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Monday, September 28, 2009

Bike MS

Day One: Out of the Mist

My printer was out of toner, so I was going by memory of my MapQuest Saturday morning to get to Raymore-Peculiar High School. Really, it was more like late Friday night when my alarm went off (4:00 a.m.), so I was a little foggy. Luckily, all you have to do is fall in behind one of the hundreds of vehicles with bikes on the back and follow them.

Then it took me longer to get my numbers attached and whatnot than I anticipated, and it ended up being kind of frantic to get to the start in time. In fact, if the clouds and fog hadn't delayed the start, I'd have been late out of the gate.

Next year, I guess I'll set my alarm for 3:00.

It was chilly when we headed out, but I was laughing for the first few miles. My friend Roger, the same one who drew the logo on the masthead of my blog, was also riding. On his 1979 Mongoose BMX. In a motorcycle crash helmet with a visor, with hand-painted leather BMX gloves and a Mongoose long sleeved t-shirt he tailored himself. Oh, and the goggles. Old school goggles with a red-white-and-blue strap.

He rounded out this getup with an Army surplus canteen belt.

The chill didn't last long, as I got warmed up it was refreshing to have the cool air in my face. I was surprised at my pace, in the first leg I was averaging almost 14 mph, unbelievably fast by Lobster standards.

And I met lots of great people, fall into pace with someone for awhile and have a chat, then next thing you know you've got a different cycling buddy. I didn't feel the need for a rest stop at the first one, but I decided I'd make myself pit at every one to make sure I could finish. I still wasn't 100% from the bronchitis, and I'd only finished the antibiotics on Friday. I was still hacking and coughing (I still am, some, in fact, though I think it's at its end).

A cool thing I didn't anticipate along the way: amazing numbers of people who live along the route come and stand or sit outside just to wave at the multitude passing by. Some made signs cheering us on, some would hoot and clap, but a lot just watched silently. It was like being in the Tour de France except there weren't as many spectators and they didn't dress in chicken suits or run along side gesturing like lunatics.

They don't shut the road down for us, or anything like that, but the law was directing traffic at the first few intersections we went through. Including a crusty sheriff who appeared to be mighty put out that we were putting a crimp in his Saturday morning cartoons. I said to a rider next to me that maybe that cop should take up cycling, might improve his disposition. The other rider laughed and said, 'Well, it couldn't make it worse.'

Actually, it wasn't chicken suits, but some of the volunteers at the lunch stop did dress up: it was a Hawaiian theme so I fit right in. I planned it that way, my pink flamingos.

I toyed with doing the Century as of lunch. I was 50 miles into it, and I felt better than I expected to at that point. I was so exited to finally be doing what I've trained for the past not-quite four months, and I was having fun. I had no doubt I'd finish out the regular route, and what's an extra 20 miles? In for a penny, right?

But then I wanted to finish day two. I was determined not to end up on the SAG wagon, and I wondered if that extra 20 miles would put me in a bad way the next day. So I settled for a mere 81.4 miles, which is over twice my personal record for distance going into this weekend. Plus, I held a 13.3 mph average speed, my fastest speed on a ride of any meaningful distance so far.

Roger did do the Century on his BMX. He was the last rider into camp, but he did it. He said the SAGs were stalking him toward the end, but he was determined to finish. If they wanted him off the bike, they'd have to knock him off and physically subdue him.


Camping at the fairgrounds was fun. What was super nice was Jennifer's Mom & crew already had our tents pitched and Jon even aired up my air mattress for me while I was showering. I had some pizza, a couple of beers (I've never had a Miller Lite taste so good: either because I was that ready for a brew or because it wasn't lemon-lime Gatorade or water, both of which I'd drunk gallons of on my trek). Had a deep tissue massage that did wonders for my aching trapezius, best $20 I ever spent, and ended up in bed by 7:30.

I woke a couple hours later with a cramp in my left shin, a cramp that got worse no matter which way I stretched the leg, and had to walk it off. Guzzled some more water, cursed my judgment for having even great tasting, less filling beer after a day I couldn't possibly have stayed fully hydrated on, and went back to bed. I have never slept so soundly in my life. I would still, I think, be asleep in a tent in Sedalia if Roger hadn't hollered through the wall of my tent at 7:00 on Sunday morning.

Day Two: Who Set My Ass on Fire?

If I had done the Century, I'll guarantee you it wouldn't have hurt any more or less to put my ass on that saddle. I haven't felt anything like getting on that bike since I gave up gargling lye and rinsing my eyes out with Windex. My knees were so-so, my quads absolutely ached, but my ass was a human rights atrocity.

I heard it would go numb after a few miles, but that didn't exactly happen. Instead, the pain and fire got steadily worse as we headed into the hill country.

I am glad that the route goes the direction it does. It got steadily harder on day one, with the beginning of the route in rolling prairie and the end in the Ozarks. So, I figured, we'd get the painful part over first, and then it'd be smooth sailing into Ray-Pec.

Note quite.

I walked my bike up the hill to rest stop #4. I normally won't do that because I have a really low granny gear, and I learned long ago that I get up the hill slightly faster and with no more expenditure of energy by just shifting down and grinding it out. But walking the bike meant my ass wasn't on that satanic saddle.

