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Countdown on to Cycle Around North Dakota in Sakakawea County

The countdown is on as Mott and Hebron residents await the arrival of 260 cyclists to ride into town in August with the 20th annual Cycle Around North Dakota in Sakakawea County.

Representing 24 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces, riders will arrive in Mott on Aug. 8 and head to Hebron on Aug. 9, as part of the group's Enchanted Anniversary Tour, Aug. 4 through 11.

Bikers, ranging in age from 12 to 77, will gather Aug. 4 at Fort Stevenson State Park before they take off the next day on the 70-mile trek to Center.

Beginning and ending in Garrison, CANDISC covers 400 miles and includes stops in Center, New Salem, Carson and Hazen, as wells as the 75-mile ride from Mott to Hebron.

Ben Auch, who lives south of Mott, was asked to coordinate the city's efforts for CANDISC, after he organized the rest stop when CANDISC came through Mott five years earlier.

He said cyclists will be treated to movies, music by local musicians, swimming at the pool, and camping at the park. Local organizations will also serve the riders meals for fundraisers.

"This is a great way to show off the town and all it has to offer," Auch said. "This will show people that Mott is a great place to stop when going on vacation, and it will be a big benefit to the community."

Hebron mayor Grant Wrath did not return phone calls.

The longest leg, New Salem to Carson, is 82 miles. The shortest ride the bikers will take is Aug. 7 from Center to New Salem.

CANDISC is capped at 500 participants who fill out an application and pay a $180 fee for individuals, or $380 for a family, which covers camping during the overnight stays, showers, official CANDISC ID bands, sag service, a T-shirt, travel information, baggage transfers, accident insurance, water stops, and a free meal at the conclusion of the ride.

A bike mechanic, doctor and physician's assistant also accompany the participants.

CANDISC started in 1993, the year after Iowa native Dick Messerly became manager of Fort Stevenson State Park in Garrison.

Messerly said park visitation was down and he wanted to attract the public to the park, so he fashioned an across-the-state bike ride modeled after the Register's annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, which is Messerly's home state.

"The year before I came, the park had 58,000 visitors. Now we just got a press release that Fort Stevenson was the No. 1 attended state park," he said. "What I've been pleasantly surprised by is the great exposure the ride gives western North Dakota.

"Before the oil boom, people thought of North Dakota as the last frontier, flat with no scenery. Then, they come on the tour and are surprised by how beautiful a state it is. They go away as great ambassadors for North Dakota."

Every year, there is at least one main attraction along the way, places not nationally known or heavily traveled.

This year's attractions are Garrison Dam and the Enchanted Highway, Messerly said.

McKaila Matteson, who helps coordinate CANDISC but has never ridden the route herself, said four riders this year are 20-year veterans of the event.

"I think what I enjoy most is getting to see the wide variety of bikers this brings," she said. "Some of the bikers are really experienced, so they're competitive and serious about this, while others come along for the adventure of traveling around North Dakota."

CANDISC's route changes yearly, but Matteson said this year's Enchanted Highway tour harkens back to a similar route in the early 2000s with some different host communities. Next year's route has not been determined yet, she added.

Ridership is down this year and Messerly speculates that it is a combination of the national economy and a perception that western North Dakota is congested with oil-related traffic.

"One of my favorite rides we've done is in Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park," he said. "We can't really do that now because of the oil fracking truck traffic that would make it unsafe for the bikers, but we hope to get back there someday."

Messerly chooses the routes himself, looking for small towns between 40 and 80 miles apart, where people will provide the cyclists with meals and entertainment.

"We want it to be enjoyable for the communities too," he said. "We give awards for best rest stops and overnight hosts. Cities compete for best host and prize money, and they get a lot of satisfaction from winning because it shows they did the best job for the cyclists."