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Another event off my checklist

Just not like I'm not really naturally a running person, I'm not really naturally a bike person. And yet I find myself occasionally running and biking absurdly long distances. I think it's the personal challenge that I thrive upon, less the thing that challenges me. I'm certainly not good at running or biking but I suppose I am very good at pushing myself.

And so, at 5:00 on Saturday morning, Graham and I got up, threw my stuff in the car, said goodbye to the dogs (my brother would come to pick them up later) and drove to the Red Roof Inn, where my team would meet and depart. kittyajh was kind enough to invite me onto her team, Ol' Army Cycling, even though my only connection to Texas A&M was that my dad graduated from there 50 years ago. I met a few people the night before when I went to pick up my jersey and check in at the official Expo, but I really didn't stick around for a long time because I wanted to get home to double check my packing and eat the pasta that Graham made for me. I also wanted to get to bed relatively early, given the start time.

I don't know how I really felt when I woke up. That we had a lot of stuff to take care of was helpful because it kept my mind off of what was ahead. I knew that I was much better prepared on my bike than last year, with two long training rides in the previous two weeks and a better understanding of my bike. But I also knew that I wasn't in as good physical condition (save for the lack of gallstones). Last year, I'd prepared with a bootcamp and a Lenten vow to exercise to the burning of 300 calories a day through most of the two months prior to the event. This year, I was hit with the 'flu on the first day of Lent and it knocked me out for a solid two weeks and took even longer to recover. I'd started taking my body seriously in mid-March, but was it enough to catch up?

We got to the hotel at maybe 6:10, and Graham, who didn't want to get caught in the MS150 traffic, took off pretty quickly after dropping me and my stuff off. He went straight to Austin to hang out with some friends of ours while I was riding my bike. I introduced myself to a few people, but I didn't really catch that many names. I had no idea what the pace or skill level of anyone on the team, so I had no idea if I'd see them after the start. It was a little drizzly, and the forecast for the day said at some point it would rain. But there's not much you can do about that, so I didn't worry. I did contemplate bringing my rain gear with me on the ride, but then decided I'd just get hot, and I'd still get wet regardless. After my bag was loaded into the truck, I realized that it was just me, my bike, some of the items I'd stuffed in the pockets on my lower back, and my camelbak. I would have to rely upon these things to get me from the Red Roof Inn to the Fayette County Fairgrounds. Holy crap. At 6:45, after a quick group meeting and prayer, we were off.

Day One. See Google Maps of route here.

The Red Roof Inn was a few miles after the official start of the ride, which was at the Omni, so we had to bike to join in with the rest of the MS150. A lot of other teams had chosen alternate start locations, so as we kept going, more and more riders joined with us. I actually had no idea when we merged with the main ride, and it took me five or six miles to realize that I was actually riding the MS150, not riding to the MS150. At first, we were on regular Houston roads, with cops directing traffic and letting us through. After 12 or so miles, it turned into country farm roads. By and large, regular traffic was sharing the road with us, but it would have been frustrating for the drivers, with so many people on bikes passing one another and generally taking over the lane of traffic. I'm told that the line of 13,000 riders is as long as 20 miles. I can only imagine what it must look like from the air.

I totally missed the first rest stop, but I probably didn't really need it. At some point in this stretch, I started playing with my gears and discovered how much more power I had with my biggest gear*, and I didn't find myself being passed as much as before. This stretch was pretty flat, and there wasn't much of a wind at all. At mile 20 or so, the second rest stop presented itself, and I pulled over with most of the other riders, and I got a banana and filled my gatorade bottle and I ran into some of my teammates. I think I'd been riding a little over an hour at this point. I learned in my previous rides that I need to get nutrition and hydration at each rest stop. I found myself getting very tired at the end of the first ride I'd done, and I was determined to avoid cramping. I made sure to drink a water bottle full of fluids between rest stops and I made sure to eat something at every one.

I don't really recall the second rest stop, 13 miles later. I do know that we merged with the folk that started at Katy around that point. I'm certain that I stopped and got food and water, but I don't really remember much of it at all. The terrain started to get a little hilly towards Bellville, and I started shifting a lot more often. In Bellville, about 45 miles into my ride, I stopped for "lunch". The place was absolutely packed with riders. The bigger company teams had individual tents set up for their riders, but most everyone else went through this massive assembly line to grab a sandwich (I chose peanut butter over turkey), some fruit cocktail, a drink and potato salad. I walked through, grabbed my lunch, and sat down to eat and people watch.

