Weekend bicycle ride to travel through several Southeast Missouri counties

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 ~ Updated 9:46 AM

EAST PRAIRIE, Mo. -- Despite the hot weather, organizers say the ninth annual Tour de Corn in East Prairie is on pace to be one of the largest rides to date.

The Sikeston Standard Democrat reported that, ss of Monday, 507 people were registered for the ride, and the event's registration chairperson, Pat Helms, hadn't opened the day's mail yet. A year ago, the registration was at 496, Helms said.

"The day of the ride last year, we had registered 754 people," Helms said.

Helms and other event coordinators are aware the number of riders this year could total over 800 -- a far cry from the 175 riders its first year. Riders come from all over the area and from other states, including Florida, Michigan, Oregon and South Carolina.

The ride begins at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at the Family Life Center in downtown East Prairie. From there riders will follow one of four routes -- 15, 30, 60 or 100 miles -- which lead them through Mississippi and Scott counties through towns such as Charleston, Diehlstadt, Morley, Benton, Commerce and Anniston. Everyone finishes at the starting point.

The charity event began when a local cyclist, Mike Bryant, had the idea of starting a charity ride in East Prairie. Today Bryant continues to help organize and volunteer with the event, helping put up directional signs and providing support and gear, or SAG, services.

Countless other volunteers also help to put on the event which raises funds for charity.

"We've all got our jobs to do, and everybody knows what they're supposed to do. We've done it so long now, we know what we're doing and everybody just does it -- not to say we don't learn something every year," Helms said.

Among those who help are East Prairie cyclists Monty and James Furlong, who serve on the event's committee and began volunteering with Tour de Corn its second year.

Monty Furlong fills orders for T-shirts and puts together registration packets for riders. Her husband, James Furlong, is one of 12 SAGs who travel the routes by vehicle to help riders in need.

"They are making sure nobody is lost," Furlong said. "... They haul them in if they need to or help them change flats or whatever needs to be done."

Furlong also helps Bryant with the making signs for the ride and figuring out the routes.

"They have to watch out for any road construction so it's not an endangerment to the riders," Furlong explained.

Committee member Janice Brewer is in charge of the 10 food and rest stops along the four routes of the ride. Her husband, Bill, also volunteers with the event.

"My job is to make sure we have enough of everything for 500, 700 and -- possibly 800 -- riders this year," Brewer said.

Brewer estimated registration increases by at least 50 or 60 each year.

"I buy and purchase the food and see that all the food is brought in and arrange it where they pick it up the night before the ride or make the sandwiches or set up the area where they will cook the food," Brewer said.

Every route has at least one rest stop where riders can get hot corn on the cob, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Gatorade, water and more, depending on the stops, which are manned by local residents or groups such as churches. New this year, one of the stops will provide watermelon, she said.

"Last year was our really first hot year, and I made sure we had salt products, like pretzels, trail mix and dill pickles for the riders," Brewer said.

Despite the hard work, all of the volunteers say it's well worth it when the last bike returns at the end of the day. Plus they know they're working for a good cause.

"Everything we make in some way goes back into the community. No one gets paid anything," Helms said. "Last year we gave $5,400 to charities out of our bike ride."

This year proceeds will benefit the St. Louis Shriners Children's Hospital and East Prairie Senior Citizen Nutrition Center.

Riders can register on site from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at the Main Street Party or the morning of the ride. The registration fee is $20

"It takes a real community to be able to pull of these events, and we are so pleased and honored to work with the citizens of East Prairie and the surrounding communities," Helms said. "They're great people."

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