at these people, they are working their buns off and having fun doing it.”

Many of the riders snagging their century patches (bikers call 100 miles in a day a “century”) had the same reason for doing the Karras Loop: the challenge.

Or, the other frequent answer: It was there to do.

“You can’t miss it,” said Farah Ramirez, 53, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, who’s on her fourth RAGBRAI. “I remember one year there was a storm the day before the loop and we were all tired and I decided not to do it. I got 10 minutes past the turn for the loop and I turned my bike around and went back to do it. You just can’t not do it.”

David Watrud, 55, of Rochester, Minn. (left) and Farah Ramirez, 53, of San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Courtney Crowder/The Register)

David Watrud, 55, of Rochester, Minn. (left) and Farah Ramirez, 53, of San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Courtney Crowder/The Register)

Hart Blanton, 47, of Connecticut, thinks of riding the loop as deciding to not subtract 40 miles from his ride instead of adding 40 miles to it. An avid biker riding with his local club, he called this the best century he’s done because of the friendly people and hospitable towns.

“This one has the most smiles per mile,” he said.

There aren’t many first-timers riding this century; RAGBRAI itself is enough for many bikers. But Gena Diede, 42, of St. Louis, was one of the brave riders who decided to take her inaugural century loop.

“I feel great!” she said, smiling widely. “It’s cool and fun and different. If I ever feel I can’t do it, I look next to me and see a wounded warrior peddling after having lost a leg or others peddling with their hands because of an injury to their legs and I think, well, if they can do it, I can do it.”

Kirk Killion, 48, of Oklahoma City, shows off his Karras Loop patch. (Courtney Crowder/The Register)

Kirk Killion, 48, of Oklahoma City, shows off his Karras Loop patch. (Courtney Crowder/The Register)

For other riders, the Karras Loop holds emotional memories. Rosdailhas done 14 RAGBRAIs, the first when he was just 15.

“I wasn’t going to do the century loop when I woke up today,” said Rosdail. “You know, I’m not a newcomer, I don’t have anything to prove, but I saw the sign and I guess nostalgia came over me. I just had to make the turn.

“I’m not looking for closure by any means,” he added, “but you get to a point in your life when you think about slowing down and you start to reflect. With Karras here and the gravel loop going through my hometown, I had to do this.”

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