Bikers are fundamentally silly looking. Everyone is in spandex shorts and ridiculously tight colorful jerseys with at least one team name or logo on it. The jerseys look weird because of people's stuff--nutrition, cell phones, gps devices, butt balm, sunblock and other crap--in the big back pockets. It doesn't matter what your body type is wearing this getup because everyone else is wearing it too. Everyone walks sort of funny because we're all wearing bike shoes with cleats on them. Most everyone has a helmet on, probably sunglasses. Anyone arriving at that lunch spot from more than 40 years in the past would wonder what the fuck happened to humanity and who in the past do we have to warn to avoid such a fate from becoming the human race.

At any rate, I was one of them, so I could just sit and admire.

After I ate and watched people and got a bit of a breather, I hopped on my bike to rejoin the route. This was actually the first time that all of the people riding the MS150 were together. There was another start at Waller, and it joined the main pack in Bellville. Leaving Bellville, I got a really good idea of how massive this event was. We took up the entire lane, and ahead of me all I could see were the backs of bikers. The last time I'd been through Bellville this congested was during the Rita evacuation. It was cool, though a little annoying when the cops stopped us at the bottom of a hill to let other traffic through. I couldn't believe how fast I'd gotten the first bit of biking done, though. I was over halfway through the ride, and it wasn't all that bad.

I also got a lot of comments throughout the ride. At first I had no idea why people were saying "howdy" or "whoop" to me. But then I realized that this state is full of Aggies, and they're very supportive of each other. Some people would yell out "Gig'em" or "you get 'em Aggie girl" and they'd encourage me all the way along the route. It was pretty awesome support for something I didn't really have much to do with. OTOH, I passed someone wearing a jersey from my work. I had no idea we had a team, though it seemed that any company with more than 50 employees have a MS150 team.

The next 28 miles were tough. Somewhere in there were a couple of rest stops, and I know that I took advantage of them. But the hills were getting more frequent, and they were tougher. At some point I lost momentum and got off my bike to walk to the top instead of riding. My average miles per hour kept on falling, and I found myself in lower gears more often. But I kept going, and I noticed that I wasn't the only one struggling. The last twelve before Fayetteville were just excruciating, and I was really happy to see the town.

I love Fayetteville. I have for decades. It's a tiny town with a lovely square and awesome old Victorian houses. The community is funky and artistic I spent a good deal of my childhood in the hotel on the square because that is where the architects who designed the ranch house had their office. They are still there, and after I stopped at the rest stop for refueling, I went to the square to see if Clovis or Maryanne were among the crowd cheering bikers on. I asked a few of the crowd if anyone had seen them, and though no one had seen them lately, a few of the people in the crowd said they were probably at the hotel, which has been since converted to a bed and breakfast. I didn't have to go even that far, because I found Clovis sitting in front of his studio with a couple of canvases and his paint. He was delighted to see me, and we chatted for about ten minutes before I had to hop on my bike to finish the ride.

At this point, I was in very familiar territory. Fayetteville is about 19 miles from the ranch and I know the roads to and from there very well. La Grange is the county seat and the town where David, who lives by the ranch, sends his kids to school. I was starting to get antsy because this time, more than any, I knew exactly where I was. Right outside of Fayetteville, I passed a couple on old fashioned cruiser bikes, complete with wicker baskets, sweaters draped over their shoulders, and knee socks. I assume they were people making fun. Or taking advantage of the protection on the nice country road to take a leisurely ride. They totally cracked me up for a few miles after I passed them. The ride to the next rest stop was nice, though I was getting ready for things to end soon. Right before that stop, there was a traffic stop, and when I stopped, I didn't unclip my right shoe and toppled over. Fortunately, I toppled into the road on the right rather than the throng of other stopped riders on my left. But I had to deal with the embarrassment of assuring everyone that I was ok (despite the blood on my knee) and someone helped me put the chain back on my bike. I decided to walk my bike to the rest stop about 500 yards ahead.

The people at the rest stop cleaned my knee and sprayed one of those invisible bandages on it, and I was ready to go (after the requisite gatorade and banana). 11 miles to go. About two miles into that, I saw the after effects of a crash, and it looked pretty nasty. A few riders were stopped, and one was laying on the road. Someone was trying to keep his neck steady. Someone else was sitting on the side of the road, and one of the support motorcycles had stopped to help. I pedaled on, assuming more people weren't going to help, but I decided to make sure to take it easy, as I'd already biked 80 miles at this point, and I was really, really tired. The next 8 miles weren't all that bad, but right after one last turn, the hills re-emerged. I stopped at the top of one of them for a good ten minutes. I think I had 3 miles to go at that point, but I knew that I had to pause for a while or else I wouldn't be able to finish. I wasn't the only one. Several other riders stopped then, and we commiserated the two or three hills left. At this point, (4:21 to be exact), Graham texted to see where I was. I texted my 3 miles back, and then took off. It wasn't as bad as I thought, and the next thing I knew, I was pulling onto 77 and then into the fairgrounds, and then I heard the PA announce my name as a finisher. I finished a little before 5:00 pm. 96.788 miles from where I started according to the odometer on my bike. I'd never gone anywhere near that far before.

