HAMMOND — The gleam from a half moon broke through the clouds Saturday night and shined down on the scene unfolding at Wolf Lake Pavilion.
More than 800 cyclists packed the parking lot, tailgating and enjoying each other's company. Bracelets, headbands, armbands and light strings flashed and glowed on bodies and bike frames.
As the midnight hour approached, they bunched together at the Calumet Avenue entrance. A police officer blared an air horn, and off they went, setting north Lake County's streets and bike paths aglow in the eighth annual WHAM! After Midnight Ride.
With police and volunteers helping to guide the way, riders traveled either a 10- or 30-mile route. The trip snaked around Whiting and Hammond's Robertsdale neighborhood, turned south to Highland and circled back north through Munster and south Hammond in a giant figure eight.
The collective chorus of the night was all around. As gears whirred and chains squeaked, the tunes of bugs buzzing in trees and shrubbery mixed with the hissing and droning from BP's Whiting Refinery and Cargill, and the occasional train rolling through. The moonlight reflected across the soft ripples on Wolf Lake. Residents popped out of dwellings to cheer on cyclists along the way.
"It's my favorite ride of the year," said Alex Supp, of Portage. "I did it in the inaugural year. Ever since, this is like my Mecca."
The collective atmosphere proves invigorating for Supp as he rides shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow cyclists.
"Normally I'm working at this time, but I always make time for this one," Supp said. "It's really the people that make the event. Once you get into the neighborhoods, you see people cheering you on. You feel like you're in a bike race. There's this positive, light environment that's just pure fun."
The event often draws out-of-state visitors from Chicago and its suburbs and other Midwestern locales.
The routes offer a chance to showcase the Region's bike trails. Several used on the ride include the George Lake, Wolf Lake, Illiana Marina, Erie-Lackawanna and Monon trails.
The feeling of riding under the cover of darkness also adds an extra thrill for cyclists, such as first-timer Ryan Beal, of Hammond.
"It's usually cooler and you don't sweat as much," Beal said. "There's a certain feel in the air that you can't get during the day."
Workers from Goodspeed, based in Homewood, provided stations along the route to assist with emergency tire repairs if needed. Tapas Cafe catered pancakes, sausage and orange juice for riders back at Wolf Lake Pavilion upon their return.