Last week, my wife Amy and I joined more than 3000 other riders and pedaled a little over 160 miles, from San Antonio to Corpus Christi, to raise money and awareness for Multiple Sclerosis. About 400,000 people in the US and 2.5 million worldwide are living with MS, dealing with symptoms that range from vision problems, to muscle weakness and fatigue, to extreme pain, to cognitive impairment and paralysis. Last year, participants in the Valero MS150 raised about $1.6 million and this year, the goal is to raise $1.8 million.
The ride started at the AT&T Center, in San Antonio, at 7:30 on Saturday Morning. Most riders arrived and got their spots in line well before 7:00. The riders were divided into two groups, to make the start a little smoother. The first group was made up of riders who maintain speeds of at least 18 mph. The second group was for slower, recreational riders.
From the AT&T Center, to 181, we had pretty much the entire road and there were police directing traffic, to allow us through the various intersections, without having to stop. In order allow for cars to get through the intersections as well, we were released a few hundred riders at a time, with gaps of a few minutes between each group. There were police at most of the major intersections all the way to Corpus, but the groups tended to get pretty spread out later in the day, so traffic didn’t get disrupted too badly once we were out of the city.
About every 10 miles or so, there were break points. Each break point was staffed by volunteers from various groups, like Boy Scout troops and honor students, as well as companies like Holt Cat and Rackspace. At the break points, there were people to hold our bikes while we refilled our Powerade. There were people handing out ice cold towels, bananas and pickle juice (tastes terrible, but really helps with cramps) and there were first aid stations and bike shop staff to help with any problems that may have come up. There was even shade, thanks to the 10 x 10 tents the volunteers set up.
If, for any reason, someone was unable to keep riding, there were vans that continuously drove up and down the road, picking up those riders and their bikes. They only had to pull off the road and wave their helmets and a van would pick them up and give them a ride to their choice of the next break point, or the end of the ride. I found that the best way to deal with the vans was to put my head down, ignore them and try not to think about the comfy seats and the air conditioning.
The only thing the organizers didn’t seem to have a handle on was the weather. I knew that the weather would be a factor when we checked into our hotel at 9:00 Friday night and the wind was blowing at about 20 mph. The only real question in my mind was how many miles could we get in before the wind started blowing on Saturday?
The answer was around 60. Approaching the first break point after lunch, we really started to notice the sun and the wind, which was blowing straight up from the south at about 15 mph. It was at this point, that a lot of first time riders realized that the day’s ride was not 75 miles (half of 150, right?), but actually 96 miles. You could see the reality set in on their faces as they learned that there were 35 miles left, at the same moment that many had been trying to convince themselves that they could handle the heat, the wind and the cramps for another 15 miles. Fortunately, this was my third ride, so my spirit was already broken.
Between 60 and 90 miles, even someone who has done this a few times can find himself cursing and threatening to throw his bike off the next overpass. Not that I know anyone personally who would consider such a thing, no matter what Amy thinks she may have heard me say. Despite a whole lot of pickle juice, I had leg cramps that made it impossible to stand up straight, so trying to throw my bicycle anywhere would have been futile.
At the end of the first day, there was an additional 4 mile loop for those who wanted to complete “a century.” Last year I was pretty excited to ride 100 miles in one day and earn a century patch. Until I got to the 4 mile loop, that is. Then, I decided that the last thing I wanted to do was repeat the experience of the previous 4 miles. This year, I didn’t even think about it. I just looked at the detour, smiled and thought “it could be worse.”
The ride was shorter on the second day, but the wind really kicked up and tried to break the riders. It wasn’t unusual to see people who had blown past us earlier at 24 mph falling behind later in the day, at 12 mph. It also wasn’t uncommon for them to pass us a little later, when we dropped to 8 mph. Luckily, there were people at random spots on the side of the road, cheering and holding up signs with encouraging messages, giving us the energy to push a little further.
At the end of the ride each day, the roads were lined with cheering people and as soon as we could hear them, it was like the sun dipped behind the clouds and the wind changed direction. Our legs (and everything else) suddenly felt fine, the pace picked up and smiles crossed our faces as we reached the finish line.
Those crowds, while certainly happy for everyone who completed the ride, were really cheering because of the money and awareness that all of the participants had raised for MS. With the help of generous contributions from Conley Car Wash, The Root Cellar, local attorneys Billy McNabb, Scot Courtney, Tom Garner and Scanio & Scanio and from Stapp Racing, as well as a whole lot of individuals, Amy and I were able to raise over $10,000 this year. So, we would really like to thank all of the generous folks in San Marcos who contributed to our ride this year. We’d also like to thank the other riders and participants from San Marcos. We saw a few here and there. Hopefully next year there will be even more.
The MS150 is one of the most satisfying experiences I have had in my life and not nearly as painful as I make it out to be (maybe). I definitely recommend it to anyone who might be interested. If you aren’t up for riding, there are tons of opportunities to help out with break points and everything else that goes into the event. More information on the three MS150 rides in Texas is available at http://www.ms150.org/.
by: TED MARCHUT
photos courtesy of Ted MarchutEmail | Print