With a Blackhawk helicopter hovering overhead, nearly 1,000 motorcycles took off from the New York Mills VFW at high noon Saturday for the annual Ronald McDonald House Benefit Ride.
The thundering parade of bikes rumbled through downtown Mills as people lined the streets to take a look at all the motor metal muscle. After heading north out of New York Mills the RMH Ride went on to pick up more bikes at stops in Wolf Lake and Wadena, before returning to the Mills VFW. The Blackhawk came from the National Guard in Wadena and flew over the ride, taking photos as the bikers took off from the VFW.
Event organizers estimated the total bikes involved in the event, including those on the ride and those that joined along the route, as well as some that stayed behind at the VFW, totaled about 1,250. Last year's ride drew a little more than 1,000 bikes.
With money still coming in early this week, ride organizers expect to top the $102,624 raised at last year's ride. All proceeds go to benefit the Ronald McDonald House in Fargo.
"Every year the people that attend the ride amaze us by their turnout, their support, and their donations," said committee member Greg Karvonen. "They come out of the woodwork year after year. After eight years it's still growing."
With so many benefit rides in the region each year, and as many different causes, the question remains how has this ride become so successful so fast?
"I think the cause -- the Ronald McDonald House itself," Karvonen said. "If you haven't used the Ronald McDonald House you know somebody who has. You have a friend of a family who has used it."
It turns out Santa is a biker and big supporter of the RMH Ride.
"The Ronald McDonald run is just a fantastic run. There is so many bikers showing up here ... I've seen it grow the last eight years," said Howie Ogaard, known as "Santa" in the biker community. Ogaard is the historian for the Freedom First Riders, the newest chapter of ABATE Minnesota. "This is so well-organized and well run. I just enjoy coming up here."
The ride started in 2002 when a group of local motorcycle enthusiasts wanted to get together and do some good for people. They drew 150 bikes that year. Eight years later, the RMH Ride committee is looking to re-establish the event as the world's largest motorcycle ride for Ronald McDonald House and the number one contributor to the Ronald McDonald House in Fargo.
The ride has drawn an estimated 1,000 motorcycles each of the last three years and in 2008 the event raised more than $100,000 for the first time.
Jim Kazinsky, of Ramsey, Minn., has been coming to the RMH Ride for three years now.
"This is a great ride. Well organized, well maintained," he said. "Great group of people and I'll be coming up here for life-long. It's the best ride ever. Sturgis has got nothing on this place."