Missouri News

500 bike riders pour into Hannibal on final day of 300-mile trek across the Show-Me State

After stopping at the Mark Twain Brewing Co. for a meal Friday, Becca Wilson, Jake McDaniel, center, and Nathan Dick, all from St. Louis, head out to find a camping area to spend the night. They rode bicycles across Missouri with about 500 other riders as part of the annual Big BAM cycling event. | H-W Photo/Michael Kipley
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 17, 2016 10:50 pm Updated: Jun. 17, 2016 11:41 pm

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Joe Coelho of Canton and his daughter, Savannah, spent a little quality time together the past six days.

They rode bicycles across Missouri with about 500 other riders and shared a tent each night as part of the annual Big Bicycle Across Missouri cycling event.

The Big BAM ride started Sunday in St. Joseph and ended Friday in Hannibal -- a distance of 300 miles.

The father-daughter duo started Big BAM by dipping the rear tires of their bikes in the Missouri River at St. Joe and ended the excursion Friday by dipping their front tires in the Mississippi River at Hannibal.

They were both filled with a sense of accomplishment -- particularly Savannah, 24, a graduate student at Quincy University.

"I've never been really good at anything, and I never thought I could do anything like this. But I did it," she said. "Now I feel like anything is possible."

Joe Coelho, a 54-year-old biology professor at QU, said the six-day trip was grueling at times, considering much of the ride took place in 90-plus-degree heat while the riders were confronted with occasional headwinds and plenty of steep hills.

But he actually found himself getting stronger each day.

"Today I feel the best I've had all week because I've had all week to train," he said.

Friday's final leg was a 53-mile trek from Shelbina to Hannibal. The route took riders through Palmyra, where volunteers offered refreshments to the passing bikers. Coelho said towns all across the state put out the welcome mat.

"The communities really came out and supported the riders wherever we went," he said. "Hamilton, Chillicothe, Shelbina -- they all pulled out the stops."

Hannibal also provided a big welcome for the riders. An outdoor party with music, food and drinks was organized in the downtown area. More than 75 local volunteers pitched in to help guide the riders through town, show them hospitality and clean up afterward.

"It's gone fairly smooth," said Gordon Ipson of Hannibal, who coordinated the volunteers. "We had to adapt on the fly a little bit."

Ipson said the volunteers were expecting the first riders to arrive about noon, but some early birds started trickling in by 10:30 a.m. -- hoping to beat the heat by riding early.

One late-arriving rider was Michael Byrd, 44, an architect from St. Louis. He pulled into downtown Hannibal about 5 p.m. -- much later than his wife, Tracey.

"She rode with our friends in the faster group," he said.

This was the second Big BAM for the Byrds. Byrd said he learned from last year not to be in a hurry to reach each day's destination. So he and some friends started off later than other riders.

"This group started calling itself Team Half Price, because every time we'd get to a stop, the townspeople would be packing up and were ready to get rid of whatever they had left," he said.

Roger Denesha, 44, of Merriam, Kan., had good reason to feel tired at the conclusion of Friday's ride. He had just finished the Big BAM with everyone else, but he started the ride one day after finishing a 500-mile bike ride across Kansas.

"I've been riding for 13 days straight," he said. "It's been great. I could have used a day off to rest, though."

Denesha was riding what he calls his Christmas Bike. It's a BMX racer that he decorated like a Christmas tree, complete with lights and jingling bells. While riding, Densha would wear an old BMX helmet from the 1970s adorned with a black face mask and topped with red devil horns.

"I try to look like I just jumped out of a time machine," he said.

Denesha said he loves riding in long-distance events. He plans to take part in Iowa's RAGBRAI -- the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa -- at the end of July.

"The main reason I do it is for fitness," he said. "I'm a computer programmer, and I don't do anything in the winter. So this really gets you in shape. But you're also having fun and meeting friends."

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