EVELETH — Now in it’s 14th year, the Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour changes up it’s tour route every year. With the Highway 53 bridge being under construction the past few years, the tour has been bouncing around the construction zone for the better interest of the riders.
But with the bridge now complete, the tour made a point this year to take riders over the brand new bridge as they look toward the home stretch of this year’s ride.
Offering four different routes that all end in Eveleth, every rider will have the opportunity to cross the bridge this Saturday, something tour organizers see as a big draw for this year’s tour.
“Every route this year is going across the bridge,” tour director Ardy Nurmi-Wilberg said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “I think people are really excited about that. We’ve made a point to take the tour places that avoided the construction but this year we can finally cross it. It’s a big draw for riders.”
Nurmi-Wilberg’s words ring true, as she expects over 700 riders to take part in the tour on Saturday.
“Turnout looks to be absolutely fabulous this year. It’s looking to be the best in years. Compared to this point last year, we have 100 more riders signed up and people can still sign up Friday and even Saturday morning, the day of the tour.”
The bulk of the riders will be coming from Minnesota, but Nurmi-Wilberg says the tour has become a destination for riders all across the country and even outside our borders.
“Mostly everyone is from Minnesota, but not necessarily the Iron Range. About 40 percent of our riders are from outside the area. And we have people coming from Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, Iowa and even Georgia and Colorado. Plus this year we have 12 riders coming in from Canada to experience the tour.”
With 700 riders coming in, the tour certainly does it’s part to help stimulate the local economy, according to Nurmi-Wilberg.
“People come up Friday night or even earlier and come to our restaurants and stay at our lodging. They’re spending money here and helping our economy out for this great weekend.”
As riders expect to move in from all over this weekend, Nurmi-Wilberg explains what exactly draws so many people to the Mesabi Trail Tour.
“I think the Mesabi Trail is truly a unique trail. There’s not many like it in the country. You can get so many different experiences on it depending on where you are. It can be flat or hilly, straight or winding, uphill or downhill, it’s just a unique riding experience.”
The unique riding experience pairs well with the beautiful scenery one encounters along the way, Nurmi-Wilberg says.
Another plus to the tour is how well it accommodates to riders of all skill levels. The full tour stretches 71 miles, beginning in Bovey and finishing in Eveleth. All paths finish in Eveleth but begin closer to the end with the second route beginning in Nashwauk (52 miles), the third in Buhl (25 miles) and the fourth in Virginia (11 miles).
“You’re going to see some pretty good riders on the full tour decked out in their Lycra and on their expensive bikes,” Nurmi-Wilberg said. “And you’ll see lots of families with children or more inexperienced riders starting in Virginia.”
Along the way, riders can find rest stops in all of the starting cities, as well as Hibbing at the Greyhound Bus Museum. Each rest stop is a chance for riders to grab food and water and maybe relax and listen to music. Nurmi-Wilberg says riders should take their fill at each stop.
“We’re going to have a wide variety of food available. No one is every going to lose weight on this tour,” she joked.
As riders cross the finish line, they’ll be treated to food from Paul’s Market and can listen to live music from the Christopher David Hanson Band, as well as a free massage to get things back in order after the ride.
“It’s really a local thing we’ve put together,” Nurmi-Wilberg said. “The food and the music are all local, the T-shirts riders get are made in Eveleth, the tents from Coleraine, the buses in Hibbing, everything. We’re glad to be local and bring in vendors from one end of the trail to the other.”
With everyone coming together at the finish line, Nurmi-Wilberg hopes riders old and new stick around to socialize when it’s all said and done.
“When you’re done riding, there’s nothing better than grabbing a great meal and listening to some music and chilling out. It’s a great social event that can bring people together.”
The director went on to mention how the scope of 700-plus riders doesn’t exactly hit until the finish line.
“Everyone is spread out at the beginning but once everyone is at the finish line you finally realize how many people were out there riding with you. There’s a sort of camaraderie at the end like, ‘we did it!’ Everyone is happy at the end.”
As the tour expects to see great success this year, Nurmi-Wilberg ties things back to the effect the new Highway 53 bridge likely has had on this year’s tour.
“The bridge is just something that is now unique to our area of the state. There’s been so much coverage of it in newspapers and even bike magazines that it’s drawing people in. Even our general ridership is up along with wheel pass sales. It’s a real shot in the arm for the trail.
“It’s just so unique, like, come on! How can you not come out and see it and the amazing view it provides. It’s certainly put the Virginia area back on the map.”
Registration for Saturday’s tour is still open. Riders who wish to participate can find information at www.mesabitrail.com. The cost for riding is $45 for individual, $90 for couples and $90 for families with children under 18. Nurmi-Wilberg notes for those still looking to register to please read the bike transportation information carefully as transporting the bikes does take a bit of planning in advance.