About our ride

our story

Written By: Ryan Stotts

After 11 years, if you ask La Crescent resident Eileen Krenz why the Apple Blossom Bike Tour exists, she’ll give you the perfect answer.

“It’s bringing people together who have a like interest,” Krenz said, while reflecting with a small group – who represent a rather larger one – responsible for the popular community biking tours.

“Some people like to ride fast; I like to ride slowly. I think there’s something there for everybody.”

Organizers conscientiously plan and offer several routes, progressively longer, always keeping the focus on the fact it’s a ride not a race.

Krenz, who for many years was deeply active in leadership with both the local chapter of Rotary International, but also with the La Crescent Chamber of Commerce, said the purpose would be two-fold: To support Rotary’s ongoing battle to eradicate polio, while at the same time bringing visitors to La Crescent, where they could support the local community while appreciating its natural beauty.

The notion occurred to Krenz at a 2012 Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference break-out session. The topic under discussion was community involvement and fundraising.

“That seemed like a very broad thing,” she said, “and I don’t know why it specifically focused on the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota and some of their big rides.”

Krenz thought, “We could do that.”

Brimming with excitement (it proved to be infectious), Krenz came back to her Rotary meeting determined to make the Apple Blossom Bike Tour happen by 2013, even though experienced organizers warned her the event would take years to plan.

“The heck it will,” she thought.

And she proved to be right.

By May of 2013, the original committee – which sprang out of Rotary and included Krenz, Lynn Gundlach, Dave Ebner, Peter Congdon, and Chuck Dockendorff.

Dan Novak, the bike route guru who every year designs the starting points and ride routes, came onboard very early, as well.

While certain elements have varied, with rides from 5 to 61 miles (and once, even a Century Ride of 100 miles to Peterson, Minn.), ABBT has consistently drawn 75 to upwards of 150 riders every year. Approximately 25 to 30 volunteers helped Rotary with the event.

The event has also seen special help from Steve and Monica Holman, Shawn and Michelle Dunlap, Amy Shimshak, Wayne Oliver, Bob Spencer, and Julie Hatlem.

The Dunlaps and the Holmans, for example, represent the community involvement in extraordinary ways, and they were present with Krenz to look back on ABBT’s history.

The Holmans lost their 25-year-old daughter Elizabeth to lung cancer in April of 2012. They created the non-profit Living For Liz organization, and the first Lizfest (a local festival aimed at supporting Liz’s cause) was started in August of 2012.

Rotarians approached the Holmans about bringing Lizfest in alignment with the ABBT, which in time the Holmans did, eventually ending Lizfest entirely, but continuing to support ABBT’s lunch via the Living For Liz organization, which continues to thrive.

“We’re in Rotary now,” Steve said, “so it’s also about being a part of the community.”

The focus, Monica said, was initially on polio. They were not unaware of the challenges facing those who seek to better the quality of life by continuously battling to end diseases and viruses.

“It’s hard,” she said. “It’s not on everybody’s radar. But, it’s not entirely eradicated either.”

And, she addressed the overwhelming community support her family experienced at a time of deep loss.

“This was a way for us to give back,” Monica said.

Shawn and Michelle Dunlap would agree.

Erin, their 26-year-old daughter, died of a pulmonary embolism in November, 2018.

“We do this, and it helps us keep the memory of Erin alive,” Shawn said. “We hope it helps others, and we can do it together.”

The couple created the Erin Dunlap-Mathews Memorial Foundation, which awards scholarships to UW-La Crosse physician assistant students, Erin’s own profession for two years.

Shawn said they were actively looking for ways to get involved, and to benefit the foundation which bears their daughter’s name, and which is one of the ways in which she’ll always be remembered.

As they were adjusting to their loss, they were also reaching out, and quickly they were connected to Rotary. And, just as quickly, the Dunlaps joined in ABBT’s efforts.

“It was perfect,” Michelle said. “Erin loved to just ride. The same rides. The same roads.”

In the arch that has been ABBT’s continuing journey, a high point in many ways happened in 2016, when Tour de France winner Greg LeMond was a visitor.

“That was an amazing experience,” Krenz said.

ABBT hasn’t always been good at patting itself on its back for its accomplishments, growth, and fostering of the community involvement that inspired Krenz back in 2012. But, as she points out, that’s perhaps less a fault than a Midwestern character trait.

“It’s just not our nature,” Krenz said. “I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years, and they’ve all been good.”

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