If you like the freedom of motorcycle riding and feeling the wind in your hair, then get that bike out on the road for Saturday's fifth annual "Cruising for Critters" poker run.
The ride starts at 10 a.m. Saturday from the AAA office in Spring Hill, located at 1410 Pinehurst Drive, on the corner of U.S. 19 and Spring Hill Drive. All motorcyclists are welcome. And if you've got a sidecar, feel free to bring your four-legged best friend on the ride, too.
The cruise will take riders to checkpoints in Brooksville and Homosassa before ending at R Beach Restaurant in Hernando Beach. At each checkpoint, riders will draw a playing card. Prizes will be awarded for the best and worst poker hand at the end of ride.
Registration for the poker run starts at 9 a.m. Saturday, where a free breakfast will be provided by Chick-fil-A of Brooksville. Participants will purchase scorecards for $12 each or 3 for $24, all benefiting the Humane Society of the Nature Coast.
The first 250 scorecards purchased also will be eligible for a chance to win a $5,000 AAA vacation.
Event coordinator Trina Bowden founded the event as a way to help the animals in our community.
"My husband and I had just started riding motorcycles at the time, and we are both big animal lovers," she said. "I had wanted to get involved with helping the Humane Society for quite some time. I just wasn't sure how to go about it.
"We already had a "full house" so adopting wasn't an option, and I knew if I volunteered at the shelter I would want to take them all home. So Cruising for Critters sounded like the perfect way to get involved and make a difference for the animals.
"All my coworkers at the Spring Hill AAA office embraced the idea and jumped right in," Bowden said.
The first rule of the poker run is, of course, to have fun. The second is to ride safely.
Bowden said she also wanted to use her position at AAA to bring awareness to motorcycle safety.
"We take great lengths each year to plan the perfect ride that is as safe as possible, she said.
"We try to avoid U-turns, and any potentially hazard road conditions. We also have special prizes for riders who arrive wearing a helmet.
"Everyone is reminded throughout the day that the ride is not a race. Arriving safely at the end is our most important goal."
Even those who don't own a bike can can still participate in the poker run by car.
Joanne Schoch, executive director of the Humane Society of the Nature Coast, said that she followed behind the motorcycles in her car on a previous poker run with her mother.
"We had a blast!" Schoch said.
Bowden said they are excited that Cruising for Critters gets bigger and better every year.
"Last year we had over 125 riders and raised over $4,500," she said. "To date, the event has raised approximately $12,000.
She noted that 100 percent of the money that is brought in goes directly to the shelter.
This year the poker run hopes to raise $7,500 for the Humane Society of the Nature Coast.
Schoch said the funds are "so desperately needed for the medical and housing care that our homeless furry friends need until they find their forever homes."
Schoch added that several sponsors needed to be singled out for special thanks, including AAA Auto Club Group, R Beach Restaurant, Century 21 Alliance Realty, Whittel & Melton, Flagstone Pavers, Ridge Manor Family Medicine, Dino's Plumbing, Best Western, Eagle Rider, Traveler's Insurance and Progressive Insurance.
For more info, contact the Spring Hill AAA office at (352) 683-3446 or visit www.cruisingforcritters .com.
Heather Francis is a correspondent for Hernando Today. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.