Snapshots from the MS 150

Sunday’s post on the MS 150 didn’t do justice to all the little occurrences that happen during such a big event. Here, in no particular order, are some of the things that I saw:

By far, the coolest celebration of the ride was in the small town of Fayetteville (pop. 291). It seemed everyone turned out to cheer on the riders. Lots of loud music blaring from big speakers, and a bubble machine on almost every corner! Lots of places didn’t notice we were there, but Fayetteville really came through.

Spectators cheer and ring cowbells in front of the Red & White store (built 1835) in Fayetteville. Photo courtesy Mike Boudreaux.
Ramon H.

Saturday night in La Grange, I was walking through the fairgrounds looking at all the tents and people when I saw someone I thought I recognized. I took a chance. “Excuse me, is your name Ramon?” I asked.

He looked at me. “Yes,” he said.

“Ramon H____?”

His eyes widened and he did a double take. “I know you!” he exclaimed.

We laughed and shook hands. Ramon is a regular reader and sometimes commenter on Bike Noob. I remembered running his picture with a guest post he did a year ago. Funny how these things just happen.

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After sleeping poorly Friday night, I was concerned I wouldn’t have much energy for a 100-mile ride Saturday. I needn’t have worried. From the time we left Houston until crossing the line in La Grange, I had plenty of go power. Even late in the ride, I turned on the gas a time or two to pick up the pace. Same thing happened last year. And after only a couple hours’ sleep Saturday night, I did it again on Sunday. Adrenaline? Conditioning? (Not conditioning.)

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My cot in the team tent Saturday night was next to a woman named Laurie. We met near the finish line Sunday and exchanged pleasantries about the ride. Talk turned to all the snoring in our tent the night before.

“We had a meeting to decide what to do about it,” she said.

“A meeting?” I replied. “It must have been during the little time I was asleep.”

“It was me, and ___, and a couple others. We couldn’t take it anymore.”

“What did you decide to do?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she answered.

——

As I refilled my water bottles at one rest stop, I thanked a volunteer for being there. He thanked me instead. “You’re doing the hard work,” he said. I don’t think I agree with that.

——

Sunday, climbing up yet another long hill, I called out the usual warning to a slow biker: “On your left.”                                                                                                                          He puffed hard, mashed his pedals, and shot me a sideways glance.  “On your left?” he gasped. “Going UPHILL???”

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.

MS 150 Weekend

Tomorrow is a big day for me. I leave for Houston to ride in the MS 150 Houston-to-Austin ride this weekend. (It’s actually 177 miles, but we won’t quibble with the MS Society’s brand.)

I did it last year, but the first day was rained out, so I only got to ride the 77-mile leg of the second day. This year, the weather forecast is dicey as well: 30 percent chance of rain Saturday, and 60 percent on Sunday. Oh, well.  I’m pretty much a fair weather rider. In fact, my last bad crash was in the rain. So the goal this year is to complete both days of the ride, and stay upright while doing it.

My friend Bob, who rides with me in our cycling club, will share transportation and a hotel room with me. At least two other members of the club are riding too, that I know about. And this year, lots of other folks I’ve met through social media — including this blog — are going to ride as well. If we can all get together for a massive meetup, that should be a lot of fun.

I thought I might be less stoked for the ride this year, because of my previous experience with it, but I’m not. In fact, I might be even more excited about it this year. Despite the rain, there is still a good prospect of getting in both days of the ride, so I’m looking forward to that. It’ll be a good test for my new riding position. And, as the largest fundraising bike ride there is, it’s one heck of an event.

I’ll be back in this spot as usual Sunday evening, with a full report of the ride.