Not your normal five-star vacation: A 500-mile bike ride across Central Minnesota

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August 7, 2018

By Mike Killeen

Imagine taking a vacation, and deciding to ride 500 miles on a bicycle. You deal with wind, hilly terrain and rain. And when you hunker down for the night, you sleep in high school gyms, hockey arenas or camp outside.

It isn’t the five-star vacation that a lot of people dream about.

But Jim Parsons wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jim on bikeParsons, associate director for research, reference and Instruction for the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University libraries, participated in the Habitat 500 July 15-21 across Central Minnesota.

“It’s a really fun jaunt,” Parsons said.

The Habitat 500 is a bicycle ride – not race – that covers 500 miles. It is a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity, which brings people together to build homes, communities and hope, according to its mission statement.

Each Habitat 500 rider raises funds and then designates the money raised to the Habitat for Humanity affiliate they wish to support. As of Aug. 8, a total of over $272,600 had been raised from the 130 participants. Parsons’ goal was to raise $2,000 individually.

The 2018 Habitat 500 started in Becker, Minnesota, and then pedaled through Royalton, Alexandria, Staples and Pierz before returning to Becker.

“This year’s course was pretty flat, so that was nice, and the winds were kind,” Parsons said. “We got a lot of rain on Thursday (July 19), so we were soaked.

“Four years ago, we were up on the Iron Range, and it was a hilly mess. And, it was very hot up there, if I recall correctly. That’s a bad combination,” he added.

This was the 26th year the event was held, and the fifth tour for Parsons.

Parsons said he has been a long-time supporter of Habitat for Humanity as both a donor and a volunteer who has helped build homes. He got interested in the Habitat 500 when he talked to person while both were riding on the Wobegon Trail.

“He said, ‘Hey, I see you guys out here riding all the time, would you be interested in doing this?’ It was something I’ve always sort of wanted to do, some kind of week-long bike tour type of thing,” Parson said. “And away it went.”

There are several themed days during the ride.

Tutu Tuesday is a day when many riders choose to wear tutus made on site by Michaela Roske, daughter of Mike and Peggy Roske (Mike manages the woodworking shop at SJU, while Peggy is the CSB/SJU archivist) and a 2006 graduate of CSB. Wednesday is known as bike home and consists of a 100-mile ride – the longest single-day ride of the tour. And, Thursday is school colors day (Parsons wore an SJU biking jersey).

Michaela Roske also paints riders’ nails during Tutu Tuesday.

“They were all done in Habitat colors - blue, green and white, and it said ‘Habitat’ on them,” Parsons said, smiling. “It was pretty cool, although I got rid of mine before I got back to work.”

Habitat for Humanity provides a support truck where the 130 riders can stow sleeping gear and tents, if they wish to camp outside. A bike mechanic is also available to riders, which came in handy for Parsons.

“I had three flat tires in one day – all on the same tire,” Parsons said, smiling.

Breakfasts and dinners are usually provided by volunteer groups at the overnight site. During the ride, rest stops are provided every 15-20 miles.

Parsons said the riders tend to separate by speed. Quicker riders, like Gene Boysen, a veterinarian in Waite Park, Minnesota, who Parsons talked into riding on the tour, generally rode in a faster group ahead of Parsons.

“I rode with Gene for about 20 miles, and then he just took off. See you later,” Parsons said. “I’ve ridden with quite a variety of folks, and at some points I have ridden alone. It’s kind of cool to go off on your own for 40 miles and do that.”

“It’s a great time, it’s a great opportunity, to share a lot of stories and catch up with people’s lives, and get to know a really interesting group of people,” Parsons added.

How interesting?

Parsons recalled a Habitat 500 where the riders were on the Cuyuna Trail near Crosby, Minnesota. Going up and down old mining and lumber trails, Parsons was riding with a surgeon from the St. Cloud area.

“We were trying to keep up a conversation. All of the sudden, about 10 miles into it, he’d be talking, but he wasn’t talking to me. He was taking phone calls. He was on-call that day. This went on all day out in the middle of nowhere, basically,” Parsons said.

On vacation, to boot.

Habitat Biking Group

The Habitat 500 riders.