Super Heroes Invade River Bend

Borrowed from the Des Moines Register:

By Kyle Munson

Slater, Ia. — So my wife points out that a group of bicyclists clad in colorful costumes, their capes flapping in the breeze, have set up camp in the park across the street.

I’ve just returned from a Saturday afternoon reporting jaunt on a different topic. But it’s not every day that a story rolls to my doorstep. I stroll across the street to encounter what I assume to be a goofier-than-usual RAGBRAI team training ride.

Hardly. The bikes are just a means to an end. These 11 self-proclaimed “Superheroes” have been pedaling around central Iowa in search of volunteer opportunities and will continue to do so for a couple more weeks. Meet Zing, Wander Woman, the Great Gitchigumi, Super Stretch, the Wild Yeast, Fortidude, Lady Love, Split Second, Laughing Moon, Bright Sky and Infinity Man.

The idealistic caped crusaders hail from seven states and range in age from 23 to 50. They’re among a nationwide league of do-gooders that now numbers more than 600.

In Iowa, they’ve specialized in humble jobs such as weed-pulling, building tomato trellises and painting a small chicken coop. Like mere mortals they wield shovels, pitchforks, a cordless drill and other standard tools.

This is the 22nd “Haul of Justice” ride in the last 11 years. Different Superheroes have rolled through 26 states and three nations – about 15,000 bike miles and 60,000 volunteer hours.

The Haul of Justice does have this much in common with RAGBRAI: It began as one ride but blossomed into a regular event. The inaugural four-month trek in 2000 was a 5,000-mile odyssey that stretched from Seattle to Boston.

Ethan “Zing” Hughes is the ringleader, the guy with the big silver “Z” emblazoned on his chest and cape, an easy smile and goggles pushed up on his forehead. Hughes, 40, has been a marine biologist by trade and a lifelong staunch environmentalist. He also keeps an acoustic guitar nearby to strum and sing improvised folk songs.

I fetched pints of ice cream Saturday for the Superheroes, trying to be neighborly. In turn, they welcomed me into their circle to share some of their rituals, including a heartfelt “thanking and sharing” session to end the day.

They even dubbed me an honorary local Superhero and encouraged me to come up with an appropriate alias. I began to brainstorm.

To say that the Superheroes are serendipitous would be an understatement. “Letting go and trusting the universe” has guided them around central Iowa as much as their bicycle trail map.

They’ve turned meandering into their ethic and art – constantly asking whom they can help.

The Superheroes’ makeshift Fortress of Solitude is an 110-acre farm in northeast Missouri near La Plata, where Hughes’ overarching “Possibility Alliance” is based. The farm provides an off-the-grid center for everything from organic gardening to draft horses, as well as the Superheroes.

The current Haul of Justice launched last week from an Iowa farm, Mustard Seed Community Farm near Ames, and wound south through small towns and suburbs toward Des Moines.

Lucky Moon, aka Michael Mallon from Michigan, had only ridden about five miles on a bike before last week, so he wasn’t exactly feeling like the Man of Steel. But he previously had co-founded his own “Superhero Training Academy” for schoolkids at the Gesundheit! Institute in West Virginia and has worked with students at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and elsewhere.

It made sense for him to join forces with Hughes when he heard about these adult Superheroes on bikes.

The 11 Superheroes arrived on my doorstep Saturday after a stop at Logsdon’s Grocery in downtown Maxwell.

Co-owner Tom Logsdon made the same assumption I did when he noticed all the capes in his aisles.

“I’m thinking RAGBRAI, right?” he said. “I’m thinking, man, they’re coming in to get some sauce.”

For the record, the Superheroes ride is utterly sober.

The grocer eventually sent them on their way with a bag of bananas and pointed them toward Slater and the High Trestle Trail.

The Superheroes eventually rolled down around Saylorville and into the city. I rejoined them Tuesday morning at a Catholic Worker house in Des Moines, where Ed Fallon and Megan Felt put their powers to work on a compost bin and chicken coop.

By then I had devised my own state-centric – and admittedly cheesy – Superhero name: Iowa-tastic!

No cape yet.

Maybe I’ll sew one in time for RAGBRAI.

Kyle Munson can be reached at (515) 284-8124 or Connect with him on Facebook (Kyle Munson’s Iowa), Twitter (@KyleMunson) and his blog (