Vitáme Vás Means Welcome
Montgomery’s main drag was quiet on a mild, early morning in late July. Thousands would later crowd First Street South, but for now it was almost empty, except for a few workers in yellow vests setting up No Parking signs. The red, white and blue American and Czech flags on the old brick buildings and lamp posts moved little in the light breeze when the throng of bike riders turned the corner, led by a police car with flashing lights. At the edge of town the crowd hit the country roads of Le Sueur County and the Tour de Bun was officially underway.
Kolacky Days, an annual celebration of Czech heritage and the sweet, filled kolacky bun, has been held in Montgomery since the 1930s and this community of about 3,000 pulls together a three-day festival that often brings more people to town than live there. Since 1990, the Tour de Bun Bike Classic has been part of the event lineup. The ride offers a 13-mile Statkový Okru (Homestead Loop), 33-mile Osadnický Okru (Pioneer Loop) and a 50-mile Okruh Zelených Akrů (Green Acres loop) on rural roads noticeably low on car traffic, but with views for miles.
“It’s a very easy ride as far as hills go. Not too big of a challenge,” said Mick McGuire, lifelong Montgomery resident and chair of the Tour de Bun committee since 2010. “People enjoy it. They say it’s one of the nicer country road rides. They enjoy the scenery, because it’s just kind of classic southern Minnesota rolling hills and farmland. There’s even a couple of lakes along the way,”he said.
The Tour de Bun keeps McGuire and a dozen volunteers busy year round, starting soon after the ride. His reward, he said, comes from riders’ encouraging comments from across the state. “We get some fairly positive feedback. That’s kind of what it’s all about, providing an enjoyable experience. Sometimes I’m just amazed to see how far people come for this bike ride. I talked to one couple who came from Alexandria, MN. People also come from Elk River and Austin, MN and drive an hour and a half or two hours to ride their bike here,” he said. McGuire enjoys volunteering because it helps out the community. The Montgomery Area Community Club puts on Kolacky Days and, from the proceeds, gives grants to various local organizations throughout the year. “Everybody does their part and takes on a role in that weekend,” he said. “All the money stays in the community.”
As riders made their way through the gentle hills around Montgomery, the day turned out to be perfect for a ride in the country under cloudless, blue skies. A mild breeze rustled the corn stalks in the fields, and the occasional long, sloped downhill stretches were refreshing. At one of the rest stops at a local winery, Stephanie Ykema-Stunes was happy with her progress and averaging almost 14 miles an hour while biking with her husband Corey, who was training for a 100-mile ride. “I’m from here, but it’s been a long time,” she said. “We live in the Twin Cities, in a very urban environment and it is kind of nice to step back when you’re seeing something at 10 or 12 miles an hour versus when you’re used to seeing it at 60.”
She was born in Montgomery, but now lives in Fridley and came back to visit, ride the Tour de Bun and reconnect with old friends. “I don’t have a ton of family here, but everyone I went to high school with. For people that are from Montgomery, [Kolacky Days] is like a thing,” she said and added that she ran into 15 old friends, just unloading the bikes in the parking lot before the ride.
At the same rest stop, retired dairy farmer Bob Krocak was handing out snacks and water and revealed a family connection to the Tour de Bun. His brother Gary, one of the original organizers of the ride, was killed in a car accident in 1992. In memory of Gary, Krocak said, the ride organizers worked his initials into the bike spoke design of the ride logo the following year. “Over the years we’ve had four or five of the t-shirts commemorate someone who has passed on,” he said. Being part of the ride brings back memories. “I still have the feeling of my brother biking when he’s not with us and I just want to do something for the community in helping out for Kolacky Days. It takes a village to put on Kolacky Days and there’s many people that volunteer behind the scenes you don’t even know about. It makes it easy if everybody volunteers.” After his shift he said he was going to watch the Bohemian Tractor Pull, where teams of four compete to pull a tractor 100 feet in the fastest time. “I have a little vested interest, because I have four boys that never lost in it,” he said.
By one o’clock even the last stragglers had returned to town and mingled with festival-goers who were already hoisting a pivo in the beer garden on a pleasant Saturday afternoon. Kolacky Days was in full swing: The empty streets of the early morning brimmed with people casually strolling and checking out classic cars with shiny engines gleaming under open hoods; Kolacky Days royalty in traditional Czech dress and sparkly tiaras shook hands and posed for pictures; Franke’s Bakery moved kolacky by the dozen to a constant stream of visitors; the sounds of the band mixed with the chugs of antique tractors and the clank of the blacksmith hammering red-hot metal into dainty flowers; contestants were lining up for the International Prune Spitting Contest while the town brewery tapped a keg of Stoleti Pivo, brewed in honor of the Czech Heritage Committee. At Memorial Park, they hooked four long ropes to the front of a bright, red 1960s International Harvester tractor model 504 in preparation for the Bohemian Tractor Pull, so Bob Krocak’s boys could claim another title.
By Sunday night it was all over, streets were swept, bleachers taken down and route signs collected. Montgomery returned to normal and preparations began for the next Kolacky Days and another Tour de Bun.