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Monday, September 27, 2010

Bike MS 2010

Day One

I set my alarms for 3:45 a.m. before turning in on Friday. By alarms, I mean my battery backup digital, which has two alarm settings, and I set both, one to beep, the other to radio. Then I set the clock radio in the bathroom to a different radio station, just to increase the cacophony. Then I set my new cell phone's alarm, figuring that if all else failed, the weird and unfamiliar alarm chime would snap me out of it.

I took both Benadryl and melatonin for insurance and was asleep by around nine, I think. Nerves, I didn't sleep immediately, but i did manage to hear my assorted alarm clocks and get up.

Made it to Jennifer's in the the nick of time with a stop at QT for Rooster Booster Lite in the Camelbak and a fill of the same in Mug for the trip to Ray-Pec.

I'd actually entertained the notion that this might be my last Bike MS for awhile. Fund-raising has been slow this year and as of this writing I've only barely cleared half of my goal ($1000) for the cause. Plus, while I believe in the cause and know some of the people affected by the disease, there are lots of causes, lots of diseases. Autism, for instance, which my youngest daughter has. There's a walk coming up for that, so if you think I'm done pestering you for donations just because Bike MS is over...

Anyway, great causes are all good and well, but the primary reason I signed up for my first Bike MS is I'd failed to find a workout that I could stick with for most of six years following the heart attack I had at 32. I knew I needed to get in shape, but nagging myself didn't make it happen. Knowing I had to be ready for a mega-ride like this, I figured, would light a fire under my ass.

It worked splendidly, and any guilt I might have had about signing up for such assheadedly selfish reasons were easily offset by raising $960.

Meanwhile, I got pretty thoroughly hooked on cycling. So when Bike MS ended last year, I signed up straight away for another tour of duty. I rode roughly three times the 'training miles' prior to the event this year and had little doubt I could finish. Sure, worry would creep in, what if I got sick, had six flats, etc., but basically I figured I could do it. I didn't, however, feel like if I didn't have this to get ready for, I just wouldn't be out on the bike much. So, I reasoned, maybe I should focus more on Autism Speaks fund-raising and ride my bicycle for fun and fitness and let that be that.

Then I got to Ray-Pec high school while it was still dark, and there's thousands of us already there, and all manner of bicycle from Roj's BMX to improbable looking recumbents to road bikes to antique 10-speeds and pretty much anything else you can pedal are on hand. And we're all old friends, even those of us who haven't met yet. It's the Super Bowl and I'm on the starting roster, the Kentucky Derby and here I am with my mount.

Okay, not quite, but it's Bike MS and I'm going to ride my bike 100 miles today and 80 tomorrow. And I'm thinking, no way I'm not doing this every year. It's not negotiable, this is too much fun.

Oh, and don't freak, but I rode in a proper cycling jersey. And I liked it.

Last year, I rode with Team Lockton but there were no jerseys. This year, everyone who raised the minimum $200 to ride got a Team Lockton jersey and an email asking everyone to ride in their team jersey on Saturday. Roj ignored this and showed up all Speed Racer, decked out in his Mongoose BMX stuff, but me, I doffed my Aloha shirt and took one for the team, so to speak.

What an amazing garment. I'm always suspicious of synthetics, but it was very comfortable. I won't say it's like wearing nothing at all because that's an image of me you probably don't want to feature, but I was generally unaware of the thing. Except when I needed my cell phone, my camera, a bunch of other stuff I shoved in the pockets on the low back of the thing. They're right where you can reach them while riding, it's astonishingly convenient.

I'm kind of bummed that this is the last year for this route. I feel like I'm just getting to know it. There's a few miles of chip & seal right at the beginning of Day One/end of Day Two that sucks hard, but last year it was loose gravel, so I guess glued down gravel is an improvement. Other than that, it's a fantastic ride with towns and landmarks I've learned to fix on: I know that water tower on the horizon is right where lunch is waiting; Kingsville, that's were I SAGged on Day Two last year; There's the bubble-wrap snowman I posed by last year (and this year); Wow, that livestock auction smells like ass; There's a ballbreaker hill right around that bend.

