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Snowmobilers ride to fight Lou Gehrig's disease

Minnesota Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire had never ridden a snowmobile until a few years ago. Now he owns a couple of them. He and his wife ride them in the Black Woods Blizzard Tour, a 375-mile snowmobile ride to raise money to fight ALS. The Gard...

Riders at sunrise
Two riders wait to begin the Black Woods Blizzard Tour in Proctor Thursday morning. The three-day 375-mile snowmobile ride raises money to fight ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. [Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com]

Minnesota Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire had never ridden a snowmobile until a few years ago. Now he owns a couple of them.

He and his wife ride them in the Black Woods Blizzard Tour, a 375-mile snowmobile ride to raise money to fight ALS. The Gardenhires were among 148 riders who left Black Woods restaurant in Proctor early this morning.

Now in its 10th year, the event is the world's largest fund-raising snowmobile ride, said organizer David Kolquist of Duluth. Last year the event raised $500,000 and this year sponsors hope to raise $550,000.

Proceeds will go to fight Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig 's disease. Riders traveled to Fortune Bay on Lake Vermilion Thursday. They'll head south to Two Harbors Friday and finish in Duluth on Saturday.

This will be Gardenhire's sixth year on the ride. He returns every year.

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"You just become attached to it," the Twins manager said. "It touches families."

The fathers of former Twins Terry Steinbach and Kent Hrbek both died from ALS. Steinbach, Hrbek, Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson and hitting coach Joe Vavra also will ride this year.

"It's close to our hearts with Hrbek and Steinie," Gardenhire said.

Former New York Yankee great Lou Gehrig also died from ALS.

"Baseball has been touched with this disease," Gardenhire said.

Gardenhire is happy to own his own snowmobiles now, although he came to own them accidentally. In each case, he was trying to push up the bids in an auction held as part of the Blizzard Tour. And in each case, he ended up with the winning bid.

Each rider in the event must raise $900 to participate. Anyone may donate to a favorite rider by going online at www.alsmn.org . All riders' expenses, including lodging and snowmobile gas, are included. Event organizers shuttle riders' gear between overnight stops.

In its first year, the event had just 44 riders, Kolquist said. Organizers have grown the event slowly, he said. Last year, 132 riders took part.

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Riders travel in groups of 10 and start at intervals so they don't crowd trails, Kolquist said. Participants may not drink alcohol until they reach their destinations in the evening, he said.

"We pride ourselves in being zero-tolerance," Kolquist said. "We control all of our groups. We don't go over the speed limit. We pick up all our signs. We're promoting the sport of snowmobiling."

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