A set of deer antlers strapped to the back of Tom Bertrand’s loaded-down bike was just enough to set him apart from the crowd Sunday morning.

He was one of many self-supported cyclists on RAGBRAI. Unlike most of them, 22-year-old Bertrand started pedaling in Seattle last month and just learned of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa two days ago.

“This is the most bikers I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said between Hull and Boyden early Sunday morning. His morning on the bike began in Hudson, S.D.

Fresh out of college, Bertrand and two friends — Peter Van Nuland of Newcastle, Wash., and Kevin Kopetz of Derry, N.H. — started biking June 21 from Seattle toward Bertrand’s hometown of Derry.

“We’re biking from Peter’s house to Kevin’s house,” Bertrand said.

They expect the route to be about 3,500 miles and aim for an Aug. 9 arrival.

Tom Bertrand (Bryon Houlgrave/The Register)

Tom Bertrand (Bryon Houlgrave/The Register)

Plotting their cross-continental route as they go, the group decided to veer north to check out day one of RAGBRAI after someone on the road told them about the event two days ago.

The group plans to jet ahead of RAGBRAI after Okoboji to maintain their tight schedule, averaging 80 to 100 miles a day. They hope to hit Milwaukee by the time the RAGBRAI circus gets to Guttenberg on Saturday.

Sunday was memorable not only because of RAGBRAI but also because the group hit the 2,000-mile mark on the journey. The ideal weather and flat, closed-to-traffic roads were also a treat.

“The Midwest roads have been great,” Bertrand said, recalling a particularly grueling 27-mile steep climb he conquered in Wyoming.

He added that distance cycling is new for him. He said 35 miles was the farthest he ever rode before this trip.

The more direct and local take: RAGBRAI virgins, and especially veterans, have one less excuse to slack off and hitch a free ride on the sag wagon.

For those wondering, Bertrand’s loaded bike — antlers included — weighs more more than 85 pounds. And he scored the antlers at a collectors shop, the Mystic Lady, in Cody, Wyo.

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