Excellence is good — it makes you feel better about everything. The “Bike MS” movement is one of excellence.
If you are having difficulty visualizing 13,000 cyclists, so was I. I am not certain that I have fully absorbed the full import of that flowing sea of colorful jerseys wrapping bodies of people willing to impale themselves upon skinny bicycle saddles and crank pedals for what sometimes feels like an eternity. It was the 2011 BP MS 150 and I was there for my first attempt at riding 100 miles in one day, followed by 78 miles the second day. Many photo thumbnails follow. Click to enlarge.
History of Bike MS
In 1980, the National MS Society, Minnesota Chapter held the nation’s first MS 150 Ride, which drew 200 cyclists and raised $33,000.After hearing about the success of the Minnesota Chapter’s MS 150, other National MS Society chapters began hosting similar rides around the country.
Today more than 100 MS 150 rides and other Bike MS events are held each year from coast to coast. Since the very first ride — right here in Minnesota — Bike MS events have raised more than $600 million total.
Source: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/chapters/mnm/mediacenter/fact-sheets-events/fact-sheet-bike-ms/index.aspx (accessed April 19, 2011).
The 2011 event was the 27th annual BP MS 150 version of the fund-raiser, dating from 1985. The overall stats include that this event is the largest Bike MS ride in the U.S., is expected to raise $17 million, and included approximately 13,000 riders and 4,000 volunteers.
Description of the ride
The ride is done in two days, Houston to LaGrange for a 100 mile ride on day one, followed by (as advertised) 78 miles to Austin. I showed 70 miles on the second day. The ride terminates on the Capitol grounds after arriving to a cheering crowd of thousands lining both sides of the street for blocks as the finish line is crossed.
The routes each day (click thumbnail for bigger image) included many of the varied terrains that Texas has to offer, ranging from mostly flat pasture land outside of the industrial jungles of Houston to gently rolling hills approaching LaGrange and finally some more significant hills in the Bastrop-Austin stretch.
My friend and fellow Rotarian (Rotary Club of Marble Falls — Daybreak) Keith Conrad invited me to ride with the Republic Services team. They had a team of about 40 riders and about as many volunteers helping to make it a smooth operation. I had little idea about what to expect and likely had that “deer in the headlights” look for a good while. I would soon find that this group of riders included tri-athletes, marathoners, and a generally much younger age range. “Good grief, what have I gotten into” I asked myself.
With trepidation (and a bit of fear) I registered for the ride some time back in January. I had been riding since August and had acquired my then-current trusty steed in early December. I knew two things: that the first day was 100 miles and the second day included some serious hills. So I rode.
January, 178 miles and 7462 feet of climb; February, 213 miles and 8991 feet; March, 454 miles and 17256 feet; April through 4/13, 152 miles and 6492 feet. The 2011 totals leading up to the MS ride: 997 miles and 40,201 feet (7.61 miles!). Everyone told me I was ready and boy did I hope they were right!
Keith and I drove to Austin to catch a bus that would take us to Houston. A box truck was there to haul the bikes. Each of us peered into the truck as they wrapped each bike, fearing the worst might be found at the end of their short journey to Houston. But they did just fine.
Finally the bus was loaded and off we went. It was a merry band of testosterone-fueled (yes, even the girls!) cyclists, telling stories (and likely a few tall tales) of rides past and laying plans for the upcoming two days. Amy had sandwiches made and Stan had beer. Life on the bus was good! I began to get to know a few of Keith’s friends, many of whom he does a fitness camp with each year. I have found that cyclists generally are super fine people — and this bunch was forged true to that image. Lots of fun people.
As with most events, an expo was available when we reached Houston. Many opportunities were presented for picking up what you had forgotten back home, or to add to what is an endless string of accessories and upgrades for bike and body. Cycling is no different in that regard from most hobbies. I did pick up a head wrap that’s pretty nifty if I do say so myself. Looking good is half the battle for cycling success.
That evening we got our rider packets, had a nice meal of copious amounts of pasta and breads (I had been carb-loading and drowning myself with water for two days already), heard a safety talk, and generally got ready to get ready. Chatter and laughter abounded among the high-spirited crowd.
