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Ride to Read (copy)

A line of bikers led by Mark Dunsmore and his wife, Alice Patel, of Sarasota, Florida, ride out of the Columbia County Fairgrounds at the start of the 2015 Portage Kiwanis Ride to Read.

Success in Ride to Read is measured in books, not miles.

Not long after cyclists complete one of four routes Saturday for the seventh annual Portage Kiwanis fundraiser, members will start purchasing books to be distributed to area children in 2019.

In 2018, they distributed 2,500 books during parades and other local events after seeing more than 100 riders from 47 cities participate in the sixth Ride to Read. The event costs $25 if riders pre-register or $30 if they sign up from 6 to 10 a.m. Saturday at the Columbia County Fairgrounds.

The event will be held rain or shine and officially concludes at 2 p.m.

“What’s important to me is giving books to children in the summertime,” said Kiwanis member and past President Margaret Rudolph, who also serves as superintendent of the Portage Community School District.

“We hope handing out books instead of candy at parades sparks an interest in reading.”

Cyclists may choose from routes of 15, 30, 45 or 62 miles heading northeast on marked, low-traffic country roads. The longer routes take riders through Amish communities and Green Lake County. Participants of past events traveled to Portage from states as far away as Florida, Iowa and Illinois, and from Wisconsin cities of Oconomowoc, Appleton, Mosinee, Lone Rock, Sister Bay, Oxford, Baraboo, Rio and Endeavor.

“Many of our riders travel here strictly to participate in the event,” Rudolph said. “It’s beautiful countryside.”

Kiwanis members and volunteers greet and support riders at the rest stops in Governor’s Bend County Park, Mast Buggy Shop, Kingston Park and Comstock Cemetery. (Maps of the four routes including the precise locations of rest stops are available at Kiwanisridetoread.com.)

Thrivent Financial-Lutherans provided money for food and refreshments for riders to be available at the four rest stops, while community volunteers each year bring baked goods for riders. Other sponsors include Edward Jones Financial-Klay Vehring and the city of Portage Tourism.

Drivers in vehicles marked “SAG” (Support and Gear) patrol routes and are available by cell phone. SAG drivers from Wildside Adventure Co. in Baraboo provide help for mechanical complications and medical emergencies. SAG drivers transport any rider who cannot finish a route to the end of the race.

“The cause definitely helps,” Rudolph said of the event’s most loyal riders and the support Kiwanis receives yearly from volunteers. “Whenever you’re supporting literacy for children, people want to help you.”

Rudolph cited Hunter College (New York City) researcher Donald Hernandez, who found in 2011 that 1 out of 6 students who were not proficient readers in third grade failed to graduate from high school on time.

“The value is not only the fact that a child can read the book but in being read to,” Rudolph said. “We stress the importance of having these experiences in print. Whether parents do the nursery rhymes at home or sing these songs to children while they’re driving in the car, all of that helps build a child’s reading capacity.”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.

Portage Daily Register reporter