Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pedal to the Point - August 14-15, 2010

DAY 1:
Well, year 15 of my participation in the MS Society's 150 mile Pedal-to-the-Point Bike Tour is now logged in the annals of history.  As I look back on the ride, it is amazing to me how one can anticipate and prepare for an event like this all year long, and in a blink of an eye, it is suddenly two weeks behind you.  Never has the analogy "time flies" been more appropriate.

So, how was this year's ride?  In a word, awesome. 

For starters, it was my third year cycling as a proud member of the Patti's Paladins bike team.  This sixty member gang was founded by Patti Substelny, a wonderful woman currently dealing with the crippling effects of multiple sclerosis.  Although this disease has left Patti wheelchair bound, her energy and enthusiasm remain boundless.  Her charisma and infectious joy for life are a constant inspiration to us all.  It's why we ride.  As for the team itself, they are a class group of people, several of whom I personally ride with each year and am glad to call friends.

Okay, enough set-up...on to the tour itself.

I arrived at the Polaris center in Berea, our starting point for the last two years, at the ungodly hour of 6:30am.  As expected, the place was already swarming with riders.  Apparently, they found it necessary to wake themselves at an even ungodlier hour than I.  Through the chaos, however, I managed to find my team rather quickly.  Perhaps it was the vibrant purple color of our new jerseys that made them so easy to spot.  That's right, purple.  Not blue, our traditional color, but...purple.  Granted, the picture in the catalog we ordered them from looked blue, but alas...purple.  I had not received my new jersey prior to the ride, so I grabbed one from the team supply, went to my car, and changed.  As I stood staring at my reflection in the car window, the purple behemoth that now stared back suddenly appeared...a little less manly.

Me and fellow teammates MJ and Don sporting the new purple
Patti's Paladin's jersey.  Did I mention they were purple?
Upon my return, I was quickly reunited with my favorite Paladins, MJ Formoso and Don Bales.  Both are accomplished cyclists themselves and quite a joy to ride with.  MJ immediately introduced me to Catina, her good friend and newest Paladin, who was riding in the MS150 for the first time.  She would quickly become a welcome addition of our 'inner circle'.  Shortly after our reunion, we were joined by my girlfriend Maria, who commented directly on the adorableness of our purple jerseys.  It should be noted that Maria's favorite color is, in fact, purple, so her gleeful reaction was nothing short of expected.  As far as these shirts were concerned, there was no going back now.

Off in the distance, another team caught my eye.  The Century Cycles team.  As you know from previous posts, Century Cycles is my newest employer. So, why am I not riding on their team, you ask?  Well, although I love Century Cycles, my loyalties, at least for the MS ride, are with Patti's Paladins (even with purple jerseys).  No harm, no foul.  I did, of course, make my way to the CC team to say hello to The Boss (Scott Cowan) and several of the other riders.  I wished them luck and quickly returned to the Paladins.

Tracy, me, and Scott representing Century Cycles!

With the obligatory team photo and pleasantries of catching up behind us now, we sauntered over to the start line.  Because of our team size and previous year's exceptional fundraising efforts, the Paladins were one of the first groups to be set loose.  After a quick kiss to my girl and a wave to the crowd, I was off. The time was 7:30am.

Patti's Paladins 2010
The early part of any ride is traditionally slow as the group attempts to find their riding legs.   Initially, I managed to hang with Don, MJ and Catina for a dozen miles or so, but after passing the first rest stop, I started getting antsy as I could feel my strength building up.  I decided it was time for a break-away.  With 12 miles in the bag and 25 left to go till lunch at Oberlin High School, my intent was to stomp out the remaining miles with purpose.  The route had not changed much over the last several years, so there were no surprises along the way and I arrived at lunch in good time and feeling fresh.  The heat of the day had yet to make its appearance.  Before long, MJ, Don, and Catina pedalled into lunch and the team was reunited once again.

The lunch stop has always held special meaning for those of us aforementioned 'inner circle' riders because a), it is the place we first encounter the Heavenly Ho-Ho, those delicious chocolate covered, cream filled cakes that we ferociously gorge upon like wild beasts, and b), it is the location known for...Bob's Toilet Time.  Now, Bob's Toilet Time has become somewhat of an ugly tradition on the MS150 tour.  It is that time, seemingly every year, when I must unceremoniously excuse myself from the group and spend a good half hour visiting Miss Porcelain Polly.  As you can imagine, this time consuming activity was a constant threat to the team's desire to arrive in Sandusky, well, before sundown.  So, typically, they would simply bid farewell and continue onward, leaving me to catch up as best I could upon completion of my personal business.  Needless to say, once I did eventual arrival back to the team, the mockery of my lavatory exploits knew no bounds.  Being a true sport, I took it all in stride. This year, however, the unthinkable occurred.  Yes, my friends, 2010 saw the final curtain call of Bob's Toilet Time.  No visit to Porcelain Polly.  No wasted hours.  I said, "Seriously guys, I really don't need to go!" And they said, "WHAAAAAT??"

