I don’t even know how to begin describing my first MS 150 weekend. Guess I’ll try to do it chronologically…
Our friends Ami & Steven, together with their one year-old, came by to pick us up at 5:15 Saturday morning. This would be Steven’s 4th MS 150. He’s the one who got us involved with the event. The guys loaded our bikes on the back of the car and I collected all my water bottles and nibbles (peanut butter toast, banana), Gu (energy gel), energy jelly beans and the like and we were on our way to our start point, an office building near I-10 and Barker-Cypress.
Just before arriving there, we stopped at a convenience store so I could use the bathroom. Then once we did arrive to our start point, and our suitcases were on the truck bound for LaGrange and the bikes were ready, I decided to take advantage of my last chance for a real restroom for the weekend, once again. Next was the Baker Hughes team photo and a quick safety talk. During the talk I could hear “On your left!” and “Car back!” from behind the parking lot as another team rolled by.
Soon it was our time to clip in and ride. No pomp and circumstance, just time to go. And so we did. And I was quite excited to see that we would be riding very near my old junior high. Lots of great memories danced through my brain as it was soon decided it was time for Gary and Steven to go ahead and pass me. (Ami and her son drove home.) I was filled with glee as I passed familiar sites and wondered what would lie ahead.
A few miles later I rolled past my first rest stop. As I looked to the left, I was amazed at how many bicycles I saw lining the road and the hundreds of people milling around and the 20 or so porta potties they waited in line to visit. I was overcome with emotion as I began to realize what a large event this was and began to giggle and tear up at the same time.
I cycled along and soon saw my first rider down with medical attention. (I make it a point to not look closely when I see accidents, so I’m not sure what happened or how bad the accident was.) As the crowd of cyclists slowed and crawled closer, someone made the mistake of forgetting he was clipped in to his pedals and fell over, bringing two more cyclists down with him. I felt bad for all three, although they were all fine and popped right back up after their falls. It wasn’t much after that we must have been joined by the crowd beginning at the stadium in Katy. Things got a little more crowded, but I never felt completely uncomfortable.
The wind began to grow in strength which certainly added to the challenge. At times I would look at my speed and be quite pleased with myself. But most of the time I would notice my speed and just have to laugh at my snail’s pace… what else could I do? I pushed along, drafting here and there… but not too often, as riding so close just made me more nervous which I decided used more energy than just plugging away on my own. At about 20 miles I had to go to the bathroom. But I had decided that I would not stop until lunch, which was at 45 miles. So I held it and pedaled along, trying not to think about my full bladder. (Can you say “ridiculous ego,” Amy?!)
I rolled into lunch at about 10 a.m. Approximately 7,000 of the 13,000 riders had chips on their shoes which would send messages recording their progress. The mats for these chips were spread out at about a width of 15 feet at lunch in Bellville, so, even if a rider didn’t want to stop for lunch, she had to enter the lunch stop in order to ride over the mats. I’m sure you can imagine the bottleneck. And then there were those who would slow to an almost stop right in the traffic. At almost every stop I made, I felt compelled to yell out “keep going!” to those who slowed and almost stopped right at the entrance. Most riders would keep their momentum and pull off before stopping, but there were still those few. I made it through and dropped the bike and made a bee-line for the snail line at the porta potties. There were two lines of about 20 potties each and still I waited about 10 minutes for my turn. I made my way to the lunch line next and marveled as to how many people and how many bicycles were there.
This ride was extremely well-organized every step of the way. At mealtimes, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the amount of details managed. At the first lunch, we were given paper bags to collect our (well-labeled) sandwich, condiments, chips, fruit and choice of carb (pasta or potatoes). Drinks were distributed outside of the food pavilion. This might sound small, but when you are feeding roughly 13,000, all these details are a big deal!
After marveling at all the details and all the cyclists and volunteers at lunch, it was time to get going again. I remember it being crowded on the road as we made it through town, but soon we were back on country roads with farms and wildflowers all around. And the wind continued to push against us, but I gained momentum and pushed back even harder. It was like my turkey sandwich turned into a major energy rush and everyone woke up and started praying. It was 11 a.m. and I was on fire, racing down the hills, pedaling down them and then climbing back up them, shouting “On your left!” and passing cyclist after cyclist. It was as if this new cycling animal came out in me and I really liked her! I was on fire and loving it! This went on for quite awhile.
