By Jennie Zeitler, Correspondent
Habitat for Humanity of Minnesota’s annual Habitat 500 bike ride brought visitors to Little Falls, July 18. The ride route is different each year, bringing a group to town every few years.
The Habitat 500 is a measure of the number of miles riders have the opportunity to ride during the seven-day bike trip. If all goes well and the weather is cooperative, riders reach 500 miles.
Riders were glad to spend the night at the Franciscan Sisters’ campus, which included their evening meal and a place to sleep, whether inside in a classroom or outside in tents. But the first order of business after arriving is usually a shower.
It was the first year riding for Neil Sawyer from Forest Lake. He and his wife have supported Habitat for Humanity for a number of years. He was looking online for an opportunity to bike with a group and ran across the Habitat 500.
“I had no idea Habitat had a ride,” he said. “It benefits people who need shelter.”
Sawyer raised more than the minimum requirement of $1,000 to participate, contributing $2,500 to the cause. He also trained hard for his first ride.
“I started even while it was still snowing,” said Sawyer. “I rode 1,800 miles, thinking ‘I can do it.’ It’s been a great week.”
This year’s ride began and ended in St. Joseph. The number of riders is kept to 135 and the camaraderie is evident.
“One of the strong things about this ride is how the riders develop a sense of family and help and encourage each other,” said 18-year veteran Lilah Aas of Albert Lea. “A lot of people keep in touch on Facebook and arrange rides with each other. We all obviously love Habitat or we wouldn’t be doing this.”
Bert Mohs of Winona, on his fourth ride, called it “old home week.”
“It’s like a week-long summer camp for grown-ups,” said Anne Robin of Champaign, Ill.
Riders come to Minnesota each July from across the United States to participate. This year, states represented included New York, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana and Florida.
Riders stop at prearranged host locations each night, often a church, school or other community organization. Other cities on this years ride included St. Joseph, Osakis, Menahga, Bemidji and Pine River.
“The response of the host communities is phenomenal,” said Dave Nonnemacher of Two Harbors. “The awareness of Habitat for Humanity here is great. We need more riders!”
“There are good people on the ride,” said Caroline Owens of Ely, who has ridden for nine years. “Part of the reason I do it is the challenge, and it’s for a good cause. It’s well-organized.”
Riders raised $275,000 up to July 18, which will go to Habitat chapters across the state of Minnesota. Donations are still accepted through the end of the year.
Following the evening meal, riders, volunteers and guests watched the annual video highlighting riders, events and locations from the week. The homeowner of Morrison County’s home-in-progress, Jessica Kay, spoke a few words. When she choked up, her cousin spoke for her.
“My cousin Jessica is the most selfless person I know,” said Britt Bolig. “To see so many people come together and do something so good for her is a blessing from God.”
Expressing for many what is hard to put into words, rider Dave Oltmanns of Minneapolis said what he heard a friend say about another homeowner. “For the first time in her life she has choices she never had before.”
For more information, call Habitat for Humanity of Morrison County at (320) 616-2084.