BEATRICE – Over 400 cyclists gathered at the West Scott ball diamond area in Beatrice for the 8th Annual Solstice Gravel Grinder, early Saturday morning.


"You know, the first year we had 53 riders....we had it over in Pleasant Dale, Nebraska. Nobody knew anything about it, and when they got done with it, they were happy and said, let's do this again. I thought it was just going to be a one-and-done deal. We took it up to Malcolm for a couple of years and it's been down in Beatrice ever since. The community loves us, the riders love being here, so its a great event....and once you have a date established, people look forward to it and they block that off ahead of time. They know this time of the year is the Solstice, so they come back."


Joe Billesbach is the creator and coordinator of the bike event that feature three different lengths…..the Kindler 35 miles……the Fiddy, typically 50 miles….and the Hundy…102 miles.


This year’s route started down Center Street, traveled east to the Chief Standing Bear Trail…..then southeast into rural areas of two counties. "The long route is going all the way to Pawnee City and back....going through Virginia, Burchard, Pawnee City, Liberty, Blue Springs and Holmesville."


The route changes every year….and every two years, new towns are included in the race. Billesbach says the middle length race is generally the most popular among those who register.


"Actually, the fifty.....the Fiddy, is what it's called...that's probably getting to be the most popular, because I think people get to this time of year...it's hot out, it's sunny...people are like, I haven't trained enough, so let me drop down to the fifty. It's always been fifty-ish...this year it's sixty, because I turned sixty yesterday (Friday).....so for this year, we're all going to ride sixty, for me."


Cyclists sang happy birthday to Billesbach before the kick-off of the race. This year’s participants came from fifteen different states, along with one couple from Canada….for the Homestead Days cycling event.