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100 on the Heartland

A group of bikers crossed the bridge by Heartland Park to kick off Saturday's Headwaters 100 bike ride. Because of road construction on Highway 71 near Itasca State Park, the Heartland Trail was used as an alternate route for the 37th annual event. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

Because of road construction on Highway 71 between Itasca State Park and Lake George, the Itascatur Outdoor Activities Club was forced to change the route for Saturday's 37th annual Headwaters 100 bike ride.

After looking at various options, the club chose to start the ride at the Park Rapids Century School and use the Heartland Trail with the 45-mile ride going to the junction with the Paul Bunyan Trail near Akeley and back, the 75-mile ride going to Anderson's Cove on Steamboat Bay north of Walker and back, and the 108-mile ride going to the Mi-Gi-Zi Trail in the Chippewa National Forest near Cass Lake and back.

"We learned about the construction on Aug. 23, which didn't give us a lot of time to find a new route," said Sandy Perez, president of the Itascatur Club. "We spent about two hours going over different routes and came up with the idea of having it on the trail. Our concerns were we needed a route where we could do a 100-mile loop, a 75-mile loop and a 45-mile loop with a minimum number of food stops. The trail made so much sense."

While most bikers missed pedaling the original scenic route through Itasca State Park, touring a rainy Heartland Trail provided an enjoyable one-time alternative.

"I wasn't sure about it when I heard there was going to be a new route, but I was not disappointed at all," said Joseph Dick of Rosemount, who biked the 108-mile route in his first Headwaters 100. "This was my first time here and my third (100-mile ride) this year. I thought the location would make for a good ride. It was the longest, coldest and wettest ride I've been on all year, but it a very nice ride. It went better than I thought."

Bob Hamann of Staples is a regular in this annual ride, participating in every Headwaters 100 since 1998.

"Going up to Itasca is more interesting, but this one worked out fine and was a good alternative," said Hamann, who biked the 75-mile route. "It was a good time, but I'm looking forward to going back to Itasca next year."

Jim Pietrich and Vicki Pietrich of Woodbury participated in their fifth Headwaters 100 together. The husband-and-wife duo rode the 45-mile route.

"I thought it was a nice change. The trail is great and this ride was a nice way to showcase how beautiful the trail is," said Vicki Pietrich. "It was an easier route than the other one, but it was a great ride. We'll definitely be back next year."

"Some people don't like riding on the trail because they can't bike fast, but it worked out well," said Perez. "The trail isn't for fast bikers. It's more family friendly, which is what this ride is all about."

Of the 337 bikers who pre-registered, 293 participated in the ride with 136 covering the full 108-mile route, 56 going 75 miles and the other 101 taking the 45-mile ride. The route featured food stops at Akeley City Park and Anderson's Cove.

The Itascatur Club uses the majority of the money raised from this event to help maintain and groom the Soaring Eagle Ski Trails. In recent years, the club has purchased bike racks placed throughout Park Rapids, spin bikes for the Century School fitness room and 300 youth bike helmets that were given away.

Even though the forecast for rainy weather all day Saturday prevented some bikers from participating, it was another successful fundraiser for the club as the rain didn't dampen the spirits of those who traveled the Heartland Trail.

"We had a lot of no-shows because of the weather. On good weather days, we've had about 600 riders, so our numbers were down," said Perez. "Our riders love coming up here and they appreciate the efforts of our volunteers, who are key to this ride. The riders were so appreciative of us for organizing this ride. There were very few complaints."

In addition to Minnesota, bikers from Arizona, California, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin participated in this year's ride. Canada was also represented with riders from Manitoba.

Perez said the regular bikers of this ride enjoyed the new route, but are looking forward to making the tour through Itasca State Park next fall.

"This was a way for us to highlight our great trail and it was a route where you could go 100 miles without doing a lot of loops, which is a treat," said Perez. "It was a very successful ride, but unless we hear otherwise from MNDOT, we're planning on being back at Itasca next year."