BEMIDJI - The seventh annual Ride for the Troops is set for Sunday, bringing out motorcyclists from the Upper Midwest eager to rev their engines and ride 130 miles in support of the country's military troops.
The ride kicks off from the Marketplace Food and Drug parking on Sunday. For riders like Vietnam veteran Vince Beyl, the ride is just his way of giving back to the troops.
"It is special," Beyl said. "Not only because I ride bike like all the other people there, but it also shows honor and respect to the veterans and their families."
The ride began in 2005, after Ken Donahue and Jason Fredenburg participated in a similar ride. After hearing that the local National Guard troops were being deployed, they decided to organize a ride to benefit them.
The first ride exceeded their expectations, with 147 motorcycles participating. Since the inaugural ride, it has become a yearly tradition with a goal this year of 500 motorcycles.
"I never thought it would turn into this," Donahue said. "It was going to be a one-time shot. The Guard units were being deployed to Iraq, they were extended so we figured we would do it again, then they came home and here we are."
An opening ceremony at 11:30 a.m. precedes the noon start of the 130-mile tour.
From Marketplace Foods, riders will head southwest on County Highway 7 to Becida before heading west on County Highway 9 through Zerkel. The ride then cuts south through Naytahwaush before cutting over on County Road 113.
After going up County Highway 39, riders will head east on County Road 200 towards Lake Itasca. From there, the ride goes north on County Highway 2 to Shevlin before finishing on Interstate 2 back in Bemidji.
Beyl said the route is full of supporters standing in their driveways, cheering riders on as they pass, which he said is a sentiment passed on to troops overseas.
"People that don't experience the ride do not get to see all of the people that turn out in the communities and the rural areas along the route," Beyl said. "It just kind of inspires us."
People interested in participating in the ride can sign up at the start, with registration beginning at 9 a.m. Sunday. The cost is $25 per bike and $10 for any additional passengers. The cost includes a pancake breakfast, a commemorative pin and an after ride hog lunch.
In addition to the ride, the Hungry Bear Banquet and Conference Center is hosting a community party Saturday night at 7 p.m., giving non-riders another chance to be involved and show their support. The band Crosswater will play from 8 p.m. to midnight. There is a $5 cover charge for the event, which will also have a silent auction to help raise money for the Ride for the Troops.
Donahue said there are no fundraising goals for the event because he knows weather can impact turnout. The ride goes on rain or shine but they hope for the best, he said.