4:30a.m. and we’re being picked up from the hotel. Good grief! No matter, for sleep had largely failed me due to the excitement of the impending adventure. We returned to the Republic Services facility on Tanner Road where our bikes had waited overnight for us to return for those final preps and pampering. It is a good thing to pamper that which is expected to carry you 100 miles.
People were gathering but the tones were hushed, some brows were furrowed and the faces exuded contemplation. This was Day 1. Bagels, juice, water, bananas. Prepare the body. More water. Then the bikes were being rolled out for final preparations. Tires aired to 110-120 psi, brakes checked, wheels gently spun to check trueness for the endless revolutions to begin shortly. Movements of all were slow and deliberate in the cool dark of Day 1.
A group photo was to occur at 5:30 and as that time approached the activity level increased to meet that deadline. Aleta, the organizer and sometimes whip-cracking general, was giving reminders and encouragement.
My biggest chore was to get all of the electronic goodies arranged. The Garmin Oregon GPS had the route waypoints, the Garmin Forerunner would give me constant read-out of average speed, speed, heart rate, pedal cadence, and more. The video camera (center of the aerobar loop in the photo) was at the ready to catch some short clips of action along the way.
The departure time was to be 5:45 and we were close to that, pulling away two-by-two with a motorcycle police escort leading the way. We were cold in the dark and would be until the sun had been up for 30 minutes or so. It was about 42 degrees as we left. It was pretty slick to have the intersections blocked as we proceeded with the escort until reaching the far Western side of Houston and entering the countryside. In fact, until the last few miles into Austin every crossing road was blocked for 170 miles. You have never seen the likes of off-duty officers as there were along that route.
During that initial slow cruise out of town the chatter up and down the two-by-two line was again lively. You could almost feel the adrenalin oozing from the pores of riders around you. Keith was beside me, suffering from sinus problems and freezing. His teeth were chattering so hard they vibrated my handlebars! He is not cold-tolerant. We really were cold because we were dressed for the 90 miles that would be in the sun, some of it possibly quite warm. Once the sun began to throw a few teasing rays our way we knew that warmth was not far away. One thing was confusing: the land was flat and the road was smooth! Enjoyable, but temporary.
Eventually the sun was up, the motorcycle escort dropped off with our hearty thanks for what otherwise would have been a suicide mission, and almost as quickly Keith and about four others of the elite riders were gone, never to be seen until the end of the day. Of the remaining 35 or so riders of “Team Republic” small packs formed as skill levels automatically sorted out comfortably compatible speeds. Before I knew it, the first break point was in sight with the promise of porta-potties and liquids — in that order! This one was pretty typical of all of the breaks, some more elaborate than others, but all well-organized and run, scattered every 10-12 miles along the entire route. Refill the water bottle, grab a few gulps of Gator-Aid, shoot a Honey Stinger energy gel, quick glanceover of the bike and gone. We were not as fast as a NASCAR pit stop, but usually no time was wasted taking care of necessities and getting back on the bike, cranking away down unfamiliar roads. In the 11 hours of time moving over the two days, I would crank the pedals 52,800 revolutions. Makes my knees hurt now that I think about it.
More rest stops (skipping some) and before I knew it we were in Bellville for lunch. Republic had its own food tent which allowed us to avoid the crowds. More volunteers with sandwiches, fruit, liquids, carbohydrate-loaded goodies, avocado slices and more. We were well cared for. The ride was pretty casual so far, compared to the many hill-laden rides I had done in training, often with Don Bynum, John Chalmers, Don Senzig, Richard Golladay, David Nantz, Keith, and a number of other cyclists in the Marble Falls area. I was feeling good but my heart rate was a good bit higher than it would end up being the second day.
It was at the Bellville lunch stop that I got hooked up with Stan, Laura, Amy, Stewart, “LA” (Leslie Ann) and Martha as a bit of a “core” group with whom I would ride most of the time the rest of the day and tomorrow. Up to this point we had been through the mostly flat ranch land with many cows peering across fences at the large herd of velocipedes gliding by with wheel spokes gently stirring the wind producing a mild “whoosh” mixed with a gentle rumble of 23mm wide (mostly) tires on the pavement.
The last miles into Bellville began the hills which would continue off and on into LaGrange. I was gratified to find that none of them were comparable to what I had trained in for months. You would tell the “flatlanders” — the ones from the coastal area — who had not found hills in which to train. There were still adequate times to exercise the ol’ heart muscle in the 130-150 bpm range.
