HAMMOND - "All right are you ready?" Debra Demkowicz, of Whiting, said to her granddaughter, Salina.
"Yes!" Salina exclaimed. She had glowing lights on her bike seat, glow sticks protruding from her helmet and a glowing wand.
Debra pushed off and the two gently cruised around the Pavilion at Wolf Lake prior to the running of the sixth annual WHAM! Midnight Bike Ride early Sunday.
Organized by the Hammond Port Authority, the night-themed ride took cyclists out of Wolf Lake Memorial Park on a winding route through the streets and bike trails of Whiting and Hammond's Robertsdale neighborhood, totaling 10 miles. Then, riders either split and returned to Wolf Lake or continued on a longer route for 20 more miles that traveled through the bike trails and streets of Highland, Munster and finally back through Hammond.
Demkowicz has participated each year in the ride, having brought along 3-year-old Salina for the past three years.
"She loves the bike ride, she loves the nights," Demkowicz said. "But she falls asleep every year. Somewhere back by the toll road she's knocked out. It's just something me and her do together."
The event draws in an estimated 700-1,000 riders each year. Riders come from the Region, Chicago and its suburbs. It even draws out-of-state participants from nearby Michigan and Wisconsin as well as farther spots like Colorado and Florida, according to Jill Gajewski, the Wolf Lake coordinator for the Hammond Port Authority.
"It's neat to see because we get families, groups of teenagers, young adults, 75 year-olds," Gajewski said. "People do travel to come to this."
The nighttime atmosphere sets the ride apart from other cycling events around Chicago, providing a contrast to how things are experienced in the daytime. Chicago and Valparaiso are other examples that have hosted similar events with the LATE Ride through downtown Chicago and the Valpo Night Ride.
However, traveling through four separate municipalities is an added extra, according to Gajewski.
"I don't want to say it's all-encompassing, but we do hit a lot of the Region," she said. "I think people generally want to do things you can't do. You can never ride in the middle of the street, and we're like, 'Yeah, come do that, we'll block the streets for you.'"
While police officers were on hand to block and monitor intersections of main thoroughfares such as Calumet and Hohman avenues, the routes utilized many of the bike trail routes available within this cluster, including the Wolf Lake, Illiana Marina, Erie Lackawanna, Little Calumet River and Monon trails.
"It's showcasing the network, which not a lot of communities have," Jack Knetl, of Homewood, Illinois, said. He and Graham Bolkema, of Dyer, are workers at GoodSpeed Cycles, based in Homewood, that were on hand for spot fixes and repairs during the event.
"It's cool to have a big network to do it on," Knetl said.
The nighttime theme also inspires riders' creativity with bright, glowing lights wrapped around spokes, handlebars and pedals, as well as glow sticks around limbs.
"It's just really cool when the tires are going fast and the colors are just spinning," Pam Patterson-Smith, of Munster, said. "I went around Munster just to test it out, and people thought, 'Oh, look at that!' Plus, people know you're there."
Riders that took the long route were able to obtain water and bathroom breaks at Cabela's in Hammond before heading back north. Riders were also treated to pancakes, sausage and orange juice back at Wolf Lake Pavilion, made available by Tapas Cafe, based in Merrillville.
"I like bike riding, and to do a nighttime ride, that's what drew me to it," Debra Demkowicz said. "As long as I am able to, I'm going to keep doing it."