The MS 150 — What a Terrific Weekend!

The weather gods must have been smiling. Despite ominous forecasts for heavy rain, the wetness was only temporary, and I now have a full two-day BP MS 150 under my belt.

I woke up in Houston early Saturday morning, feeling the effects of too little sleep. I always get wound up in anticipation of a big event, and this was no exception. But my riding partner Bob joined me for breakfast, then in organizing our gear, getting our luggage dropped off at the luggage truck, and collecting our bikes.

The morning dawned overcast and gloomy, but about 13,000 riders were on hand for the largest fundraising event in the United States. Teams started according to the amount of money their members raised. My team, Team St. David’s (a large health care concern in ¬†Austin), started fourth.

Team St. David's lines up for the MS 150 start.

About a mile into the ride, the skies opened up and it started raining. But the rain wasn’t hard, and there was no wind to speak of to make it difficult to contend with. Within a half hour, the rain stopped. The skies stayed overcast, but it looked like we would stay dry.

The first day of the ride goes from Houston to La Grange, Texas, and covers 100 miles. Considering how far they had to travel, the bikers moved along at a good clip, with the occasional paceline speeding things up, provided you could hang on if you jumped on the back. With so many in the event, the roads are never clear of cyclists.

About 30 miles west of Houston.

A piece of cardboard helped a bit - but only for a little while.The morning’s rain did make things challenging at the rest stops. Porta potties were lined up in a grassy area away from the food and drink tents. But the rain turned the fields to mud, making it challenging for cyclists to keep their shoes in semi-usable shape. This one was particularly bad right after the morning rain, but throughout the weekend, rest stop crowds had to contend with mud that clogged cleats and made it difficult to get clipped back into the pedals.

With so many riders, rest stops are always crowded on the MS 150. The Saturday lunch stop in Bellville was especially so. Cyclists surrounded an old octagonal school building on the county fairgrounds, as well as the fairgrounds themselves, to take a break and eat sandwiches, fruit cups and other food.

The no longer used octagonal school house at the lunch stop.

As the day wore on, there seemed to be more and more crashes along the way. Some were serious. In two cases, we saw ambulance crews place injured cyclists on back boards. Mostly, they were riders who suffered road rash after hitting the asphalt. And within one mile of the finish line in La Grange, two crashes injured cyclists — including one of the back board cases.

It was good to finally reach La Grange. We covered 101.5 miles at an average speed of 16 mph. I felt good, but the picture Bob took soon after we crossed the finish line shows that the day took its toll.

I look pretty fried.

When 13,000 people converge on one spot, problems can arise. After a long, warm, sweaty day, riders wanted to get clean. Shower trucks were a popular spot. So popular that the lines were unbearably long. I waited almost an hour and a half to finally get under the spray.

Just part of the long lines for the shower trucks.

Most teams and their riders stay in large tents at the county fairgrounds. This is one of the reasons for joining a team. They provide the tent, the evening meal (barbecue), cots, and massages.

A look at our tent in early evening, before cots were moved to the center area.

But there were concerns at our tent. The forecast called for heavy rain overnight, which could easily result in flooding. We nixed a proposal to move to another tent in a less flood-prone area, and bet that we wouldn’t face any real problems. Instead, we put all the cots together at the center of the tent — got really cozy with our teammates — and at 10 p.m., lights went out.

It wasn’t quiet, though. Not only did several of the guys snore loudly and continuously, but whenever you changed position on the tightly-stretched cots, they emitted a sound like the popping of bubble wrap. Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop vied with the snoring to make the night a restless one for me.

The rain came, but fell far short of the deluge that had been predicted. Of greater concern was a cloudburst that hit around 6 a.m., while we were in the breakfast pavillion. However, by the time the ride was to start at 7 a.m., that rain had stopped too.

Thousands of cyclists lined up at 7 a.m. for the start of Day 2.

Bob and I were in line at 6:45. We finally got out on the road at 8:15. Another long wait at the MS 150. But except for some dangerously rough chip seal on the Highway 71 shoulder for the first several miles, the Sunday ride went off without a hitch. We rolled across the finish line in downtown Austin at about 3 p.m. Our Day 2 stats: 66 miles at 14.7 mph.

Bob Gilbert and Ray Niekamp (Bike Noob) at the finish. (Bob is wearing the team's 2010 jersey - I have the 2008 version.)

It’ll take a couple of days for my butt to get back to normal, but other wise, it was a great ride for a great cause. I recommend you try an MS 150 ride sometime.


  1. Bill says

    Congratulations! And thanks to you and everyone down there in TX for riding for the MS Society. It is such a great cause. I’m getting psyched for our 150 in CO at the end of June, but I’ve gotta get some miles logged beyond the 220 I’ve got so far this year. I’m very glad to hear your somewhat interrupted training was sufficient and that the ol’ knee held up. You’ve earned a few days separation from the faithful Allez. It’ll be there waiting patiently for you. Great writeup and pictures! Nicely done!

    • says

      It won’t be a long separation. It’s filthy from the wet conditions, and I’ll be giving it a thorough cleaning tomorrow. Too tired to do it today.

  2. chrisfit2009 says

    Fantastic stuff. Glad you managed the whole thing. I seriously doubt I could back up the next day after 100miles, especially after sleeping in a tent like that.

  3. Robert Gilbert says

    I enjoyed riding together Ray. I think we helped push each other along the way. Oh yeah, and not mentioning by name who was snoring loudly.

  4. Tim says

    awesome! I was trying to transfer karma points to your account so the rain would stay away. Looks like it worked out.

    I may have to join in on this ride next year.

  5. RamonH says

    Congrats on a superb job completing the MS ride. We came in a little bit earlier than you. The hills in the last 7-miles of the course just did a number on us. I am happy to report that I completed both days without once having to get off the saddle to climb up the hills. Completing the metric on the “Pedal Thru the Pines” ride a month before definitely taught me how to handle myself around the hills in the area.

    The finish line was just awesome, and very emotional : the cheering crowds, the ambiance, the pain, and knowing that you had it in you, physically and mentally, to complete the ride.

    Like you, I was saddened by so many accidents. On one of the rest stops, I saw a lady with an arm splint. She was crying, not because of the physical pain, but because she knew the ride was over for her.

    Additionally, it was really nice to finally be able to meet you in person. As you can imagine, the schedules were very hectic and I was on my way back home yesterday afternoon. Maybe next time.

    • says

      That was a very serendipitous meeting, and I’m glad we were at least able to say hi and shake hands. Isn’t it interesting that the hills in the parks get top billing, but the hills in the city of Austin catch everyone by surprise in the last seven miles of the ride! I saw a lot of people walking them.

      • RamonH says

        Yea, no kidding. We had been warned by a couple of riders about those hills. The hills are not super steep, but they are very difficult to deal with for two reasons:

        1) They are located at the final miles of the ride, and after two days of riding in the surrounding hills, your legs are exhausted
        2) People tend to bunch up for the last miles and you can not speed-up to gain momentum to take on these hills. Instead, you just have to suck it up and realize you will be climbing at 8-9 mph on your easiest gear for what seems is an eternity.

  6. says

    Congratulations … that’s quite an accomplishment!

    I’m also glad you had fun — this event does not sound like fun to me, as I really dislike crowds.

    • says

      Well, it was definitely a happening. I don’t like being bunched with other riders, especially on hills, as RamonH alluded to above. But taken as a whole, the weekend was an event to remember.

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