Story on the Rock‎ > ‎Articles‎ > ‎

Chris Charron on RABRAI XLII with Freedom Flag

IA Ride to Remember 
by Chris Charron

RAGBRAI XLII (42) Ride Recap

Day 1 - Rock Valley to Okoboji (69 Miles) 
Sunday, July 20th 2014
The mileage posted for day 1 was 69 miles, but with extra miles added for navigating between our host homes, I logged 84 miles. We had extreme head and cross winds most of the day. Pulling the trailer with the Freedom Flag proved to be quite a challenge and the winds dropped my average speed by 3 – 5 miles per hour. By the time I reached our camp, I was exhausted and running on fumes. That evening I wasn’t hungry (This should have been the first sign that something was wrong) and I wasn’t thirsty. I collapsed into my tent and slept until 5 am the next morning.

Day 2 – Okoboji to Emmetsburg (40 Miles) 
Monday, July 21st 2014
This should have been an easy ride and a good time to recover from the tough first day, but the winds were against us. We had strong head and cross winds again. I wasn’t feeling 100% and still wasn’t hungry or thirsty. The combination of the winds and drag of the trailer had my average speed below 10 mph for most of the day. Often I was only riding at 6 mph. Somewhere around the 30-mile mark I stopped sweating and things started to get a little fuzzy. Each day our team put a chase vehicle along the route and when I finally arrived about 2 hours later than expected, I was dehydrated and a little confused. Because our host home was 10 miles off the main RAGBRAI route and on a busy highway, my team decided it would be best that I finish the ride in our sag vehicle. A lot of the remainder of the day is a little unclear, but I remember being extremely depressed and sad that I had failed in my quest to pull the Freedom Flag across the state. This is when my team (Team Megacycles) rallied around the flag and made me proud. They decided that I shouldn’t ride on day 3 and then came up with a plan to get the Freedom Flag across the state. They decided that they would each take a turn carrying the flag and that I could tow my backup flag without the pressure of having to ride every mile. 

Day 3 – Emmetsburg to Forest City (80 Miles)
Tuesday, July 22nd 2014
Because the Freedom Flag had come off the route 10 miles early on day 2, it was decided that whomever carried the flag on this day would need to ride the bonus loop and add 20 miles to their daily total. Team member Raymond Knapp III, from Rockton, IL volunteered for the job and by the time he arrived in camp that night, he had ridden 112 miles. Ray carried the tri-folded flag strapped to his rear rack and had several people ask about it. He explained about the Freedom Rock, Story County Freedom Rock and our tribute to the veterans. I napped most of the day and drank a lot of fluids. I started to feel more like myself by late afternoon and decided that I could ride again on Wednesday.

Day 4 – Forest City to Mason City (39 Miles)
Wednesday, July 23rd 2014
This day will probably go down as my favorite day in my 25-year association with RAGBRAI. The route was mostly down hill, the temperatures were in the mid 70’s and we had a tailwind. After taking the previous day off, I was fresh and ready to go. I rode pulling my trailer and had the pleasure of riding most of the day with my good friend Clive Hornback from Bevington, IA. Brett Bowie, 17, from Columbia, MD carried the Freedom Flag today. This was Brett’s third RAGBRAI riding with team Megacycles. Clive and I caught up with Brett and Ray in Clear Lake and we visited the 9/11 memorial located at the Clear Lake Fire station together. We were able to get a personal tour from one of the firefighters that were responsible for bringing the official artifact from Tower 2 to Clear Lake. Several members from RAGBRAI team Escape New York had stayed at the fire station during a previous RAGBRAI. Five of those members lost their lives on 9/11. 

Day 5 – Mason City to Waverly (66 Miles)
Thursday, July 24th 2014
Mike Nickolaus, from South Sioux City, NE carried the flag today. This was another decent day with great spacing between pass-through towns and fairly calm winds. The temperature was in the mid 80’s and it got a little toasty late in the day. Today’s highlight was when Steve Smartt from Nashville, TN rode up and started asking questions about the Freedom Rock, Story County Freedom Rock and the flag that I was towing. As it turned out, Steve was riding with a trumpet strapped to his back and was celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner. I told Steve that I had been struggling with finding a way to honor the 15 veterans on my list that had been killed in action and together we concocted a plan. We proceeded to roll into a large group of riders waiting in a breakfast line and Steve played the National Anthem while standing next to my trailer and flag. The result was a once in a lifetime RAGBRAI moment. The uniqueness of the moment was further accented when fellow Maxwell resident, Sonya Staudt, came running over to say hi! Sonya held my bike while Steve played the Star Spangled Banner and I recorded the event. The resulting video is available to view on our Facebook page; IA Ride to Remember. It was an awesome moment and gave me goose bumps. 

