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What’s a bicyclist to do when RAGBRAI 2020 is canceled? Go on a 400-plus-mile bike ride from Hinckley, MN, to Lake Superior, of course.

That’s what 65-year-old Sioux Center resident Denny Ruden did with three Rock Valley men.

RAGBRAI, The Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, is always scheduled for the last full week of July, and Iowa’s Ride was scheduled for the week before. Ruden, an assistant manager at the Sioux Center Hy-Vee, annually takes time off to participate in RAGBRAI and hoped to participate in Iowa’s Ride as well this year.

It would have been a nearly 1,000-mile ride between those two events, but like so many other events this year, they were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“One of the guys I ride RAGBRAI with, him and a buddy were going to go ride along Lake Superior and invited me to go along with them. Then we found a fourth rider to go,” Ruden said.

They drove up to Hinckley on Friday, July 17, and took a bicycle trail up to Duluth, MN, staying in motels overnight along the way.

“We had to pack a few clothes on our bikes, so we had street clothes along with our biking gear and repair kits so if we had a flat tire or something we’d be able to fix it,” Ruden said. “We hoped nothing major would happen with our bikes or our bodies.”

From Duluth, it was on to Minnesota cities of Silver Bay, then to Grand Marais.

“From there, we were going to go to the border, but weather did not permit us to do that. We elected not to,” Ruden said. “There were 50-degree temps and talking rain all day. We would have had an 80-mile ride in that stuff — 40 miles there and then going back. Just felt it wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t that important to us. Granted, we were all disappointed, but we did make most of the trip we wanted to.”

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Ruden has a long history with RAGBRAI, first participating in 1994. He hasn’t missed RAGBRAI since.

He hadn’t had much experience with long-distance bicycling before that 1994 trip. He had only become hooked on bicycling in 1993, after a friend talked him into doing a ride from Sioux City to Sheldon.

RAGBRAI is an experience like no other.

“I just enjoy being out there,” Ruden said. “You lose all track of what day of the week it is, what time of the day it is. You just know when you get up in the morning, you have to ride to get to your destination.”

One of the most challenging RAGBRAIs was in 1995, in what’s become known as Saggy Thursday.

“It was maybe an 80-mile day, maybe not quite, but temps got into the 90-95 range with high humidity and no food,” he said. “They figure only about half the people made it in on their own. The rest of them sagged, and that’s why it was labeled Saggy Thursday.”

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At home, Ruden tries to get out on the bicycle three or four times a week, depending on his schedule at Hy-Vee and how he feels. He usually doesn’t stay in town, riding his bike to neighboring towns such as Hull or Orange City or even farther, if he has the time and the weather is cooperative.

“A lot of people say they can’t ride like that. But you know what, I didn’t start that way either. I’ve grown into it,” Ruden said. “It’s one of those things where if you love it, you love it and if you don’t, you don’t. I feel the bike is my happy time.”


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