Under the moonlight

Under the moonlight

The evening of the full moon in May offered something of a family adventure for Stephen Wald of Urbana, his wife Rachel Whitaker and their sons, 9-year-old Jesse and 7-year-old Peter. They biked along country roads under the moonlight with a large group of cyclists, with the boys fueled by the anticipation of ice cream and staying up late.

The family rode from Meadowbrook Park in Urbana to the Sidney Dairy Barn and back. The 22-mile ride is a monthly community event, organized by Gene Grass of Urbana. It isn't sponsored by any group or individual but is rather a gathering of cyclists who hear about the moonlight ride through email listservs, including those for Prairie Cycle Club and Champaign County Bikes, on Facebook and by word of mouth. The next moonlight ride will be June 19.

The ride has been taking place each month on the full moon for several years and it attracts anywhere from a handful of riders when it's cold to more than 100 in the summer months.

Blog PhotoThe rides started when former area resident Gary Cziko and Grass decided to ride to Sidney during a full moon on July 3, 2012. They kept up their full moon rides through the winter and into the next summer, and gradually more riders have joined in.

"I like the community energy," Grass said. "There's always people that are newbies that have never ridden before, and there are veterans. I like to see the energy of people coming together. Along the way they get to know other people and create new friendships.

"There are always kids on the rides too," added Grass, who rides a tandem with his 10-year-old granddaughter.

May was the first time Wald and his family rode the full distance to and from Sidney, in addition to two miles each way to and from their house to the park. For the younger son, "there was a moment of doubt when we left the ice cream place. He remembered how far it was to get there, and now it was dark," Wald said.

Peter completed the full ride though.

"I think there's a real sense of power for a kid to pedal under his own power for 26 miles. It's a sense of accomplishment," Wald said.

Ellen Hedrick of Champaign loves the variety of people and bicycles on the rides — tandem bicycles, recumbents, bikes pulling trailers or tag-alongs with kids.

What really got Hedrick hooked on the rides, though, was seeing a red moon on one of the rides. She and other cyclists stopped during a ride last year to watch the lunar eclipse. And she enjoys the descriptions of the moon in the emails about the rides. For example, May had a blue moon — the third full moon within an astronomical season with four full moons. June's full moon will be the fourth between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice.

Grass looks at almanacs for information on the different types of full moons that he puts in his monthly emails. He also includes safety tips and information about other bike events.

Blog PhotoGrass schedules the start of the ride for 20 to 25 minutes before sunset, so riders are biking as the sun sets over the prairie, then riding back from Sidney under the light of the full moon. One cyclist, Sue Jones, rides at the back of the group every month, making sure no one is left behind.

Last year, Champaign Cycle began offering mechanical assistance at the start of the rides — helping to fix flat tires or airing up tires.

"Riding at night is fun. If you're in the pack and you see all the flashing lights, it's so cool. When the bikes are all showing off their lights, it's quite a presence," Hedrick said, noting that as a rule the riders use lights and helmets.

As for safety concerns with riding at night, especially with children, Wald said his sons have flashing lights all over their bikes.

"These country roads are almost empty of traffic," Wald said. "You can really see cars coming from a mile or two away. They can see you too. Our kids are lit up like Christmas trees."

Wald suggested any family wanting to bring their children on the ride to build up to the distance by biking around town. When he and his family did the ride for the first time last year, he shuttled a car to Sidney and the family biked one way and then loaded up their bikes and drove home. The entire family bikes to many destinations around Champaign-Urbana, but riding one way to Sidney was a good way for them to see how the boys would handle a longer distance.

Once cyclists ride out to surrounding towns, they no longer seem so far, Hedrick said.

"Getting on a bike, I think, makes the world smaller. You see how accessible places are," she said.

Wald agreed: "Getting out of town on the prairie was great. I think it's just the perfect outdoor activity for Champaign-Urbana. It's really a great way to experience the landscape."

Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner, swimmer and triathlete. You can email her at jheckel@news-gazette.com, or follow her at twitter.com/jodiheckel. Her blog is at news-gazette.com/blogs/starting-line.

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