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Posted: Sunday, June 12th 2005 at 1:10am

Bike Ride Across Georgia kicks off

By The Associated Press
EMAIL STORY CONTACT EDITOR PRINT

In the 26-year history of the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia, the annual event has been called everything from a stress reliever to an ideal family outing.

But one thing organizers won't call BRAG is a race.

"If you come in first, you get to unload the luggage truck," said ride Director Jerry Colley.

The annual ride, which kicked off Sunday in Columbus, promotes family time and physical fitness and is a fund-raiser for Special Olympics.

Officials say the event _ started in 1980 _ also allows riders to see Georgia in a unique way.

"I call it fun summer camp for the whole family," Colley said.

About 2,000 cyclists began peddling their way from Columbus to Jekyll Island on an eight-day, 434-mile, seven-city trek through Georgia.

Stops in between include Thomaston, Warner Robins, Dublin, Vidalia and Jesup. The race is a summertime boon for the communities it touches.

Angie Roussel, tourism chair for the Dublin-Laurens Chamber of Commerce Board, said all the hotels in her area are booked and restaurants are prepared for an influx of people who will spend their downtime perusing the community.

For host cities, BRAG can bring roughly $100,000 a day as riders and their supporters spend dollars on hotels, food, shopping and other attractions, organizers say.

Riders say the annual trek is a chance to experience Georgia, and the world, in a new way.

"You come around the bend or you come up a hell and you see a new day being born," said 72-year-old Jerry Kraft, of Columbus, who began cycling in 1999. "You see the sun coming up and I tell you that's, to me, a testimony of God."

The grandfather of six, who has been retired for three years, said he was encouraged by younger riders and his wife to join his first BRAG ride.

"I'm 72 years old and so I feel if I don't do it this year, I probably won't do it next year," he said. "Now's the time. It's starting in Columbus and I've had several friends assure me that I would do fine."

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