It was about 5:30 Saturday morning when Steve and Megan Shaffer packed up their bicycles and headed toward Brownstown from their home in Mooresville.
The Morgan County community is southwest of Indianapolis — some 70 miles from Brownstown — but the father and daughter recently took up cycling together as a hobby and found the 27th annual Brownstown Exchange Club Round Barn Ride online.
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The ride, which takes cyclists on scenic rides throughout the western part of Jackson County, was held Saturday.
“I’ve been riding for about a year and we were wanting to do a ride and saw this one on a website and decided to try it,” Steve said while taking a break at the Stuckwisch Barn in Medora. “She (Megan) joined me a few months ago, and it’s something we like to do.”
The club expected about 80 cyclists to participate. Riders had the option to cycle routes of 32, 68 or 80 miles.
Some of the sites along those routes include the county’s two remaining round barns; Starve Hollow State Recreation Area; Hackman Family Farm Market; Tiemeyer’s Farm Market; and the Medora Covered Bridge, the longest historic covered bridge in the country. Riders also could visit the historic Medora Brick Plant site, a mile or so southwest of Medora.
The 32-mile ride features flat and gently rolling hills, while the 62-mile and 81-mile distances add challenging hills in the Norman and Kurtz areas. Longer routes are a great opportunity for people to get in some training miles before the annual 160-mile Ride Across Indiana bike ride July 21.
The Shaffers rode the 32-mile ride and said the scenes were enjoyable. Megan said the landscape of Jackson County featured some hills she wasn’t quite prepared for as a new rider.
“The first hill was a doozy,” she said with a laugh.
The two also were briefly chased by a dog.
“I was alright because I had her between me and the dog,” Steve joked.
The Stuckwisch round barn, southeast of Medora off State Road 235, is about midway through the 32-mile ride. The two were greeted there by Exchange Club vice president Kevin Stiles’ Alaskan Malamute, Gheimhreadh.
“Hey there,” Steve said as he pet the dog.
The dog’s name is Irish for “Winter,” Stiles said as the dog patiently let other riders come by for a visit to scratch him behind the ears.
Tedd Krischak made the trip from Terre Haute for the ride and said it was the first time he had participated in it.
“I’ve ridden here before, but this is the first for this ride,” he said before departing from the Brownstown Central Middle School parking lot on the 81-mile route. “I heard it was really well organized, the route was really pretty and there wasn’t much traffic on the county roads.”
The Shaffers and Krischak selected different distances, but had the same strategy: Arrive early to beat the heat.
Temperatures were expected to reach the mid-90s Saturday, which significantly reduces the number of riders, said Joe Bradley, an Exchange Club member and the ride organizer.
Krischak acknowledged the heat as he put on his riding gloves.
“80 miles is a high mileage for me as hot as it is and it will be challenge,” Krischak said.
Steve Shaffer agreed.
“We wanted to get going before the heat came, so that’s why we got here so early,” he said.
The first ride was organized when a couple of Exchange Club members were involved in cycling and thought it would be good to start a local ride. The group raises money through $25 registration fees in hopes of raising about $1,000 to help some 40 local organizations it supports.
“We don’t give a lot, but we try to spread it around,” Bradley said. “Anchor House (a homeless shelter in Seymour) is something we like to support, the schools and DECA.”
The organization is active in supporting students and honors one high school student from Brownstown Central High School each month. A student of the year is picked from the monthly honorees.
The longevity of the ride is impressive, Bradley said.
“It’s pretty amazing,” he said. “I think people enjoy the barns and Medora Covered Bridge and once you get away from town, it’s really pretty rolling country and people enjoy that.”
The ride attracts many people from all over Indiana, Bradley said. In the past, riders have even traveled from other states, including Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee and Michigan. The only year the ride was canceled was 2015 when roads in the Medora area were flooded.
It’s also a fun time for group members that volunteer to help organize the ride. The volunteers direct riders, provide drinks, snacks and historical information at the stops.
“I think coming out and meeting the people and being out along the route with them is enjoyable,” Bradley said.
Megan Shaffer said the time spent together riding is a great time to bond. Her father said riding with his daughter is a win-win because he spends time with her. It also has another benefit.
“We just wanted to get up and do something,” he said. “It’s good exercise.”