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Habitat 500 bikers stop in New Ulm

July 20, 2012
By Fritz Busch - Staff Writer , The Journal

NEW ULM - Bicyclists, young and not-so-young, received applause, a handshake and grabbed a cup of lemonade and a cookie Thursday afternoon, after completing an 81-mile route from Hutchinson to New Ulm.

After changing out of some of their wet clothing, bikers set up their tents and greeted riders who finished after them.

Retired Michigan Tech teacher Debby and Bob Filer of Houghton, Mich. smiled as they finished the trek on 27-speed, lightweight bikes.

Article Photos

Staff photo by Fritz Busch

More than 130 Habitat 500 bicyclists and 40 volunteers set up camp Thursday outside Vogel Fieldhouse.

"It was nice and cool, a little misty and no wind for the first half of the ride," Debby Filer said. "We love doing this so much, we train for it year around, riding stationary bikes indoors about 90 minutes a day during the winter. We live in Upper Michigan. It's very rural and scenic up there, but mosquitoes are the size of helicopters."

The Filers drank lots of water and used large amounts of sun block and "butt butter" during the ride.

Wally Lentz of Minneapolis said fog made the bicyclists appear to be ghosts for the first three miles of the ride.

He talked about how he got interested in long distance bicycling.

"I used to run, but I gained about 25 pounds when I turned 50, so I started riding a bike," said Lentz, who is doing his 11th Habitat 500. "Now, I can eat and drink about as much as I want to not gain much weight."

Jim Splitt of Adrian, Mich., said he's ridden most of Minnesota's most popular bicycle trails in his 14 previous Habitat 500 rides.

"Minnesota has the best bike trails and respects bicyclists," Splitt said. "It's so cool to be able to ride to New Ulm again. I rode through New Ulm in the 1994 Habitat 500. The support staff on this ride is phenomenal. This is the best-supported ride in the country with nurses, mechanics, just incredible support."

Riders included University of Nevada, Las Vegas graduate student Erica Marti, a New Ulm native and the granddaughter of Don and Myrtle Brand of New Ulm. Marti is studying environmental engineering.

"I've got many fond memories of growing up in New Ulm," Marti said. "We lived in Goosetown and used to enjoy going to what is now Riverside Park."

Habitat 500 is a pledged 500-mile bicycle ride benefiting Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization that builds homes and creates home ownership opportunities for low-income families.

Bikers take part in seven-day, six-overnight stop rides of 50 to 100 miles in southern Minnesota. Routes begin in St. Louis Park and loop through Hastings, New Prague, Hutchinson, New Ulm, Mayer, and back to St. Louis Park.

The 2012 bike home is being built in Hutchinson for Becky Wolff and her five children by Crow River Habitat for Humanity.

Fully-supported rides have professional bike mechanics and supplies, message therapists, daily route maps, marked roads, emergency phone numbers, sag (support) vehicles to carry personal gear, and overnight camping sites with showers.

Breakfast, dinner, food and water stops are provided by local groups in host towns. Cyclists are responsible for supplying their own toiletries, sleeping bags/bedding, clothing, bikes and lunches.

More than two-thirds of national Habitat riders are from Minnesota. They must raise at least $900 to participate.

It takes about $60,000 to build a Habitat house in the United States. They are built and renovated with the efforts of volunteers, businesses, churches and partner families.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at



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