More MS news articles for July 2001

Rolling army hopes to head off MS

Published: Sunday, July 22, 2001

Every summer, the people who join TRAM, The Ride Across Minnesota, flirt with disaster.

Last year, we rode on the edge of the tornado that devastated Granite Falls, in winds that made our knees shriek. The year before that, we rode through heat so shriveling only the Culligan man stood between us and mummification.

This year, those who will start the 334-mile ride from Breckenridge to Pine City on Monday may be in for another week of charbroiled bicycling. But no matter what happens, the 1,200 people on the MS Society's 12th annual TRAM eventually will ride off into the sunset, back to their regular lives. And the 7,500 people in Minnesota who have multiple sclerosis still will have it.

"The year it was so hot, I wanted to quit a couple of times,'' says 10-time rider Judith Cavanaugh, 59, of St. Paul's Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. "But then I thought, "My friends can't quit MS, so I can't quit either.' ''

Despite the trials -- only a plague of locusts, so far, has failed to afflict TRAM -- most riders can't stay away, returning year after year to this rolling oasis of civility and good will. For one matchless week, the ugliness of the outside world is kept at bay as we pedal through the lovely countryside, watching clouds skitter across blue skies and striking up new acquaintances.

Molly Lynn of St. Paul is the kind of person we meet. She's a Pilates trainer at the Sweatshop and teaches strength training to old people. She's 83 herself, but it's emphysema that's the challenge.

"When I was diagnosed back in 1970-something, I said, "Well, I'm going to see what I can do about this,' '' says Lynn. "So I enrolled in an aerobics class, and I almost fell over in the first five minutes, but I kept going, and the rest is history.'' Besides TRAM, she also bicycled across the nation when she was 77.

People on TRAM love to hear about triumphs over impossible odds. It gives us hope that, someday, we can conquer an impossible disease. Multiple sclerosis has no cure and no known cause; by randomly damaging the insulation around nerves, it disrupts messages sent and received by the brain. Its effects are unpredictable and often seem malicious, taking away the vision of a photographer, the coordination of an athlete, the short-term memory of a young mother. Three-quarters of those affected are women, most diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40.

Sonja Ramsey's oldest sister died of MS complications; her remaining sister not only has MS, but diabetes and cancer as well.

"We do laugh about it,'' says Ramsey, a six-time TRAM rider from Marine on St. Croix. "She has three major diseases, but she says if she could get rid of only one, it would be MS. It's really important to her that something be done about it.''

That's why 1,200 of us are riding across Minnesota this week, hoping to raise more than $850,000, as well as awareness of a disease that befuddles even the experts.

Of course, we also expect to have a great time. From Breckenridge, we'll ride up from the pancake-flat beet fields of the Red River Valley, which has the nation's highest incidence of MS. In Detroit Lakes, we'll cool off at the mile-long city beach, then head for Wadena's Sunnybrook Park. We'll ride around Gull Lake, one of the most prestigious addresses in Minnesota. We'll latch onto the Paul Bunyan State Trail and, passing the 26-foot winking giant at the Paul Bunyan Amusement Center, swoop into Brainerd. We'll go on to Milaca, a logging outpost on the Rum River, and end in Pine City, where paddling Frenchmen preceded us by 300 years.

Come heat or high winds, we'll do it, all 334 miles of it. Disaster? Just a few aches and pains; we laugh at it. We know what real disaster is; we can see it at work on our friends and family. If only we could laugh at that.

Beth Gauper, who is riding on TRAM for the fourth time, can be reached at bgauper@pioneer or (651) 228-5425.