As if to celebrate Spokane’s break from a weeks-long cloud of smoke, thousands converged upon Kendall Yards Sunday morning to breathe in several lungfuls of air along the area’s scenic, hilly bike routes at Spokefest 2017.
But those who regularly don their helmets for the event would have noticed something new: a bit more room to peddle. Attendance was down this year, dropping to about 1,200 from 1,600 last year. That’s because, though air quality was healthy Sunday morning, according to the Spokane Clean Air Agency, the region’s lack of breathable air heading into the weekend was the worst in the city’s history.
“I think people wanted to wait and see how bad it was,” said Sally Phillips, who sits on the Spokefest board of directors. “But you’ve got to be grateful. People look forward to this.”
The energy was palpable on Summit Parkway as riders young and old lined up to start their trek. Dan Rey-Bear, who settled near the front of the line at the 9:30 a.m. start, was outfitted head to toe in proper biking attire, including spandex and a pair of cycling gloves.
“It’s a great opportunity for getting out on a classic Spokane bike route with loads of other bikers,” he said.
Nearer to the back of the line was Kevin Smith and his two sons, 7-year-old Colton and 9-year-old Hunter. They planned to do the 9-mile course, which wouldn’t be an issue because the two boys were masters at this point after having done it the previous year.
Dressed in Seahawks attire, the oldest Smith said the two boys were excited to watch the team’s 2017 NFL debut against the Green Bay Packers after the race.
Other kids watched from the sidelines as rows of bikes left the staging area. Suzette Galinato, with her two young children Andres, 6, and Diego, 4, were their supporting the boy’s father as he readied to ride the 21-mile route for the first time.
Suzette was certain her two boys were ready to ride soon as they both sat in a trike that doubled as a stroller.
“He wants to ride now,” she said, as Diego pushed forward.
Emily Bonaface and her husband Greg solved the too-young-to-Spokefest problem by purchasing a toe bar that allowed them to turn their single bikes into tandems. While Greg rigged the contraptions together, the couple’s sons, Jonathan, 3, and Julian, 4, enjoyed the excitement of the crowd.
“You’ll hear him say ‘Wee, ride em’ cowboy’ the whole way,” Emily remarked of Julian, who sat ready to ride behind her.
As the first wave of riders filed in from their miles-long journey, they huffed and puffed past a pair of bell-ringers, who waved and congratulated them on a job well done. Rows of vendors selling food, coffee and Frisbees greeted them. Pop music piped in through speakers filled the air.
“You did so good,” Joel Michael said to his son Kenji as they approached the coffee stand.
In his sixth year of Spokefest, Joel said the route was mostly the same – the only difference was the light cloud of smoky haze stubbornly hanging around. As someone who commutes to work daily from Spokane Valley to downtown, he said it was hard to tell if the air quality was actually good, given how bad it was during the week.
“By comparison, I’m not really sure,” he said. “But no coughing and hacking.”
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