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  • Wed November 19 2008
  • Posted Nov 19, 2008
By Ashton Shurson - The Daily Iowan Carried by the swirling winds of a horrific South American hurricane 15 years ago was change for Irene Schroeder. The change occurred while Schroeder, a UI Recreational Services instructor, was on a 20,000 mile, 16-month-long bike trip from the northernmost part of Alaska to the lower tip of South America more than 15 years ago. "I learned not only to push myself but find my connection with nature or my moment with God," Schroeder, a UI graduate, said. "That point was the moment - the most intense moment." Though the trip was only a short period in her 37-year life, it was a monumental, and one from which she said she's gleaned survival skills and self-identity. It was also necessary: Schroeder said she was no longer satisfied with societal life, unhappy, and needed change. Her ticket was a bike, an item that became part of her when she was in Austin, Texas, where she lived until she was 8. Her parents and two sisters rode everywhere and used a car only to move or go on vacation. After moving to Tama, Iowa, the love affair with biking continued, racing around Iowan hills, leading some people to think they did this because they were poor, even though they were middle-class. "We just liked being outside," she said, adding she gained her appreciation for nature from her parents. During her senior year at the UI, she began planning a post-graduation biking trip. With routes and sponsors in place, she and her then-boyfriend began the ride in Fairbanks, Alaska, in July 1993. They rode up the oil pipeline to Prudhoe Bay - the northernmost town in the state - before rolling down to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, in Argentina, which is considered the southernmost city in the world. Paul Deninger, an avid biker and member of the Mercy Specialized Bicycle Racing Team in Iowa City, said Schroeder's trip is "epic" and the distance is "practically a trip around the planet." "It's quite an impressive feat with the mileage, time, and distance," he said. While in Patagonia, Argentina, Schroeder said she and her fellow biker were caught in the midst of a hurricane of terrifying magnitude. Wind and rain pounded against their tent, ultimately covering the two in mud. Awakening the next day, Schroeder said she saw two white horses standing outside the tent and didn't know whether she was alive or dead. "It was as if nothing had happened," she said. "I thought they were angels … I realized life is supposed to be peaceful." It was then that Schroeder realized that there's more to life than the TVs, cars, and the consumerism of normal society. Schroeder's transition home after "the moment" was a rough one, she said. Her boyfriend of six years broke up with her, and her father, who struggled with mental disorders, attempted suicide. Considering the intensity of the trips and the dismal circumstances of her return, the UI instructor said five years passed before she could mention the trip without crying. Next semester, however, Schroeder will give a slide show presentation on her biking trek. In 2001, Schroeder settled in Iowa City and two years later took a job with Touch The Earth, the UI's recreational service program. "She's one of a kind," said Dave Patton, the assistant director of the program. "She's a pretty incredible person." Dabbling in a myriad of jobs around Iowa City - music teacher, biking instructor and mechanic, environmentalist - Schroeder lives on "income streams." She also heads a local band, Irene and the Mad River Band. "I think I've decided I'm a sensualist," she said. "If I can get all senses stimulated at the same time, that's the ultimate."

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