About 10 miles outside of LaGrange I stopped to call and let Gary know I would be there soon. I sucked down another Gu and pedaled off, ready to finish day one. Something happened, though, in the next two miles. As I crossed 85 miles, my stomach began to cramp and I was in pain. I can only liken the pain to the transition phase of labor… you know, right before the BIG MAMA labor pains kick in. This hurt. And all my feelings of excitement and exhilaration became feelings of pain and frustration. I was determined to keep on going, but I was also wondering if it would be possible. I didn’t think I would get sick, but I started to wonder if I had to throw up, could I keep cycling through it? And how would I prepare whomever might be behind me at the time? Fortunately this was also about the time the monstrous headwind became a tailwind. Thank you, Lord for that. If I’m going to be in misery, I’d much rather have it happen then than any other time on the route. I pedaled and prayed and thought about a friend who was due to have a baby any day and intended to do it without pain meds. “Please help her through it, Lord… and help me, too!” I prayed.
I was beginning to cry as I realized we were near the end. My odometer read 93 miles and there were thousands of people lining the road. I looked up and saw a woman holding a yellow posterboard with a Bible verse. I cannot even remember the verse, all I remember thinking is that God’s gonna get me over that finish line… And He did. I pedaled through and soon I was rolling over that finish line. I heard my name over the PA system and looked up to see my husband in front of me on the sidelines. The tears started to fall and I followed the pack of cyclists around a bend. As I came to stop I looked up and there, in front of me, was one of my training buddies. I was so relieved to see a friend. She asked how I was. I said “Terrible, but I was great before!” and we both hugged and cried.
Soon I was in the Baker Hughes tent. Someone took my bike, Gary gave me a wonderful hug, held me in my pain (I could barely stand up straight my stomach hurt so terribly.) and he told me that he had signed me up for a massage already. (What a man!!) I ate a hamburger, drank some more water, ate a mini Snickers bar and began to feel normal again. (Well, at least not in pain anymore.) Next was massage time and then off to the shower. Fortunately our friend Steven was one of the top 300 fundraisers for last year’s MS 150. One of his perks is the use of “special’ showers for him and a guest. As we walked by a line of hundreds waiting in line for a somewhat communal shower stall in the shower trucks (and I’m not exaggerating), I was quite thankful for what was ahead. He checked me in and I sat in a plastic chair for about 5 minutes while waiting my turn for a shower with hot and cold water and a door that closed, allowing me complete privacy. I emerged transformed and a little giddy.
I met back up with Gary and Steven and the three of us ate dinner in the tent and wandered around the campgrounds. Steven treated us to Blue Bell ice cream (as if he hadn’t already been the most gracious host!). We saw a tent with a hot tub and a team that had a whole roasted pig with flamenco dancers expected later in the evening… they even had a full bar! I visited with a few other friends and soon it was time to get some sleep. After undressing and putting on my PJs while in the sleeping bag, I was ready for a good sleep. Gary, however, was ready for a beer, so he and Steven slipped out while I slipped my earbuds in and listened to some inspiring tunes. When they returned I was giddy again. I kissed my husband goodnight, thanked him for all his support and drifted off to dreamland.
I woke up around 4:30 the next morning, excited for the day, yet not so excited for the cold air around me. It was cozy in that sleeping bag, but it certainly was not outside of it. I sat there awhile and thought about my stomach problem from the previous day. Steven suggested that I would be fine on day two since we were ‘only’ going 75 miles and not 85, when I started to crumble Saturday. I played through a couple ideas in my head and decided that it could have been all the Gu’s and energy bars. I decide to eat mostly ‘real’ food on Sunday and not consume as much of the engineered stuff. That put a good breakfast first on the list.
It was cold outside and still mostly dark when I stumbled out of the tent to find breakfast. There was loud music playing from somewhere, but many tents were still dark. I made my way to the building where breakfast would be served and found a warm refuge in the cold air and of lots of volunteers seeing to it that the 13,000 cyclists would not be hungry! There were drills being used to stir massive bowls of pancake batter and about 6 gas-powered griddle tables, probably 3 x 5 foot in size, with 2 or 3 volunteers making pancakes at each. (And I thought I made a lot of pancakes for Natalie’s birthday breakfast in March!) The pancake-maker volunteers would call out when their pancakes were ready to be served and someone would send you to the right spot to collect 3 of the largest pancakes I have ever seen. (I started to take just two, but noticed everyone around me took 3 and I didn’t want to forgo any energy I might need later in the day!) After the pancakes were on my plate, I proceeded down the assembly line where someone offered butter and another poured the syrup right onto the pancakes for me. I grabbed a drink and found a spot in the warm room.
