Nearly 250 cyclists biked into Morris Wednesday, June 21 on day three of the Tour of Minnesota, which is a seven-day bike tour that happens every June.
Formerly known as the Klobuchar Ride, or Jaunt with Jim, the week-long ride was started by Jim Klobuchar back in 1974 and completed its 49th year Saturday, June 24.
The Mission Statement of Tour of Minnesota, created by Jim Klobuchar himself, is quite simple: Visit out of the way small towns and vistas, enjoy the heritage and culture of those towns, and bring economic development to the local businesses.
“Our sole mission is to get out and see this great state of Minnesota,” Tour of Minnesota Director Doobie Kurus said.
This year’s tour, which started in Albany before traveling to Alexandria Monday and Morris on Wednesday, offered an option for those that thought 350 miles was a little too much.
“We offered a two-day sampler option,” Kurus said. “Some cyclists are unable to take off an entire week of work and some are very new to riding, so the thought of 345 miles is a bit daunting. We figured there was a sub-group out there that would be interested in a shorter opportunity and still be a part of this great community of cyclists.”
“Because of this sampler option, we have a handful of first-ever tour riders this year,” Kurus added.
About 35 cyclists registered for the sampler in its first year. The sample ride was the day one loop from Albany to St. Cloud and the day two option from Albany to Alexandria, which was mostly trail riding on Lake Wobegon and Central Lakes Trails.
“First two days were definitely a lot of trails,” Kurus said. “To get (to Morris from Alexandria) though, it was almost exclusively county highways.”
Kurus plans the route with Assistant Tour Director Richard Gordon and since rural Minnesota doesn’t have a lot of bike trails, rural roads are incorporated into that planning and scouting process.
“It’s funny. A smaller shoulder seems like a bad thing, but that’s usually because the road is less used,” Kurus said of what his route team looks for to piece a tour together. “It’s kind of ironic that people always say, ‘Wish there was a bigger shoulder,’ but it becomes problematic the bigger the shoulder is with the number of cyclists we have.”
From Morris, the tour traveled back east to Sauk Centre with a pitstop in Starbuck to see the World’s Largest Lefse.
“We do a lot more than biking, that’s just a small part of the tour,” Kurus said of the Tour that drew cyclists from over 25 states and Canada this year.
One of the big draws of the Tour is the food – whether from the rest stops, catered meals or the option to use “TOM Bucks,” – a currency similar to Chamber Bucks for riders on the Tour – at certain restaurants in different cities along the route.
“We had a former rider that used to say that we’re an eating group with a biking disorder,” Gordon said.
“We’ve all been pretty happy with the food,” Kurus added.
Snacks are a big part of the ride. If you’re riding 50-plus miles per day, you’re bound to get hungry in between meals and the rest stop manager, Jill Hallonquist, serves up more than the traditional piece of fruit and a granola bar.
“She offers deluxe rest stop snacks,” Kurus said. “Lots and lots and lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every morning.”
“Peanut butter and pickle,” Hallonquist chimed in.
“She does take requests, so sometimes we get things like that. Pickle juice is very popular,” Kurus added.
Unbeknownst to some, pickle juice is actually a common homeopathic remedy for cramps, which are bound to happen on long bike rides in 80-plus-degree heat.
“The weather has been good so far,” Kurus said of the minimal rain.
“We had one morning of rain the first day,” Gordon added. “Other than that, it’s been nice.”
“Temperatures have been pretty good. It’s getting hot later in the afternoon, but we’re looking at some easier days in terms of mileage (later in the week),” Kurus noted.
Kurus and Gordon were both thankful that the smoke that infiltrated the area, from the Canadian wildfires, the week of June 12 had dissipated prior to starting the ride Sunday.
“That was a huge concern,” Kurus said. “We had a lot of people reach out that didn’t even know where the fires were.”
Is the fire near us? Is our tent going to catch fire? Are we going to get smoke inhalation? These were all questions fielded by the Tour of Minnesota team, he said.
“That’s the perception, right? Overall I think air quality has been pretty good,” said Kurus.
“We have had a few air quality warnings, but it’s been for ozone and not the smoke, so nobody has really had an issue with that. I think we’re just more worried about the heat,” Gordon added.
After leaving Morris to Sauk Centre Thursday, the group of cyclists went approximately 52 miles from Sauk Centre to Little Falls on Friday before making the trek back to Albany Saturday to close out the seven-day tour.
“You’re with this group all week, so you get to hang out a lot and you realize it’s more than just riding,” Kurus said. “Riding is just the excuse for us to eat and hang out and make new friends and explore smaller parts of Minnesota.”
“I’ve met some of my best friends on this ride,” added Gordon, who first joined the ride in 1990.
“We’re a little community on wheels,” concluded Kurus.