AITKIN -- The cold rain and wind that has cooled the air the past two days became a challenge that was embraced by 82 bicycle riders participating in the Habitat 500 Bike Tour. They rested last night in Aitkin.
The riders, ranging in age from 15 to 81, are riding a total of 500 miles this week. The route is a seven-day circle around central Minnesota, beginning and ending in Stillwater with stops in Cambridge, Little Falls, Aitkin, Carlton, Pine City and Anoka.
As the riders finished day three on Tuesday, they were aware that they had finished the longest riding day, which measured 84.7 miles, from Little Falls to Aitkin.
"Tuesday is our longest day," said Cheryl Winget, public relations manager for the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. "But it's also one of the prettiest days."
The rain the riders faced didn't seem to slow them down. "Monday, they rode against the wind," said Winget. "A lot of them say that the wind Monday was harder than the rain and cold yesterday."
Twenty volunteer support staff help to make the ride as easy as possible, even in tough conditions. Throughout the riding day, support vehicles travel the route helping any rider who becomes injured or too exhausted to ride. The vehicles can either bring them to the next camp site, or to a rest area. The staff provides three to four rest areas on each daily route, providing food and water for the riders.
Besides the support staff, traveling with the group is a bike mechanic, and a massage therapist to provide sore muscle relief.
The daily ride starts at 7 a.m. and at 6 p.m. the support vehicles stop running. If riders are still out, they have the choice to get shuttled back, or to continue on their own. "Some people really like to take their time," said Winget. "A lot of the places we pass have little shops and things."
Their stay in Aitkin was at Westside Calvary Church. The church provided shelter, dinner and breakfast. "That really helps us out with keeping costs down," said Winget.
At 7 a.m. today, the riders received a police and fire department escort out of town.
To participate in the ride, entrants must pay a $100 entrance fee, and raise a minimum of $750 in donations. This year the group raised $143,000, and donations are still coming in. Eighty-five percent of the money raised goes directly to the Habitat for Humanity chapter of the riders choice. This year, riders came from 14 states and the District of Columbia.
The riders were able to take a few minutes and travel down the road from the church and see a Habitat house in Aitkin. Winget said they try to take every opportunity to see how Habitat projects are benefiting real people.
"The riders are willing to do this because of the cause," said Winget. "When they're out there in the rain they can think about those who live without proper shelter, and they get all fired up to do this."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.