Woman finishes 4 days of ride; accident cost her memory of first RAGBRAI

Laura Baker, the 26-year-old graduate student from Waverly who doesn’t remember riding her first RAGBRAI last year because of a traumatic brain injury she suffered in a bike crash in August in Colorado, ended her comeback ride Wednesday night after struggling into Knoxville.

But even a partial RAGBRAI should be considered a triumph for Baker.

“Considering what I’ve been through in the last year of my life,” she said Thursday while waiting for her mother to pick her up in Knoxville, “I’m proud that I did four full days.”

The crucial hurdle seemed to be endurance: Baker was a fit, avid bicyclist before her accident but spent months in the hospital and  a long winter recuperating at her parents’ home in Waverly before returning to her independent life in Denver.

She said it felt like she just “ran out of energy” as she pedaled alongside her father, Tom, and struggled to keep pace.

Laura Baker rode RAGBRAI for the first time with her father Tom, but she doesn't remember it. A bicycle accident back home in Denver injured part of her brain. She plans to ride again this year. Mary Chind/The Register

Laura Baker rode RAGBRAI for the first time with her father Tom, but she doesn’t remember it. A bicycle accident back home in Denver injured part of her brain. She plans to ride again this year. Mary Chind/The Register

Monday’s hot 83 miles from Harlan to Perry proved hardest for her. She made it about three-fourths of the way before collapsing beneath shade trees at a rural home.

“I just kind of broke down,” Baker said. “I’m not a huge crier, but I cried.”

Yet Baker finished biking that day’s route: After waiting for the sag wagon for two hours, she felt better and decided to press on.

This year’s ride didn’t dredge up any specific memories of last year’s RAGBRAI that disappeared among six months of lost memory, but Baker had a vague sense.

“It definitely felt familiar,” she said. “I could feel that I’d done that before.”

She had no mishap this week besides her overall struggle.

“The most dramatic thing that happened to me was chain grease on my calf that I can’t get out,” she said.

Baker hopes to complete her graduate degree and land a full-time job next year that likely would prevent her immediate return to RAGBRAI.

Her father, meanwhile, continues this week to pedal his way to the Mississippi River.

“I’ll be back someday,” Baker promised.

Read Laura Baker’s story

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