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Running on empty (cans and bottles)

MASON CITY ñ Rich Chenoweth’s purchase of a new pair of running shoes roughly 30 years ago put him on track for a great way to pay for fitness expenses. Story by Joe Buttweiler.|MASON CITY ñ Rich Chenoweth’s purchase of a new pair of running shoes roughly 30 years ago put him on track for a great way to pay for fitness expenses.

It was shortly after the 1978 enactment of Iowa’s Bottle Bill, and his wife suggested paying for the shoes by picking up bottles and cans from the roadside as he ran.

Whether on foot or bicycle he’s been doing it pretty much ever since, helping keep the roadsides clean and putting a little extra jingle in his pocket.

He picks up 20 to 100 cans or bottles per outing, putting them in bags and bringing them home, then to a redemption center one or two times a week, depending on volume.

Years ago he would use the proceeds for shoes or expenses to compete in running events, such as the Twin Cities Marathon. In recent years the money goes toward expenses for riding in RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.

Chenoweth said Wednesday he rides bike most of the year, but in the winter often runs, covering six to seven miles a day. Heading north on Illinois Avenue on Tuesday, he hustled from one side of the street to the other, picking up containers and putting them in a white plastic bag.

The usual harvest is 20 to 30 cans per run, he said. In the summer when he can go for longer bike rides, the take is usually higher. He brings extra bags along in case he comes across a lot of containers. Seventy-five to 100 isn’t unusual.

He varies his route depending on the wind and other weather conditions, preferring like most runners and bicyclists to have the wind at his back on the return home.

“I try to stay off the busy highways,” said Chenoweth, 58, who works at Graham Manufacturing Corp. and lives on the north side of Mason City.

So, where does he find the most 5-cent redeemables?

Highway B-20 north of Mason City is a good route. So is California Avenue going past Portland and the Avenue of the Saints.
But like a crafty fisherman, he didn’t want to share too many of the good spots.

He said he’s been a runner since junior high school and knows others who pluck cans from the roadside as they run.

This will be Chenoweth’s 14th year in RAGBRAI. He doesn’t bother picking cans along the RAGBRAI route, though. “Usually the route they go on, they’ve pretty much cleaned up already.”

This year’s ride is July 24-30, starting in Glenwood and ending in Davenport, a 454.2-mile route.

Chenoweth trains year-round, riding an old mountain bike in the winter when the roads are good, like last week. But he usually runs during the colder months and when it’s not good bicycling weather, like on Tuesday.

If it’s really rough out he’ll head to the basement treadmill, but usually gets out five or six days a week, he said.

Got to build up that RAGBRAI fund!|

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