I hopped off my bike and walked it to the back of the fairgrounds to find my tent. kittyajh greeted me and directed me immediately to barbeque. Excellent. I hung out for a little while after and then decided that I desperately needed a shower, so I pulled out my towel, clothes and toiletries and walked over to the showers. And I waited. And waited. And waited. I think I stood in line an hour and 45 minutes before I got my shower. But the water was hot and the pressure was good, and I got the majority of the road grime, bugs, sunscreen and other crap off of me. It was heavenly.

By the time I got back to the tent, the massage people had left, so I set up my sleeping bag, got something to drink and hung out for awhile. The news of a possible storm was spreading like wildfire, and Graham called me at some point from Austin to tell me how they were being assaulted by a massive rainstorm that was apparently headed our way. I moved my sleeping bag towards the middle of the tent, brought my bike inside, and secured everything else. By 8:30, I was starting to crash, so I climbed into my sleeping bag, grabbed a light off my bike, and read and listened to my ipod. By 9:45, the lights were out, and I was falling asleep. Somewhere around 1:00, I was awakened by the storm, and I faded in and out of sleep for the rest of the night.

Day Two. See Google Maps of route here.

It seemed like I had just fallen asleep when I heard people getting ready. It was 4:45 in the morning, and I felt like I was barely rested. I got up, eventually, and started gathering my stuff, knowing that kittyajh had to be out of there with all of our stuff by 5:45 or else she'd have to wait until the last rider left and might not make it to Austin before the first riders rolled in. I got dressed, needing kittyajh's help with the key task of fastening my bra because my arms were feeling like jello and I couldn't get my fingers to work properly. After I got dressed, packed my bag and surrendered it, I again found myself with only my bike and my self. At around 5:45, I walked my bike to the start. The riders weren't supposed to be let go until 7:00, but there are so many riders that if you're not lined up early, you end up leaving towards nine. So I stood with my bike. In the cold. And at around 6:20, it started pouring rain.

A few weeks ago, I read a list of romance movie cliches that suck. I don't know where I read it, but one of the elements was any conversation that takes place where the main characters stand in the rain, seemingly ignoring the miserable conditions. I stood in the rain for 30 minutes, seemingly ignoring the miserable conditions. Eventually it stopped, and the day actually turned out to be quite lovely. But I didn't really notice all that much.

Mainly because I was so nervous. I was terrified of day 2. I don't know exactly why, but I was convinced that this was something that I simply could not do. Day 2 is much hillier than Day 1, and obviously I was going to be pretty worn down after nearly 100 miles of biking the previous day. And there are two routes, one ridiculously hilly adventure through the park, and another, less hilly version along highway 71. I decided not to even try the park with the recent wet conditions. My training didn't contemplate at all rain, and since I was already terrified of this day, I didn't want to risk attempting to control a bike at 40 plus miles per hour with turns. I may have taken the pussy route, but I don't really feel bad about it. I don't know what I was so afraid of. I guess it was the idea of hills just scared me to death. I figured I'd end up stopping at some point in exhaustion and flagging down a SAG vehicle, defeated, to take me the rest of the way to Austin.

But I knew I had to start. So I started. And I was motoring along pretty well at the beginning. The first rest stop seemed to appear immediately, but I stopped, reloaded and got back on my bike. The road on this section kind of sucked. We were on Highway 71 almost all the way to Bastrop, and the highway is a pretty busy thoroughfare. Police officers kept on imploring us to stay on the shoulder, but the shoulder was ridiculously rough road, and it was frankly easier to stay on the other side of the white line. It was also really bumpy, which made my hands feel numb. Sucks.

I think it was the first rest stop, but maybe it was the second, where I stopped by a first aid tent for some Advil. My lower back was starting to really ache, and I didn't want it to get worse. The guy at the tent asked me if I'd tried Biofreeze, this awesome, awesome gel stuff that you put directly on the achy part and it starts to feel better. Yay biofreeze!!

So I kept on biking, and eventually getting out of Fayette county and into Bastrop county, the road conditions improved considerably, and the shoulder was much better than I'd seen before. The road went generally uphill, and we had to cross a lot of rivers and highways, which usually meant an incline on the road. I became keenly aware of all inclines. There was also a bit of a headwind, so going wasn't easy, but it wasn't as hard as I thought it'd be. The first real hill was right before Bastrop, the third rest stop of the day. It was really tough. I got off right before the hill was over to catch my breath, and then I kept on going.

