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TRAM bike ride will end Friday in Welch

Nearly 1,000 bicyclists are participating in The Ride Across Minnesota from Ortonville to Red Wing.

Rural Minnesota scenery and small-town hospitality help bring the bicyclists out each year.

The opportunity to raise money for a good cause -- the National Multiple Sclerosis Society -- doesn't hurt either.

"There's no better way to see the countryside,' said Peter Grasse of Woodbury, as he explained what put him on his bicycle for a five-day, 250-mile pedal known as TRAM, or The Ride Across Minnesota. It will end Friday at Welch Village.

Grasse is among nearly 1,000 bicyclists taking part in the 20th annual Bike MS: Star Tribune TRAM.

The cyclists hit the road Monday in Ortonville, Minn., and enjoyed a tail wind all the way to Montevideo, Minn., where they spent the night. Redwood Falls played host to the cyclists Tuesday night, St. Peter Wednesday and New Prague Thursday.

On Friday the cyclists will travel just about 50 miles from New Prague to Welch Village, coming into Cannon Falls via County Road 88. They'll take a rest stop at Riverside Park, then complete the final leg of the journey via the Cannon Valley Trail.

This year's ride follows a border-to-border route similar to the first year's TRAM in 1990, when the waters of Big Stone Lake and the Minnesota River led the way to the shores of the Mississippi River.

Along with seeing the countryside, the annual ride is also a chance to meet the people in the small towns along the way.

More than 60 volunteers played roles in providing hospitality to the riders in Montevideo, according to Deanna Hodge, who helped coordinate the welcome.

Similar to the group's reception in other small towns, the volunteers helped with everything from serving a big spaghetti feed at United Methodist Church to showing the visitors where to pitch their tents in Smith Park there.

Montevideo hosted more than 1,100 visitors when friends and family who came to meet the riders are included, Hodge said.

The city's hospitality has not gone unnoticed. This is the fifth year the TRAM ride included an overnight stay in Montevideo, according to Emily Wilson, media director for this year's event.

The 2009 ride includes 16 bicyclists who have participated in all 20 rides, and more than 300 who are making their first trips.

The chance to ride alongside his friends is what initially led Grasse to participate in the ride 18 years ago, he said. He is part of a team of 15 bicyclists from the metropolitan area calling itself "Spoken For.'

Grasse said TRAM has also made him much more aware of how many people live with multiple sclerosis, and committed to helping them. The team is expecting to raise $12,000 in pledges this year, said co-rider John Simme, also of Woodbury.

He said the team has probably raised over $100,000 in the years that the team's members have been riding.

Overall, this year's TRAM is expected to raise $850,000, according to Wilson. The funds make possible programming for the estimated 9,000 people with multiple sclerosis living in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, as well as research into causes and treatment of the disease.