When donors contribute to TRAM, 81 percent of the money goes to support the Minnesota chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society and its programs. Send donations to the society at 200 12th Ave. S, Minneapolis MN 55415, or call (800) FIGHT-MS or (612) 335-7900. Its Web site is www.mnms.org
BETH GAUPER STAFF WRITER
For 1,250 bicyclists, today is the beginning of a week in a parallel
As they pedal across southern Minnesota, in unbroken lines stretching 30 to 40 miles, they'll hear only the murmur of wind through cornstalks and the swishing of spokes, while the rest of the world marches to a different din: telephones, traffic, computers.
As perplexed onlookers through the years have noted, the riders of TRAM, the Ride Across Minnesota, are a different tribe -- cutting a sweaty, 326-mile swath from Pipestone to Lake City isn't everybody's idea of a good time. Its couture is spotted-cow hats, bug antennae and smart-alecky T-shirts. Its cuisine is granola bars and root-beer floats.
Good humor is a necessity when the ride gets rough, as it did last year during days of unrelenting heat. But it's never as rough as the disease that causes them to make the ride.
The specter of multiple sclerosis is everywhere on TRAM, sponsored for the 11th year by the Minnesota chapter of the MS Society. That 10-year-old boy on the fat-tired Schwinn -- his mother has to use a wheelchair. That 83-year-old on a Fuji has a sister who, within a year of diagnosis, became blind and died. That woman on the trek has a 38-year-old friend who walks perfectly but gets lost going around the block.
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, incurable disease of the nerves that strikes more people in the Upper Midwest than any other region. It has no known cause and affects more women than men and more young adults than old. In Minnesota, an estimated 7,000 people are living with MS. Last year, TRAM riders raised a record $805,000 to fight it.
And yet, while the riders don't forget why they're riding, they also don't forget to have a good time.
"It's so fun, it's the funnest thing you do all summer," says 11-year-old Brady Czyscon of Cameron, Wis., who will ride with his mother, Stacy, and is looking forward to seeing the friends he made last year. "It's amazing how many people you meet, and automatically you know 'em."
The cross-state ride also provides a rare glimpse at a rural Minnesota that isn't nearly as bland as it may appear. In Pipestone, a vein of contention lies under the surface, much like the soft red stone that has been quarried there for centuries by Plains Indians. Lying under piles of fractured red quartzite at Pipestone National Monument, pipestone is considered the flesh and blood of ancestors, highly sacred. Some think the monument should not even be displayed to tourists.
Buses will take TRAM riders to see Fort Pipestone and the national monument, as well as a performance of the 52-year-old "Song of Hiawatha" pageant, based on a romanticized hodgepodge of Iroquois and Ojibwe legends in a 145-year-old Longfellow poem. This, too, raises eyebrows.
Even the Pipestone area's 400 wind towers, perched on the long plateau called Buffalo Ridge, are controversial.
"Some people might call them prairie clutter, but to others, they're nice and clean and elegant," says Mick Myers, director of the Pipestone Chamber of Commerce.
The prairie wind that turns the turbines will be at the cyclists' backs, they hope, as they leave Monday for Worthington. Along the way, some will see nothing but endless farm fields. Others will see much more.
"It's hard to explain to other people, but it's a real spiritual event for me, to be out in rural Minnesota," says Janis Jordan of Roseville, who will be riding for the seventh time. "All the small towns, the fields, the farms -- I love it."
In Worthington, riders will camp on Lake Okabena, home of the local wind-surfing club. In Fairmont, they'll camp near a chain of five lakes.
From these rich but flat lands, TRAM will cruise down to St. Peter, a quiet college town. A tornado nearly swept away the town's 19th-century complexion in 1998, but it has emerged with new resplendence.
"We're kind of anxious to show off our town," says Larry Haugen, director of the St. Peter chamber.
But no matter how hospitable St. Peter is, it's still the home of The Hill. That's the hellacious climb out of the Minnesota River Valley that riders must make on their way to Faribault.
On Friday, the last day, TRAM cyclists will ride into Lake City, the
Lake Pepin town where, in 1922, the sport of water-skiing was born. By
then, riders will wish they were being pulled, by a boat or any other motorized
Beth Gauper, who rode in the TRAM the past two years, can be reached
at email@example.com or (651) 228-5425.