MASON CITY, Ia. – The deaths of notable figures from the four decades of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa often have triggered a similar grieving process for families and teammates: a time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn — and then a time to bike hundreds of miles.
Today, the RAGBRAI pedaling parade will include a blur of mismatched pinstripe socks (at minimum, the 1,000pairs that sold out Thursday) in honor of Carter LeBeau, a Davenport biking guru who died in August at age 87.
RAGBRAI has always drawn riders who trek in memory of a fallen friend or relative, and LeBeau is one of several well-known cycling figures being honored this year.
LeBeau was one of only eight people to participate in RAGBRAI for 40 years straight since its start in 1973. And every mile he sported the vintage soccer socks.
“He wanted to have something that set him apart,” Carter’s widow, Kaye LeBeau, 74, said this week. She has pedaled every day of this year’s RAGBRAI with Carter’s daughter, Carol. And both are wearing the iconic socks.
“I feel like he’s still with me and encouraging me along the way,” Kaye said.
Carter LeBeau’s resume of adventurous undertakings is nothing short of extraordinary, with bricks such as hiking to the base of Mount Everest, jogging the Grand Canyon and biking across the United States.
LeBeau’s biking days did not begin until well into his 40s, after a scary scuba diving accident in the Cayman Islands, said Carol LeBeau, one of the three children LeBeau raised with his first wife, Dorothy, who died in 1980.
Carter ran out of oxygen while searching for a missing dive buddy at a depth of 100feet. He had to surface rapidly, without proper decompression, and suffered a bad case of the bends.
It was a slow recovery, after weeks in a decompression tank, without feeling in his feet and lack of control in extremities. His scuba buddy was never found.
Therapy doctors pointed LeBeau to cycling, which he embraced like everything else in his life.
“Dad did everything like a million percent,” Carol said.
Family members say RAGBRAI merged perfectly with his extroverted personality. But it wasn’t enough, and he went on to organize about a half-dozen other annual rides, like the Other Great Iowa Ride, the Bicycle Early Agricultural Roads ride, and another that visited numerous college campuses across Iowa.
Carter was hardly a gear head, according to family members, who recall him frequently saying “a red one” when asked what kind of bike he rode.
“He just loved meeting people and riding,” said his son, Carter Jr., who planned to join RAGBRAI today with his sons.
Carter Jr. rode with his father on the second RAGBRAI, at the age of 14. But this year marks the first for Carol, who has gained a new understanding of her dad’s legacy this week.
“It’s just been like, ‘Wow. Dad’s a statewide celebrity,’” she said.
Road bike, clothes recall cycling legend
As a kid, “RAGBRAI” and “Team Breedlove” were everyday words for Joseph Leaming, 31, long before he knew what they meant.
Leaming’s grandfather, John Gooding of West Des Moines, was a mechanic and dear friend to Bob Breedlove, a hall-of-fame ultracyclist from Des Moines who was hit by a car and died while competing in his sixth Race Across America in 2005. Leaming, now 30 and an avid hobby cyclist in Des Moines, has since become well acquainted with the Breedlove name and career.
This week he is tackling his first RAGBRAI on one of Breedlove’s road bikes, a 1989 titanium Panasonic. The bike was a Father’s Day gift from his grandfather two years ago, something Leaming describes as a sort of rite of passage or stamp of approval.
“I think I finally passed a point where I was serious enough,” said Leaming. “It is probably one of the best gifts I ever had.”
Leaming recalls frequent encounters from his childhood with Breedlove.
“Dr. Breedlove would come over and take naps on my grandpa’s couch after grandma made his lunch,” Leaming said.
The habit went hand in hand with Breedlove’s careers as an on-call surgeon and as an ultracyclist, which included five separate races, roughly 10 days each, that spanned the country from West Coast to East.
As for his RAGBRAI connection, he was known to traverse the entire route in one day.
Now Leaming, who is also wearing Breedlove’s old bike clothes, says he is realizing a much deeper appreciation for the legend and family friend.
“It’s pretty eerie how well it fits,” he said. “There have been moments for sure out there on the road by myself, head down, pedaling, that I feel my grandpa with me, who is still alive, and the spirit of Bob digging in.”
Since starting RAGBRAI this week, multiple mechanics have recognized Leaming’s bike and inquired about it.
“Usually they’ll know Bob and my grandpa,” Leaming said, noting that he’s collected some new stories about the old Breedlove team.
Team Gourmet missing a member
Team Gourmet, a RAGBRAI team since 1996, could have amended its running slogan “It’s all about the food” for just this year.
Because this year, the ride is very much about Wayne Santi, the team’s founder, who died of heart failure at the age of 65 in October.
“We’re definitely grieving through this ride,” said Santi’s daughter, Carrie Santi DeLucchi, a 15-year RAGBRAI veteran.
Her father died three days after her wedding in October.
A quadruple heart bypass more than a decade ago sidelined Santi from riding. But he embraced his role as food manager and planner for Team Gourmet, still traveling the route in a support vehicle with two chefs to plan and prepare an unforgettable nightly dinner.
“He showed us how to treat people and do this right,” said team member Bruce Gaultney of Muskegon, Mich.
Each team member on Team Gourmet, which has been featured on the Food Network, carries wooden cooking spoons with catchphrases or memories on them. This year, many of them have inside jokes Santi started, or “Waynisms,” like “More butter” or “Heather, another grape please.”
The team, with about 35 riders, says they’re carrying on the Santi tradition, which includes a ceremonial circle, prayer and grand presentation before every meal with host families.
But things have felt a bit different this year, said Elise Naught of Colorado Springs, Colo.: “It will never be the same without him.”
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