In early fall of 2013, Renee Droessler was introduced to Lynn Cameron. “We quickly became best friends,” remembered Droessler. “Lynn was really into cycling, and one day she just said: ‘Come on, ride with me.’”
Her interest piqued, Droessler tracked down a $25 bike at a local garage sale and set off for the area trails alongside her new friend. Sufficiently hooked after her first few rides, Droessler advanced to a nicer bike, and the pair began to tackle longer sections of trail.
“We rode to Humboldt a number of times. We’ve ridden to Colony. And last year,” explained Droessler, “we actually rode 40 miles in the Gorilla Century” — a large-scale bike ride in Crawford County.
After recent foot surgery, however, Droessler is curtailing her mileage for Saturday’s Portland Alley Pedalfest, choosing to ride the shorter, 13-mile course. “I’m not near what I was last year,” said Droessler — who, as part of the National Bike Challenge, rode 207 miles during the previous July alone — “hence the shorter ride this time.
“But I always enjoy going out. I love to be on my bike. And the trails we have in Allen County are top-notch. … In the one organized ride that I have done, it’s a lot of fun, and there’s a ton of camaraderie. You’re able to meet people from other areas that get to come and enjoy our trails. From looking at the schedule of events [at Pedalfest]” — food, camping, a beer garden, and live music are planned for Saturday — “I think it’s going to be a really fun day.”
TOM AND REGINA Woodworth moved to Iola from Lebo in the spring of 2006. Or, as Tom dates it, “At the point when the Prairie Spirit Trail was only finished from Welda to Ottawa; when they were still working on finishing up the last leg from Welda to Iola.”
By the time they arrived in Allen County, the Woodworths had been cycling, with increasing devotion, for a few years, and had reached the point where they were choosing their vacation spots based upon the availability of bike trails.
“We really don’t like riding on highways or blacktops, and somewhere along the way we got interested in rail trails,” says Tom.
“And there are a lot of them in different states,” says Regina. The couple has biked trails in Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois, and Wisconsin, to name a few. “The most fun about these organized rides, or even just the rail trails themselves, is that you go through these little towns. For instance, if you’re in Minnesota or Wisconsin, you get off the beaten path and end up stopping in these little towns that each have their own culture.”
“That’s right,” agrees Tom, “the best part about these organized rides, like (Pedalfest), is the people you meet from other areas. You get to visit a little bit about bicycling, but you visit a lot about everything else. You meet people from all over the country.”
The Woodworths — who own AgVenture of Eastern Kansas, a seed company based in Iola — still ride with the same Thursday-night group they joined when they arrived in town nine years ago. The group was led then by Dave Fontaine — trail manager for the Southwind Rail Trail — who the Woodworths credit with the high standard of upkeep in evidence on the Iola-to-Humboldt stretch, which will be the starting leg for Saturday’s rides.
“Dave keeps that trail maintained better than any trail in any state we’ve ever ridden,” said Tom, who, with Regina, also stepped in as a volunteer when it came time to clear the way for the Southwind.
Pedalfest offers riders a choice of five routes, with distances ranging from 13 miles to 100 miles. The Woodworths are planning to participate in the 50-mile ride.
“Originally, what started all this for me was when I went to the doctor years ago. He said, ‘You’re cholesterol is getting kind of high — you need to exercise or take pills.’ We started exercising.”
Has it worked?
“OK, here’s the thing,” reasoned Tom. “Part of our problem is we ride to eat.” He pointed to the many times they park their bikes at the door of some distant greasy spoon. “So, no, we really don’t lose weight when we’re riding.
“Seriously, though, physically — I’m in a lot better shape now than when I was 40, and I’m 60.”
“And I’m 66,” said Regina, “and in much better shape now than when I was 50.”
DROESSLER, too, had thoughts of improving her fitness when she started out. “But not only that. I have a pretty stressful job.” She works with child protective services at the Kansas Department of Children and Families in Chanute. “So when you’ve had a stressful day or you’ve got something bothering you, you can get on your bike and you can go, and when you’re out there, it doesn’t matter. You just go out and release that stress and pedal as fast or slow as you want.
“When I first bought the used bike, it was because of the trails. I wanted to go out and ride and get some exercise and lose some weight. But then once I met Lynn, she really got me hooked on training and seeing how far we could go. You know, just really pushing myself. And we would push each other to see how far we could go.
“My ride on Saturday is going to be in her memory.” Lynn Cameron committed suicide last spring at the age of 46. “She was the one that got me started and introduced me to the others in the cycling community. She was very well known among cyclists here.
“We were biking buddies, you know. Just about every time I rode, we were side by side.”
Droessler isn’t sure whether she’ll ride alongside anyone she knows at this weekend’s event, but it doesn’t matter. “If I have to ride by myself, that’s fine too. I just put my iPod in my ears and away I go.”
Contact Thrive Allen County for further details or to register for the Portland Alley Pedalfest: 620-365-8128 or at www.thriveallencounty.org/pedalfest.