The following article appeared in the Life & Style section of the April 27/28, 2001 issues of the Appleton Post-Crescent

Bike rider gears up for cross-country trip to reunion

By Cheryl Sherry
Post-Crescent staff writer

Sixty-eight-year-old Ken Lettau admits he is "a little bit odd."

"That's the way I am," he said from his home in Richland, Wash. "I'm a little bit different and have never acted my age. And I don't look my age either."

He also is an avid bicyclist and a self-proclaimed exercise freak.

It stands to reason then that the Kaukauna native would wander from the norm when it came to travel plans for his 50th Kaukauna High School class reunion June 16.

Lettau will pedal his way to Wisconsin, traveling about 2,001 miles by bike in 2001. He begins the nearly two-month trek Friday.

Sure, he knows it is gimmicky, but that is his style.

"I thought that it would be really cool to ride back there," he said. "Not everyone does that."

Indeed. What started out as an adventure became more complicated when Lettau encountered a huge bump in the road in 1998.

"I came down with prostate cancer," he said. "I learned that not all prostate-cancer people are advised to ride a bike after a prostatectomy. Doctors are evenly split on whether or not you should even get back on a bike."

Instead of abandoning his plans, he found a better way to execute them.

"A lot of guys quit riding bikes, and there's no need to because recumbents are out there and have a whole different seating style. That's what I'm using."

Joining Lettau in the trip will be his grandson, Joe, and one of his twin sons, Randy, who both will ride standard Schwinn Supersports.

Lettau said there is a big difference between riding a recumbent and a regular bicycle.

"It's all in the leg muscles and it's off your hips driving off the back of the seat and your leg muscles forcing straight forward," he said. "It is a different grouping of muscles. It's harder at first but not once you catch on and get your muscles built up. Recumbents will give you a couple more miles an hour for the same amount of energy as a standard bike.

"I was ready to quit at first, and I'm not a quitter. I am trying to help Bike E convince people that prostate-cancer patients don't need to quit. There's another option."

Bike E is an Oregon-based corporation that produced the first compact wheelbase recumbent bicycle.

Lettau has another reason for making the trip: He wanted to make a speech at the reunion but had no reason to be asked.

"Maybe this will do that," he said. "Once I do it, I'm going to witness to the saving and amazing grace of our God and Jesus Christ. That was what was really driving me and still is."

A reoccurrence of cancer last year that forced him to undergo an operation and radiation treatment threatened his plans, but Lettau pulled through.

"I just came through a pretty difficult time, but my readings are excellent right now and hopefully will stay that way," he said. "It has not affected my physical well-being, and I don't look like I've had a problem. I'm a pretty tough bird."

Now he can concentrate on the journey. The 30-day trek will be divided into two parts. The second half begins May 19 so the bikers can wait for better weather in the Rocky Mountain region.

For the trip to Kaukauna, the trio will average 70 miles a day. His longest previous bike ride was 65 miles. "We'll sleep in a good bed and get a shower every night," he said.

Thirty days of motel accommodations and food can get quite costly, Lettau said. "I'm not a rich man. Between everything involved, this will cost well over $10,000 by the time I'm done."

Weather may factor into the trip, Lettau said.

"I've made this trip so many times by car at different times of the year that I've been in blizzards in Montana in May and rain and spring storms," he said. "It will make it difficult, but it will be interesting."

Lettau's family has created a Web site that will monitor the trip. Participants will each keep a personal log of the experience, which Lettau hopes to turn into a three-generational story.

During the last week of the trip, Lettau's wife, Pat, his eldest son, David, and his daughter-in-law, Linda, will ride to Wisconsin in a motor home so they can attend the alumni dinner.

David and Linda will take an Amtrak back home, and the Lettaus will take a much-deserved vacation.

"It's like Tiger (Woods)," he said. "I want to win and do it and complete (the trip), but my primary goal is to be a witness to people along the way.

"I've really been blessed through this whole thing. The amazing grace of God is immeasurable."

Republished with permission from the Appleton Post-Crescent, Appleton, Wisconsin, ©2001

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