At the top of the hill, the guy driving the SAG asked me if I'd had enough? Like an idiot, I said no. Thing is, the hills were pretty well over at that point, and I was about half way to the end.

Leaving that rest stop, and every time after that I got back on the saddle, my eyes watered from the pain of sitting down on the bike.

I didn't count on the wind. If I could have a tail wind like that, I could make it across Texas in an afternoon. I'm guessing windspeeds, but I would believe 30 mph as an average. At one point, I was trying to coast down a gentle grade (standing up to get my ass off the saddle) and the wind stopped me cold.

It's pretty demoralizing when you have to fight for every mile even on a downhill. Still, I was here to finish.

At one point the course turned in such a way we had a side wind, and it wasn't much improvement, because it became tricky to stay pointed the right way. I saw a guy riding with saddlebags actually get blown over.

I forget the name of the town I was coming through, but I was 55.4 miles into the course, about four or five miles to the next rest stop. It was flat, and I was standing up and cranking to keep a pitiful 6-8 mph (I was averaging barely over 10 mph). I got light headed, to where I worried I wouldn't hold straight on the road and thought how stupid it would be to wander out into the lane and get flattened by a car who expected me to stay to the right.

I also said to myself, 'Self, if you're getting woozy on the flat, how many hills you think you're going to make it up?'

So I SAGged. I expected to feel shame and failure getting in that truck with my bike in the bed. Instead, I felt air conditioning. And relief.

It was a popular truck, because soon we had another guy who preferred the bed of the truck to chill out in, and then an attorney named Betsy, who knows everything there is to know about TIF financing, except she didn't get the memo about how inherently evil such government schemes are. She'd have made me mad except it was funny how astonished she was to meet someone who missed the part about how 'good government' was desirable or even possible.

Maybe we were punch drunk from fighting the wind, because we cracked up at how wrong the other was. In another setting, both rested and fresh, without a shared defeat at the hands of Fortuna, it might have been more like a fight. Okay, probably not a fight, she seemed a bit too civilized for that. Which is pretty civilized for someone who has dedicated her life to doing the Devil's work.

She also told me about her friend getting proposed to at the finish line up ahead. I was unclear whether this had already happened or if it was about to.

Arguing pointlessly with a stranger was way more fun than pedaling futilely into the wind the last 25 miles.

At rest stop 7, a guy who's bike had been run over asked if he could borrow mine to finish the last eleven miles. I told him to take better care of mine than he had of his and he was off.

Somewhere before then, we passed a guy walking his bike along the shoulder. Asked if was ready to SAG, he said, 'Just takin' a little walk.' I later saw him walk his bike across the finish line and had the distinct impression he hadn't been back on the saddle the last 15 miles. I couldn't blame him, I might have been able to finish if I'd walked in the last 25.

My friend Jennifer, who recruited me and Roger for this, crossed the line groaning, 'We earned this one.'

I also got to see my bike cross the finish line. Then Jennifer made me ride it down to the end of the driveway and turn around so I could cross the line to get my medal. I felt incredibly phony doing this, but the cheerleaders hollered and screamed like I'd slugged out those last 25 miles in something other than a king cab. I only rode 136.8 miles this weekend. Which sounds like a lot until you take a closer look at Speed Racer...

Speed Racer

The Hero (Speed Racer Redux) from Chixulub on Vimeo.

Roger cut quite a figure, and it wasn't long before I was hearing people refer to him as Speed Racer.

I prize my eccentric friends, and I used to think I knew a guy crazier than Roger, but I don't think that anymore. He is the Michael Phelps of weird. If golf was weirdness, Roger would be Tiger Woods.

I can't believe Letterman hasn't called to get him on: he'd be way more fun than their average guest.

And he was something of a celebrity within the tour. Every time I turned around someone was asking him about his bike. Chicks were diggin' him and everything.

When I'd sagged out after 55 miles on day 2, I said I wondered how my friend on the BMX was doing. The driver of the truck said, 'I saw some 18 year old on a bike like that.' I was like, 'I've known that 18 year old for 25 years. Since he was 13.'

Roger did the whole thing, the Century loop on day one, and all of day two with that brutal headwind, on this child's plaything A 34 lb piece of steel with 20" Motomag wheels, one gear, in an unventilated helmet that weighs more than some road bikes. And he did it with style.

Next Year

I'm already signed up for 2010. Got a pair of socks that will never fit over my size 14 boats to prove it. Next year, I'll do the century and finish both days, and you can take that to the bank.

I think I'd have finished day two this year if I'd caught one of the following breaks: not having my first long ride on a new, hard saddle; not having to fight a head wind from hell; not getting sick as a dog a few days before; having a bit longer to train.

Speaking of banks, mine swelled up a bit while I was out there. A couple of last minute donations came in, and in addition to a $20 bill that was in the packet I turned in that doesn't show up online, I believe my official total for 2009 is $784.59.

Big time thanks to everyone who donated, it definitely encouraged my behavior. Now I have less than two weeks before the Autism walk, so all I need is for everyone who sponsored me on BikeMS to pony up. $5 for every dollar you pledged on the ride would do for a start. ;)