Newlyweds Arick and Kathryn at their marriage ceremony in June. Hours later, the adventurous duo's 1,700-mile ride from the Pacific coast back to Iowa was underway.
by Dana Larsen, Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune
July 25, 2017
For Arick Loew SL'13 and Kathryn (Osborne) Loew SL'13, a romantic honeymoon getaway is a 2,100-plus-mile cross-country adventure.
While planning their wedding in Oregon, the Storm Lakers prepared to celebrate by riding their bikes together from the Pacific Coast back to Iowa, just in time to hook up with RAGBRAI in Orange City Saturday. Sunday, they embarked on the journey across their home state with their familiar team and a few thousand others.
"It's been a phenomenal ride," Arick says.
When it came to planning, bikes came first, wedding second.
"We really wanted to do the ride, but how were we going to get everyone on board with us taking the summer to ride across the country?" Arick recalls. "It was Kat who came up with the idea - why don't we get married out there, and our whole support crew will just happen to be there to see us off? I looked at her and said, 'That's why I love you.'"
Arick, a Storm Lake native, was already a biking enthusiast and had ridden parts of RAGBRAI when he met Kathryn, a fellow student at Buena Vista University. A few months into the relationship, he presented her with an entry-level road bike, and she was soon as passionate about riding as he was. That first year together, they rode half a RAGBRAI route, then they did the complete ride in each of the next three summers.
Biking had become such a part of their lives that they brought their two-wheelers with them to the wedding ceremony at lovely Cannon Beach. At the reception, the bikes had "just married" cans tied to the back.
Two days after the ceremony, on a cold and rainy June 12, they mounted up at nearby Seaside to begin the cross-country trek.
“When we told people what we were going to do, they thought we were crazy. The people we meet along the road are always, 'You came from where? You're doing what?'”Arick Loew
The couple had mapped out their honeymoon ride carefully, but weren't sure if they could make it back in time to connect with this year's RAGBRAI. They arrived just in time, crossing into Iowa near Hawarden Friday and making the short ride to Orange City on Saturday in time for the start of the cross-state marathon Sunday.
They started their ride at the spot where American explorers Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery completed their westward exploration in 1805, says Arick, who minored in history as a student. They would follow the explorers' route much of the way east.
Fearing that they would be late for RAGBRAI, they broke off that trail to make up a few days, and returned to it later. They rode the entire distance except for a 200-mile stretch where they were told that conditions would not be safe, and a samaritan they encountered insisted on providing a ride.
Kathryn's bike sports the colors of their alma mater, blue and gold, while Arick, ever-faithful Cyclone fan, rides a rig painted Iowa State cardinal. Early in the ride they asked to try out a truck scale; Arick's bike loaded with gear came in at over 120 pounds, and Kat's at 80.
Both teachers - Kathryn a second-grade instructor in Storm Lake and Arick a special education teacher at Newell-Fonda - they have appreciated the opportunity to experience more of the American landscape.
While they touched on the plan in their classrooms last semester, he noted that the younger students are not yet able to grasp the immense distance involved.
For the modern-day explorers, the trip is par for an outdoorsy course. They both love camping, hiking, paddling and other pursuits, the more challenging, the better. "Our vacations are never vacations," Arick laughs.
The couple had no doubt they could complete their marathon ride, though not everyone was as confident.
"When we told people what we were going to do, they thought we were crazy," Arick says. "The people we meet along the road are always, 'You came from where? You're doing what?'"
The scenery has been heart-stopping - the great western river gorges, the see-forever mountain passes and the starkly powerful Badlands have been like living pages out of a photography book, they say.
"There are almost too many amazing places to pick out a favorite. In one stretch we went through Idaho with no [cellular] service, just us and the road. We took Old Highway 12 and followed the rivers, through the passes, it was absolutely gorgeous," Arick reports. He noted that he had seen some of these areas in a car previously. "It's completely different to experience them on a bike. You're not going through it, you're in it."
The human landscape has been just as impressive.
"The best part of this trip is the people we've met on the way," Arick says. "If you watch CNN for a half hour you think the world is coming to an end. But out here on the road, it reminds you how awesome people can be."
One stranger insisted they take $20 to get lunch. Others opened their homes so they could enjoy a shower or place to sleep, a welcome break from the cramped tent they pack with them. "One lady took us in, handed us her car keys and her golf clubs and told us to go relax."
The couple hope to expand their family at some point, but first, they are considering extending their adventures. The Adventure Cycling Association has just completed mapping out a route to bike from Chicago to New York. "If we can do that next summer, it would basically sum up the whole United States for us," they say.
They have had amazing road luck - only one flat tube and a couple of slipped chains to deal with, in the first 1,700 miles. "Hope we're not jinxing it,"Arick laughs.
That doesn't mean it has all been a ride in the park.
"The hardest part is the heat. In Montana and South Dakota, you can be five hours straight in the saddle with nowhere to stop in 100-105 degree heat, with only your three water bottles," Arick says.
"The mental part can be even tougher than the physical. We spent the Fourth of July at a very small town. When you hear about all the celebration going on back home and the things we are used to, we were pretty homesick. You might talk about how you should get out of Storm Lake, but when you're away, you realize home is a pretty great place."
Finally crossing back into Iowa was a bittersweet moment.
"It was awesome in a way to be getting back home. We're excited about seeing family and friends again, and I really miss my dog," Arick says. "At the same time, it's kind of sad to think that this is coming to an end."
What is it about biking that keeps the couple yearning for the open road?
"I could answer that like everyone does, and say it's about the freedom," Arick says. "Personally, I hate running, you don't get anywhere fast enough. On a bike you can get places, under your own power. There really is something to being out there, like being a kid again, with no worries."
Support from families, friends back home and RAGBRAI teammates help make their adventures possible.
The duo has documented their journey using the app TrackMyTour. Friends and family can click any point on the map to connect to daily ride reports and photographs.
The reports detail strenuous rides of sometimes 70 miles in a day, and daily climbs up to thousands of feet.
For example: "We made it from the Badlands to White River, SD. Can you tell we're tired? After 71 miles, 3,000 feet of incline, and the absurd 100+ degree temperature, we are exhausted."
At one point they paused long enough to kayak seven miles of the Snake River and do a little bass fishing. "So, yes, we are still alive and tomorrow we are back to reality on the bike," they posted, adding, "We are humbled by how many friends have been following us throughout this adventure, and since we haven't posted in a couple of days some have wondered if we were ok. We are in Hells Canyon and we are doing great!"
Worry? You better believe it, says his mother, Becky. "We worried from the day we dropped them off at Seaside. When there would be a day they didn't post or text, we were on pins and needles. Though they have a ways to go, it was a big relief when they made it back into Iowa."