They gave us all little orange smiley-face stickers to give to volunteers in our rider packets. They were a thank-you sorta thing, and easily lost, but I managed to keep track of mine. I think it was rest stop #3, this girl was hawking water like she got a commission for everyone who took her up on a refill. Actually, what she got was smiley-face stickers from everyone who hadn't lost theirs. She was an awesome kid, even if her Mom did say she was only behaving so well because she'd been threatened.

While I was really digging my Team Lockton jersey—I guess maybe I should regard our corporate sponsor as a junkie would a pusher: first fix is always free, right?—I was digging, even more, some of the other team's jerseys. Because I'd always thought I didn't want to ride in a jersey, jerseys had always been semi-visible to me. I'd see a Boulevard Brewing one and think, I could ride in that, then find out the guy paid $90 for it and think, I could buy a keg of Bully Porter for that!

Now that I was enjoying a jersey, jerseys like the Feisty Devils and Fun Police wore came into sharper focus. What awesome getups. The Feisty Devils augmented theirs with tridents (including bicycle fork pitchforks), horns on their helmets, and red stuffed tails mounted on themselves and/or their bikes.

The trade-off, of course, is that while Lockton has only bought me a jersey 50% of the times I've ridden with them, I know at least the Devils buy their own. I think it's more than a fair swap that I advertise Lockton and pay nothing for my jersey. I think it's a pretty snazzy jersey considering it doesn't have the fun trappings of damnation or a brush with the law.

The weather was glorious on Saturday. Not even really chilly when we rolled out, in the sixties, I'm not sure we saw 80ºF in the heat of mid-day. We might have, if you held a magnifying glass over the thermometer, but basically it was party cloudy, in the 70s and not very windy. We had some headwinds for about a mile early in the day, but nothing big.

At the lunch break, I remember some guys behind me in line were talking about whether to take the Century Loop or not.

I was like, how many days like this do you get to try it? I don't know about these guys, but I have about six weekends a year where I have the kind of free time it takes to attempt a Century. And two or three of those weekends are liable to have snow on the ground or otherwise be un-rideable. Another one to two will have heat that makes it stupid to try (though it might not always stop me).

A day this beautiful with the time to take a Century and plenty of SAG support if you get 90 miles in and find out you wrote a check your body can't cash? I've been in the SAG Wagon, and instead of shame I felt relief, air conditioning, and soon after, had delightful company to top it off. I'll take that over riding gravel roads by the light of the moon after flirting with heatstroke because I forgot my cell phone any day.

Every rest stop I saw Roj at, people were asking to take pictures with him. He was like a rock star, always willing to put the mask on and give the thumbs-up. When I got on after lunch and didn't see him, I figured his public was slowing him up.

Speaking of Team Lockton, by the way, they put on a hell of a lunch including a kiddy pool filled with bags of chips. A burger and a dawg hot off the grill hit the spot on a day like this, protein-wise, but Cheetos and Fritos (why choose? eat both) are the salt-lick (and I suppose fat-lick) a rider needs on a day like this. I'll restrict my sodium sometime when I can't feel the grit of salt crystals on my forehead from evaporated sweat.

Waiting in line for lunch this drop-dead sexy blond walked into me saying, 'I need to get through here.' It took me a second to realize I knew the babe. Kelly used to be the siren of my Chiropractor's office. She was one of many friends I ran into on the ride. And a few more I made, group rides are great that way and this is the biggest group ride I've ever found.

Speaking of sexy young women, the Red Bull chicks were awesome. They rolled into the lunch stop with a Mini Cooper full of free Red Bulls for anyone who wanted one or three boosters to get them through the day. I prefer Rooster Booster because cherry isn't my favorite artificial flavor, but any port in a storm. I was, after all, only half way there, and caffeine works even if it's in the wrong flavor.

Don't lecture me, by the way, about caffeine and dehydration. I drank so much water and Gatorade on this trip, I couldn't skip a rest stop. I had to pee too bad to roll past, and there's a rest stop every ten or twelve miles. I also drank plenty of pickle juice to ward off cramps. More with the sodium, I know. Don't tell Michelle Obama.