After filling my tummy I went back to the tent, put on my contacts (after using hand sanitizer… no running water, remember?) and got dressed for the final day of riding. I didn’t get to see Gary, as he was waiting in line with his bike to ensure as early start as possible. (Funneling 13,000 or so cyclists from one spot would take awhile. Those in the back of the line would likely not start until 9ish, even though the ride would begin at 7.) Again, Steven’s 300 club status was a gift to me. I got to be his buddy and, after packing up our things and putting them in the truck, we made our way to the front of the start line. All 300 Club members and their buddies would be the first to begin the ride. This was especially nice because, not only did we not have to get in line with our bikes bright (dark) and early, we would also have the opportunity to ride ahead of many of the riders and, consequently, not be as crowded. Both elements were quite fantastic!
I expected my bottom to complain when I sat on my saddle. But I quickly hopped back in the groove and my fingers were the ones complaining. It was FREEZING and I began to wonder what frostbite felt like. (Perhaps this took my mind off my bottom!) Soon we zoomed past a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace:” and I regained feeling in my fingers. Next a bumpy road approached and I couldn’t help but to say to the girl next to me “This must be the massage portion of our day!” We giggled and moved on.
At some point near the beginning I was crawling up a hill when a man came from behind me and said “I can see what gear you are in. Why are you killing yourself?’ Oops. Oh yeah. I was in the middle gear and really should have been in the smallest. I guess I was ‘saving’ the little guy for Bastrop. I’m so thankful that man pointed out to me that I wasn’t using the tools on my bike. I made the switch and life was better.
It wasn’t long before I heard a few in the pack talking about the big hill ahead. “Is this it? The big mama drop?” I said. “It’s right around the corner,” someone replied. Gulp! This hill had been haunting me for weeks… MS 150 veterans had told me tales of speeds 35 and 40 mph and I was a little more than nervous. I saw it looming, yet I could only smile. Fortunately, there weren’t too many cyclists nearby, so I didn’t worry so much about a collision. I just held on tight, watched for potholes, tried to stay right, away from the faster cyclists, and feathered my brakes now and then. And shouted with glee, “Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Woooo-Hoooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!” What a rush! And I wasn’t afraid of yelling out in joy and looking uncool—that experience was too fantastic. I was just vocalizing what we all had to be feeling. Once I survived the drop (I reached a speed of 31 mph.) I shouted a prayer “Thank you, God for that incredible hill. Wow! That was scary, yet fun and you kept me safe! Thanks!” Someone came from behind and said, “So you liked that one?” I was a tad embarrassed he heard my prayer, but still so exhilarated I didn’t care much.
I saw one more chance to change routes and skip the state parks, but knew I had to conquer those hills. (On day two, riders have the choice of the Pfizer Express Route, which does not go through the treacherous, hilly state parks, or the Bechtel Challenge Route, which does.) And after that rush, I felt ready for what was ahead. I pulled into the rest stop just after the entrance of the first park and re-filled my water, ate some banana, orange, a few jelly beans and some Chex mix, visited the loo, and even got to kiss my husband for the first time that day… a very nice surprise meeting! J “See ya in Austin!” we said. And then it was show time.
Back on the bike, I was ready to take on those hills. I c-r-a-w-l-e-d up a few, and flew down a few. On one crawl up I was close to another cyclist. As I called out that I was approaching, his wheel turned out and almost struck me, which would have taken me out, as well as the guy to my left… very bad. I was thankful I announced my approach because he turned his wheel in time and we were all safe to continue to crawl. (whew!) Riding through the park this day was a lot more fun than my first experiences with the park in February when it was slick and I had very little experience in shifting my gears. This time was still challenging, but still a lot of fun. All the road hazards were indicated with bright spray paint and the cattle guards were marked and covered.
As I approached one cattle guard near the bottom of a hill a cyclist zoomed by me and flew over it. He hit the beginning of the cover and then was able to make his bike jump. I was excited and amazed for a split second and then his buddy came by right after him and did the same thing! They were flying! I couldn’t help but to shout to the next guy, “Did you see that?! They FLEW over that cattle guard!”
I saw a sign indicating that a dangerous hill was ahead and became hyper-observant. The sign instructed us to ride single file and there were volunteers with flags slowing everyone down. And then I recognized it: This was the second hill where I fell while attempting to climb in February and really hurt my elbow. It was very steep climb, except this time I wasn’t climbing, I was flying down it! With a quick turn at the bottom I was still quite terrified, but knowing that I fell on one of the most treacherous hills of the park a few months back, I didn’t feel so bad about that fall anymore. And I liked flying down it much more than falling up it! I smiled to myself, held on for dear life at times and shifted through all those gears. There was one descent where I hit a rock or pothole or something and thought I might fall, but God caught me and I kept on zooming.