Day 6 – Waverly to Independence (68 Miles) 
Friday, July 26th 2014
The rain started around 3AM and a close lightning strike woke us all up at 4AM. The temperature had fallen into the high 50’s and it was windy and rainy until around noon. Today Lawrence Robinson, from Cedar Rapids, carried the Freedom Flag. During the previous days ride I had come to the conclusion the optimum distance to pull the trailer was about 50 miles. The previous day had been a 66-mile day and with bonus miles to our host home I had logged 75 miles. The last 25 miles were during the heat of the day and this had taken its toll. With the heavy rain and cold temperatures I decided to drive the team sag vehicle today. Young Brett called for assistance about 20 miles into the days ride. Brett was soaked to the bone and shivering. A rescue mission was launched and the team retrieved him from a gymnasium full of pre-hypothermic riders. 

Day 7 – Independence to Guttenberg (70 Miles)
Saturday, July 27th 2014 
This distance is actually fairly long for a last day. Today we also had 1/3 of the total climb of the ride in the last ten miles of the ride. Gary Bishop carried the Freedom Flag during the first half of the ride and Brice AntonJenson on the final half. I decided to only ride the last half so I would have enough energy for the final climbs into Guttenberg. We had two really long hills on the final stretch and some awesome descents. At one point I hit 38 mph on a downhill. This was a little scary because I had never had the trailer above 20 mph before this. The final 35 miles I was able to ride with Brett, Raymond, Lawrence and Gary. This really made the final decent and wheel dipping in the Mississippi very memorable. 

Random thoughts and memories that I can’t associate with a specific day

• Somewhere along the route I became know as, “The Flag Guy”.

• It was fun to have people ride ahead and then stop to take pictures of the flag as I passed. 

• I constantly had to tell people, “No, I’m not Ray “Bubba” Sorensen.” 

• It was awesome to see how excited and proud people are about either having their own county Freedom Rock or that they are getting a county Rock. 

• It was very moving to receive messages from the family members of the veterans that we were honoring on a particular day as we rode.

• The Air Force team said that they would be honored to carry our Freedom Flag if we were unable to continue. 

• I remember an older gentleman struggling to stand and salute the flag as I rode past. I cried.

• I remember a group of 25 townspeople all standing and cheering as I passed with the flag. 

• I was given a list of 700 Story county veterans. From this list I randomly selected 428 names and they were assigned to each mile of the ride. The only names that were not randomly selected were those of the known killed in action. Between my training miles and miles that were ridden, all 700 were honored. The raw emotion of reading the veteran’s names each day really hit home. 

• Every day I would talk to active duty military and veterans as I rode along the spectacular back roads of Iowa. They would always thank me for caring enough to remember them. I would always thank them for their service and sacrifice. Once I even got into a thank-you war with an active duty Marine and finally had to except his final thank you or face possible bodily harm. 

Two extremely powerful moments occurred and will always stay with me.

• The first was when our Forest City host saw me reading the list of daily veteran’s names and asked what I was doing. After I explained, he asked to read the list. His eyes welled up and he then he asked me to wait a minute while he went into his house. He returned with his army shirt and asked if I would carry it to the Mississippi river. He said his bothers were not treated well when they returned home from Vietnam and thanked me for what we were doing. I still tear up thinking about this moment. I cried again when I dipped my front wheel in the Mississippi river with his shirt strapped to my trailer. 

• The second powerful moment occurred while I was waiting to load my bicycle for our return trip home. The driver from another team parked near us asked about our flag and what we were doing. She started to cry and thanked us for what we had done. It turned out that she was a disabled veteran and before leaving active duty had been assigned to the honor guard detail at Arlington cemetery. Her duty had been to help arrange from one to six funerals per day, and assist families during their difficult time. I asked how she was able to deal with this emotional duty and she said she got her strength from the families. She said that it was her privilege to honor and remember her brothers and sisters in arms.

I guess, to a degree, this is what I set out to do, I wanted to honor and remember those that have sacrificed so much so that I can live in freedom. This began as a solo quest, and ended as a total team effort. I am extremely proud of my fellow Megacycle team members and this quest couldn’t have been completed without their help and dedication. 

It was truly a privilege to ride RAGBRAI XLII and honor our active duty Military, Veterans, Police, Fire and EMS personnel. 

God Bless America!!!