I did skip the seventh rest stop because I thought the cut-off for the Century Loop was 2:30, and it was 2:20 as I rolled by that rest stop. I didn't want to miss the Loop by two minutes, and I couldn't remember how far it was to the turn.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about, the cut-off is 3:00, by which time I was at rest stop #8.

That Century Loop thing is a mixed emotion bag. If I hadn't turned, I had a mere nine miles to go to the campground, and no shame in going straight, most Americans probably can't ride 81 miles on a moped.

But I didn't feel finished. I felt like if I'd just done the traditional route like I did last year, I'd have left something out there I didn't want to. On the other hand, as I ground out that last twenty miles or so, I had plenty of time to ponder my stupidity that I hadn't just gone straight and gotten it over with.

I felt like if I could do a Century with no SAG support on a blistering hot day in August, this would be a piece of cake. But in reality, no matter the weather, riding a hundred miles is a piece of riding.

Of course, if dumb-dumb baby had remembered his cell phone, he wouldn't have finished that solo Century on August 7. I remembered this vividly as I turned, at long last, easterly. I knew the shape on the map, and my spirits fell a bit, the way they did when I walked from Greenwich Village to Ground Zero a few years back: it looked so close on the map, why bother figuring out the bus and train map? And two hours later, as I walked around what I suppose will be the basement of Freedom Tower, I wondered why I hadn't caught the A train.

As I tooled along, trusting that I hadn't missed an arrow somewhere (they mark the turns pretty well), with no cyclists in sight, a car passed me and the driver rolled down his window to heckle me. I'm used to that, getting yelled at for a rolling stop at a stop sign the driver of a car just did the same California stop maneuver at; being told to 'get a car you loser,' etc. But this guy gets points for flare: 'You're in last place!' he shouted as he passed, and I had to laugh because it's about what it felt like.

I saw Jennifer at rest stop #9, where we collected our Century pins. I went to put mine on my bag and was heartbroken to realize the one Jill gave me for the insane solo flight in August had fallen off somewhere. Maybe I'll epoxy this one to make sure it stays in place, or else I'll keep it with my Bike MS medals (and homebrew ribbons and such). It was not, despite my delusions, a piece of cake earning this sucker, and I don't want to lose it.

So I rolled into camp, and since Lockton bought us jerseys this year, I was recognized by the Beer & Cheer vols right off, and was presented with an icy cold can of Miller Lite as I crossed the line. After nine hours of Gatorade and water, even the most anemic beer tastes great.

The Boulevard tent was already tapped out (again) by the time I got there, but there was lots of free Lite at the Lockton tent along with lots of pizza, pasta and whatnot. I carbed up and what with the beer being free I had two or eight. Kind of like my Hawaiian shirts, I didn't really count.

My borrowed tent, however, was pitched where there were no outlets for my CPAP. Sleep Apnea Boy has to have an outlet even when he's teetotaling it. Without what amounts to an iron lung, I wake up feeling like I had eighty beers or whatever because, physiologically, a night's sleep without the CPAP is like narrowly escaping someone trying to suffocate you with a pillow.

Not really the thing you want before you try to ride eighty miles back, right?

I inquired about extension chords and got no encouraging results, so I moved the air mattress, sleeping bag, etc, with said CPAP to the Expo Center to find an outlet and sleep on the floor in the hallway.

This turned out to be a better plan anyway, since it was getting cold and pissy out. I walked through light rain to the showers and, stopping off at Lockton's gazebo to grab another beer, I noticed four or five long extension chords on the table that had apparently been used for the catering service.

I wasn't going to move back out into the elements, though, I went inside and, crawling into my sleeping bag got a hamstring cramp, something I'd managed to avoid on the ride. Walking it off, I felt about as smart as I did when I realized I'd left my cell at home on that August 7 Century. I woke up in the night with hamstring cramps last year after drinking, I think, a lot less beer. I made my way down to the Expo Center floor where there was a cooler full of bottled water, and guzzled over two liters of the stuff, thinking all the while, do they have a short bus to AA for guys who can't stay out of the free beer after a distance ride?

