<strong>LOGAN—</strong> They call it a party with a bike ride in the middle of it.
It’s the Bike MS Utah: Harmons Best Dam Bike Ride, and it just celebrated its 26th year in existence, taking over the roads of Cache Valley and Franklin County, Idaho, Saturday and Sunday.
What started in 1986 as a group of 150 riders bent on raising $30,000 to fight multiple sclerosis, has grown to over 3,000 riders who, along with other donors, are hoping to raise $1.6 million to battle the disease.
Originally held in Park City, the MS Best 150, as it was known, moved to Logan in the early ’90s where it slowly, but surely, took off.
“Because it was such a great ride, a great venue (scenic Cache Valley), it’s grown into 3,000 riders,” said Pete Taylor, chairman of the ride’s organizing committee. “It’s grown tremendously.”
Among the innumerable individual stories surrounding the ride, and the fight against MS in general, Taylor’s is a particularly interesting one with a rather ironic twist.
Though he had no connection to the disease prior to getting involved in the ride, his banker convinced him to join the fledgling event. Years later, after both he and his wife, Rachel, had been participating in the ride for a number of years, Rachel was diagnosed with the very disease they had been riding to fight.
They’ve both been involved ever since.
“I was living and working in Park City, and my banker said we’re starting this event,” Taylor said. “(Rachel) became one of the largest fund raisers, and (then) she was diagnosed with MS after she’d ridden it five or six years … it was devastating.”
The Taylor’s involvement in the fight against MS proved helpful, however, as Rachel began showing signs of the disease.
Though Taylor says the two of them were in denial at first, that denial gave way to certainty.
“It was one of those things where the symptoms started happening, and we were all too familiar with symptoms,” said Rachel, whose diagnosis was confirmed in 2000. “We could hardly even speak about it out loud because we knew where it was going.”
However, thanks to numerous medical breakthroughs, being diagnosed with MS was not a death sentence for Rachel. And as she’ll tell you, if you’re diagnosed with a disease like MS, it’s good to have already been involved in the effort to fight it.
“I’m really lucky. I got on one of the medications that (was developed as a result) of the funding that we put into this, and I’ve been very, very lucky to have it,” Rachel said. “… It just holds it at bay, it doesn’t reverse damage …. but I am very lucky, and the medications have only been around for about 20 years.”
This year marks Rachel’s 17th ride.
While the ride is a local event, a surprisingly low number of locals take part. In fact, of the roughly 4,500-5,000 involved, most are from outside the valley – including people from 27 different states and around the globe. Among the riders are participants from Kenya, England and Australia.
Simon Hanrahan, of Pearth, Aus., is living with MS and still makes the trek to Cache Valley to ride. Along with the Taylors, Hanrahan rides with “Team Brain” – a team made up of more than 60 cyclists and is sponsored by the Brain Institute at the University of Utah.
Hanrahan, who lived in Utah from 2007-10, was diagnosed with MS about 10 years ago. Like Rachel, Hanrahan has been able to manage it, even logging 50 miles on Sunday.
“It doesn’t take a lot to get me back to Utah,” he said. “I was diagnosed nearly 10 years ago … but I just sort of work my way through it. I’m a little bulldozer. I keep going. I haven’t given up yet.
“When you have a disability, you are different to rest of the population, and you have more needs. Fortunately I’ve been lucky to not have a lot of needs so far, but when you hear some of the other stories around here, or anywhere in the world, they need help. Obviously, that help costs money, so it’s a good fund raising effort to help them in the longer term.”
Of every dollar raised, 86 cents goes toward finding a cure. The remainder covers the cost of operation. Riders pay an entry fee, as well as the $250 minimum pledge. In most cases the pledges come from others who sponsor the riders.
Saturday’s events included the first, and somewhat longer, day of riding, capped off by an awards ceremony and celebration in the evening, with Sunday being a bit more low-key.