But I digress.  Back to cycling.

The remainder of the ride to Sandusky was, for the most part, uneventful.  I committed to another break-away shortly after lunch and raced on to the finish.  It was clear to me over those last 40 miles of Day 1 that all my summer training was paying off.  The harder riding improved my stamina and the choice to do more hills rather than distance greatly improved my ability to climb.  Also, the use of clipless pedals enhanced my pedal stroke and improved my overall riding performance significantly.  In tours past, I was the guy struggling on the side of the road to maintain any kind of cadence whatsoever.  I was the guy being passed easily by seemingly everyone else.  I hated the headwinds and the hills about killed me.  This year, however, the riding seemed effortless.  The strong winds and blazing afternoon heat were of little consequence and I found that I was the one handily passing most others.  It was a welcome change and proof that, with the right training and consistent riding, you really can get better with age.

I rolled into Sandusky High School at exactly 1pm.  As always, our beloved Patti was waiting there with bullhorn in hand to greet all the arriving riders.  I decided to hang at the finish line for a while until MJ, Don, and Catina rolled in themselves.  However, after about twenty minutes, they still had not arrived and I began to think that maybe they weren't as close behind me as I originally thought.  Tired and hungry, I stashed my bike, grabbed my luggage, and checked in.

As always, there are three options when you arrive in Sandusky.  You can either sleep the night at a hotel (too expensive), pitch a tent on the school grounds (too time consuming), or grab a chunk of floor in the gym (preferred by us diehards).  Since I had arrived fairly early, there was plenty of gym floor available, so I set up my air mattress (complete with extra cool Dark Knight bedding) and crashed for a bit.

My sweet sleeping arrangements.  Believe or not, those Bat covers
were the talk of the gym crowd!  They were diggin' the spread!
Finally, at just after 2pm, the rest of the gang arrived.  I had flagged them down and they set up their gear as well.  In the past, my air mattress was the size of a small aircraft carrier, and became like a beacon in the sea of people that eventually filled the gym.  Unfortunately, my prized sailing vessel sprung a leak last year, and I found myself flat on the floor by morning.  It was quite the sight, I assure you.  This year's mattress was leaner and meaner, a battleship of manageable proportions.

By 3pm, the final piece of the puzzle made his appearance.  I am, of course, referring to the cyclist known only as "Woody".  Woody is a friend of MJ's, and we see him but once a year; the weekend of the tour.  He is an exceptional rider who typically does the century loop on Day 1 (100 miles instead of the standard 75 mile route), and is an all important part of our 'inner circle'.  With the group now complete, we hit the showers then head off to dinner.  It was at this time that Woody introduced us to Steve, a fellow rider who he hooked up with on the century loop.

After dinner, the six of us hopped on the shuttle bus to Cedar Point.  This is one of the best perks of participating in the MS150 ride.  It should be known, however, that even at the amusement park, there are certain traditions that the 'inner circle' must maintain.  For example, we must ride the biggest, baddest coasters in the park...except for Woody, who at this point races off for a quick beer or two, avoiding the rides altogether.  It is also customary for us to eat a particularly greasy after-dinner dinner at the park's 50's diner.  Finally, making fun of the park's clientele is probably the most strictly followed tradition, and the easiest.  Spend a day there and the reasons will become obvious.  On this particular evening, our mockery skills were off the chart!  Many of the characters we saw perusing The Point were more frightening than the rides themselves.  By the end of the night, it was apparent that we were going to pretty much burn in Hell for the absolutely destructive commentary we launched at these people.  But hey, it is, after all, and amusement park...and we were nothing if not amused!

By 11pm, the group was down for the count, passed out on sleeping bags, cots, and air mattresses.  Like every year, we were tired enough to hope that sleep would take us quickly, but restless enough to know it never really would.

DAY 2:
As expected, 6am arrived painfully early.  Unfortunately, the worst part of sleeping in the gym during an MS150 style bike tour is that the term 'sleep' becomes redefined.  Sleep consists of  tossing and turning hourly, exhausted but still wired from the day, and by the time you finally get comfortable and true sleep begins to settle in, your alarm clock, which is essentially everyone else around you, startles you into consciousness a mere five minutes later. Yippie.

