BEMIDJI — Cyclists from across the United States, Canada and even some in Central Africa gathered on Sunday to begin pedaling a 350-mile journey for an annual Tour of Minnesota bike ride.
After setting off along the Paul Bunyan Trail from Brainerd on June 19 and traveling 66 miles north to Walker, the 2022 Tour of Minnesota group received heat advisories and tornado warnings for the first two days . But nothing will stop the 200 runners from seeing the beauty Northern Minnesota has to offer as they continue their journey including Walker, Park Rapids and Staples.
On Tuesday, June 21, cyclists traveled from Walker to Bemidji and camped at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds, having the option of riding through the area in the evening.
Assistant tour manager Rich Gordon started riding the Minnesota Bike Tour in 1990 with his father when he was 24 years old. This year, the sports statistician and former Star Tribune reporter stepped into a leadership role alongside current tour owner and manager Doobie Kurus.
“We usually try to keep the group together, on a lot of rides you’ll see riders running ahead and you won’t see them the rest of the day,” Gordon said. “We have buses that bring them into town so they can go eat on their own or (explore) each area.”
While most runners camp in tents, they also have the option of staying in hotels if they no longer feel like scrambling. Most meals are provided for runners as local service groups and churches look after the group in each city.
“Some people like to say we’re a cycling disorder food group,” Gordon said with a laugh. “We like to eat.”
From 7-year-olds to 80-year-old participants, riders hit the trails Wednesday morning for a 63-mile ride to Park Rapids. Staples is the next destination where they will complete the final stretch of the return tour to Brainerd on Saturday, June 25.
Anthony Schmit, the youngest rider on the tour at 14, traveled from Omaha, Nebraska with his father and younger brother for their annual week-long bike ride. While Anthony is strong enough to pedal over 350 miles, his 7-year-old brother, Daniel, rides behind their dad, Chris, in a pull-trailer attached to his bike.
Melanie Herzog from Madison, Wis., traveled with three friends to experience the Minnesota tour for the first time.
“It’s beautiful, we came because we all love this landscape,” she said. “Everything from being on the North Shore in Duluth to canoeing in the boundary waters, it’s just a beautiful area.”
The oldest unofficial rider at 80, Jim Victorsen of Maple Plain, Minnesota, has been cycling around for about 36 years alongside his wife and a few friends he’s made over the years.
“A lot of us have been riding together for a long time, it’s like a family reunion for me,” Victorsen said. “The bike is truly a gift.”
Keeping the tradition alive
This seven-day bike ride, originally known as the Klobuchar Ride or “Jaunt with Jim,” was started in 1974 by Jim Klobuchar, a longtime Star Tribune newspaper columnist in Minneapolis and father of the senator. American Amy Klobuchar. The cyclist, adventurer, writer and leader of Minnesota Bike Tours passed away in 2021, but his tradition lives on.
“Jim was a columnist and sportscaster for nearly four decades,” Gordon said. “He began by traveling the state for his newspaper work writing articles about the places and people he would visit on his bike.”
According to Gordon, people started reading the popular articles Klobuchar wrote about his adventures in different parts of the state and said how much they wanted to roll with him in his endeavors.
From planning routes, arranging rest areas, booking campsites and bringing in food from local churches and service groups, Klobuchar has run the event single-handedly for 39 years.
“We still can’t believe it because it now takes more than 20 of us to put on this event,” Gordon said. “He started one of the first bicycle tours in the United States in the early 1970s and it just grew from there.”
As the event grew and Klobuchar got older, in 2013 he handed it all over to Bob Lincoln, who had been on the tour since he was a teenager. Lincoln was in charge from 2013 until 2021, when Kurus and Gordon were assigned to begin organizing that year’s event.
“We like to call ourselves a rolling community on wheels,” Gordon said. “I never thought I would be here to help lead the race that Jim started so long ago, it’s an honour.”
Klobuchar has set three main goals for the Tour of Minnesota. He wanted him to go to different cities, small towns, and scenic spots all over Minnesota, bring economic development to small businesses, and finally enjoy the heritage and culture that each city has to offer.
Whether it’s playing a harmless prank on a friend or sitting around camp and telling stories, having fun is the main feature of the bike tour.
“Some days are tougher than others, but even if it’s tough in the moment, those times lead to great stories down the road,” Gordon said. “One of the best times is sitting around the tents after eating and showering, telling each other stories and being together.”
Kirsten Zeller of Grand Forks said she was exploring Bemidji on Tuesday when she came across The Yard Sale Shop. The shop owner’s children were selling dolls outside the store and she decided to buy them and take them for a ride by strapping them to her handlebars for a front row view.
Her friend Fred Pierce from Grand Junction, Colorado, said Kirsten always brings the fun on trips.
“Never a ‘doll’ moment,” laughed Pierce.
Another way the group likes to have fun on long trips is to pull a prank or two.
According to a veteran participant, back when riders had to carry their own luggage and tents on their bikes throughout the trip, one of the mischievous bike mechanics slipped a 15-pound dumbbell into a friend’s bag without tell him.
“They would go back to camp and talk about how difficult the day was,” the participant said. “They were starting to unpack their backpacks for the night and found the dumbbell, even Jim Klobuchar had it in his bag for a year.”
For more information on the Minnesota Bike Tour or details on next year’s registration, visit their website at