TERRE HAUTE —
At 7:10 a.m. Saturday, the first wave of RAIN bicyclists crossed the Wabash River bridge, raced past the Vigo County Courthouse and continued along Ohio Street as they began their 160-mile trek across Indiana.
A mass of brightly colored neon shirts sped by, with riders on road bikes, tandem bikes, recumbent bikes and even a velomobile, a kind of bicycle car.
As they passed the intersection of Ohio and Third streets, several onlookers cheered, with some planning to accompany the riders by driving support vehicles. The weather cooperated, at least in the morning, with sunny skies and a cool 62 degrees.
More than 1,500 bicyclists participated in the 26th Ride Across INdiana, which started at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College and ended in Richmond. Riders primarily follow U.S. 40, with some detours near Indianapolis.
The biking enthusiasts came from communities across Indiana and places as far away as Phoenix, Dayton, Ohio, and Louisville, Ky.
“It’s a great ride” and a challenge, said Nick Brunet of Milwaukee, Wis., just minutes before the event was scheduled to begin. This is his second RAIN.
His parents planned to drive a support vehicle. “It’s exciting to see them take off all at once,” said Brunet’s father, Doug. “It’s a long day, but it’s actually quite exciting to watch.”
St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, which served as headquarters for the event, buzzed with activity Friday night and early — before sunrise — on Saturday. About 300 riders spent Friday night at LeFer Hall, with some bicyclists pitching tents on the campus grounds.
Among those setting up tents Friday were several members of the Louisville Bicycle Club. The group included RAIN rookies and veterans. “It’s a fun, well-run event,” said Scott Hoback, who hoped to improve his time this year. He also enjoys the bicycle camaraderie.
Richard Hoopengardner, also from the Louisville Bicycle Club, said biking is great exercise. “I get to clear my mind and it’s a challenge for me to do better each time I go out,” he said. RAIN “is a fabulous ride. I’ll be coming back to this ride as long as I’m physically able to.”
Last year, his time was 9 hours and 15 minutes, and this year the goal is 8 hours and 30 minutes.
Some rode for a cause, including 30-year-old Kristin Fleschner and her dad, Terre Haute attorney Steve Fleschner, who together rode a tandem bike. They are riding in three events to raise awareness about juvenile diabetes and blindness, and their fundraising will benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Kristin, diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 13, underwent a successful pancreas transplant at age 25. While she is no longer diabetic, she is visually impaired.
She is riding in honor of her organ donor.
The Fleschners participated in the St. Ben’s Festival Hauteans in Motion bike ride last weekend, and they’ll do another ride at Lake Tahoe, Nev., in September.
While she’s riding for a cause, “I’m also looking forward to spending time with my dad because I’m not in Indiana a lot,” she said. They’ll spend a lot of time talking.
Steve recently finished an Ironman triathlon in Idaho.
“He’s in great shape — a lot better shape than me, so I’m going to be relying on him, his strength and mental toughness,” Kristin said.
She looked forward to the journey across Indiana. While she’s lived in Africa, Washington, D.C. and Boston, and currently attends Harvard Law School, she’s glad to be back home again.
“It’s nice to be out on a country road and see cornfields. It’s very refreshing. I’m really excited,” she said.
Steve Fleschner also looked forward to the ride and spending time with his daughter. “I think it will be fun, he said. “It will be a challenge.”
Elsewhere on campus Friday, 19-year-old Mark Pace of Dayton and his parents, Alice and Ben, also planned to camp outside.
While all three ride bikes, only Mark planned to do RAIN. His parents planned to drive ahead in a support vehicle and meet him at rest stops on the course.
“I’ve done a lot of other types of rides, but I’ve never done one this far,” Pace said. A family friend told him about it.
Inside LeFer Hall on Friday, 62-year-old Dave Tanner, a member of the Bloomington Bicycle Club that sponsors RAIN, assisted with registration.
Saturday marked his 26th Ride Across INdiana. He and two friends, who were also brothers, did the ride together until one of the brothers died. “When he died, I felt it was my responsibility to keep it going,” Tanner said.
The ride has gotten bigger and bigger each year, he said. He estimated there were about 50 riders the first year.
Riders are drawn “by the challenge of getting across the state,” Tanner said. Those who come back year after year try to improve their time.
Potential challenges Saturday included a headwind and heat, he said.
Among those lodging inside LeFer Hall was Rod Morrison, 57, of Wabash, who was impressed with the college and campus. “This is a beautiful location,” he said. He did RAIN once before two years ago.
When asked why he came back, he said, “I’m crazy.”
The first time he did RAIN, “I was in such pain at the end of the 160 miles I quit bicycling altogether — for about a half hour. Then I decided, I’ll ride again but I’ll never do this ride ever again.”
But a few days later, Morrison decided he’d do RAIN again, but prepare himself so he would be in better shape. “I’ve been training hard and I feel like I’m more prepared than I was two years ago,” he said.
One of the riders, 14-year-old Nolan Vogelsang, came with his dad all the way from Phoenix for RAIN. Nolan is the nephew of Keith Vogelsang, president of the Bloomington Bicycle Club.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Nolan, who does triathlons. “It’s great training and a new experience.” He doesn’t plan to go super-fast, but he does want to finish.
Just before sunrise Saturday, RAIN bicyclists could be seen throughout Terre Haute — in front of hotels and restaurants, with some riding their bicycles north on Third Street on their way to the St. Mary-of-the Woods campus.
Cars and SUVs carrying bicycles were lined up at intersections.
On campus — as the 7 a.m. start time neared — riders, friends and family converged at The Woods, with bicycles everywhere. Riders made last-minute preparations, took pictures and then queued up for RAIN. They rode down U.S. 150 toward Historic National Route 40.
The end goal was Richmond, 160 miles away.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or email@example.com.