If you happen to see hundreds of cyclists coming through Crawford County this weekend, you're not dreaming.

Bike MS, the fundraising cycling series of the National MS Society, hosts its annual Escape to the Lake ride from Moraine State Park's South Shore Beach in Muddy Creek Township, Butler County, to Meadville for the night and on to Lake Erie in Conneaut, Ohio.

As of Friday night, this year's event has raised more than $372,000 for those living with multiple sclerosis and researchers working to improve treatments and find a cure. Day one of the ride, today, ends at the campus of Allegheny College.

Tim Solomon, pastor of Emmanuel Community Church in Meadville and Presbyterian Church of the Redeemer in Vernon Township, has biked in the event for the past 23 years. 

"We’re taking all sorts of little backroads that wind their way through the hills of Pennsylvania," Solomon said. "Some of those hills are pretty rugged, especially the stretch from Cochranton to Meadville. They’re the hills that I train on, so I know them, I like them."

Solomon explained the first day traditionally concludes with a meal provided by Allegheny College and several activities on campus. He will host a chapel service, and for the first time, he said there will also be Jewish services. Many cyclists also stay in dorms or tents on the campus before an early departure for Lake Erie on Sunday.

"For the rider, it’s not only good exercise physically and mentally, it’s good exercise spiritually and socially, because we give of ourselves for a cause that helps other people," Solomon said. "It’s an event that allows us, because we take motion for granted, to realize that other people aren’t as fortunate. Their ability to move their body is stolen by MS, and we’re helping to restore that."

The route has several variations — day one is between 60 and 100 miles depending on one's desired difficulty — and there are many rest stops stocked with food and water to energize participants. Rest stops include Cochranton Lions Club Community Park, St. Peter and Paul Church in East Fairfield Township, McDaniel's Corner Bible Church in Wayne Township and United Evangelical Free Church of Guys Mills. Medical personnel and motorcycle escorts provide safety as riders go at their own pace.

Solomon estimated there would be around 800 participants in this year's Escape to the Lake ride. There are all sorts of interesting aspects to those who bike more than 100 miles in two days, he said.

"The bikes come in all shapes and sizes," Solomon said. "For a while there, there was a fellow on a bike from the 1890s, the one with the big front wheel, no gears, no brake pads. My bike looks like something Pee-Wee Herman used in 'Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.'

"There’s all kinds of fun things out there. Everyone’s just there to enjoy themselves and work together for a good cause."

Tyler Dague can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at tdague@meadvilletribune.com.

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