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WRITE TEAM: Who me? On a bicycle?

Ask anyone who has ridden a bicycle and he or she will tell you. You can meet the most interesting people, see what most drivers rarely notice, and discover places you wish you had known years ago.

Bill Schnabel, for example. He’s the new volunteer director of the Z Tour Bike Ride in Princeton, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary next July. Ask him about his top priorities in life beyond his family and he’ll tell you. It’s the world of cycling; the places you can go, the sheer pleasure of being outdoors and the challenges you meet along the way.

Schnabel and his wife Annette, the CEO of Perry Memorial Hospital, see cycling as much more than a hobby. They are ardent advocates of the health benefits for people of all ages and abilities. In spring, summer and fall, you might find them riding 30 to 40 miles before work. And then there are Bill Schnabel’s more memorable rides, like his two-wheel exploration of the route along the Lewis and Clark trail — a mere 3,000-plus miles through flooded plains, mountains, forests and seemingly endless prairies of the great Midwestern and western United States.

He spent eight weeks last summer pedaling himself and nearly 100 pounds of bicycle and supplies from Illinois to the Pacific Ocean. Ask him for the highlights of his trip, and he’ll probably tell you about the people he met as much as the history and geography.

In the coming year, he’ll share a similar message about the Z Tour. You’ll remember the people and places you see along the way. The hundreds of volunteers serving cold water, snacks and meals, the drivers of the cars and vans that pick you up if you need a ride, and the amazing parade of characters who are pedaling with you.

Z Tour participants’ reasons for riding are legion. Cyclists come from California and Massachusetts, from competitive road races as well as long-distance journeys in Kentucky, the Blue Mountains of Virginia, and Europe. Cycling clubs from Joliet and the Quad Cities have made the Z Tour part of their regular summer schedule.

But fear not. The majority of Z Tour riders are everyday folks from places like Peoria, Ottawa, La Salle, Peru and Princeton. People like you and me. (Take note. I am 71 years old!)

Most of us will be in Princeton the third Saturday in July to ride with friends and family. Others will show up with their Scout troops or workplace colleagues. First-time riders from Washington Mills near Hennepin, for instance, have discovered the fun and physical benefits of the Z Tour for the past two years.

Many others cite one primary reason — to support early childhood education. In the past nine years the Z Tour has raised nearly $200,000 for the Zearing Child Enrichment Center.

Princeton Tourism has embraced the Z Tour by scheduling a “Down on Main Street” concert the Friday night before the ride. Several new bed and breakfasts and camping sites will host Z Tour participants in 2020.

Ask Bill Schnabel. Can people who rarely if ever ride a bicycle participate in the Z Tour? Can you do it?

Absolutely. Whether you choose the 10-mile loop from Zearing Park or the rolling hills to Tiskilwa, Bradford, Wyanet and back, you’ll know: it’s the people and the places you go that make the trip worthwhile. The kids at Zearing Center.

Visit ZTour.org and plan now for the third Saturday in July. Come with friends!

RICK BROOKS, from Princeton, is director of Midwest Partners, a nonprofit organization active in small business and civic affairs throughout Starved Rock Country. He can be reached at tsloup@shawmedia.com.

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