by Cori Hilsgen
Local residents might have wondered if bicycles were going to be the new form of transportation when about 300 cyclists rode into St. Joseph on Aug. 14 for the Bicycling Around Minnesota Tour.
“We had a wonderful time in St Joseph,” said Lisa Austin, a member of the Bicycling Around Minnesota board of directors and volunteer media contact. “We camped at the St Joseph Government Center and had our registration check-in and breakfast (at the College of St. Benedict). The college helped put (up) great signs to direct people. The hospitality was great.”
She said many riders got there early Wednesday afternoon and had dinner at restaurants such as Bello Cucina in town and people went to Bad Habit Brewing Co. Cyclists either camped or stayed in hotels or other lodging in the area.
“The breakfast at St Ben’s was excellent,” she said. “The students are lucky to have such good food.”
St. Joseph Mayor Rick Schultz said he met with the Bicycling Around Minnesota group on Wednesday evening and sent them on their way Thursday morning. He met Jeff Schwalen, the group’s board chair, and the 300 plus cyclists at breakfast on Thursday morning.
Schultz accepted an outdoor bike bollard rack from Schwalen and the group.
Austin said they also shared information about bike programs in Minnesota including Safe Routes to School, Bike Friendly Communities, the mayors bicycle caucus, the Minnesota Bike Map and a study on the economics of bicycling.
“The Lake Wobegon trail was great to ride on and so well maintained,” Austin said.
City Administrator Kris Ambuehl said the current plan is to install the bike bollard rack at the beginning of the Lake Wobegon trail in early October.
Bicycling Around Minnesota is a nonprofit organization that focuses on featuring Minnesota areas to cyclists. The annual tour is a four-day event with cyclists riding 60 to 80 miles each day and staying overnight in four host cities. The ride is recommended for moderate to experienced cyclists.
This year’s cyclists did a four-day loop tour beginning and ending in St. Joseph. Their journey included riding from St. Joseph to Sauk Centre on Thursday, to Spicer on Friday, to Hutchinson on Saturday and returning to St. Joseph on Sunday.
At the end of each day’s ride of the tour, the group donates a bike rack to the host town they are staying in, such as the one they donated to St. Joseph.
Thursday morning, many of the riders rode the Lake Wobegon Trail and viewed the St. John’s Abbey Church and Hill Museum and Manuscript Library before stopping at the Gathering Grounds Coffee Shop in Avon.
Linda Gruenhagen, 58, from North St. Paul said some riders want to just ride fast, but she was enjoying the stops along the way. She said she would never have visited the St. John’s Abbey Church, which she said was a very modern building even though it was built about the time she was born. Gruenhagen said she was also enjoying the “fun and quaint” Gathering Grounds Coffee Shop and was glad she had stopped.
Karen Graham, 45, from Minneapolis said she was enjoying the stops along the ride and said she had a chance to view the St. John’s Bible that morning.
“What a beautiful small town,” Mara Krinke, 47, from Portland, Ore., said of Avon. “Everyone’s been so friendly.”
The three commented that cyclists with the group ranged in age between 26 and 84 years old and the average age of riders was 60 years. They represented 21 states.
Michael Doyle, from Collegeville who is the ride director for the Tour of Saints annual bike ride, joined the cyclists and helped with coordination of support vehicles to answer cyclists questions and offer assistance with bicycle repairs.
“Starting at the College of St. Benedict was a great place to start,” Doyle said. “Riders had a nice breakfast at the dining hall and the mayor gave a nice greeting to everyone.”
Other destinations the group had options to view along the way included Hemker Park and Zoo by Freeport; the home of Sinclair Lewis, Carnegie Library, Sauk Centre History Museum and Research Center in Sauk Centre; Max Bat baseball factory in Brooten; Sibley State Park with a chance to hike to the top of Mount Tom and a water ski performance by the Little Crow Ski Team in New London; Green Lake by Spicer, Lake Koronis by Paynesville, a portion of the Glacial Lakes State Trail; Forest City Stockade; Hutchinson Aquatic Center; and the Darwin Twine Ball Museum and World’s Largest Hand-Carved Multiple Pliers.