Bikers heading to Iowa for RAGBRAI warm up in Minnesota

NEW ULM – A group of bicyclists heading for Iowa and the annual RAGBRAI (The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) passed through New Ulm, after a week-long warmup for the 41-year-old event.

The group isn’t riding for any particular cause, they just like to get together and bike. And with members from Kentucky, Iowa, Kansas and Ohio, this is the one time of year they can all get together, said Jim Morse, from Bagdad, Ky, as the group took a rest break at the Searles Bar & Grill. “We come out to see friends that you can only see on the bike trail,” he said.

Morse and Mike Hajdu, a cardiologist from Lawrence, Kansas, are old college friends. When Hajdu moved to Iowa for his residency, he got hooked up with another friend who took him to the RAGRBAI. The group includes people who have met through RAGBRAI.

In recent years, said Hajdu, the group gets together a week before RAGBRAI and rides across another state on the way to Iowa. They’ve crossed Nebraska one year, Kansas another, South Dakota, and last year they followed the Red River Valley between North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.

This year they started in Rainy River, Ontario, and headed south. Hajdu said Minnesota has an impressive collection of bike trails, especially the Paul Bunyan Bike Trail, a 120-mile paved path between Bemidji and Brainerd.

“It’s like an interstate for bikers,” he said. “You get on that and you can really travel.”

Hojdu said Minnesota “is on the cusp of becoming a biker’s destination.”

“I know that on the RAGBRAI ride I’ll be talking a lot about the Paul Bunyan Trail.”

Hojdu said bike trails have a great economic impact on small rural towns they pass through.

“Little towns that were in danger of fading away, they get a trail and then they’ll get a cafe, an ice cream shop, a Bed and Breakfast… It turns them around,” he said.

Bikers like to make frequent stops – the stop in Searles, for example, was to help the group recover from climbing the hills on Highway 15 south of New Ulm as they came out of the river valley. Bikers eat in local restaurants, sleep in motels. Hojdu estimated his group spends $1,000 a day on meals and accommodations.

The group covers about 65 miles a day. On Wednesday they stayed overnight in Winthrop, and hoped to make it to Fairmont Thursday night before crossing into Iowa and meeting the RAGBRAI riders.

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