In Fayetteville I met my cousin Spencer and his wife Liz — they had been tracking me on my Android tracking program — and had a quick visit. I chose to use the photo posed with Liz for reasons you would understand if you saw the one with Spencer (love ya Spencer, but you married over your head!). It was just a short sprint onward to LaGrange from there but the brief respite was nice nonetheless and it was nice to see them for even a short while.
The giant tent of Republic Services was a welcome site. The 100 miler was done, and so was I — stick a fork in me. Just as I pulled up to the tent a volunteer ran out, grabbed the bike to put it in the rack and another fetched me a beer — gotta replace some carbohydrates, you know. The tent was about 50 x 75 feet, maybe more. It was large enough for 40 riders to bunk on cots and air mattresses, plus serving area, tables for eating, a rack for all of the bikes, and two massage tables.
A shower was next, in the shower trailer. The line was full of riders talking about everything BUT the ride. I found that odd. People who knew each other and strangers, couples, all combinations of people but it was clear that the Day 1 ride was OVER. Food was next. In addition to the staple of beer, there were hamburgers rolling off the grill constantly. By then I was feeling good. No significant soreness, no feeling of weakness and not really a feeling of fatigue. I was, frankly, amazed.
Talk about a grill! Republic has an amazing rig for feeding. At the left you see the frontal view, as large as many rural football concession stands. At the right you see the end hinged open with a massive grill fired up and cooking. Yes, that is a rolloff dumpster — hopefully they used a new one!
The next priority was a massage — best $20 I ever spent. These two gals probably started about 1pm, and were still going around 7. They had studied cyclists, I’m sure, because my masseuse went straight to everything that was tight.
The evening brought a tremendous meal of filet mignon (fresh cut right off of the tenderloin), huge baked potatoes, green beans and more. We ate like there was no tomorrow, because we knew there was a tomorrow — one with more hills.
The movie “Breaking Away” was shown on the tent ceiling — apparently a tradition with Republic. We were splayed about on cots and air mattresses and I had a good view of the ceiling. I did not make it through the movie and I don’t think anyone else did. Sleeping came easy. Click here for a short video of the tent space.
This is a smart bunch. Riders could depart at 6 or 6:30 on Sunday morning and many of them were out well before then getting lined up to make one of the earlier departures. It was cold and they were freezing. We, on the other hand, slept in until about 7, had coffee, muffins, bananas, tacos … and left in full daylight about 8a.m.
Day 2. A more hilly ride. Beautiful rolling terrain punctuated by trees met us as the wheels hummed their light tune on the roadway. I was coasting on a nice downhill when suddenly the breeze wafted to my ears what I would swear was a bagpipe. Newton having understood that what goes down has to go up again, I too knew that and as I climbed the ensuing hill the bagpipe got louder and suddenly, there he was. A bagpiper in full Highlands regalia, puffing and squeezing away! That was an uplifting moment, as had been the three fiddlers we encountered on Day 1.
More rest stops would come and go until we reached the Bastrop lunch stop. The Republic volunteers again outdid themselves taking care of us with nourishment and liquids. The wind was starting to blow strongly and the promise of tailwinds (we had slight headwinds on Saturday) was enticing. As with all of the stops, but especially the lunch stops,
the issue of the lines to the potties was significant. Our little riding pack determined we could each wait until the next rest stop for those necessities. There were a LOT of porta-potties but there were a lot of people.
We struck out, fully nourished and mostly rested. This time our merry band numbered eight and we developed a paceline that did well for 10-15 miles. We had some tailwind and with the paceline were maintaining 18-19 mph and passing other riders by the droves.
Before I knew it we were in Austin and I quickly found the Republic tent with the ever-present burgers and beer plus bratwurst this time. On the left that’s Keith waving in front of the tent, and on the right you can see about where the finish was within the Capitol complex.
FINAL STATS for Gil
Training since 1/1/11: 997 miles and 40,201 feet
of climb (7.61 miles!)
4,365 feet of climb
9,841 calories burned
11:00:58 time moving
15.2 mph avg speed moving
Fun level: Priceless!
2011 BP MS 150: The Movie — click here to access the video on another site.