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8-year-old bikes through Iowa with grandma

Sherry Thompson and grandson Joe Heinlein biked 226 miles through Iowa as part of the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.1 / 2
They took six days to make the trek, and Joe said his legs weren't even tired. There were plenty of corn fields to bike past during the ride.2 / 2

Maybe it's his involvement with BMX racing. Or maybe it's because he has the energy of an 8-year-old. Whatever it was, Joe Heinlein rode his bike 226 miles across part of Iowa, and isn't against doing it again.

Heinlein, of Audubon, and his grandmother, Sherry Thompson of Detroit Lakes, participated in the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa last month. They joined about 21,000 other bicyclists for the potentially 450-mile trek across the state.

"My sister has gone on it several times. She talked me into doing it this year," Thompson said. "I've ridden bike, but nothing like this."

So, she asked her grandson if he wanted to accompany her -- although she may have left out the amount of pedaling there would be. That didn't seem to faze 8-year-old Joe, however.

Did his legs get tired?

"Not really," he said. "One of the days was really windy," he described. And really hot, Thompson added.

"Along the route, especially on the hot days, there were people that would set up sprinklers to spray onto the road so the bikers could ride through them and cool off," she said. "Joe, of course, loved that. Well, we all did -- it was hot and it felt oh, so good."

The ride is set up over a seven-day period, and riders can go at their own pace. It's not a race.

Thompson and Joe rode 28.5 miles the first day, 33.6 miles the second, 37.3 the third, 51.8 the fourth, 42.4 miles the fifth, none the sixth day because of rain, and finished with 30.1 the last day. They started at Washta (instead of Sioux City to avoid some hills) and finished at Dubuque.

Tradition is to dip the back tire of your bike in the Missouri River at the start and the front tire in the Mississippi River at the finish.

A relative drove the camper along the route so they had a spot to sleep at night, and some other relatives biked the course as well.

"We all ride at different paces, so at times we were on our own," Thompson said.

To prep for the bike ride, Thompson said they rode around Detroit Lake, which went well, and she participated in the 26-mile ride during Water Carnival.

All went smoothly along the Iowa trip until the last day when Thompson crashed and now has a bandage on her leg.

Along the route, most of the cities held a welcome for the bikers as they passed through or stayed the night. They passed the Field of Dreams landmark, where Joe got a souvenir bat, and they got to see quite a few tractors and combines along with way. It is Iowa, after all.

"You could stop wherever you wanted," Joe said. "They sold food, too -- pineapple, watermelon, drinks, cookies and brownies -- whatever you wanted."

Some cities even made pancakes and breakfast sandwiches for the participants.

"Most (cities) pretty much rolled out the red carpet," Thompson said.

Joe said he also got to go to a water park in Waterloo and went swimming in Clear Lake, although the water there certainly wasn't clear, he clarified.

"It felt good, 'cause we were hot," Thompson said, regardless of the clarity of the water.

Thompson was happy to visit the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, although she said that was fun for her, not necessarily for Joe.

She said she's sure proud of her grandson and the trek he made with her. There were young kids along, but they were on tandems or in carts pulled by adults. And as riders biked by, many commended Joe on his solo ride.

"I don't remember seeing anyone, on their own, as young as him," she said.

The first Iowa bike ride was August 26-31, 1973. According to the event's website, it began as a challenge between Des Moines Register feature writer/copy editor John Karras, an avid bicyclist, and Don Kaul, author of the newspaper's "Over The Coffee" column.

Since that time, the ride has become so popular that RAGBRAI officials now limit the number of week-long riders to 8,500 in order to maintain a sense of control and insure fewer injuries.

"In 36 years, RAGBRAI has passed through 780 Iowa towns, spent the night in 125 different overnight towns and with completion of the 25th ride in 1997, has been in all of Iowa's 99 counties. RAGBRAI has been through 80 percent of the incorporated towns in Iowa," to website says.

Since the beginning, more than 275,650 people have ridden in the RAGBRAI, and 16,907 miles have been covered.