Iowa History Daily: On November 10, 2021, RAGBRAI co-founder and Des Moines Register features writer John Karras passed away. While the annual ride across Iowa ensures Iowans remember Karras, he also endeared himself to generations of Iowa’s with thoughtful and insightful writing in the Register.
Born in California, Karras grew up in Cleveland before attending Allegheny College. Karras started his career at a small newspaper in Meadville, Pennsylvania, before arriving in Des Moines to work at the Register as a writer, copy editor, and columnist. Carving out a niche as a music critic at the paper, Karras brought a unique love for music, nature, and cycling into his work at the paper.
During 1973, Karras and Kaul started one of Iowa’s most significant events with a simple idea: create a column chronicling a bicycle ride across Iowa. With a rough route laid out and an invitation to the public printed in the newspaper, the first route started at Sioux City, before overnight stops in Storm Lake, Fort Dodge, Ames, Des Moines, and Williamsburg before terminating at the Mississippi River in Davenport. Roughly 300 people started out from Sioux City, although only 114 officially crossed the state during the first year. Ridership topped out around 500 riders while Karras and Kaul trekked the stretch from Ames to Des Moines. The longest day featured an 110-mile jaunt from Des Moines to Williamsburg, and the weather also topped the century mark on that day. After the first year, the event grew into an annual event.
“You drive around Iowa, and it doesn’t — it’s not very impressive in a car,” Karras said. “And one of the things that Don and I found bicycling: When you bicycle through Iowa, it was stunning. Incredible.” #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar