FREEMONT — Celebrating a 90th birthday is a special milestone.
Celebrating while riding 406 miles across the state of Iowa is an achievement Bette Winthers likely can claim to herself.
The 89-year-old from Salinas, Calif., turns 90 next Wednesday and she is celebrating by riding all seven days of RAGBRAI with her two daughters; Cheryl alongside on the recumbent tandem bike and Valerie as support for the group.
“If you want to keep on your feet and keep doing things, you have to keep moving,” Winthers said. “I’ve been riding a bike all my life.”
She exercises daily and recently completed a 10.6-mile walk and hike in California with a friend she met on RAGBRAI.
Winthers first fell in love with cycling as a “scrawny” child when a neighbor gave her his adult male bike.
“I’d ride as far as I could and then I’d fall down. I’d pick it up and get back on the bike again,” she said. “That’s how I learned.”
Since then, she’s ridden across Arizona, New Mexico and Oregon, but RAGBRAI is the one she keeps coming back to.
“Iowans are so hospitable,” she said. “They open their homes to you, bake you pie, it’s wonderful.”
Winthers began riding RAGBRAI about 30 years ago. She was looking to go on a cycling vacation and learned about the event from her husband’s family in Iowa.
He grew up in Coulter, near Mason City, and served as support along the ride until he died a year and a half ago.
There are still relatives scattered across the state.
Last weekend, they gathered for a family reunion before Winthers and her daughters set out.
“They’re such great people and it’s really wonderful to be able to spend time with them,” Winthers said.
This year, the hills have been a challenge on a heavy bike with only eight gears, said daughter Cheryl Thompson, 54 also of California.
“It’s tough and slow on the hills,” Thompson said. “We’re very pleased to have a flat day.”
Winthers has completed RAGBRAI about 15 times over the past 30 years.
The weather and route this year are tame, compared to years passed, she said.
Winthers recalled one day when the temperature topped 100 degrees. A man rode up next to her at the top of a hill and dumped his water bottle on her head.
“It sure felt good,” she said. The pair rode with him the rest of the week.
From riding her bicycle to organizing neighborhood parties, Winthers loves to stay active, Thompson said. “You never know what’s going to peak her interest next.”
Winthers said she wants to be an inspiration to other cyclists.
“I hope I can show people they can keep going and keep riding,” she said “They don’t have to quit at age 70 or 80. I love bike riding. It’s what gives me energy.”
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