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OTTUMWA — Most people were still waking up and getting ready for the day when Dan Jenners walked into an Ottumwa bar. He wasn’t there for a drink.

The Owl’s Nest served as the base for this year’s Ride With the Clowns, a spring ride that gives area cyclists a chance to shake off winter rust and get back on the road. It also raises money for the Shriners, thus the name.

“It’s a fundraiser for our Shrine group,” Jenners said. Originally the ride was to raise money for a new car. Now it’s for adaptive bikes for children treated at Shriner hospitals.

The Shriners’ hospitals are recognized worldwide both for the level of care they offer and for the fact families’ ability to pay does not determine whether the children are treated. If the child needs help, they get it. The first hospital opened in 1922 in Louisiana.

Fifty or 60 riders take part most years, Jenners said. “Some are pretty serious ones. A lot of them are guys we se every year. They’re loyal riders.”

For Derek Fye, the ride is a good chance to warm up for the bigger rides this summer, including a certain cross-state ride that will make two stops in the Ottumwa area. “We do it every year,” he said. “It’s for a good cause.”

At this time of year it’s less about the pace and more about just getting your body back into the habit of riding. Muscles that had a long winter rest aren’t used to being back on a bike, so these events help build back up toward the level riders want to reach.

There’s another factor that helps call to riders. Unlike summer rides when temperatures start to become as much of a challenge as hills, a dry day in early May is about perfect.

“It’s just the miles. Get the miles in,” Fye said. “Your legs get stronger the more miles you get in. This time of year it’s pretty nice, so that helps.”

This was the 15th year for the ride. The route varies a bit from year to year, and the organizers have started partnering with local businesses for the opening registration. That, they hope, will raise the ride’s visibility and help draw more people in the future.

But on Saturday morning the focus was on getting out on the road and putting some miles under the wheels. It was early, most of the morning dew hadn’t burned off yet. But the bikers were ready. And they knew their ride would make it possible for some children who have already faced big challenges to get on the road themselves.

It was worth it.

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Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.