Once a year for about the last fifteen, an eclectic and eccentric group of bicycling enthusiasts gather somewhere in northwestern Ohio for about a week’s worth of riding around in a large unconventional circle. A crucial element of this cyclical tour is that of fund-raising with a penultimate priority for that of fun-raising!
This ride’s essential purpose is to raise both awareness and money for both the storage and eventual shipment of large quantities of donated medical equipment and supplies to be delivered to countries in need abroad. Known as the M.E.S.A. Bike Tour and sponsored and supported by multiple clubs throughout what is called Ohio’s District 6600 of Rotary International, the ride performs a yeoman’s work toward an annual goal of nearly $60,000.
With this year’s initiating dart having landed on Avon Lake, the tour would take riders to such celebrated hot spots as Elyria, Lorain, Milan, Willard, Norwalk, Fremont, Fostoria, Huron, Vermillion and Amherst. Unfortunately, given the inclement weather dominating these parts, most locales were more cool that hot!
Not surprisingly, the Wednesday evening’s kickoff dinner was at an expansive senior community center not far from Lake Erie’s coast. The ensuing five-day 210-mile ride could potentially drive participants closer to such a residence or keep them off the waiting list. Time would tell along with any accumulated crashes.
The average age of our graying populous of spandex-donning pedal-pushers had to be approaching the mid-sixties. In other words, at the age of 63, I was one of the younger riders in this senior-dominated peloton. Sufficiently supported by a sizeable box truck to store bikes and supplies along with a 15-passenger “LifeCare” bus, there was nothing except the weather patterns to keep us from our appointed looping trek.
Oddly enough, the small mass of riders on any given day could rage in age from the late teens to the late seventies. Head counts varied from about fifteen to twenty. Experience ranged from those who had days earlier purchased a new bike to those who had been riding the same bike for nearly a half-century.
The collective optimism congealed each morning, having fully pressurized all tires, riders gathered for the ritual sendoff. As spokes pointing toward a hub and with all hands extended, the rousing cheer was expressed, “One! Two! Three! We ride!” One more than one occasion, with threatening skies aloft, the appendix is added, “On the bus!”
Collegiality and comradery are in delightful abundance along with a relentless dose of jocularity. Seasoned veterans and newbies alike are ascribed their irrevocable nicknames. Keeping this quirky group contained and on track was our fearless team leader, Randy “Boxcar” Box. In charge of most of the painted directions on roads was Mark “Marky-Mark” Mathes. For the man who knew how to accessorize, even possessing a raincoat for his cycling helmet, there was the lanky long-legged Sam “Everything But the Kitchen Sink” Speck.
Reverently, most quickly learn to keep their distance from the senior tour member also known for periodic instability while engaging the pedals, Al “Crash” Porter. As one of two doctors-on-wheels, we were always glad to have David “Marcus Welby, M.D.” Weldy along for the ride.
Due to complications from a tumor in his one leg leaving no muscle in one calf and a fraction of muscle in his thigh, Tim “Not So Tiny” Broud annually has seen fit to keep pace steadfastly riding the tour each of the past ten years. Endlessly promoting the ride’s invaluable global cause, attorney and spirited enthusiast Kurt “The Chronicler” Anderson kept all followers informed with daily blogs and uploaded photos.
Some argued there was only one “Hill” on the ride. His first name was John. In actuality, there were multiple steep climbs en route. When it comes to names, our bus driver was the lone exception, already endowed with the given name, John Daly. Akin to the PGA golfer of the same name, our John also had a bad knee and couldn’t ride a bike so we made him drive the bus instead.
Last but not least, yours truly, with a bicycle stature resembling a billboard more than a pencil, I was frequently relegated to the front of the pace line as Ken “Big Dog” Pollitz. Trust me when I tell you that with a stiff headwind my bark was quickly worse than my bite.
A few of us may have heartily rode only on roads around a small portion of Ohio the middle of June. The distance covered, we all knew, would stretch beyond the oceans. Our tour meant money was raised, medical equipment and supplies were generously donated, and lives eventually improved and maybe even saved as containers packed full of invaluable medical resources reaching distance shores containing people in great medical need.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org