Despite the rain and chilly temperatures, hundreds of people showed up at Garden Park on Locust Street hours in advance to sign up for the seventh annual Riverwest 24, a 24-hour bike race that draws thousands of people from around the country to the Riverwest neighborhood.
This year, the event takes place July 25-26. Riverside University High School teacher Jeremy Prach started the RW24 in 2008 and remains the primary organizer.
Katie Jesse was the second person to get in line and she arrived at 3:30 p.m. yesterday, almost 24 hours before the sign-up time which happens every year on May 1 in the Public House – which is next to the park – starting at 3 p.m.
"I didn’t know how early people would show up so I got off work at 3:30 and came right over," says Jesse. "I wouldn’t say I slept well last night, but I did get some sleep. My hips really don’t like sleeping on the ground."
According to Steve Whitlow, one of the RW24 organizers, as of 11:30 p.m. last night, there were already around 60 people waiting in chairs and tents.
"This is four times what we had last year at that time," says Whitlow.
Evan Barnes and his team mates – who will race as a group representing Jose's Barber Shop in Bay View under the name "South Side Shears" – arrived at 8 a.m. this morning and are number 150, which is probably low enough of a number to get into the race, but still 100 spots behind where they were in line last year.
"Last year, we got here about the same time and were around number 50," says Barnes.
The race is open to 1,000 riders, but there are roughly 700 spots available because anyone who volunteers the previous year gets first dibs on buying a spot the next year. This is always a consolation for riders who wait in line and don’t get in, which happens every year.
Whitlow is the person who has to inform riders, many of whom spent hours in line, that the race is full.
"I say 'I’m sorry' a lot," he says. "And then I say 'I'm sorry' some more. And I know I have a personal bias, but I encourage them to sign up to volunteer because I really believe it’s the best way to experience the race."
Whoever is unlucky enough to be the exact cut-off person gets guaranteed the opportunity to buy a spot the following year.
Whitlow says the race is capped at 1,000 riders primarily for safety and sanitary reasons, but also because the race provides dinner for all of the riders which is already a challenge with the current number. Plus, with too many more riders, it might take away from the intimate neighborhood feel of the event.
The 5-mile race runs through Riverwest streets and is open to individuals, tandem and group teams. The riders / teams compete for the most points which are awarded for the completion of laps and at bonus check points.
Bonus check points allow riders to earn extra points and range in activities from getting a RW24 tattoo to building a rooftop garden. Also in previous years, riders earned bonus points by competing in a dildo race (let your imagination figure this one out), getting a "barber’s choice" haircut at a nearby salon and writing a thank-you letter to the Riverwest 24.
"Surprisingly, no one took the opportunity to be a dick," says Whitlow. "About 70 percent of the letters had a crazy amount of heart."
This year, there is a new category of racers for elders who are at least 55. "If you're 70 and you're rollin' through the neighborhood, you deserve your own category. And a prize," says Whitlow.
The race costs $24 per rider.
"A dollar an hour for the ride of your life," says Whitlow.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.