After the traditional pancake breakfast, we packed our gear and hit the road.  Although Day 2 never seems to have the drama of Day 1, rest assured, before it's over, something will happen to our 'inner circle' that will be the topic of conversation for weeks.  In fact, that first 'something' happened early into Day 2.  Normally, we all start out together and eventually break apart based on our riding strength.  Woody, who is the strongest cyclist of our group, will usually take off about mid morning and charge on to the finish.  This year, however, I had the strength to actually stay with Woody when he made his break.  As we rode along together, what happened next could only be described as something out of a Godzilla movie. I heard a sudden gasp of horror from behind me, and as I turned, I saw Woody being viciously attacked by...a butterfly.  The Mothera sized winged beast swooped in and circled Woody's helmet, determined to fell my cycling partner.  Not giving in, Woody pulled to the side of the road to deal with the insect directly.  Mothera, knowing the battle would be lost, dove for cover...inside Woody's helmet!  An epic struggled ensued before Woody was able to remove his helmet and dispatch the trapped creature.  It flew off gracefully as if the encounter never occurred.  Woody and I, on the hand, were dumbfounded as to how a creature of such docile constitution could attack with blind fury.  Fortunately, no injuries were sustained by this chance meeting of man and beast.  The temporary delay did, however, give the rest of our team a chance to catch up.  Woody, perhaps still shaken, chose to ride with MJ, Don and Catina, whilst I committed to ride on ahead.  As with the day before, I felt strong and wanted to maintain an accelerated pace.

I arrived first at the lunch stop and found a table with a different group of Paladins to eat and chat with.  After a quick feast of sandwiches, grapes, and the obligatory half dozen Ho-Ho's, I rejoined MJ, Don, Catina, and Woody for the final 32 miles of the tour.  We also picked up Rick Garcia, the captain of Patti's Paladins, as part of our home-stretch team.  This is always the hottest, most draining part of the day, and after all the riding done thus far, it's the part where you have got to stay mentally focused on the finish.  Not five minutes after we left lunch, my mental focus took an immediate leave of absence.  Now, for those of you who ride charity bike tours regularly, you know that the organizers go to great lengths to make sure the route is well marked.  Numerous signs on electric poles and painted arrows on the roads make it almost impossible for even the slow-witted to mess up or get lost.  Well apparently, I am in the category of people ranked below slow-witted, because the minute we got to the first intersection, I decided to follow the set of arrows from Day 1, instructing me to go right, instead of following the arrows for Day 2, which indicate that riders are to continue straight.  As I was in the front of the group, I made a wide right turn to allow plenty of room for the rest of the team to turn easily.  Suddenly, the rear of my bike got away from me and I heard a blood-curling scream as MJ, correctly following the Day 2 arrows, clipped my back tire and went down.  At first, I was stunned and confused as I thought I had just given everyone enough room to turn.  It was only as I faced the others and saw the angry stares glaring back at me that I realized it was I who was at fault.  Oh boy.  She went the right way.  I did not.  I have always had a particularly low tolerance for silly mistakes committed by others, but when I commit them, I am merciless in my self-criticism.  How in the world could I have been so damn stupid as to read the wrong signs?  I've been doing this ride for 15 years and there is absolutely no excuse for this kind of mindless mistake.  Flushed with embarrassment and totally at a lost for words, I apologized and helped MJ up from the ground.  Fortunately, my teammates were not quite as hard on me as I was and all was quickly forgiven.  It's moments like this where I cannot speak highly enough of those I ride with on the Paladins team.  I relegated myself to the back of the pack for the next several miles, allowing the well deserved barbs and jokes of my error in judgement to strike me without defense. 

Before long, things returned to normal.  Woody and I jumped to the front of the pack and raced for the finish.  Although lagging slightly behind Woody in this last leg, I still managed to keep within earshot of him the rest of the way.  We made one stop about 10-12 miles from the finish to call home and let everyone know we were close to the finish.  MJ, Don, Catina and Rick arrived shortly thereafter to do the same.  This is as much tradition as any other part of the ride.  What was different at this particular stop was the welcome addition of POPSICLES!!!  On a blazingly hot afternoon as this day had turned into, the refreshingly cool flavors of grape, orange and pineapple were manna from Heaven.  We set out on our bikes for the last time today, and 12 miles later, as was the custom of previous years, we all crossed the finish line together.  Happily, I saw Maria and my parents awaiting our arrival.  Interestingly, my parents had never seen me at any of these tours, so it was a touching moment to watch them waving and shouting as I cycled into the finish.  After checking in and receiving our completion medals, the 'inner cirle' got together one last time for hugs, photos, refreshments and the promise to hang out more between rides.
Another MS150 in the books.  It's Happy Time!
Mom and Dad braving the heat at the finish.

The 'inner circle', exhausted but smiling!

The tour was over, but the memories of the event will live on for weeks to come.  Sure, the cycling is fun and challenging, and the heat, wind and changing weather add a degree of mental and physical toughness, but it's the friends you ride with that make it worthwhile.  I will always remember the funny stories, crazy new catch-phrases like "WHHAAAAAT?" and "What time is it? It's Happy Time!!!", and the team spirit throughout the weekend.  Even those unique purple jerseys are a pleasant reminder of the fabulous team I am a part of and the awesome woman who is it's voice.  The MS150 Pedal to the Point Bike Tour is a wonderful ride worth riding and a Cause worth supporting.  I look forward to seeing everyone again in 2011, where we can create new memories and new stories to tell.

Until then...

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