Bike MS riders brave heat for good cause in Cache Valley
Multiple sclerosis • Ride raises funds for research and services.
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Logan • A welcome cloud cover helped several thousand bike riders power through the bucolic Cache Valley on a blazing hot Saturday.

More than 2,500 rode in the Bike MS: Harmons Best Dam Bike Ride Saturday and 1,300 were expected for Sunday's ride, many them returning for the second day of the event, which is raising at least $1.5 million for multiple sclerosis research and services for Utahns affected by the disease.

Riders chose 45-, 75- and 100-mile routes on Saturday, with the latter crossing into Idaho.

But the West's heat wave was complicating things.

Riders filling their bottles at the water station had gone through 64 containers of two-and-a-half gallons of water before the 7:10 a.m. start.

"Keeping people cool and hydrated" was the biggest challenge of the day, said Garrett Barnes of Harmony Hospice, whose 20 volunteers staffed the first aid and water stations at the fairgrounds. The predicted high for Logan Saturday was 101 degrees.

Organizers tweaked one of the rules: If riders had not reached the spot where the 75- and 100-mile routes split by 11 a.m., they would not be allowed to go the 100-mile route. Before the forecast of extreme heat, they would have been given until 1 p.m.

Along the way, volunteers were misting riders and at the lunch stop, they offered icy, wet towels.

"They're pouring water into your bottle without you even getting off your bike — with ice!" said Chris Eppler of Salt Lake City at the 33-mile mark on the 100-mile ride. He was eating a sandwich and chips with his wife, Celeste Eppler, and friends Jana and Dana Halliday, all members of the Little America team.

Grateful for the clouds that kept the midday temperature at 86, the Epplers were undaunted: They'll return Sunday for another 75 miles.

Bob Harmon, co-owner of Harmons Grocery, spent 10 minutes of the lunch break discussing new therapies for MS with Jana Halliday, whose sister has the disease.

The Salt Lake County-based grocery chain has been sponsoring the ride for 14 years; Harmon's wife was diagnosed with what he called the "wicked disease" 13 years ago.

He and his brother tried riding the route on tandem bikes for two years, but now each goes it alone; Bob Harmon was on the 75-mile ride Saturday.

Greg Jaboin organized this year's team for Royal Bank of Scotland, which has had an office in Salt Lake City for three years.

"It's a great cause," said Jaboin, who camped with teammates in tents and a pop-up camper at the fairgrounds Friday night.

The first year he rode, he knocked on the door of his neighbor, Holly Holman, who was diagnosed with MS 13 years ago. Jaboin told Holman he was going to ride for her.

"I thought, 'Well, I can ride a bike.' So I joined him," said Holman. Saturday's Best Dam Bike Ride was their fourth.

Juliann Fritz, a spokeswoman for the Utah-Southern Idaho chapter of the National MS Society, said at least 50 people signed up for the ride's new "I Ride With MS" program, although there were likely more people who have MS riding on Saturday.

Therapies developed in recent years have helped reduce symptoms. There were no treatments before 1993 and now there are 10, she said. Still, there is no cure.

Drake Kirkham of Rexburg, Idaho, who rode his motorized wheelchair for a half mile along the route before the official beginning, said he wouldn't be alive without the new treatments.

His wife, Paulette Kirkham, was diagnosed in 1989, and he was diagnosed in 2008. But he has a more aggressive form of MS, and has gone from walking in the spring of 2012 to using a wheelchair now.

Paulette Kirkham, meanwhile, was on the 45-mile ride Saturday.

Drake Kirkham's sister, Merrilee Tibolla of Centerville, was diagnosed with MS in 2000, and she was one of Saturday's volunteers.

Indeed, a lot of the 370 volunteers are people with MS, such as Tonia Davis of Kearns, who was diagnosed in 1999 and has volunteered at the bike ride for 10 years.

She was hoping to meet the man who was riding for her through the MS Society's Champion program, a man named Sergio Xavier Vasquez from Idaho.

"He has red, white and blue socks and flags all over his bike, so I don't think I'll miss him," she said.

kmoulton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @KristenMoulton