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'We gotta fly': On the road with Fr. Hendrickson at RAGBRAI

It’s halfway up the umpteenth hill on County Road H33 between Corning and Prescott, Iowa, on Day Two of the storied RAGBRAI bicycle ride, and Creighton University President the Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, SJ, is somewhere between a broad smile and a grimace.

“One can never say that Iowa is flat,” he says with a laugh through pedal pushes. Then, riding alongside Peter Silberstein, MD, a professor in the Creighton School of Medicine, Fr. Hendrickson hoists himself up in the saddle and spots more road to conquer.

“We gotta fly!” he says in a low but rousing tone, spurring Silberstein and several other riders in a small peloton to the crest of the hill, where they then glide out of sight to breast the next rise, just a hundred yards ahead, a half-dozen more also visible on the short horizon.

By this point in the Day Two ride, the cyclists have made more than 50 miles of progress through southwest Iowa terrain that resembles bunched burlap and, by all indications, feels as rough. The ride between Shenandoah and Creston featured 4,000 feet of climb over nearly 80 miles.

Fr. Hendrickson, an avid cyclist on his first RAGBRAI experience, made the best of it.

“This has been fun,” he said after rolling into the Day Two route terminal at Creston. “With the hospitality we’ve received all along the route and the camaraderie between the cyclists, you can see why RAGBRAI has the reputation it does. People talk about the biking and it’s great — even if it’s a little tough — but the people, including all of the Creighton people we’ve met on the road, have really made this a wonderful ride.”

That Creighton contingent in the race can look to Bluejay One, the rented recreational vehicle wrapped in Creighton blue and bearing the Bluejay logo.

And as RAGBRAI may be just as recognizable for the long line of trailers, trucks, converted buses and RVs following the support vehicle route as it is for the bike ride itself, Bluejay One’s driver is soaking up the experience on his end. The steady hand on the RV’s wheel is Fr. Hendrickson’s father, Jerry.

A bike enthusiast himself, Jerry Hendrickson took moments out of the occasional support vehicle stops to hop on his own two wheels and check out the local scene bursting out of each RAGBRAI host town.

Creighton University President the Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, SJ, right, and his father, Jerry, stand in front of Bluejay One, the RV being piloted by Jerry Hendrickson as his son makes the circuit of RAGBRAI the week of July 24-30.“Isn’t this incredible?” he said, taking in a carnival atmosphere in Monday’s meeting town of Corning. “When Dan called and said he needed a driver, I said yes, absolutely. I’m so glad I did. Seeing all the different teams and the riders coming together for this, it’s exciting.”

Later in the week-long ride, Fr. Hendrickson’s eldest brother, Ryan Hendrickson, PhD, a professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, will join in, along with a longtime friend from Fr. Hendrickson’s youth in Fremont. Fr. Hendrickson’s twin brother, the Rev. Scott Hendrickson, SJ, a professor of Spanish at Loyola University of Chicago, couldn’t join in as he’s researching in Europe for the summer.

“It’s still kind of like a little family vacation,” Jerry Hendrickson said. “I remember taking everyone cross country for trips when our boys were young. This has some of that same feel to it. It’s an adventure.”

Pulling out of Shenandoah at first light on Day Two after a night spent in Bluejay One — parked at a Creighton alumnus’ home — Fr. Hendrickson, his father and Silberstein were joined by another five riders in Creighton jerseys for a quick photo. More riders along the route either donned or recognized the Creighton blue.

“This is neat,” said Silberstein, who said he was well prepped for the hills after making a circuit of mountain peaks in Colorado two weeks ago. “I’ve ridden with Creighton people before, but to have the president here and promoting Creighton and a healthy lifestyle and balance is a great thing to have. We’re going to have a great ride today.”

From the outset, the hills of this corner of Iowa made themselves known, but the elevation may have only added to the visibility of the Creighton president on the route, too.

In Villisca, about 32 miles east of Shenandoah, another Creighton jersey in a pack of riders cried out that he’d seen Fr. Hendrickson fly by him up a steep incline.

“That guy has wings!” the man shouted over his shoulder as he made the turn onto one of the few merciful downgrades on the course.

Creighton University President the Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, SJ, right, and Peter Silberstein, MD, a professor in the School of Medicine, crest a hill east of Corning, Iowa, during Day Two of RAGBRAI, July 25, 2016.By Creston, where he would stay the night parked outside of Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Fr. Hendrickson laughed at the praise.

“We’ll see what tomorrow brings,” he said. “But being on the bike, even on hills, is a good way to clear your head and think. It can also be a good time to socialize and converse with people who are in a special community and striving toward a similar goal. That’s really what has been most enjoyable about this so far — meeting people from all over and being part of a shared experience. We’ve heard from a number of people on the road that they know Omaha and they know Creighton.”

The 43rd RAGBRAI ride wraps up after 420 miles on Saturday, July 30 in Muscatine, Iowa. Follow along for updates from Fr. Hendrickson on Twitter (@CreightonPres).

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