I would argue that most people enjoy challenges. Most people have this internal debate about how far they can push their mind or body. Obviously, this manifests itself in many different ways. Some people run marathons while others compete in eating competitions. Some people aim to earn a doctorate in a particular educational field while others attempt to get three stars on all levels of Angry Birds.
I, however, am a product of the 90’s. I prefer apathy. If the 90’s taught us anything it taught us that caring about things like success is boring (the 90’s also taught us what teen spirit smells like). We like our flannels oversized and our Creed loud. By nature, I am unable to challenge myself.
This year has been different. In January I ran a half marathon because I wanted to know if I could. It turns out I can, but it isn’t pretty. Running and exercise isn’t a fat man’s game. Your body thinks that you are trying to kill it so it revolts against you. The results are … unsightly.
Well three months have gone by and the itch returned. My Dermatologist diagnosed me with psoriasis and prescribed some sort of steroid cream. When that didn’t work I decided to give this testing my limits thing another try.
A couple of my co-workers put together a team to ride in the MS 150 bike ride and I decided to sign up. The MS 150 is a fundraiser for Multiple Sclerosis research. The way it works is roughly 17,000 people put on spandex and ride bicycles from Houston to Austin. Before they do this they ask their friends and families to support the National MS Foundation financially. The idea is that people will give the National MS Foundation money because someone they know is dumb enough to use the oldest mode of conveyance still used today to travel a great distance. And by the way, it works. Our little weekend tourturfest raised over 17 million dollars. That’s pretty awesome.
My primary reason for riding was that my sister-in-law Lauren normally rides in this deal. This year she got married to a guy named John. John helped me move a 6,000lb (estimated weight) dog house into my new backyard last July. It is for this reason that I have decided to like John. John also let me borrow his brand new Marin road bike to tackle the MS 150 with.
John’s wife, and my sister-in-law, Lauren has MS. When I was told this several years ago I remember feeling sympathy for the disease because it had no idea what it was up against. To say that Lauren is a “fighter” isn’t exactly accurate. Lauren doesn’t need to fight because she simply wins. She is good at everything that she does not because she try’s hard but because life comes naturally to her. It is exhausting to be around. On top of this fact she also knows no fear. When she was a little girl she saw a man looking in her window while she lay in bed at night. The man then broke into her family’s house, stole a purse and ran off. In the aftermath Lauren’s father went to reassure her that all would be ok and she told him not to worry because she “ain’t afraid of the devil or nothing”. Double negatives aside that is a pretty great quote.
With Lauren as my inspiration and with 17,000 real athletes by my side I left for Austin on a cool Saturday morning. My team decided the first rest stop was too early in the ride (17 miles) and we should skip it. Not to be one to argue (or attempt to speak while pedaling) I decided they were right. About 500 yards past this rest stop I decided that they were wrong. It was at this point in the ride that we took a turn onto a road that most riders described as having a head wind. I would liken it to riding a bike with square tires. It was clear that I was the only one that was having a serious issue with this because people started passing me. People passing me became a theme until the lunch stop. My “team” proved to be anything but a team as they were nowhere to be found.
Lunch was a sandwich and chips which wasn’t bad but I was hoping for 6 sandwiches and a milkshake. The only problem with getting off of your bike to eat lunch is that you have to get back on your bike to ride to dinner. My legs felt like a fat guys legs that is riding a stupid bike between meals (literally the only way to describe the feeling in my legs). After finishing my 1 sandwich I spotted a guy that had an ice cream cone. I eyeballed him with a look that said “did you bring enough for everyone” and he politely pointed to a tent area that was distributing them. I happily devoured my ice cream cone stopping soon after I realized that I was licking my hand where the cone used to be.
The second half of the day was really hard. Skipping rest stops was not an option for me anymore and lucky for me I was no longer required to convince my team of this. They were long gone. I was ok with this because I had joined another team. My new team was not officially recognized by the National MS Foundation nor by the team members themselves. It was only in my exhausted mind that the team existed. This team consisted of about 5 riders that, by accident, rode at the same speed that I rode. It was impossible to speed up past them or slow down and let them go on. We were one, and for the rest of the day the unspoken comradely that we all felt was unquestionable. This feeling quickly ended as we pulled into the overnight rest area in La Grange and I said something like “we did it!” and one of my teammates said “who are you?”
The overnight rest area was awesome. Our team had several volunteers that set up a tent for us to sleep in and cooked us fajitas for dinner. The fajitas were amazing and it was fun to rehash the ups and downs of day 1. As far as topography goes there were way more ups than downs but that is strictly due to the raise in elevation from Houston to La Grange. As I went to sleep I brainstormed ways to fall off of my cot and break my leg so that I wouldn’t have to spend another day riding a bike. I decided against it but it proved to be one of the hardest decisions of my life.
The next morning the conversations centered around 2 subjects.
1. Most of the people claimed to have a hard time sleeping in the tent because someone was snoring. I had no idea what they were talking about. I slept great.
2. A lot of people were complaining that their butt’s hurt and they weren’t looking forward to sitting on their bike seats again. If you ride in the MS 150 this will be a popular conversation amongst the riders. The problem with this complaint is that it isn’t true. When you ride a bike you don’t really sit on your butt. You sit on an area of the body that doesn’t really have a name (as far as I know) but isn’t exactly your butt. However, this area of the body, when riding a bike experiences excruciating pain that nothing can prepare you for. Consider yourself warned.
The departure of day 2 was interesting. Riders are given an option to take something called a Challenge Course route or something called a Lunch Express route. I played to my strengths and took the Lunch Express route. The problem was that as I sat at the starting line I was supposed to turn right but I was stuck in a group on the left side of the starting chute. Everyone around me was taking the challenge course route. Panic set in. What if they forced me to take the harder route? Would I survive it? Am I a Challenge Course route kind of guy?
I decided it was worth angering the 600 people around me and inch my way through the crowd to get on the correct side of the chute so that I wouldn’t be forced into anything I wasn’t ready for. The looks I got from people were unfortunate. Healthy people hate the fat guy trying to invade their world.
When I got to lunch I wasn’t sure if Lunch Express route meant I got to lunch quickly or that when I was there I was supposed to eat as fast as I could. I decided not to take any chances and did both.
The rest of the day went pretty good. I was too tired to care about things like my average speed or how many calories I had burned. The views were great and as we neared Austin the excitement of the end of agony reinvigorated the riders. People spirits rose and we started acting civilized to one another again. As I rode through the streets of Austin big groups of people cheered and thanked us for what we were doing. It was exhilarating.
As I crossed the finish line I spotted my wife and 3 year old son there to cheer me on. I think they would have pointed at me and clapped and took pictures of me crossing the finish line if it hadn’t been for some moron that crashed right next to me. Everyone turned to look at him and no one saw me finish. I sat on a stupid bike for 2 days so that my family and I could share in this moment of triumph that would live in infamy forever only to have my spotlight stolen by some idiot that has the ability to ride a bike for 139.9999 miles only to lose his balance at the finish line. I hope he is ok.
All in all it was a great experience for a great cause and I hope to get the opportunity to do it again next year. It was amazing to see not only the amount of riders that participated but the huge number of volunteers it takes to make something like the MS-150 happen. If you were to only watch the news you wouldn’t think so many good people were out there. People are willing to give time and money to help fight a disease that we will hopefully see treatable in our lifetime. It makes you think the human race might have a chance. Just don’t turn the news back on.
Gardale and I talked about my extensive training here.