In no time we were rounding out of the park and I was completely energized and exhilarated. I couldn’t contain my excitement and again the “Woooo-Hooooo”s leapt from my throat. What a rush! And what a beautiful fantastic gorgeous amazing day it had become! The sun was shining, the sky was blue and I had just conquered what I anticipated to be the most challenging part of the MS 150 (aside from the whole endurance concept). Sure, the wind whipping in my face was a challenge, but God had prepared me and allowed me to conquer those hills. Yeeeee-Haaaaw!
After the parks, the two paths rejoined and soon we were at the lunch stop. Still on cloud nine, I grabbed a turkey sub and someone squirted my condiments on it for me. (Again, the organization and attention to detail of this entire operation amazed me.) As I was preparing to leave lunch my phone rang and a friend who was supporting some other riders was also there. Seeing a familiar face and being able to gush about my morning was such a gift. We snapped a few pictures, exchanged stories and hugs and off I went.
The second day was very much a blur. I remember little conversations here and there, a few energy rushes, and a few positive comments and questions about the Bible in 90 Days jersey I was wearing. I stopped at the final rest stop, which was sponsored by Baker Hughes, and thanked a few of the Baker Hughes volunteers for their hospitality in allowing me to ride with their team. I enjoyed the yummy ice-cold watermelon they had to offer and wrapped one of the cold bandanas they were giving away around my neck. It was certainly refreshing. I called Gary and a few friends to let them I know I was heading in… only 10 more miles to go!
The next few miles were nice, but as we got closer to the finish, the crowd of cyclists grew and we again approached hills. It was a bit harrowing to fly down a hill, hoping the cyclist in front of you remained safe so that you, in turn, would remain safe. On one pretty steep descent we came upon a rider who had just fallen. I was scared for him/ her and impressed that help was already on the scene directing us around the accident. At this point we were riding near lots of cars, with the right-most lane coned off for the cyclists. But that was barely enough room and I found out what happens when you ride over a cone. Fortunately, it bends, moves and you keep going… or at least I did.
It wasn’t long before I realized we were the only ones on the road. We had left the cars behind and entered the UT campus. “Is this it?!” I yelled out, as I saw groups of cyclists waiting for teammates to cross the finish line together. I could hear music, cowbells and cheering and I began to tear up. “This is it,” someone replied and I giggled and cried, overcome with emotion as I saw my odometer flash past 75 miles. I was tired, but so excited. I was about to complete my first MS 150, a ride that God clearly prepared me for, that my husband completely supported and had sacrificed much of his own training time for mine and friends and family had supported my support of the Multiple Sclerosis Society to the amount of nearly $2,000. I was making a difference because of all those who supported me and believed in me and I was about to cross the finish line. I saw it ahead, tears streamed down my cheeks and I heard my name yelled as I crossed the finish line. (The dear friend I saw at lunch.) I smiled at her and kept rolling and soon saw my husband. Wow! What a feeling of pride, excitement and love. I turned another corner, found a safe place to stop and got off my bike. Gary met me and told me how proud of me he was. What a weekend!
Soon we met up with Steven, his wife and son, and his parents. I couldn’t believe what I had just accomplished… what Steven had introduced Gary and me to. We celebrated our ride, waited for some other friends and then checked into our hotel showered and enjoyed a fantastic dinner out… and I didn’t give anything I ate much of a second thought! The next morning Gary and I flew home and by Tuesday I felt mostly normal.
This whole experience is something I hope I never forget. The way that God was so faithful to me in keeping me safe, completely preparing me and giving me such a feeling of exhilaration. All throughout the route people were cheering for us…for me, an MS 150 rider. At one point a man blared The Beatles “Help” from a stereo and called out his thanks. I think it was Fayetville where it seemed the entire town was outside supporting us with cowbells, a fiddler, bubbles and shouts of encouragement. All those smiles and kind words go far with me. One team had signs posted throughout the entire course. One of them read “Two days of pain… aren’t we the lucky ones.” How true. MS could happen to anyone. And today I’m completely healthy, as are lots of others. But for too many, MS is a daily reality. And a daily question of what will the next day bring? And I was able to ride in honor of those who suffer. And I was able to help fund more research and find a cure. And I’ll be privileged to do it again.