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SOUTH BEND — Fresh off a 100-mile bicycle ride under gloomy, drizzly skies, Sandy Zielinski hopped off her road bike Sunday afternoon at St. Patrick’s County Park.
“Whew, that was fun!” she exulted.
Zielinski, of South Bend, was among a record-setting number of cyclists, from families to hardcore riders, who participated in this year’s Bike Michiana for Hospice Ride, which benefits the Center for Hospice Care and Bike Michiana Coalition, organizers said.
The fifth annual ride drew an estimated 1,100 to 1,200 cyclists and likely outraised last year’s fundraising total of $54,000, said Cyndy Searfoss, director ofcommunications and annual giving with the Center for Hospice Care.
“We know we set a record as far as attendance,” Searfoss said. “We’ve seen a lot of growth every year — we bill ourselves as the Midwest’s premier ride.”
Since 2009, when the ride debuted with fewer than 500 cyclists, it has grown to become the Center for Hospice Care’s second-largest fundraiser after the agency’s annual spring dinner, Searfoss said. Last year, the event drew about 974 participants, she said.
Cyclists flock to the ride for its well-planned course, which offers unique food offerings and live music at rest stops along the way, not to mention the satisfaction that comes with helping a good cause.
“The routes are amazing, the roads are good, everybody who’s riding is so nice and friendly,” said Zielinski, who has participated each of the past three years. “Plus the food is wonderful, and it’s a good cause.”
Joe and Joyce Dunfee, of South Bend, said they enjoyed the ride itself but also like to support the Center for Hospice Care because some of their family members have received Hospice care.
“We enjoy being outside, we do cycle and we like to support Hospice, so it’s a trifecta,” Joyce Dunfee said.
Organizers said the ride, which is co-sponsored by the Bike Michiana Coalition, also draws many out-of-town and out-of-state cyclists, largely because of the unique rest stops, known to cyclists as “support and guidance,” or SAGs.
Judy Lee, of the Bike Michiana Coalition, said the ride has drawn many participants from Chicago and Indianapolis, along with others from Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and even as far as Rhode Island.
“Every year we get people from outside the community — probably states I don’t even know yet because I haven’t seen the final roster,” Lee said.
Distance options for the ride range from as short as 3 1/2 miles to 125 miles. Most years, the 40- and 60-mile routes are the most popular, Lee said. The SAG stops, placed roughly every 20 miles, each featured local fare, from Irish to Jimmy Buffett-themed. An Austrian-themed stop offered brats, sauerkraut and polka music.
“I especially enjoyed the German ‘oom-pah-pah” band at Spicer Lake,” said Lynn Schram, or Granger. “That was a nice touch.”
As cyclists enjoyed food and beer at the post-ride party at St. Patrick’s, Zielinski said her 100-mile ride was a fitting end to the cycling season.
“It’s easier to do the longer distance toward the end of the season because that’s what we work toward,” she said. “It’s a fun way to end the cycling season.”