Anyway, sleeping in the concourse of the Expo Center worked out well. I set a cell phone alarm I was terrified I wouldn't hear. The place was noisy and bright, so even when I quelled the cramps that were all my fault, I had trouble falling asleep and finally took a Benadryl to cash in on the drug interaction with all that beer.

Day Two

Anyway, tired as I was and not being much of a morning person to begin with, the clacking of cycling cleats starting at five or so helped. I'd startle awake and then realize, no, it's just another rider already suited up walking by in the middle of the night. By the time the phone went off, I was in a shallow enough sleep state I could get up and move.

One rider said, as he clicked by, 'Sorry to traipse through your bedroom.'

Chris Cakes was catering breakfast down on the arena floor. I have mixed feelings about this because, while I like Chris Cakes just fine, if I eat a big heap of pancakes and sausage, the last thing I'll feel like is pounding my gut with my thighs for a few hours.

And they feed you every time you turn around on this ride. At the camp ground, the bull goose loony of the volunteers for Lockton seemed disappointed I only availed myself of a bag of almonds, a bag of cashews, and a granola bar for the road, but really, with well-stocked rest stops every ten miles or so, I got back to Ray-Pec with all of that plus all but one of the goos I'd bought at Trek just in case.

So I walked up to the griddle and they had four pancakes to a plate, already plated up. This is not what I associate with Chris Cakes. Chris throws the things at you and you have to catch them on the plate, it's kind of his trademark.

"Where's Chris?" I asked.

"I'm Crystal, will that do?"

I asked the lovely and talented Crystal if she threw pancakes, and she allowed that she did. She gave me a clean plate and tried her best to make me take four, but every time a third one hit the plate, it seemed to bounce at least one off. With five wasted pancakes on the floor that Crystal forbade me to help clean up, I went to the sausage bin with two cakes over her protestations. It's not that I'm not a glutton, just not in this situation. Two pancakes and three greasy sausage links with syrup is plenty of breakfast to get you ten miles down the road.

After hearing several riders claim that the rains that fell overnight were over and done with, that it would be a perfect day for riding, I got about, I don't know, a mile down the road before it started drizzling. Then raining full on for a few minutes, but mostly drizzling all the way to the first rest stop. I rode the Blue Moose route with Roj the other day in the rain, and it wasn't unpleasant, but it was at least ten degrees warmer than Sunday morning. It was a tad chilly at 60ºF, when you are wet and the air is moving over you at ten to twenty MPH.

A lot of riders were layering up, with things they'd need a bag for or to throw in the Tossed & Found and retrieve after the ride, but I always figure once I'm warmed up I'll be fine.

We got to Whiteman AFB, where we turn north for a few miles to go around. Two counts of good news: the worst of the Ozarky hills were behind us, and that's a big deal when your ass is as raw as it is the day after a Century; and the rain stopped. In the bad news column, we're already wet and there's a stiff north wind.

At the second rest stop, I commented that riding wet into a chilly headwind for a few miles really lets you know what you're made of. Someone congratulated me, 'What a great attitude.' To which I responded, I learned riding up to Knob Noster that I'm made of a big fat whiner.

Also at the second rest stop, I came across another kid having way too much fun for someone conscripted into service. This girl with the snake around her neck and the vampire makeup on, after I took this picture, she said, "I spit blood, too, watch." And she did (spit red food die on the ground).

But aside from that little jaunt north, most of the way we had side-winds and while they were a little cool when the sun went behind the crowds, the consensus seemed to be that we'd all prefer that to blazing heat or brutal headwinds like Day Two featured last year.

I had my doubts about whether I was really up for eighty miles. Chamois Butt'r is great stuff (TMI if you don't ride, I know, but if you do ride take heed: I wish I'd known about this stuff last year), but it wears off after, oh, I don't know, seventy five miles. It's a great emollient and lubricant, but eight to ten hours in the saddle is a lot of pressure and friction. Even with Clobatesol (a steroid ointment I have a prescription for) Saturday night and Sunday morning before the Chamois Butt'r, I was pretty raw.

But then, right before the second rest stop, I saw a couple walking by a Tandem along the road. I inquired and was told, 'We're fine.'

