How the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic inspired drivers

Camaraderie. The physical challenge. Tourism. The food – and the beer.

People cite many reasons to sign up for the Registry’s annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. But there’s a new one this year: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Participants include doctors and nurses who worked on the harrowing front lines in hospitals; People who honor cycling friends who have been lost to the disease; and families looking for a way to reunite and enjoy each other’s company after a long, forced separation.

Here’s what they told the Des Moines Register about their reasons for joining the 15,000+ riders on the week-long journey through the heart of the country starting Sunday.

More:Paralyzed while cycling in Iowa, the cyclist returns to the work of the RAGBRAI crew, pursuing a life of no regrets

Mayo doctor seeks a cure

After a year of caring for sick and dying COVID-19 patients, Dr. Mike Meyers, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, on a new title: RAGBRAI Virgin.

“I think that would be me,” said Meyers with a chuckle.

Meyers, 55, a longtime runner from La Crosse, Wisconsin, got a road bike two years ago after hip problems forced him to choose a form of exercise that was easier on the joints. He will ride RAGBRAI with a group of four, three of whom, including himself, are RAGBRAI riders for the first time.

Dr.  Mike Meyers, a cardiologist with the Mayo Clinic, rides RAGBRAI after working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, Meyers took a four-day trip to Austin, Minnesota. A 70 mile day was the longest he has ridden on this route. On RAGBRAI, Meyers hopes to ride the Loop of the Century – a 110-mile loop – on the fifth day.

“If I’m already over 70, I might as well suffer a little more just to be 100,” said Meyers.

It will also be a welcome distraction from the grief he’s experienced so many times over the past year and a half.

The patients Meyers treats at Mayo include the emergency room and the intensive care unit.

More:RAGBRAI 2021 starts on Sunday! What you need to know about the return of the annual drive after the pandemic

The number of COVID-19 cases began to rise in November. The peak at the Mayo Clinic was in February and March, Meyers said, and six or seven patients he treated died.

Some were older and had several other health problems, he said. But two otherwise healthy patients stay in his mind. One in his early 40s looked for survival after stopping a ventilator, but had a sudden downturn. Another in his 50s had a heart weakened from COVID-19.

“It costs a tribute,” said Meyers. “In my practice, which mainly deals with the elderly, it is expected that people will die of heart, lung and … cancer. But you hate it when people die from infectious causes that could have been prevented, especially after vaccines became available. “

Meyers said he was now optimistic about the state of the world as vaccines appear to have slowed the pandemic. Since he is vaccinated, Meyers will not wear a mask on or next to his bike while driving.

“For those who have been vaccinated, I think (it) is very safe,” he said.

But he said he believed 30 to 40% of people on RAGBRAI would not be vaccinated – and from what he saw he said he would advise them to wear masks. .

In mid-July, Meyers took his first vacation since the pandemic began when he and his wife retired to the Black Hills National Forrest in South Dakota.

“I just feel like we’ve been locked up for over a year and can’t do anything,” said Meyers. “So I think meeting people and just experiencing the inviting atmosphere in all of these great cities in Iowa is what I’m looking forward to the most.”

– Phil Joens

Shown from left are Steve Eastwood of Chicago;  the Headmaster of Alliance High School in Kenya (unidentified);  Eastwood's wife, Dorne;  and Steve Eastwood's friend Joe Nyagah.  Steve Eastwood will drive RAGBRAI to commemorate Nyagah, a senior Kenyan politician and close friend who died of COVID-19 late last year.

Riding for a lost companion

Chicago’s Steve Eastwood says he has a companion with him with the RAGBRAI XLVIII – in spirit.

He talks about his 40-year-old friend Joe Nyagah.

They spoke on the phone late last year, and Nyagah mentioned he had a cold, Eastwood said.

“Two weeks later he was gone from COVID,” he said.

Nyagah, a senior Kenyan politician, former presidential candidate and cabinet minister, was 72 years old.

In a column for Nairobi newspaper The Standard, US-based Kenyan political commentator Samuel Omwenga wrote of his respect for Nyagah, who he said was born into a prominent political family in Kenya but his integrity in a country riddled with corruption Officials preserved.

Eastwood, also 72, said he met Nyagah, the former CEO of Kenya Airways, at a business conference in Chicago.

“It was total coincidence,” said Eastwood. “We just clicked.”

Once, Eastwood said, he was touring Kenya with Nyagah and visiting places that had shaped his friend’s life.

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Eastwood drove his first RAGBRAI with another friend in 2015 and “had a wonderful time”.

“There’s a rhythm that is a little different from your average bike tour,” said Eastwood.

