Nine of our triathlon club members and other friends gathered at the waterfront campground in New Bern on Friday for a weekend of riding and fun, all in support of the M.S. Society. This was the largest turnout in the 20 year history of the Eastern North Carolina M.S. chapter with nearly 2,000 participants. Included in our group was Martin (Coach) and Debbie (A.A.W.), Alan (Tuna) and Melissa (S.B.), Bill (Crock Sucker), Scott (Bootie Sucker), Mark (Safety Sucker) as well as Jen and Tom.
Upon arrival Friday, everyone set up their tents, including Martin and Debbie’s monstrosity (see photo below) and established camp. After setting up camp, we began a time-honored
tradition by partaking liberally in various libations, which was in direct violation of the “NO DRINKING” signs posted conspicuously around the camp site (we thought the intent of the signs was vague at best).
Saturday morning found a rested, if mildly hung-over crew ready for a day or riding – albeit on our own schedule. The official M.S. program called for an 8am start and by 7:30 there were already hundreds of cyclists lined up, waiting for the starting gun. We had just begun the process of making coffee and breakfast. By 8:15 am, with 1,991 of the 2,000 participants departed, and after a gentle chiding from M.S. officials, we began the process of getting dressed and were on the bikes by 9am or so. Because of our late departure we were informed that we would be in an “unsupported” status during our ride as it was obvious we would never catch the other riders and M.S. support vehicles would not be available to us if we had trouble.
The plan for Saturday’s ride was to go 75 miles total. Lunch was at mile 48 and our training plan for that day called for a 40 mile time trial ride. So, we pedaled an easy 8 mile warm-up and then picked it up a notch during the time trial, which led us to the much anticipated lunch break. By mile ten or so, to the great annoyance and mild amazement of M.S. race officials, we began to catch up to and pass other participants, putting us back in “supported” status. All during the ride we enjoyed perfect cycling conditions – a low cloud cover and temperatures in the 70’s kept it comfortable and the rain held off despite some initial doubts. Following a leisurely lunch we were back on the bikes again for the final 27 miles back to camp. The pace was not much slower than before lunch but everyone held up well and we made it back by early afternoon.
The M.S. Society does a fantastic job of hosting this event each year and 2010 was no exception. Each year they host a Saturday evening dinner for the riders at the New Bern Civic Center, complete with live music. Better yet, Holly Springs-based Carolina Brewing Company generously provides free beer , which as any college student or thirsty cyclist will tell you, is the most beautiful two-word combination in the English language. To say the least, we enjoyed ourselves Saturday night.
The rain that held off all day Saturday finally started falling just after midnight and got harder as the night went on. At one point, around 4am the rain was coming down so hard it reminded me of our Cycle North Carolina event in Edenton, N.C. back in April when we had a tornado come within a few hundred yards of camp. Nothing quite as much fun as riding out a tornado in a tent! But the really severe weather held off this time and by 7:00 Sunday morning the rain had come to at least a temporary stop at the campground.
Sunday, after another late start and yet another stern warning from officials that we would be unsupported during our ride, we headed out on the 50 mile course.
Within the first ten miles or so it started raining again and we rode through that for what seemed like a long time but probably was not more than four or five miles. The worst part of Sunday’s ride was a particular stretch of road during the middle of the course which made us realize that the officials who mapped the course had done so in a car because no one who had ever ridden this road on a bike would have included it on the official course. It was one of those roads you come across from time to time as a cyclist – a two lane nightmare of a road, neglected, patched together haphazardly and a solid decade or so past needing to be repaved. Every ten feet or so we would roll over a linear asphalt repair with an audible “thunk, thunk” of the tires, the vibration of which would make its way up the bike frame, ultimately culminating in a painful jab to the nether regions which, after just a few miles left us all in a sour mood and wondering when in the hell the road might end. Finally, around the 30 mile rest stop the road improved and we stopped briefly to gauge how everyone was feeling.
We were all feeling the effects of Saturday’s tough 75 mile ride and Saturday night’s festivities. However, Bill was probably hurting more than anyone as he had not had an opportunity to ride his bike much over the past year, putting him at a real disadvantage. Bill had not even planned on doing M.S. this year and signed up during the final week only after an appeal from Martin and Melissa. Despite his late entry, he led our team in fundraising with $340 which speaks volumes for the way he goes about accomplishing things once he makes his mind up to do it. The same could be said about his performance on the bike.
Because of the threat of bad weather on Sunday, M.S. officials opted to close the 30 mile and 100 mile route options, leaving only the 50 and 75 mile routes available. However, for those only wanting to ride 30 miles, a shuttle was available to bring those folks and their bikes back to the campground. By the time we arrived at mile 30, Bill was struggling. After hardly cycling at all for a solid year, he had pedaled 50 miles Saturday and 30 miles Sunday and was feeling downright miserable. Anyone who has had a bad day on the bike, or has faltered during a marathon after starting too fast – in short, any endurance athlete knows that feeling. Every crank of the pedal is a monumental effort. Muscles revolt into cramps and spasms. G.I. issues begin, creating a vicious cycle where you need desperately to eat and drink but your stomach won’t tolerate it, creating an accelerated energy drain. Miles go by painfully and at glacial speed, rendering the thought of tackling an additional 20 miles seemingly preposterous. Martin calls it “zombie land”. It’s a place where any enjoyment in what you are doing has long since vanished and all you can hope to do is enter a sort of mindless plodding, where you simply survive from one rest stop to the next. I have been there and I know what Bill was feeling. It would have been so easy for him to call it quits at mile 30 and take the shuttle back. When we arrived we even heard a volunteer call out for anyone wanting to ride the bus as it was about to pull out. No one would have thought twice if Bill had raised his hand. But he didn’t.
The next twenty miles was a display of courage and gumption that inspired all of us. Bill finished that 50 miler for a total of 100 miles in two days and he crossed that finish line with a smile on his face. It was a herculean effort, given that he had not cycled in nearly a year.
Following the ride, we broke down camp, had lunch back at the Civic Center and were on our way. Another M.S. 150 weekend in the books and another chapter in our journey recorded. We came away happy and safe after two days of riding. Nicknames were assigned, friendships were strengthened, lessons in perseverance were learned and above all, we raised $2,000 to support a very worthy cause. All in all, an excellent weekend.