PITTSBURG, Kan. —
For six and a half hours Friday in a brisk wind and temperatures that never exceeded 30 degrees, a Salvation Army bell ringer at the Pittsburg Wal-Mart found himself working up a sweat.
And burning nearly 5,000 calories.
Pittsburg resident and avid cyclist Todd McGeorge, 47, was ringing the bell on a bike. Or rather, his bike was ringing the bell.
With the bike locked in to a static trainer outside the north entrance, he not only attracted attention from shoppers, his kettle was one of the heaviest in recent weeks, Salvation Army officials said.
Keeping the pedals on his Trek going around from 2 to 8:30 p.m. was the product of McGeorge’s fitness level and determination, but he credited the finesse of the bike’s bell contraption to the expertise of Tailwind Cyclist owner Roger Lomshek and shop mechanic Bob Dicken.
“About a week ago, I asked Roger if he could help me with this, and he said my back wheel was spinning too much — 200 rpms — and that would make the bell sound like a fire bell,” McGeorge said as he spun. “So he and Bob messed with it, and it’s worked like a charm.”
They mounted two bells — a standard bike handlebar bell and the bell from a teapot — to a piece of PVC pipe and wood, then mounted that to the spot on the bike frame normally occupied by the water bottle cage.
Each pedal stroke rang one bell, then the other.
It had the desired effect: In the span of 30 minutes, more than a dozen shoppers dropped coins and bills into the kettle, all with smiles and some with shouts of encouragement. McGeorge greeted each with a “Merry Christmas” and a thanks, never breaking his rhythm.
“As soon as people see me from 50 yards away, they have ear-to-ear grins,” he said Friday night. “I’ve gotten a great response.”
Their most common question?
“Everyone wants to know how far I’ve gone. I have no idea. I haven’t left this spot,” he joked at 8 p.m. “Seriously, I have no odometer, so I can’t tell. I just know I’ve been doing this for six hours.”
During that time, he’s smelled steak cooking at nearby Applebee’s and has a direct view of Arby’s across the street.
“A stranger brought me a chicken sandwich today, and it was awesome,” he said.
He needn’t worry about his calorie intake on the bike, nor after he’s done, for at least a few days: According to his wireless heart rate monitor attached to the handlebars, he had burned 4,412 calories. But McGeorge, who has ridden the New Year’s Day Century Ride for many years and puts in at least 100 miles a week on his bike, downplayed his effort.
“It’s not like being on the road in the wind,” he said. “And I’m not going that hard. Plus, being on a seven-hour road ride is lonely. This is not. Being in Pittsburg, every third person you see is someone you know.”
He was scheduled to ring the bell from just 2 to 4 but was asked by Salvation Army to stay longer.
“I think it’s gotten too cold for people to stand out here, but I’m hot,” he said, wiping perspiration from his brow. “I feel fine.”
For much of the day, he was kept company by representatives from Strong Tower Ministries who handed him water occasionally and offered him kind words.
“I think it’s awesome for him to come out in the cold weather and give back to the community in this way,” said Shane Dews, one of the company’s representatives. “People have come up just to give to the kettle that normally probably wouldn’t have stopped.”
Perhaps the person who got the biggest kick out of the stunt, though, was Salvation Army kettle coordinator Roger Rank.
“He has the personality and the stamina to pull this off, and he’s just an all-around good guy,” Rank said as he checked in with McGeorge in the final hour.
Rank good-naturedly observed that McGeorge also was a little nuts — something Rank said he could identify with, because in 2000 he did his own stunt at Wal-Mart to try to raise money for the kettles.
“I walked on my hands for seven hours and 40 minutes at the south door here,” said Rank, who was 53 at the time.
As a result, he made it into the 2002 Guinness Book of World Records.
“To me, though, this is more awesome,” he said. “And it may be the heaviest kettle we’ve had, weightwise. It was a really good day. Well worth the effort for him to come and do this.”