Trammers appreciate 'Wadena nice'
It makes my butt hurt just thinking about riding my bike more than a few miles.
But from July 22-27, approximately 730 people got on their bicycles and rode a 250-mile journey through Minnesota on the MS TRAM (Multiple Sclerosis: The Ride Across Minnesota) to raise money for the MS Society. Money raised from this event is for support and research programs to serve the more than 17,000 people in the upper Midwest who live with the disease, which currently has no cure.
Multiple Sclerosis affects the central nervous system; the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. The body's immune system attacks the protective sheath that covers the nerves. This interferes with the communication between the brain and the rest of the body. It affects muscle function, which creates difficulties in a person's movement and other issues.
This year, the MS Society organizers chose northwestern Minnesota into the Central Lakes region for one of its routes. Riders met in Alexandria and were bussed to Bemidji as the official starting point. On Monday, TRAM bicyclists traveled to Walker. On Tuesday, they rode into Park Rapids. Wadena welcomed riders on Wednesday. As for Thursday, cyclists headed for Fergus Falls. And finally on Friday, they ended up back in Alexandria.
This was the seventh time the Wadena Chamber of Commerce, along with more than 60 volunteers, welcomed the trammers to Sunnybrook Park.
It was my second year as a volunteer. My co-worker ribbed me that the Chamber wanted people "who were in the know" to work the information booth. It helped that I work at the newspaper and have worked on the special map the Chamber provided the trammers, which included park and city locations, activities and other information.
This year, an early Wednesday morning booming thunder storm startled me from a deep sleep. I thought about the trammers camping overnight in Park Rapids, hoping the storm missed them.
It was still raining when I headed out to Sunnybrook Park to deliver the donated bundles of Pioneer Journal newspapers. In my opinion, it was not a very pleasant morning for a long distance bike ride.
It was estimated that the riders could arrive in Wadena as early as 8:30 a.m., but it was closer to 10:30 a.m. before the riders started to trickle in. Some of the 270 support people started to arrive early and set up the soggy camping gear from the previous night. We were told that the campsite in Park Rapids was evacuated the night before and the trammers were sent to the high school to wait out the storm. They were running late, but it was raining and I am sure a lot of them were exhausted from the lack of sleep. By 11 a.m. or so, the rain stopped and the weather became hot and humid.
A man in a motorized scooter and his sister-in-law anxiously waited for the man's wife to bike into Sunnybrook Park. His sister-in-law told us this was the woman's 23rd tram, and she was 71 years old. Talk about dedication to the cause, "Join the movement to end MS."
More and more trammers entered Sunnybrook and set up their portable homes, filling the park with a sea of tents. They were thrilled with Wadena's luggage trailers and the volunteers who unloaded and loaded their gear for them, using 4-wheelers donated by West Side Sports.
In the information booth, we offered trammers a golf towel, courtesy of the Wadena Convention and Visitor's Bureau. When some said they didn't golf, we playfully changed the name to a "brow towel" to hang on their bikes. They appreciated the gift. Arvig offered free internet access on laptops donated by M-State. The Chamber offered a charging station for cell phones and other electronics. A free shuttle to downtown Wadena for shopping and dining, local lodging and Walmart was available. Tri-County Health Care parked an ambulance for first aid and emergency care.
The Rotary, Lions and Knights of Columbus served food in the park, while local restaurants stayed open late to accommodate the trammers. Miss Wadena sold root beer floats, and classmates of Jane Fiemeyer had a lemonade stand to raise money for their cause. Entertainers performed music, dance and Tae Kwon Do. Massages and haircuts were also available.
I was told by a repeat trammer that it was tradition for the mayor to walk around and sell beverages while extending a warm Wadena welcome. For those standing in the long lines at the showers without money, they were given a beverage on the honor system that they would stop at the beer garden and pay later.
In the information booth, we helped with lost and found, sold post cards, gave out maps and information and chatted with the trammers. We also answered questions, such as where is the closest ATM machine, laundry facilities, best place to get a salad, authentic Mexican or steak, and the classic how do we get there from here?
What struck me is there wasn't a negative person in all the people that I met. So many trammers exclaimed "We love Wadena!" Several came to buy their bus tickets for the shuttle service. When we told them there was no charge, they shook their heads in disbelief. "Heard of Minnesota nice? Well, this is Wadena nice." They loved our hospitality.
If I rode that many miles, in rainy weather, with all my belongings soggy wet, having lack of sleep, I don't think I would have been that upbeat and pleasant. They were.
But in the big picture, these riders are sacrificing their comfort probably because someone they love is battling Multiple Sclerosis. They take this journey to raise money for support and research for them. Trammers are good people doing what they can to help. For me, it was a pleasure helping them and being a part of "Wadena nice."