- Associated Press - Monday, May 8, 2017

PORTAGE, Wis. (AP) - A woman sent out invitations to a group of six friends to go on a long, loosely planned bike trip and 25 years later it continues with more than two dozen friends regularly joining the ride.

“Our first ride was up to John Muir Park and it was a nice cool day. We were all pretty chilly by the time we got there. I don’t think any of us had ridden that far before,” said Hans Jensen, describing the first ride in 1992 of what would become the Portage Pedalers.

The plan was to head up County Highway F and 25 miles later to end up at the park, some riding out from their starting line at the Portage Public Library with balloons tied to the backs of their bikes, the Portage Daily Register (https://bit.ly/2p1OENo ) reported.

“We had quite a mix of people, we had the then-county clerk and her husband,” Jensen said. “We had a state official. We had Richard Rehm who eventually became a judge here in Columbia County and a newspaper reporter from the Daily Register and of course, Anne Zimmerman from the radio station.”

The common factor between the original seven riders was Zimmerman, but how she came up with that list is likely lost.

“That unfortunately, Anne Zimmerman would have to answer. She was always having ideas for activities and I think it just occurred to her that different people had bicycles and to get us together to do a ride,” Jensen said. “I had known her for quite a few years, probably through the community theater and of course I’ve known her as a reporter by being interviewed by her.”

Zimmerman died of cancer in August 2011 at age 82, leaving behind the Portage Pedalers as one of the many projects that made up her legacy.

The movements of the Portage Pedalers was publicized from the get-go with Doug Cook learning about it from an item in the Portage Daily Register.

“I missed the first one, but the next one was coming up the following Saturday,” Cook said. Having come from Michigan and being in a biking club there, Cook brought experience in organization and mechanics, along with some distress upon seeing the lack of preparedness of the group at that point.

“They all sloughed it off, but eventually I got them to wear helmets and also to carry water,” Cook said. “And I carry a lot of things that would help with repairs and Hans Jensen knows some about that.”

The original plan was going out for rides every other Saturday, taking on 30 miles or so, but at the same time, according to Cook, bikers were wiped out once they arrived and some hardly healed when they arrived for the next ride. This led to regular rides of 10 to 15 miles, every Monday and Wednesday, getting people on the road more often and more flexible to take on the longer weekend trips.

“I had this old, old mountain bike and I rode down to where the Wisconsin River is and I saw these people ride by me, and I thought, ‘That must be the Portage Pedalers,’” said Kim Andruss, who moved to Portage in 1999 and started riding with the group in 2003. “I finally had enough courage to go down to the library with my old mountain bike with the tires almost flat and no biking gear - I did have a helmet - and off I went with them.”

Andruss joined the group riding down Levee Road, with Cook hanging back with her through the trip and at the end letting her know that she really should check her tire pressure.

“It took me two years to get the courage to actually bike the weekend rides, because the weekend rides would go 30 miles and I would think, ‘Oh, my God,’” Andruss said. “It took me two years to have the courage to do it and then it was totally fine.”

Andruss is now one of the group’s ride leaders, picking routes and making sure that everyone is accounted for and although not as adept or enthusiastic of a tire-changer as some members have been, among her assets, she explained that she does have a bike rack on her car and can go back for people.

“We have regulars in the group that are at different levels, so it seems that we’ve never had a problem,” Jensen said. “And then we do have a leader for every drive, so we make sure that everybody that goes out comes back.”

Over the course of a long ride, the group spreads out with some more ambitious riders, some slower and some in between, but between the first ride in May and July or August, Jensen said that there is a noticeable uptick in the pack of the group.

“A lot of the people we have in our group are retirees and I think they are good role models. We even had someone who was a grandfather who brought his grandson,” Andruss said.

Though missing members over time, including their founder who invited the group into existence, the Pedalers have kept going and growing.

“She passed away, but she had a lot of good ideas,” said Cook. “We’ve had people move for jobs or to be by their kids, but we always seem to keep about 30.”

The group’s current roster sits at 38 members.

“We had been out on a couple (of rides) and enjoyed it and then it comes down to, ‘Why not share this with everyone?” Jensen said.

Andruss is playing with the idea of putting together a book of Portage Pedaler routes, one of her favorite being on County Highway O.

“It’s a nice route, it is somewhat flat, there is one big hill at the very end and you ride along the old Wisconsin River levee there,” Andruss said. “And when you get up to Weyh Road, you can turn off there and be in the countryside or you can go all the way to the Dells.”

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Information from: Portage Daily Register, https://www.portagedailyregister.com

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