COLUMBIA – Bike, walk or wheel? Try splash, dash and dodge.
Amid pouring rain and the occasional rumble of thunder, Columbia residents ventured to one – or more – of the 12 breakfast stations scattered across the city as a part of the eighth annual Bike, Walk & Wheel Week. The week-long event, presented by GetAbout Columbia, encourages residents to swap car keys for bicycles or walking shoes in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle through active transportation.
An estimated 865 people attended the event, said Janet Godon, program coordinator for the PedNet Coalition in partnership with GetAbout Columbia. While overall attendance was lower than previous years, several stations saw an increase in participants, Godon said.
"We've had a few less people with the rain and lightning, but we've had some die-hards too," said Steve Stonecipher-Fisher, Tryathletics owner and co-sponsor of the MKT-Forum Boulevard breakfast station. Stonecipher-Fisher said his station typically feeds 150 participants, mostly bicycle commuters or walkers on the MKT trail. He estimated 30 people stopped for breakfast in the rain, which began minutes after the 7 a.m. kickoff.
“It’s a little drippy,” Stonecipher-Fisher warned breakfast-seekers as they navigated the soppy grass inside the tent. Four volunteers joked with veteran bicycle commuter Dale Wade as he modeled his "rain shoes," which were constructed of plastic bags and rubber bands.
At the Activity and Recreation Center, Columbia Catholic School students in neon green Bike, Walk & Wheel shirts nibbled on bagels and donuts while admiring the rain and lightning from the safety of the center's covered entrance. The students were supposed to walk the mile from the recreation center to their school, but lightning forced the students to carpool.
"I'm so disappointed. I didn't want to cancel, but we couldn't chance it with the lightning," said Amy Gundy, Columbia Catholic physical education teacher and organizer of the students' walk.
Gundy said the students look forward to the walk all year. "Their favorite thing to do is to get people to honk," she said. In previous years, the train of 200 fourth through sixth graders, their parents and their siblings elicited a boisterous response from passing cars, Gundy said. About 30 students, many accompanied by parents nursing cups of hot coffee, stopped for breakfast today.
Gundy's disappointment was echoed by several attendees who were forced to scratch biking or walking plans because of the thunderstorm. At Shiloh Bar and Grill on Broadway, members of the Ridgeway Elementary Walking School Bus ate biscuits and gravy from Broadway Diner as they laughed about the breakfast station event's history of rainy days.
Ian Thomas, executive director of the PedNet Coalition and organizer of Fairview Elementary's Walking School Bus, planned to complete a 10-mile bicycle trek across Columbia. Thomas, accompanied by a trio of Fairview fourth- and fifth-grade students, had already stopped at two other stations.
Despite canceled walks or bike rides, the morning's message of staying healthy by being active was not lost on the many students who attended the event before school.
"It's a good way to show kids there's a way to get around other than a car," said volunteer Steve Spellman.
The Bike, Walk & Wheel Challenge has grown from 700 participants in 2001 to 4,500 participants in 2008. Other events included a lunch seminar on commuting by bicycle and free rides on Columbia city buses.
The festivities conclude Saturday with a seven-mile "Bike Ride with Mom." Participants should meet at 10 a.m. at Flat Branch Park's playground for the round-trip ride to Twin Lakes Shelter on the MKT trail.