COLUMBIA — People wiped water from their faces as they came in from the rain early Friday morning, their tennis shoes squishing. It was well worth the effort for these cyclists and walkers.
Inside Shiloh Bar and Grill on Broadway — along with 11 other locations — a free hot breakfast awaited the travelers for the 7th Annual Bike, Walk and Wheel Challenge, a program designed to spur Columbians to get out of their cars and use alternate modes of transportation.
The program dates to 2001, when mayor Darwin Hindman challenged people to bike, walk and wheel to their destinations. Participation has grown from 750 people the first year to about 4,000 this year.
Friday was breakfast station day, and people of all ages and backgrounds joined in for the free food.
“We’ve planned on going since the beginning of the week,” said Shelley Botts, who was among the students and members of the local workforce gathered at Shiloh’s.
Botts has been a “driver” for one of the “walking school buses” serving Columbia schools for the past three years. These walking groups are designed so that students meet and are picked up at various stops along their route. Every school day, Botts starts on Clayton Road and ends up at Ridgeway Elementary, a distance of three-fourths a mile.
Botts was accompanied Friday morning by 13 students who were chowing down on biscuits and gravy, eggs and fruit while all wearing matching chef hats from Broadway Diner, which provided the food.
Anne Heine, a nursing professor at MU who has volunteered with Bike, Walk and Wheel Week for all seven years, said the events increase awareness of other modes of transportation. “The kids learn it, and then they tell their parents,” she said.
Ethan Forte, a fifth-grader at Lee Elementary, not only told his dad about the program, he woke him up to get breakfast and walk to school. Forte registered for the Bike, Walk and Wheel Challenge through his school and brought his dad along.
Heather Carver and her two daughters were also eating breakfast at Shiloh. Carver and her daughters often ride their bikes to school. Ellie Carver-Horner, who is a little too young to keep up, rides in a wagon “powered by Dad,” Carver said.
“It starts the day off. There is time to talk, stretch and get a little exercise,” said Carver, whose daughter Tricia also walks to Lee Elementary with the walking school bus.
“Something as simple as having the kids walk to school can cut down pollution,” Carver said.
“I think it’s good exposure,” said Jessica Johnson, a medical student at MU. Johnson recently moved to Columbia from Iowa and rides to class every day.
“It helps others to get a boost to get going,” Johnson said about the program.
Some who attended the breakfast had longer commutes. David VanDyke bikes from his home on Green Meadows Road and Providence Road to his job in downtown Columbia, a total commute of about 5 miles.
Regardless of commute times, the program is getting more people out of the habit of driving and into the habit of actively commuting.
“It really makes you think about it,” said Leslie Schneider, who lives about two miles from work and was encouraged by Bike, Walk and Wheel Week to start walking and riding to work on a regular basis.
The challenge ends on Sunday with a seven-mile Mother’s Day ride. Participants will meet at 11 a.m. at the shelter at Twin Lakes Park and will then ride to Flat Branch Park. There is still time to register online at getaboutcolumbia.com.