Hundreds of cyclists clad in brightly colored, multi-hued outfits streaked out of the parking lot at the University Center on the Southeastern Louisiana University campus early Saturday signaling the start of the 23rd annual Tour de Tangipahoa Bicycle Ride sponsored by the Hammond Kiwanis Club.

The early group of riders faced a challenging 60-mile trek through North-Central Tangipahoa Parish, a ride that started on relatively flat terrain but soon included quite a number of hills that tested the endurance of the cyclists. Making the ride even more tiresome Saturday were weather conditions that featured a cloudless sky and temperatures in the low to mid 90s.

A second group of less experienced riders was sent off later in the morning to make a 30-mile trip that covered much of the same terrain.

At the ride’s conclusion, participants were treated to a meal of pastalaya. Along the way the riders were offered breaks at rest stops spaced out at about 10-mile intervals. The rest stops, manned by Kiwanis Club members, offered the riders candy, bananas and oranges, water, sports drinks, pretzels, salty crackers and a favored treat of dedicated cyclists, pickle juice. Explained one rider, “the pickle juice keeps you from getting cramps.”

While the riders take part in the Tour de Tangipahoa for a sheer love of the sport, they also know that their participation is for a good cause. The tour is the major fundraiser of the Hammond Kiwanis Club and all profits from fees paid by the riders are poured right back into the community through service projects sponsored by the club.

The club sponsors Terrific Kids and Bringing Up Grades programs at four schools, provides meals for 100 needy children on weekends when meals served at schools are not available for them, and makes regular contributions to a variety of other community-enhancing endeavors that touch the lives of many in the Hammond area.

Many riders have participated in the tour over the years because as one rider, Tony Boudreau, of Baton Rouge, said, “This is a really good ride. The Kiwanis club is so well-organized. … I’d say the Tour is fabulous … just excellent.”

Boudreau, who belongs to a Baton Rouge Kiwanis club, said he cycles because “it is the best exercise available. …It doesn’t tear up your body. I really enjoy riding. You see things differently when you are on your bicycle. … It’s always an interesting experience.”

Jim Kangas, of Mandeville, said that he began cycling at age 53. “I realized I was overweight and not as fit as I wanted to be. Biking gives me the opportunity to get the exercise doing something I really enjoy. I have met some great people participating in rides so this is a really rewarding pastime. I especially like to ride where I know I can help out a good cause like Kiwanis.”

Cory Matthews, of Livingston Parish, echoed their same sentiments.

“Riding is fun, it’s good for your health, it’s something you can enjoy with friends and it means a lot to me. The Tour de Tangipahoa is great … and today’s heat doesn’t even bother me,” he said.

Anne Smith came from Fairhope, Alabama, to ride in this year’s Tour de Tangipahoa. She said that she and her husband join rides in different parts of the nation, but they have ridden the tour several times because they enjoy the layout.

Wendy Carter, by her own admission an avid cyclist who participates in many rides was asked, “Why do you ride?” Her reply came quickly: “Because I can.”

“It’s so special to get out on the road with friends and enjoy the beauty of the countryside and the challenge of knowing that you can complete a long ride. It’s just so much fun. … Cycling is the only way to go,” she said. “Kiwanis does a great job with this ride.”

The really fast riders completed the 60-mile circuit in little more than two hours. Most take considerably longer to complete the long trek.