By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. — By 8:30 a.m. Thursday, cyclists started arriving at a local bike shop, Tailwind Cyclists, to begin preparations for a tradition that to many might seem grueling, perhaps even foolhardy, on the first day of January.
To the riders who gathered, though, being part of the annual New Year’s Day Century Ride meant two things: openly declaring their dedication to outdoor fitness, and setting and meeting a goal that’s both physical and mental.
In the eight years since Tailwind owner Roger Lomshek began the ride, temperatures have varied wildly, from a low of 13 degrees to a high near 65.
Last year, a group of a dozen riders bound for Fort Scott pushed off at 9 a.m. with the temperature near 20 degrees and the wind blowing steadily out of the northwest at more than 15 mph.
This year, a group of six bound for Joplin, Mo., pushed off at 9:30 a.m. under a blue, sunny sky, with the temperature just over freezing at 34 degrees. A brisk wind out of the south proved challenging, but the riders intentionally headed into it so the wind would be at their backs on the return.
Participants had the option of dropping out at any time and completing a shorter loop, which Jonathan Davis, of Pittsburg, did in order to meet family obligations.
But those with even the slightest forethought that they might not do well on the ride opted out before starting. Avid cyclist Hermann Nonnenmacher, of Pittsburg, who has joined the annual ride in the past, showed up at the shop to extend good wishes to the group, but he was not suited up because he had ridden 65 miles on Wednesday.
“I knew I lacked the mental and physical commitment today,” he said.
Lomshek said attitude is one of the key ingredients vital to success on a wintertime ride.
“This ride is a chance for anyone willing, and foolish enough, to show their determination for maintaining physical fitness no matter the weather,” Lomshek said. “The ride gives these hardy few a chance to spit in the eye of nature and shake their fist in the face of Father Time.”
“I’m doing it because this is a personal challenge for me,” said Tyson Patrick, a recent graduate of Pittsburg State University who has come close, but has never hit the 100-mile mark.
Tom Bagby, a former Pittsburg resident and Tailwind employee, traveled from his home in Colorado to participate in the ride. He completed the ride last year and was looking forward to the camaraderie of the ride again this year.
Avid cyclists Todd and Deborah McGeorge, of Pittsburg, have joined in the New Year’s Day Century Ride before, but Deborah McGeorge has never completed the entire distance.
“This will be my first year to do the whole 100 miles,” she said. “But I had more time this fall and winter to put in miles training.”
The couple ride their bikes at least five to six days a week in the summer, and it is not unusual for them to put in more than 300 miles in a week.
Notably absent this year was Lomshek’s wife, Rebecca, who co-owns the shop and is an avid cyclist. She completed the same ride that Nonnenmacher did on Wednesday.
“It’s hard to find a baby sitter at 8 a.m. on New Year’s Day,” she joked as she snapped the traditional annual picture of the group in front of the shop before the riders departed.
In addition to attitude and putting in training miles, Roger Lomshek said, water is vital to success on a wintertime ride, debunking the notion that dehydration attacks only during warm weather.
The right kind of food also is important, he said, noting that “those that stick with you” are better than those that give only quick energy.
“I had oatmeal, a banana and toast with peanut butter this morning,” Deborah McGeorge said of her preparations, adding that she also was careful not to overdress.
“I didn’t wear my warmest base layer,” she said. “It’s actually pretty nice today.”
Cold-weather gear specially designed for cyclists, including shoe covers, cycling tights, skull caps, face masks and toe warmers inside cycling shoes, help them in reaching their goal.
“Peer pressure also helps,” said Roger Lomshek, who readily admitted to attempting to coerce as many area cyclists into participating as possible. “You gotta have somebody to ride behind on a day like today.”
Todd McGeorge sported a pair of mitten-like shells designed to attach to the handlebars and cover the brake and shift levers, allowing him to slip his gloved hands inside to block the wind chill.
It was the wind chill that proved to be the group’s biggest challenge for the duration of the ride.
“Coming through Baxter Springs, the wind switched to westerly, so we were limited on the tailwind, but we soldiered through,” Roger Lomshek said.
Logging 100 miles
Five riders completed the ride in its entirety. It took them five hours and 45 minutes.
By Andra Bryan Stefanoni