Dianne Frances D. Powell
TERRE HAUTE —
A sea of bicyclists from all over the country packed the starting line Saturday at the entrance of Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods College as they began their one-day, one-way 160-mile Ride Across INdiana.
“It’s a unique experience,” said Jennifer Miers, who was in charge of registering the estimated 1,500 RAIN cyclists at the annual event — now in its 27th year — organized by the Bloomington Bicycle Club to benefit the group’s grant program.
“It’s really a personal challenge,” Miers said of the attraction to RAIN. It is one of the few timed events available (which organizers emphasize is not a race) and people come back each year to see if they can do a little better than they did before, she said.
At 7 a.m., participants on various types of bikes including road bikes, tandems and touring bikes started their trek with smiles and waves to spectators along U.S. 40 on their way to the finish line near the Ohio border at Earlham College.
As cyclists made their way through U.S. 40 on Saturday, they can be heard chatting with each other and giving the thumbs up to officers from the West Terre Haute Police Department and the Vigo County Sheriff’s Office who assisted with traffic. At the intersection of Indiana 46 and U.S. 40 in Terre Haute, traffic was stopped as the RAIN riders biked their way out of town. Organizers said RAIN was scheduled to end at 9 p.m. Saturday.
Back at the entrance of the college before the start of the ride, signs to indicate starting lines were erected based on how soon cyclists hope to finish.
The sign, “Start Here for Sub-7 Hour Finishers” could be found close to where the entrance road intersects with Indiana 150 followed by “Sub-8 Hour Finishers” descending to “Sub-11 Hour Finishers.” A sign closest to the college’s gate said “Start here if you just hope to finish.”
One rider said Friday at registration that she plans to line up by the “hope to finish” sign accompanied by her family.
“We’ll take our time and have a good time,” Heather Bolyard of Cincinnati said.
Bolyard is riding with her husband and father. This is her second year at RAIN riding with her husband.
“So excited to have Dad with us this year,” she said because he is “back in shape and ready to ride again” after a double hip surgery last year.
“It’s a good time. It’s fun. It’s a tour, not a race. Just enjoy the ride and the people you meet,” Bolyard said.
However, one cyclist who hoped to finish faster is Nicholas Benedict of Richmond, who said Saturday morning — as he stood by the sign for “Sub-7 Finishers” — that he has been riding for four years. He was riding with friends at the event and he said he trained by riding “everyday, all day.”
Others think they need more time.
The Toloday family of Greenwood said they plan to line up by the “Sub-9 Hour Finishers” sign but it is very much a family event for them.
Keith Toloday said his family has been “riding for years” but has been training since May for the event. He rode with his wife, Kimberly and 15-year-old daughter Mikela.
“I want to work out,” said Mikela who also said she wants to be an athlete.
“This could be the start of … being better, working to do more endurance events,” she said of her reasons for participating in the trek.
Aside from her husband and daughter, Kimberly also had other family at the event and they came from afar.
Kimberly said her relatives from California, Missouri and Georgia were also riding Saturday.
This is not unusual for RAIN.
“I’m every year amazed by the mix of people and ages,” Miers said.
Another couple drove all the way from their home in Texas to participate in RAIN.
A RAIN rider for 19 years (who started while he was still living in Indiana), Mark Lohmar said Friday that he has “made a goal every year to do it.”
“If I can ride 160 miles,” he said it is an indication for him that he is in good health. He added that he rode at the event a few years ago even after a major surgery.
“This is something I’ve been motivated to do,” Lohmar said.
And like others at RAIN, Lohmar might be alone on the bike but he is not alone on the journey.
The riders are cheered on by their friends and family who follow them on support vehicles. So along with riders, U.S. 40 was also full of parked “Personal Sag Vehicles” along the side.
One supporter is Lohmar’s wife of 31 years, Carol. She follows in a vehicle and aims to just “be supportive.”
“It’s tiring” but it is “about being there for the rider,” she said. It is also “nerve-racking” not to hit anybody, she said of the number of riders on the road.
Lohmar and other riders appreciate the support.
Despite participating in RAIN for almost two decades, “I still feel anxious no matter how many times I’ve done it,” but claims that his challenge is “keeping up with my friends.” The Lohmars saw two of their friends (now living in St. Louis) at registration Friday.
Lohmar may be a long-time RAIN rider but one rider is doing his 27th RAIN ride this year.
“I haven’t missed one,” said Dave Tanner, a Bloomington Bicycle Club member since 1979.
“I couldn’t think of a reason not to do it,” he said.
Like others at the event, it is also “a nice social time” for Tanner. He said he gets “to see old friends.”
Tanner and his friends at the Bloomington Bicycle Club were one of the original RAIN riders. He said it was initially just a club ride for 18 members who decided to ride their bikes across the state. Afterwards, they decided to open it up to everybody and the event eventually grew to its current number of participants — 1,500.
On RAIN’s third year, the group decided to come to Terre Haute “because we can follow the national road — U.S. 40.” He said it is a better route. The group started using SMWC as its headquarters in recent years and Tanner said the location is “ideal.”
John Connell, RAIN director said the group searched for locations near the Illinois and Ohio borders and the “idea of going from one small college to another seems to fit.”
“I’m trying to keep it as a fun ride for people, as a challenging ride and keep it as much as we can the way it has been” Connell said.
But some improvements are being made this year. Connell mentioned the availability of sunscreen and bicycle mechanics during stops, among other improvements.
For some participants, fun with friends and family is exactly what the ride is all about.
Jake Staley, 19, and his friend, Brandon Bigard, 18 said they trained for 3 months in preparation for RAIN. The residents of Effingham, Ill., were accompanied by Staley’s father, mother, sister and brother at the event.
“Just to make it,” Staley said.
“To finish in time for supper,” Bigard added, as he smiled.
Tribune-Star reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or email@example.com.