Vermillion comforts Tour de Kota riders

Vermillion comforts Tour de Kota riders
Mother Nature wasn't too kind to participants of the Third Annual Argus Leader Tour de Kota bike ride on Sunday.

Vermillion residents did all they could to ease their pain.

The bikers, many of whom began arriving in town Saturday to spend the night in tents and campers in Barstow Park, rose early Sunday to dine on a pancake breakfast served in the National Guard Armory by the Vermillion Lions Club.

Dozens then took advantage of cooler temperatures and, at the time, somewhat calm winds, to take part in one of two scenic loop rides in the Vermillion region.

One of the loops was 70 miles long; the second was 30 miles long.

The more courageous bikers, after catching their wind, chose to participate in both loops to complete a 100-mile century ride.

But by mid- to late-afternoon, when many of the century riders still had miles to go before reaching Vermillion once again, nature turned out to be a major nemesis.

The temperature climbed into the mid-90s, and riders had to buck a southern gale of hot air on their return trip.

They made it back to Barstow Park Sunday afternoon, however � some a little worse for wear.

Vermillion was prepared to help. Bikers were welcomed to take a soothing dip in the Prentis Park swimming pool, or shower at Vermillion Middle School.

The Eagles began serving ice cold beer at 2 p.m. in Barstow Park, and bikers who needed to replenish calories flitted from stand to stand at the park, dining on walking tacos, prime rib sandwiches, pizza, fruit and bagels.

Those who needed to load up on carbs dined on pasta served in the armory by the United Methodist Church.

Rick Wanderscheid of Sioux City, IA, found plenty to eat the vendors' stands at Barstow Park. But he left enough room to top his evening meal with an ice cream sundae he purchased at the Vermillion Music Boosters food stand.

Sunday's conditions were nothing new to Wanderscheid. He bikes between 3,000 and 4,000 miles annually. And he participated in last year's Argus Leader Tour de Kota, and had such a good time, he decided to try it again.

Wanderscheid, who has been biking for five years, cites South Dakota hospitality as one of the main reasons he's participating in the event again.

"The way the people in the small towns treat you � it's like you are part of their family," he said. "Everybody is just really, really friendly."

And, he added, Tour de Kota is a more personal experience than Iowa's famous long-distance bike ride, Ragbrai, an acronym for the (Des Moines) Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.

"The small towns in South Dakota put out good food at reasonable prices," Wanderscheid said, "and they go out of their way to help you. It really makes it a fun experience."

By late Sunday afternoon, Mike Gaugh was laughing with friends in the shade of a picnic shelter at Barstow Park.

Gaugh, from Watertown, has ridden in all three Tour de Kota bike rides.

"I'm on my way home," he said with a chuckle, referring to his hometown serving as the ultimate destination of this year's event. "My wife dropped me off, said 'have fun,' and she left."

It's estimated that nearly 800 cyclists are currently getting an up-close-and-personal tour of eastern South Dakota. By the end of this week, when they arrive in Watertown, they will have ridden up to 475 miles through more than 30 towns. After their send-off in Vermillion, the bikers rode through Meckling, took part in a kiddie bike parade in Wakonda, and were greeted in Volin, Viborg and Irene before reaching Lennox, their stop for Monday night.

By Tuesday night, the group had settled in for some hometown hospitality in Dell Rapids.

Eventually, the bikers will cruise through Madison and up north to DeSmet, the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, before finally reaching Watertown at the end of the week.

When the tour reaches Watertown and the Glacial Lakes area, cyclists will be riding through some of the prettiest scenery in the state.

The Argus Leader Tour de Kota, to Gaugh, who turns 55 at the end of this week, is a proving ground of sorts.

"I've signed up every year, probably to see if I can do it," he said, still feeling energetic enough Sunday afternoon to joke with people he was meeting. "I'm old. I called my wife, Connie, and said I'll either make it home, or you'll be called by an undertaker somewhere along the route."

Gaugh, an electric power dispatcher in Watertown, is well-prepared for the Tour de Kota. He trains at a recreation center during the winter months, and begins biking outdoors in the spring when the weather starts to warm.

He doesn't participate in bike rides in Nebraska or Iowa. The Tour de Kota, he said, is a fulfilling experience.

"It's all the people you get to meet," Gaugh said. "You get to visit with a lot of neat people from all over the country, and all over South Dakota. I've already met people from Florida, Connecticut, Missouri, California � just people from all over the place.

"It's really neat to just talk with them," he added. "That's really cool. It's a neat camaraderie."

Haugh, who rode alone the first year he participated in the bike ride, was joined Sunday by his niece and her husband. "We're trying to get the family involved," he said. "It's fun spending time with my niece; I don't usually get to see her much during the year."

Mary Jean Prichard also traveled to Vermillion from her home in Watertown, to ride the Tour de Kota with her friend, Bonnie Karst.

"She and I are riding the whole week, and our husbands are joining us Wednesday night in Madison to do the last two days, and the Saturday fun ride," Prichard said.

"If they get our houses clean and our dishes done, they can come," Karst said, accentuating her statements with an infectious laugh.

"This is her (Karst's) third year, and my second at riding in the tour," Prichard said.

The two women have spent plenty of time in Watertown's rec center, getting ready for this week. In the last year, they've logged hundreds upon hundreds of miles on stationary bikes, lifted weights and taken yoga classes.

"As soon as the weather turned nice, she and I usually logged about 200 miles a week outside on our bikes," Prichard said.

Last year, Prichard alone logged over 3,000 miles on her bike.

"I just love it; it's my passion," she said. "It really is."

Even her husband, Prichard said, wonders about her enthusiasm.

"He asked me about it Saturday before we came down here," she said. "I think he's trying to figure out why I like doing this so much.

"I think it's because for a whole week, this is my only job � to ride my bike," Prichard said. "I don't have to cook, I don't have to clean, I don't work on the computer or answer the phone. It's freedom."

Prichard and Karst prefer not to rough it during the week. Instead of sleeping in a tent each night, they prefer the more comfortable setting of a motel room.

"I really enjoy all of the different towns and cities that we travel through," Karst said, "and meeting everybody. Especially a lot of the children. They are really excited to see all of the bikers roll into town, and that's exhilarating."

Karst and Prichard ride together, and get through the tough times � those times when the temperature climbs and a hot South Dakota gale is blowing right into their faces � by shouting encouraging words to each other.

"We shout pizza! Ice cream!" Karst said, with that laugh that rang through Barstow Park.

"Beer! said Prichard. "It's like dangling a carrot in front of a donkey. Whenever we ride into a wind, I'm always shouting over my shoulder 'It burns more calories! It burns more calories!' "

Karst especially enjoys meeting people all of this week from a variety of backgrounds and home towns across the country, who have at least one thing in common.

"We all want to do this. That's the whole point of the ride," she said. "I've never met a biker I didn't like."

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