The tour began with a father and son, Charles and Greg Sipple, of Columbus, who decided to ride their bicycles from Columbus to Portsmouth and back on Mother's Day weekend. As friends joined the trip in the years ahead, it grew to some 6,000 bicyclists.
“This is my 17th year,” said Kim Bauer, director of the Scioto County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It was about 6,000 riders when I started, and we turned away about 3,000, and we would end up with about 4,000 illegals that wouldn't pay the entry fee.”
Bauer said the reason it's important to register is the ability to be reached in case of an emergency.
The event, sponsored by Huntington Banks, Southern Ohio Medical Center and the parent company, Columbus Outdoor Pursuits, is expected to bring about 3,800 riders to Portsmouth on Saturday.
Bauer said there are food stops along the route with items such as granola bars, fruit and candy, and the pizza stops, which normally draw a large percentage of those peddling the distance.
“A church north of Waverly is doing chicken and dumplings, the pizza place in Chillicothe and some of the kids out Ohio 104 have lemonade stands with cookies and candy bars, and some of them stop there and patronize the kids,” Bauer said.
“And if your bike breaks down, there are people who will load you up and take you to a spot, and there are bicycle repair people all up and down the route. You'd be surprised, they have wrecks and need repairs,” she said.
The riders congregate in several spots in the area where they bed down for the night, but the majority will gather at Tracy Park, where Doc Roc and the Remedies perform for their entertainment.
“We put people up in the Friends Center and Life Center, both the new city schools, Shawnee State, and some of the ladies would prefer to stay, just them, rather than listen to 25 or 50 snoring men, so we're using the Holy Redeemer Activities building for that,” Bauer said.
She said a lot of local people make the trip to Columbus on Friday, make the trip south, and either just stay here or make the return trip to Columbus.
Lt. Mike Crispin, commander of the Portsmouth Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, said area motorists should take extra caution, especially along Ohio 104, which is the route the bicyclists take from just south of Waverly all the way to Portsmouth.
“Any time you come around a curve, or approach a hill, you need to slow down and take your time. The riders have a right to be on the highway as well,” Crispin said.
Bauer said another benefit of the event is the money that comes into the economy.
“We have the 3,800 registered riders, some of them have hotels, and they do the two-night stay to get the Saturday night, so you're looking at the high end, the food and incidentals, they would spend anywhere from $250 to $290,” she said. “And on the low end, some of them just come in with no frills, and they stay at the schools and eat at the churches, they spend maybe $50. So we figure for 13 to 18 hours, they bring in about $400,000, almost a half million dollars.”
Bauer said there will be a wedding this weekend. A couple which met on the ride last year will have a wedding ceremony at the Scioto County Welcome Center. Craig Forester and Pat Conlon, of Cincinnati, will bring along about 20 or 30 family and friends for the event, with one stipulation.
“They told their friends that they have to ride in the ride to come to the wedding,” she said.