CORTLANDVILLE — Some arrived Saturday at the Cortland County Fairgrounds on professional cycling bikes. Others on your average daily riding bike. There was even a couple on a tandem bike.
Oh, and there were 440 of these bikers. They were all participating in the 20th anniversary of the YMCA’s Bon Ton Roulet fundraiser — a week-long bike ride touring the Finger Lakes region — coordinated by the Cortland YMCA and the YMCA-WEIU of Auburn.
“It’s got some challenges to it,” said Dan Artley of Baltimore, Maryland, barely winded after finishing the more than 150 mile ride for his third time. “There are good steady climbs and good descents.”
All of the riders gathered and camped out at the fairgrounds on July 23, to rest up for the start of the long ride. At 8 a.m. the next morning all 440 riders set off for Emerson Park in Auburn. They camped there and set off for Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva on July 25.
The college acted as thebikers’ home base for three days, July 25 to 27 with ashort 40-mile and long 100-mile bike ride course available to participate in while there, said Matt Kemek, membership marketing director for Cortland YMCA and committee member for the Bon Ton fundraiser. Along with the entry fee, bikers could pay extra for tent accommodations or even stay in one of the college’s dormitories, he said. They could also bring their own tent.
The entry also includes two meals a day — breakfast and dinner — and the availability of two rest stops throughout the days which provide snacks and water.
On Thursday, riders made their way from Geneva to Wells College in Aurora, where they would stay for two days, using the same accommodation options available in Geneva. There were also the short and long bike ride routes to participate in. Then on Saturday, all the bikers completed their journey by heading back to the fairgrounds, welcomed by a light shower of rain.
But the weather clearly did not hamper any of the spirits of the bikers as they all returned with a smile, happy to have successfully completed the long trek. Two of those people were Alan and Dawn Felsen, from Washington, D.C., who completed the whole ride on a tandem bike for the 16th time.
Alan Felsen said the tandem bike is faster than a single bike and it allows them to always stay together and enjoy the ride.
“The weather is much nicer here than in D.C.,” Dawn Felsen said. “The terrain is beautiful. The local people are nice. And the wine is really good.”
Dawn Felsen said she and her husband plan to celebrate completing the tour with the three cases of wine they picked up along the way. Luggage vehicles travel with the group to hold any extra items for the riders.
Unlike the Tour de France, this tour was no race. Participants could pedal along at their own pace and they did not have to participate in the entire week, although the majority of riders did.
For Meghan Rahner of Cortland the ride has become a family tradition for the past seven years, as her father, Doug, is the volunteer doctor on the tour, but she enjoys seeing new faces every year.
“I enjoy being with the people,” Rahner said. “You get to meet people you have never met before.”
Kemek said in 2012 there were more than 600 riders on the tour, but even though the number has dropped over the years, it has stayed steady at about450 participants in recent years.
But 450 riders is still enough for the event to raise $60,000 to $70,000 a year, he said. That money is split between the Cortland and Auburn YMCA and used to develop youth and family events.
“Best thing is everyone is happy,” Kemek said. “It is a stress-free experience, and it is a beautiful ride.”