Hundreds of cyclists departed from Stonewall bright and early on Aug. 27 to take part in this year's Biking to the Viking to raise money for MS research and programs. This year's ride from Stonewall to Gimli and back again took in nearly $400,000 as of Monday, with more coming in. Photo by Darren Ridgley.
They came, they rode, they raised piles of money for the MS Society.
Bright and early on the morning of Aug. 27, hundreds of cyclists departed from their starting line at Stonewall's Veteran's Memorial Sports Complex (VMSC) to embark on a trip to Gimli, where they would enjoy the amenities of a post-ride celebration before setting out to do it all over again, riding back to Stonewall the next day.
This year's RONA MS Bike Tour "Biking to the Viking" carried on with another successful year as it raised money for the MS Society. While some pledges may still be coming in as late as Sept. 9, the total as of Aug. 29 was already approaching $400,000, adding to an all-time total of several million dollars that the ride has raised in its 21-year history.
This year, about 750 riders registered to take part in the event. Duncan Stokes, director of communications for the MS Society Manitoba Division, said that it's not uncommon for some registered riders to end up missing the event for one reason or another, though they estimate that the number of riders who actually took part over the weekend was more than 600.
Stokes said this year's riders enjoyed great conditions along the route, a nice change from last year's event, where some rain over the weekend made it a bit of a tougher trek.
"I think the weather was fantastic," Stokes said. "The riders found it fantastic, because it wasn't sweltering hot, it wasn't prematurely cool. It wasn't too wet and it wasn't too dry... the event itself, it went as smooth as can be expected."
He said that while there was the usual minor hiccups, with some riders cramping up during the journey, or problems with some cyclists' bikes, "there was nothing that really derailed or took away from the spirit of the event."
The money raised will go to support research into multiple sclerosis as well as to programs and services offered by the MS Society.
It was supporting that cause that attracted the hundreds of riders to the event this year.
And they're off
Winnipeg's Lindsey Stevens, of bike team Wonderflonium, took part in the ride for the first time this year.
"It's a great way to give back to the community. You raise money for a good cause, and have fun," Stevens said of Biking to the Viking.
Stevens was riding with his brother, Lee, and friend, Kelly Sveinson, who had encouraged them to sign up for the event. Sveinson had confidence his pals could manage the journey from Stonewall to Gimli.
"They're champs, they can handle it," Sveinson said.
Also riding in this year's Biking to the Viking were Whitley Schamber and Carly Ducheminsky. Schamber said she'd been biking around all summer in preparation, and Ducheminsky described the pre-ride atmosphere at the VMSC as being "very cheerful, very positive."
Before the riders got going, there was a brief starting line ceremony, with representatives of the MS Society making some remarks. MS Society Manitoba board of directors chair Jennifer Moszynski noted that since it began 21 years ago, more than 12,000 cyclists have made the trek, totalling some two million kilometres, and raising several million dollars.
Stonewall Mayor Ross Thompson, who once again took part in the ride himself this year, said the town is very pleased to host the event year after year along with Gimli.
"We're just very delighted to have been able to host this on our end," he said.
In Gimli, riders enjoyed a relaxing and fun-filled evening following the day one leg of the ride. Biking to the Viking took over the Gimli Rec Centre and its grounds from about Saturday afternoon until Sunday morning.
Riders set up a tent city in the grassy area between Sigurbjorg Stefansson Early School and Gimli High School. Several RVs parked in the area as well. A bike compound, team village and other amenities also surrounded the rec centre, which was the site of Saturday night's event dinner.
Several local businesses showed support for the ride. Quarry Physiotherapy offered complimentary massages following Saturday's ride, and the Viking Inn hosted a "Get in the Red Zone" social Saturday night.
Riders left Gimli first thing Sunday morning; retracing their earlier route which had taken them along the scenic shores of Lake Winnipeg.
At the Village of Dunnottar rest stop on Sunday, fourth-time rider Joanne Zuk spoke of the sights along the Biking to the Viking route. Zuk, originally from Teulon but now a Winnipeg resident, noted how nice it was to be back in the area.
"You see it from a different perspective," she said. Zuk rode in Biking to the Viking with her best friend Stephanie Rozzi, who has multiple sclerosis.
"We do it together," said Zuk of the 160-km ride.
Zuk also praised the volunteer support shown to riders throughout the weekend.
"The volunteers just make it such a great time," she stressed.
More than 200 volunteers helped facilitate the ride Aug. 27 and 28. Many of them, including Lillian Wlosek and Moyra Benediktson, of Gimli, have been volunteering for years.
"We like doing it and we hope we can do it for many more years," said Wlosek, who has been a Biking to the Viking volunteer for about 15 years. Along with Benediktson, Wlosek was stationed at the Dunnottar rest stop.
"It's nice to be part of the group and feel like you are doing some good for the community," Benediktson said.
Several of Benediktson's relatives were involved in the ride including nieces Rachel and Lauren Teller and Kjersten Gamizek, who spent hours last weekend cheering for riders as they passed through Dunnottar.
Wlosek's sister Frederica Borys is also a longtime Biking to the Viking supporter.
Borys volunteered at the Dunnottar rest stop last weekend, while her husband Al took part in the ride. Two years ago, for their 50th anniversary, they asked people to donate to the ride in lieu of gifts and raised about $3,000.
"We're fighting for a cure," Wlosek said of the ride and its cause.
Wlosek has a family member and friends who suffer from MS. Because of them, she was inspired to involve other loved ones in Biking to the Viking as well.
"It's such a nice weekend," exclaimed Wlosek. "We see the same people over and over."
"It's a family weekend," Benediktson concluded about the sense of community Biking to the Viking encourages.