This will be his second RAGBRAI and he wants to raise money for Alliance High School, an elite school for boys that Nyagah attended in Kikuyu, Kenya.

On the phone from his Chicago home, he burst into tears as his grief over Nyagah’s loss struck him again.

Eastwood sees RAGBRAI as an opportunity to break the medical and social stranglehold that COVID-19 has had on the world. Eastwood has received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. He’ll be outside and he knows the 19 people he’s going to ride with. Feeling carefree riding, he honors the memory of the friend he lost to the pandemic by enjoying his own life.

“This is a real celebration of all of this,” said Eastwood. “It’s a really big deal for me.”

– Philip Joens

Colleen Perry joins family from across the country to drive RAGBRAI after a long, forced split over COVID-19.

Happy together – finally

Colleen Perry has been at the forefront since the pandemic began. “I work in health care so there are masks, masks, masks all the time,” said Perry, who works at a Dayton, Ohio hospital.

So Perry felt a real sense of freedom when she and about 12 relatives from across the country met in Le Mars on Sunday for the launch of RAGBRAI.

“It’s hard to put into words how it’s going to feel,” she said last week when they got everyone back together. “We are excited.”

Her family is spread across the country, but there is a family reunion every three years.

The last time they were all together they talked about driving RAGBRAI, but Perry didn’t think much about it until it came up again last year.

She said she was unsure at first but thought to herself, “What has COVID taught you? Seize the moment. “

“I’m very happy to see my cousins,” said Perry, “I haven’t seen them in four years. It’s a long COVID. “

The family brings a range of cycling skills, but after losing an uncle to COVID-19 last year, Perry just looks forward to the fact that they will all be together, even if it means adjusting her pace to match hers.

“I want to slow down and not miss the fun,” she said.

Like so many others this year, Perry and her family will ride in honor of those they lost last year and years past.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to be together and spend this time together,” she said.

– Brian Powers

Californian dreams of RAGBRAI

Avi Salem rode a bicycle as a child, but had long since given up the pastime. Then someone gave her a bike during the pandemic.

In search of a solo sport in the long months of isolation, she rediscovered the joy of cycling and now wants to drive across the country before her 35th birthday.

The desire arose from a desire to see America in a different way. The piece of Iowa landscape and culture that defines RAGBRAI is just the beginning of this journey.

“I’m very happy to meet all kinds of people,” said the 28-year-old Californian about her pilgrimage to the Midwest, where her parents once lived.

Her mother immigrated to Ames from Iran and then met her father while he was in school at the University of Iowa.

More:The concerts, the camping, tickets and more: what you need to know for every day of RAGBRAI 2021

Someone gave Avi Salem a bike when the Californian looked for a safe form of exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Now she's riding RAGBRAI and hoping to cycle across the country.

When they found out their daughter was riding across Iowa in the middle of summer, Salem said they asked, “Why are you doing this?”

“I have to experience that at least once!” She said she told them.

“Her advice was to drink plenty of water,” she said.

Salem admitted she wasn’t used to long miles of heat and humidity in the San Francisco Bay Area, but said that it won’t stop her from removing RAGBRAI from her bucket list.

As a solo rider, Salem said the community she found in RAGBRAI was a huge help.

“Total strangers were really wonderful,” she said.

“I’m really looking forward to the meal, to be honest,” she added with a laugh, “because I’ve heard there is a lot of cake and I love cake.”

– Brian Powers

Learning the value of time together

When Sarah Dupee moved to Manhattan Beach, Southern California with her husband and family three years ago, she was comforted by the idea that her parents in Appleton, Wisconsin, could visit her anytime. Until they couldn’t.

A year and a half without her parents due to the pandemic, Dupee felt like seeing her again.

“Of course, no one can predict a pandemic, but that made it especially difficult because we couldn’t even travel and see each other socially distant in the back yard because neither of us was comfortable flying,” she said.

She usually made plans with her mother, but decided to ask her father to take her on vacation. She asked him to tell her what he likes to do. His answer? RAGBRAI.

“My dad talked about it so much for years, so I’m happy to see it and be a part of it,” she said. “I think it’s really great that all of these people come together for a week for this healthy experience.”

Dupee is not a biker by nature. She used to run track and sprint triathlons with her husband in Wisconsin, but hadn’t really got into cycling. She has been training for the past few months on a bike that she bought from a friend.

She knows she won’t be at the forefront, but she doesn’t mind. She said she most looks forward to spending time with her father.

“This is all brand new to me, and it really helped me to accompany me on my way,” she said. “My motivation for doing it was to have those memories and to use the time we have now to know how precious it is.”

– Sarah LeBlanc

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