This was a lie, or maybe a half-truth. The cavalry was coming anyway, but the stoker on this tandem has MS, and apparently she wasn't doing great on Day 2. Which is why we have a SAG wagon, no matter how hard you train, no matter how fit you are, this is a long trip and the body isn't always able even if the spirit is willing.

At the third rest stop, I saw the husband checking on the wife in the SAG truck. Then, as I pedaled along on the way to the fourth rest stop, he passed me, riding the tandem solo. I raced to catch up, and asked, "So your wife has MS?"

"She's one of the people I'm out here riding for," he said. This guy has a lot more gray hair than I do, and he's out here on a bicycle built for two by himself and kicking my ass. No way I'm not finishing.

You see so many amazing bikes on this ride, even a compulsive shutterbug like me can't document it all. There was the Softride Power V one of the Feisty Devils rode, there were various flavors of recumbent bike, there was a Terry with bright pink rims, Roj on his BMX, touring bikes with panniers, racing bikes, everything from Schwinn to Steelhead to Motobecane to Trek to stuff I hadn't heard of and wasn't sure how to pronounce.

Including the ten-speed I bought at a garage sale when I was 13 for fifteen bucks. At the lunch stop, I saw it, none the worse for wear, though I think the handlebars have been re-wrapped since I sold it in 1985.

And even though this is only my second MS bike tour, I've already got rituals I've developed. Like taking a picture by the bubble-wrap snowman at the sixth rest stop.

Not sure what to do with that ritual since next year's route doesn't even enter the state said snowman is in.

Anyway, leaving #6, I fell in behind a group of United We Ride (another team with cool jerseys) and some others who formed a paceline. It wasn't intentional on my part, but I found myself riding behind a guy in an orange shirt who was riding behind someone who was riding behind someone who was riding behind the last of the United riders.

I heard the lead rider ask, "How long is our tail?" Then I heard the last United jersey call out, "At least seven I see."

Careful not to let my front wheel get beside his rear, I rode as close to this guy as I could, and when I looked over my shoulder I saw I had company at least as close behind me.

Then the guy in the orange shirt dropped ass right in my face. At first, I didn't know for sure, I thought maybe we were riding past an agricultural facility with some livestock on grain, but no, it was a fart. Followed a few minutes later by another. And another.

But a glance at my little cycling computer told me we were going much faster than I ever ride solo, anywhere from 18 to 22 miles per hour, and it was costing me about the effort of 12 to 14 mph.

And when I'd start to drift back behind this orange-clad Enola Gay, I felt a gust of wind in my face and knew I had to stand on it to catch back up, get in the pocket no matter how it smelled.

Then he drifted back and I was behind a white jersey who didn't fart in my face even once. And we covered about ten miles before a hill dropped everyone but those four United We Ride guys.

My first time in a pace line, no matter how unfortunate the emanations of the guy in the orange shirt, was exhilarating. First off, I've never ridden so fast at that effort level. For that distance, I don't think I've ridden that fast either way.

Plus, focused so tightly on not riding up the ass of the guy in front of me or getting rear-ended, I entered a kind of hyper-focus and even if it was sixty miles into a long ride, everything outside the moment kind of dropped away. I quit thinking about how far I had left to go because I was thinking too hard about not crashing, causing a crash or getting dropped from this marvelous envelope of aerodynamic theory made good.

I skipped the next two rest stops, I was that lit up.

When we got to the few miles of chip & seal before Ray-Pec, I rode next to a woman who complained about the rough surface. I said, "This is just the icing on the cake! Imagine your saddle is a hot fireplace poker and you're playing pickup-sticks with your butt cheeks."

I just wish I'd realized how fun and relatively easy it is in that paceline. When my buddies in the Cutters team passed me in a disciplined peloton, I'd have gotten on John's wheel and been home probably two hours earlier.

So anyway, I'm back and it's still not too late to donate. No amount is too small, pony up. I did the hard part.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great recap of what was obviously a great event for you, Rod. I've loved watching you morph into a cyclist. :)

And you're looking quite well, BTW.

On to next year's challenge! Congratulations!

--Liz ;)