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Ready to Ride: Pedaler’s Jamboree Turns 15

Ready to Ride: Pedaler’s Jamboree Turns 15

  • Story and photos by McKenna Stumph
T-shirt with the design for the 15th annual Pedaler's Jamboree.

Fifteen years ago, Iowa native Mike Denehy developed an unparagoned notion that birthed a significant event that became part of Columbia’s civic DNA. Growing up riding his bike, camping, and going to music festivals eventually sparked his epiphany.

“I had decided to mash it all together,” Denehy said with a smile during the run-up to the 15th annual Pedaler’s Jamboree that takes place Memorial Day weekend with Denehy as event coordinator. Beginning Saturday in Columbia from the MKT trailhead at Flat Branch Park, the thirty-three-mile-long ride is broken up by a handful of pit stops with food, drink, and live entertainment trailside.

The ride route takes the MKT trail to the Katy Trail with stopping points in McBaine, Rocheport, Franklin, and finally ending in Boonville for a concert, firework show, and overnight camping at Kemper Park in Boonville. What once started as a 400-attendee trail ride has now grown to 2,500 participants, becoming a “fully grown teenager event with some attitude,” Denehy beamed. 

The 2024 edition of the bicycle and music festival features an all-Missouri entertainment lineup including the Columbia-based Hooten Hallers and Cotton Mollies, whose Pedaler’s Jamboree concert will be their first concert in a decade.

Ped Jam Denehy
Ped Jam co-founder Mike Denehy.

“A lot of these bands we’ve been listening to for years, we’ve followed their careers since they’ve started, or we’ve seen them at different stages of their careers,” Denehy explained. “It’s kind of fun to bring them all together. A lot of them are friends after all these years, so we can just call them on the phone, drop them a message, or see them at a show and invite them in person,”

Other bands from previous years are returning to perform including Ha Ha Tonka, Molly Healey String Project, and Aaron Kamm & The One Drops. While larger, national acts have made appearances in previous years, Denehy noted that this year’s lineup is “more personal.”

“This year the quality is at that [national] level, but at the same time, it’s a circle of friends that we know,” he said. Speaking to the community that has flourished from the Pedaler’s Jamboree, Deney added, “It’s like our best friends are playing.”

The May event has managed to ride the changing tide of Missouri’s unpredictable weather patterns. Some have been sunny and warm, while others were cold and rainy. Still, the attendance and energy stay consistent through the years.

“It’s the conversations I’ve had, people I meet; it’s the little things like giving a friend a high-five that I haven’t seen for a year since the last ride,” Denehy said, recalling some of his favorite moments. “It’s almost hard to explain — all the love, all at one time, so wonderful. When you have an event where everyone is pure joy, having a good time, or maybe they’re having a hard time, but they’re connecting as part of the pilgrimage and building bonds. That’s one of the best things about the jamboree. The friendships.”

Denehy’s relaxed persona and practiced patience are reflected in the adventurous ride. Learning to expect the unexpected and trust through the delegation of different groups has made the event successful.

Walt’s Bike Shop has been involved with the Pedaler’s Jamboree since the first ride back in 2009.

“We provide tech support for the riders,” owner Sara Ashman explained. In addition to the gear, clothing, and equipment sold at the store, Walt’s also offers a range of repair services for bicycles. Ashman added, “We’ll have two different sets of mechanics on the ride in vehicles, basically leapfrogging from the different stops.”

Since vehicles are not allowed on the trail, the shop also has a couple of mechanics on bikes to help participants in between stops.

Even though Walt’s crew, along the trail and at different stops, offer help and assistance, Chad Canfield, a long-time participant of the festival, recommends people bring a tire repair kit.

“I recognize that the PedJam can be intimidating — it is 30 miles long — but as long as you bring plenty of water and have a tire repair kit, anyone can do it,” Canfield said. He went to the first Pedaler’s Jamboree fifteen years ago with his wife and two kids, before they could ride bikes. His daughter learned how to ride her bike during the festival.

“She would ride for a few hours and then I would throw her bike on top of the trailer while she napped and then she would hop back on after a while,” he remembered. His kids come back for the Pedaler’s Jamboree, despite living in different parts of the country. “Now they ride the festival with their friends and it’s not just our family. Over the years, our family has grown up with other families who have done the same thing. The kids who have done PedJam when they were young are now young adults that come back to participate with their friends.” 

Canfield does construction by trade, so he has volunteered for the Jamboree, as well as demonstrating his handiwork by creating different structures for his bike throughout the years. One year, he made a locomotive structure, complete with a functioning smokestack.

“I threw smoke bombs in it so that there was smoke coming out of the top of it and I rode it all the way to Boonville. People loved it,” Canfield explained. “I have so many other stories, but every adventure is epic.”

Based on the event’s growing popularity, Denehy and the strong team of volunteers have decided to cap the number of tickets at 2,500.

“They don’t want to have to change the event because there are too many people,” Canfield added. As a locally sponsored event, from the vendors to the entertainment, it keeps the Pedaler’s Jamboree focused on the experience of the participants, rather than being sponsored by corporations. “The trail can get crowded with that many people and there have been a few accidents over the years, but nothing serious. The event goes over so much more smoothly compared to other events or festivals I’ve attended.”

For more information about the Jamboree, see the event’s official website here.

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