For thousands of Pelotonia bicyclists heading north on Pickerington Road Saturday morning, Aug. 9, Pickerington High School North beckoned like a mothership, offering respite, hearty fare and fellowship.
The school's campus served as both a final stop and embarkation point for Pelotonia, the grass-roots fundraising event for cancer research in which bicyclists pedal routes of varying distances in exchange for donations.
For riders, friends and family, it was truly a carnival-like atmosphere, complete with a large and bustling food tent and a rock band.
And without the tireless work of hundreds of dedicated volunteers, such a large-scale endeavor simply wouldn't be possible.
Scott Erwin, director of operational excellence for Bob Evans Restaurants, volunteered his time making sure Pelotonia riders and their supporters were fully replenished.
"Today, we're feeding 1,600 people and also their friends and family," said Erwin, adding that money from all food purchases gets donated to Pelotonia to be spent on cancer research.
Erwin was in charge of making sure the eggs and sausage kept churning out on time, no small task given the assembly-line precision of the food tent.
"This is awesome," Erwin said. "It's a fabulous event.
"Anytime you have an opportunity to give back in these situations, it's real rewarding," he said. "We've got some of the best volunteers out there."
He estimated those volunteers would pump out around 245 gallons of eggs and 280 pounds of sausage on this day.
Manning the egg griddle were volunteers Cindy Tillman, Irish Dorris and Jackie Gloyd, all in constant motion.
"This is my first year and I will definitely do it again, but these guys have been doing it for several years," said Gloyd, nodding toward Tillman and Dorris.
Shelly Martin, also with Bob Evans, was stationed towards the front of the food tent, directing participants through the food line.
"Everybody throughout the corporate office, even family members, came out to volunteer this weekend," Martin said.
She pointed over to the offerings -- sausage, eggs, biscuits and fresh fruit -- and then to the packed tent.
"Every year it increases, there are so many riders," Martin said.
"It's such a great cause," she said.
Martin said she gives her time because she knows doing her part makes a difference.
"I've been very fortunate, I haven't lost anyone to cancer but I have co-workers who are survivors," she said.
Kathryn Braidic, a volunteer affiliated with Ohio State University, said helping out is an "awesome" experience.
"It makes you cry when you hear people's stories," Braidic said.
"This is my second year and the tent seems much more packed this year," she said .
She chose to volunteer rather than ride in the event.
"Some of us are too chicken to ride, so this is a way we can still help," Braidic said.
According to Pelotonia officials, the final tally indicated nearly $12 million was raised by more than 7,200 riders, both virtual and real.
One-hundred percent of that money will go to fund cancer research at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center-Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.
"Every year Pelotonia funds go to specific things that you hear about," said Team Huntington rider Chris Rebant, who just crossed the 25-mile finish line at Pickerington North.
He referred to a test for a gene for colon cancer developed thanks to Pelotonia funding that has saved lives already, though too late for his brother.
"My brother died of colon cancer, this test might have saved him," Rebant said.
With 18 names on his back as a tribute to those who have lost their battle and those who continue to survive, Rebant said Pelotonia is a powerful event.
"It's hard to describe, really. Besides (being) challenging, it's really emotional," he said.
"Look at my back, I've lost most of those people and I still have people fighting it."
Rebant said the ultimate goal of every rider is to stop cancer in its tracks.
"My hope is, one year we don't have to do this," he said.