Teachers rack up the RAGBRAIs, and the memories

Pella, Ia. – It’s the classic first-day-of-school question: What did you do this summer?

And when it comes up in room 4B at Crossroads Elementary School in West Des Moines, the new batch of wide-eyed fourth graders in Ms. (Carol) Mahlendorf’s class will hear what each of her 37 previous classes have heard: That their teacher biked across Iowa.

Carol Mahlendorf teaches fourth grade at Crossroads Elementary School in West Des Moines. Her 87-year-old mother makes her a new set of tank tops each summer and this year planned ahead: Nos. 39 and 40 are already printed. (Michael Morain/The Register)

Carol Mahlendorf teaches fourth grade at Crossroads Elementary School in West Des Moines. Her 87-year-old mother makes her a new set of tank tops each summer and this year planned ahead: Nos. 39 and 40 are already printed. (Michael Morain/The Register)

This is her 38th ride, and she has the tank top to prove it. Her mother, who celebrated her 87th birthday Tuesday, makes her a new set of tank tops each year, printed with the corresponding number of rides. (Her mother stocked up this year and printed shirts for rides No. 39 and 40, as well.)

And it must be said: Mahlendorf does not look old enough to have logged so many miles, a fact several other riders pointed out during this morning’s hilly jaunt from Knoxville to Pella. When one man asked if she’d spent her first ride in a cart pulled by her parents, she told him “No, by then I was old enough to pull my daughter.”

Mahlendorf was already in her 40s, in fact, when she and 300-some other riders  spent the summer of 1995 riding across the country with the Register’s former Iowa columnist Chuck Offenburger. They pedaled from Long Beach, Calif., to Washington, D.C., where the Iowa-born bass baritone Simon Estes serenaded them with “Climb Every Mountain” on the National Mall.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the bunch,” Mahlendorf recalled.

Bruce Haugen of Le Claire, Ia., and Carol Mahlendorf of Des Moines reminisced about their cross-country bike ride in 1995. (Michael Morain/The Register)

Bruce Haugen of Le Claire, Ia., and Carol Mahlendorf of Des Moines reminisced about their cross-country bike ride in 1995. (Michael Morain/The Register)

This morning she spotted one of her cross-country buddies, Bruce Haugen of Le Claire, Ia., and reminisced about that life-changing trip. He’s done RAGBRAI just a measly 35 years, and they joked that she should give him her tank tops as hand-me-downs.

But even after so many miles, Mahlendorf said she still feels a sense of accomplishment when she pulls into each overnight town. She’s motivated, too, by all the former students and their families she spots along the way, many of whom she inspired to start biking in the first place.

And this year, as in years past, she sent a postcard before the ride to each student in her incoming class, introducing herself and telling them about her river-to-river adventure. Next spring she’ll lead them on a bike ride of their own, another chapter in a remarkable tradition.

via RAGBRAI http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/RAGBRAI/~3/30nFoiuv1kA/