SHERIDAN — “It was 16 to 17 years ago when a high school friend and I rode in a cyclists’ event in Ragbrai, Iowa,” Big Horn resident Bill Conrad said. “We then thought we’d do this every year. But every year it was one thing or another, so the annual ride didn’t happen.”
Conrad did cycle sporadically in various states since 1970. Three of his four children have cycled with him as they grew older, which included the Tow Path bike ride from Cumberland, Md., to Washington, D.C.
Then, 14 years ago, Conrad began to fulfill his cycling goal: he has cycled every year since then in the North Dakota CANDISC (Cycling Around North Dakota in Sakakawea Country) event. Conrad has cycled with not only his daughter, Wendy — now an adult with a family of her own — but also with each of his five oldest of nine grandchildren.
This August, Conrad cycled the entire route with grandson, Alex Legerski, in the CANDISC Tranquility Place Tour. The route covered 376 miles beginning and ending in Garrison, N.D., including a leg into Canada. Conrad cycled 357 of those miles.
“About three days in, it began to rain, so I cycled only part of the route that day,” Conrad said.
He and Legerski rode their 18-gear multi-speed bikes this year. In past events, Conrad has taken multiple personal bikes for the rides.
“During past years, some of the other grandchildren have cycled all or part of the route,” Conrad said. “Alex cycled the entire route plus did extra miles.”
This is the second year that Alex has ridden the entire route with his grandfather whom the grandchildren call “Poppy.”
Cyclists covered a 40- to 77-mile route each day with a tent or RV campout at the end of each day’s ride. Conrad’s wife, Carole Anne, has followed her husband in the family RV each year.
“I serve as an ‘RV Supporter,’” she said. “Sometimes I provide water, food or a ride to bikers whose bike has broken down.”
In the evening, she provided beds and food for her cycling spouse and any cycling grandchildren.
Conrad began conditioning himself for the event by cycling around his home in Big Horn.
“This year, I rode about 20 miles each day for five days which is less than I have trained in past years,” Conrad said. “Many people may not remember that we had a wet spring this year.”
In past years, Conrad has ridden 200 to 300 miles to prepare for the cycling event.
In the Tranquility Place Tour, cyclists started each day’s leg of the ride after 6:00 a.m. and could cycle at their own pace.
“It’s for safety reasons we have to wait until 6 a.m. before getting started,” Conrad said.
Event organizers haul cyclists’ luggage and camping gear so that cyclists are not carrying additional weight.
While cycling, Conrad took in the scenery and wildlife.
“I watched the birds and sunflowers,” Conrad said. “Some other cyclists had boom boxes or iPods.”
Most evenings, the cyclists were hosted by small farming communities.
“One community had 62 residents,” Conrad said. “They organized a sing-along and musical entertainment for the cyclists.”
A highlight for the Conrads was the Canadian leg of the tour that took cyclists to the National Peace Garden in Canada.
Quotes relating to peace are interspersed among the gardens.
One tribute in the gardens are girders rescued from the New York City World Trade Center as a 9/11 memorial.
“It is amazing,” Conrad said.
Why does Conrad cycle each year?
“I do it as a gut-check, to see how I’m doing,” Conrad said. “My goal is to be the oldest cyclist in the event.”
Conrad, at age 77, was the second oldest cyclist in the Tranquility Place Tour, following one cyclist who is 78.
Conrad is planning to cycle in 2014 with anyone in his family who will join him.