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Bicycle riders participate in Highground event

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The weather forecast for Aug. 7 read something like this: showers, thunderstorms, cloudy and a wind speed of about 15 mph.

It wasn't an ideal day to be on a bicycle, to say the least.

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About 22 bicyclist weren't deterred by the weather.

The group, which left from the New Richmond Armory at about 8 a.m. with a police escort, was pedaling approximately 170 miles to the Highground in Neillsville last weekend.

The ride is an annual fundraiser for the Highground, a 140-acre manned veterans memorial that pays tribute to the dead, and honors the survivors' services and sacrifices. Six routes start from various areas of Wisconsin, meeting at the Highground on Sunday mid-day. New Richmond's is the western route. This is the 25th anniversary of the ride.

The first day, the group travelled 55 miles to Menomonie, accessing county roads and bike paths. On Saturday, they went 70 miles to Osseo. They avoided the severe weather that plagued the New Richmond area that day, said ride organizer Randy Meyer.

The final day they took on 40 miles to make it to Neillsville by 11:30 a.m.

Riders traveling on the western route came from all over the area, including New Richmond, Woodbury and the Twin Cities. Many have done the ride for two decades, give or take a few years.

When all the riders got to the Highground, the organizer of the first ride 25 years ago led the group. The rider of this year's 25th Anniversary ride was the last to ride in.

Barry Cirby, a rider from Eden Prairie, Minn., undertook his 20th ride this year. His wife Melanie was on No. 15. Pat Boylan of Burnsville, Minn. has also been on more than a dozen of the annual rides.

It's fun and it's a good cause, the group said.

"And it pulled at the heartstrings," Melanie said. Both Barry and Boylan are veterans themselves. Barry served four years as a Navy airman; Boylan served in the Army.

Melanie said she took her first Highground ride after breaking her foot while training for Grandma's Marathon.

"I had so much pent up energy," she said. "My doctor said 'Get your butt on a bike.'"

Although Melanie has since quit marathoning, she's still biking.

"I dragged her out every year since," Barry said.

Getting ready for the 170-mile ride takes discipline, the group said, as they discussed taking 60- and 70-mile rides for fun on an afternoon.

"Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," Barry said about getting on the bike every day.

The group said the socialization and seeing old friends are reasons they keep signing up, year after year.

Arriving at the Highground is an emotional experience, Melanie said.

Elderly veterans, some from World War II, stand in full dress and salute the group as they ride through to the memorial.

"I always cry," Melanie said. "It's really emotional."

This year's ride isn't the first they've had in the rain, the long-time riders said. Before taking off for the day, Jerry Simon, a more than 22-year rider and Vietnam veteran, reminded the group to be careful since the road and paint strips would be more slippery than they're used to.

Simon's 10-year-old grandson Connor was making his first Highground ride this year. He was riding on a tandem bike with his dad Gary, Jerry's son.

Sheri Simon, Jerry's wife and a support truck driver, said Connor has ran longer races to get ready for the ride.

Connor just smiled and shrugged when asked if he was ready for the long ride.

On Sunday, he could was able to say he rode some of the ride when they arrived at the Highground.

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