ATV group celebrates birthday of leader, 92, with 50-mile ride
COTTON, Minn. — Bob Reed has a little breathing problem that requires oxygen, had a heart stent put in last winter and can't walk very far because of arthritis.
But get him on his Polaris four-wheeler ATV and Reed looks like a 15-year-old kid ready to cut loose.
You can find Reed every Tuesday morning from late April through October riding ATV trails across the region with a dozen or more of his closest Cotton friends. They don't have a name for their group, but others have come up with something that seems appropriate.
"We call them the Cotton Gray Riders,'' said Larry Amberg of Canyon, Minn., a friend of the Reed family.
"I'm 72 and I'm one of the younger guys,'' said rural Cotton resident Bill Kubiak, who has been riding with the group about five years.
Amberg and Kubiak were among 25 Gary Riders on a recent Tuesday that just happened to be Bob Reed's 92nd birthday.
"I guess I've got quite a few friends for a guy who is 92 today,'' Reed said before straddling his ATV.
The group meets for coffee at the Wilbert Cafe in Cotton and then heads out to try new trails across the region, rain or shine, averaging about 15 riders and 30 miles each week, depending on who has doctor appointments or grandchildren visiting.
"This group is like a brothership. Everyone wanted to be here today for Bob,'' said Korki Koehler of Cotton. "This is probably the most we've had."
On this day, the group hauled their ATVs to the Chisholm Trail. It was a long day — more than five hours on the trail — and we put on just under 50 miles from Chisholm to Side Lake and back.
Reed is always in front of the Tuesday group so he doesn't have to breathe any other rider's dust. But it's also because he likes to pick the route.
"I like getting out with the guys. The fresh air. We see wildlife out here,'' Reed said during a stop along the trail. "We have a lot of fun out here ... We get to see new country."
Bob usually keeps it under 10 mph on the trail and almost always under 20. The ride is more about the scenery than speed.
Reed and a few of the others started riding ATVs together on old logging roads in the Cotton area 30 years ago. Now, they stick mostly to the developing system of designated ATV trails, sampling trails from Cloquet to the North Shore and across the Iron Range.
The Chisholm Trail winds through myriad scenery changes, from lowland spruce and black ash swamps to upland red and jack pine forests and big aspen clearcuts that offered a full dose of the warm spring sunshine. Dragonflies and yellow butterflies were everywhere, but mosquitoes and deer flies weren't too bad. Yet.
There was a little dust, and a little mud, between the ruts. But nothing Bob Reed couldn't handle.
The group didn't bake a cake, but everyone sang "Happy Birthday" while Reed was enjoying a burger and Budweiser at the Highway 5 Bar and Grill during a break.
"Bob's our fearless leader. If he goes somewhere, we all have to follow, or we're shamed,'' said Roger Gellerstedt, a Hermantown, Minn., resident and a regular rider with the group.
"He can't really talk much at all now because of the arthritis. But he's fearless when he's on a wheeler,'' Koehler said.
Koehler helped devise a system where Reed's oxygen tanks can ride in a compartment behind the driver with a tube leading up to his nose. The tanks have to be switched out every couple of hours, with Koehler keeping close watch on his buddy.
"He's not slowing down much on the trail,'' Koehler said. "Sometimes, he goes into things a little too quickly and we have to fish him out.''
On occasion, Reed has been known to ride into a mud puddle that turned out to be much deeper than it looked, leaving him floating on his Polaris four-wheeler. That's why Reed was wearing a "Bobber Bob'' hat and matching jacket — gifts from the group.
"It has nothing to do with fishing,'' Kubiak noted. "He was bobbing on his machine."
Reed has lived in "downtown Cotton" since 1930. A former "49er'' operating engineer and longtime owner of the local Pure Oil gas station in Cotton, Reed raised his family in Cotton, including sons Hartley, Bobby and Randy — all of whom joined their dad on the birthday ride.
"We were talking to his cardiologist in the hospital last winter and we mentioned that dad should be on the trails again soon,'' saif Hartley Reed, who now lives in Prior Lake, Minn. "She said, 'Oh, no, he can't be driving a car now.' And we said, 'No we mean his ATV.' She was absolutely shocked. She said, 'No way' ... But here he is riding again. We didn't tell her that he's still plowing snow, too."
The Tuesday ride is among the highlights of the week for all of the participants, especially Bob Reed.
"I think it would kill him if he couldn't ride,'' Amberg chimed in.
"It's a pretty lively group for their age,'' Hartley Reed noted. "But that's the great thing about ATVs. Everybody can ride them. Even a 92-year-old on oxygen."