This weekend Bob Nelson will bike his 27th MS 150. Nelson said biking the MS 150 started as something fun to do with his 12-year-old son, but it has turned into much more.
The annual Bike MS: C.H. Robinson ride is a fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society consisting of a 75-mile bike ride Saturday from Proctor High School to Hinckley utilizing the Willard Munger State Trail and another 75 miles on Sunday from Hinckley to a Twin Cities location using Highway 61 and the Sunrise Prairie and Hardwood Creek trails, for a total of 150 miles. This year, the ride ends at Century College in White Bear Lake.
According to the MS Society, the C.H. Robinson MS 150 started in 1980 with 200 cyclists riding from Minneapolis to Duluth and has expanded to more than 70 rides across the country. They are estimating there will be around 3,500 riders at this year’s event raising more than $3 million to help find a cure.
Nelson figures he’s ridden nearly 4,000 miles so far during the events — the equivalent of all the way across the United States and 1/3 of the way back — plus over 13,000 training miles.
“You don’t just hop on a bike and do 150 miles,” he said in a phone interview Monday. But he said people shouldn’t be intimidated by it. “It’s a friendly ride, not a race.”
He also figures he has raised about $98,000 in pledges and contributions to the MS Society.
He said, “I’ve always loved bicycling,” but the ride is more of a mission now that he has met people who have MS or whose loved ones have MS.
What is multiple sclerosis?
There is a broad range of functioning and disability associated with this central nervous system disease because it disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the body.
That leads to symptoms like numbness and tingling, walking difficulties, fatigue, dizziness, pain, depression, blindness and paralysis. The symptoms also vary from person to person. A recent study funded by the National MS Society estimates nearly 1 million people live with MS in the U. S.
Nelson said not everyone has the resources to deal with the disease and its effects on their day-to-day life. Funds raised go toward everything from research to medication to modifying someone’s home to make it more accessible.
“It feels good to see people get help,” said Nelson.
“The people who volunteer are pleasant. It makes the whole ride enjoyable,” Nelson said. “And it’s a beautiful ride,” he added. There are rest stops every 12-15 miles all along the way, with food, hydration, first aid, mechanical help and bathrooms.
“They take pretty good care of you,” he said. Saturday’s stops include Carlton, Mahtowa, Moose Lake, Willow River (where lunch is served), Finlayson and ending in Hinckley. Sunday’s stops include Pine City, Rush City, North Branch (where lunch is served), Wyoming and Hugo, before reaching White Bear Lake. Those who raise $1,000 or more can receive special treats along the way.
Nelson trains most of the time alone, but he does ride in a group that trains a few times together before the ride. They ride in a line with the bikes about 2 feet apart going 16-18 mph, drafting each other, and take turns pulling at the front, with the front rider peeling off to the left every two minutes and rejoining the group at the end of the line.
It makes the ride easier, and allows them to maintain a pace they all can sustain for the day.
“You need to trust people in your group. If you do go down, it can be pretty rough,” he said.
He’s ridden in 43 degree cold and 90 plus degree heat, in rain, hail and thunderstorms. He recalls the ride being suspended for a while in North Branch last year where riders were gathered in a church basement for a time to ride out a particularly nasty storm, but those kinds of arrangements are not always possible.
“Come prepared for whatever you’ve got to handle,” he said.
“Sometimes you overdress because it’s cold when you start,” he said, but biking gear is pretty compactible. “You try to get by with the minimum amount of gear.”
There are people who haul luggage and set up tents for the riders. Some riders choose to sleep in a hotel. Nelson said he goes home to shower and sleep since he lives near Pokegama Lake outside of Pine City.
“I’m always impressed by the commitment people have to it,” Nelson said.
A few little mishaps are inevitable with 3,000 plus riders, but Nelson said, folks carry bike tools and pumps and are willing to lend a hand should there be the occasional flat tire.
There were about 1,000 riders when he first started.
“They do a great job minimizing risk ... Safety is a big issue and they pay a lot of attention to it,” said Nelson.
There are even support vehicles, also known as Sag Wagons, for those who can’t finish the day’s ride for one reason or another.
“There’s no shame in not finishing,” said Nelson.
Those pledges still count.
Nelson said his son rode five or six times with him, but over the years he has “pulled a few more into the fold” including coworkers, friends and family members.
“I’ll be 71 a few weeks after the ride,” said Nelson. His riding companions are 69, 70 and 71. “Our youngster is 55,” he said.
Two are from Pine City like himself, Ron and Bob Christenson, sons of Arnold Christenson who managed the Land O’Lakes plant in Pine City. Nelson said people might recall his dad, Gordon Nelson, ran the meatpacking plant out by Pokegama Lake.
“We feel pretty good that we can do this,” and they hope to keep going as long as they can, said Nelson.
Support the MS 150
Nelson said it isn’t just the riders who make the event; it’s the donors. Participants are required to collect a minimum of $300 in pledges.
“It’s people who pledge that make the ride successful.” He said some have been pledging every year for more than 20 years. It adds up to thousands of dollars.
Those who wish to support the MS 150 can go online at http://www.BikeMS.org and donate. It’s not too late. Donations are collected up until four weeks after a ride. Nelson is shooting for $6,000 in pledges this year.
The public can also support the ride by cheering on the riders as they pass through their communities and all along the route. He said he appreciated some residents setting out lawn sprinklers for riders to ride through if they chose to when it is hot.
Nelson said folks can sit out in their lawn chairs and wave and cheer as they go by and get a sense for what the ride is like – and maybe join in next year.
Tips for trying the MS 150
Nelson was quick to say, “Anybody can do this really,” and gave these pointers:
– Sign up with the MS Society online.
– Be willing to contact people for pledges.
– Make sure your bike is in condition for a 150-mile ride.
– Train. Start about the first of April to get in 300-400 miles. Nelson said he starts out biking two to three days per week riding 25-30 miles and increases the distances to 40-, 50- and 60-mile rides to get his muscles and his rear in condition.
– It’s fun to get a group together and make it a social event.
Nelson said the MS ride is a win for everyone: riders get the exercise and camaraderie, donors get the opportunity to be involved, and those with MS get the help they need.