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Iowa History Daily: December 22 - RAGBRAI Legend Clarence Luther Pickard

Iowa History Daily: On December 22, 1982, legendary RAGBRAI rider Clarence Luther Pickard passed away. Originally from Indianola, Clarence endeared himself to Iowans by participating in the first RAGBRAI at 83 years old while donning his trademark pith helmet.

Inspired to show “that older people who had good health could do anything anyone else could do,” Pickard planned to join legendary Des Moines Register employees John Karras and Donald Call as they set off on the first great bicycle ride across Iowa during the summer of 1973. To prepare, Pickard picked up a used women’s 10-speed Schwinn bike and took it around the block a few times. Before the group departed Sioux City to start the ride, Pickard told John Karras he hadn’t ridden a bike since his childhood before his recent decision to ride across Iowa.

Standing perhaps 5’6” and just over 100 pounds, Pickard’s wardrobe drew the attention of riders and spectators alike. Dressed in a safari-style pith helmet, long pants, and long sleeves, Pickard confided to Karras he also wore woolen long underwear on the ride as a secret weapon to beat the brutal heat on the ride. Riding at what Karras described as “a near-glacial pace,” Pickard started to slowly make progress across the state.

Prone to falling off the bike during the early days of the ride, Pickard developed a strategy: “Every time I feel myself going, I find a nice grassy spot to land on.” Wrong turns also proved a challenge. Pickard missed a turn near Colfax and ended up riding on Interstate 80. Once back on track, Pickard continued his epic journey across Iowa. By the time Clarence Pickard reached the Mississippi he garnered status, not just as the most elderly rider to complete the first RAGBRAI, but as bona fide Iowa folk hero. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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