Bastrop's lunch was like the lunch before, packed. The people who'd taken the other route rejoined us then, and again, lots of people. I got a turkey sandwich there, but I wasn't all that hungry, and only ate the apple and chips from the lunch. I also got more biofreeze for my lower back. It was around 10:45 or so then, and I'd gone 34 miles. I called Graham to let him know where I was. I had 32 miles or so to go. I took my time at this rest stop, but I also was planning out the rest of my trip. I think it was around here that I realized that it was possible that I'd actually finish this thing. The distance to the next rest stop was considerable, the longest distance for the whole ride 14.6 miles. I thought I'd separate it into seven mile sections, in order to ensure that I didn't get too tired. I also stuck close to slower riders, so I didn't go too fast and tap all of my energy. It worked! I motored along, feeling ok with myself, and I just kept on going until I got to my designated stop.

At around 12:45 I called Graham from the second to last rest stop, 17.3 miles to go. I estimated that I'd be rolling in anywhere from an hour and 45 minutes to two and a half hours. Graham started getting ready to leave Dripping Springs to meet me in Austin. I grabbed more Biofreeze at this stop and I stretched my back by laying down, and then I hopped on my bike with the idea of stopping at 4 miles. I remember passing the line of people getting ready to hop on the SAG bus to go to Austin via bus, and I thought, why would you stop now? And I hit the road. I found some slow, slow riders to follow, and they kept me at a pace that made it difficult for me to stop. So I kept on going without my scheduled "stop at the halfway point between rest stop" idea. And when I rolled into this last rest stop and slapped more Biofreeze on my back, I knew I had just a bit more to do. Oh my god, I was going to finish.

The last 8.6 miles sucked. The road was ridiculously hilly, there was a lot of unsympathetic vehicular traffic because we were in Austin proper, and the cops stopped us a lot for traffic lights, sometimes on the bottom of hills. At one point, with maybe 3 miles left, we had to slow down going UP a hill because there were so many people there, which is a cardinal sin for biking. But when we crossed I35, I knew that we'd made it. The next thing I knew, I was entering the UT campus, riding past the stadium and pulling up the last incline to the finish line. I think it was a little before 3:00 when I crossed the line. 68.785 miles according to my odometer.

Holy crap! I did it!! I really, honestly did not think that this was a possibility when I had started that day. But I kept going, even though I didn't think I could. I kept on thinking of all the people that had supported me, both this year and last year, and how I didn't want to let them down by not finishing. I am sure I had a big ass smile on my face when I crossed, because I was so impressed with myself.

After the ride, there was a bit of chaos as I looked to find our tent, and then waited for Graham, who had to park a good ways away. I grabbed a sandwich and a beer and hung out for awhile with the rest of the team. It took awhile for Graham to find me, and I grabbed my certificate and pin of completion, though I don't really need to prove anything beyond the feeling of finishing something so awesome.

We walked back to the car, drove home, and I immediately hopped in the shower. I was a bit incoherent and indecisive, and Graham was awesome for putting up with my inability to make a decision about what I wanted.

I slept 11 hours last night and I took today off work. I feel pretty good, though, of course, I'm a bit sore. The only really weird thing is my left arm, which still tingles a bit, but less with each hour. Yesterday, I could barely cup my hand. Today I'm fine. I imagine this will go away sooner or later, and I'll get my bike fit adjusted later on down the line to see if I'm sitting on my bike incorrectly.

I'm still a bit in awe and still processing. Do I want to do it again? I think so. Not tomorrow, but yeah. I want to see if I can replicate, maybe improve upon it, take the things I've learned about myself and use them again. I want to take my bike skills to triathlons again and see if that improves my performance. I think it will.

So I rode my bike 165.57 miles this weekend. Huh.

*The cable to my front gears had been bent a little, and it was very difficult to shift during my training rides, so I avoided going out of the middle cog for fear of getting stuck. I got my bike fixed the Monday before the ride, so this was my first time playing with this stuff.


( 5 comments — Say something )
Apr. 20th, 2010 06:30 am (UTC)
Congratulations!!!! You must feel amazing right now. xo
Apr. 20th, 2010 06:58 am (UTC)

revel in it! that's huge!!! proud of you!
Apr. 20th, 2010 10:28 am (UTC)
Good job! I was hoping that you'd complete the ride because I knew that you'd feel fabulous about your accomplishment. Congrats.

Miss Maine
Apr. 20th, 2010 12:03 pm (UTC)
You rock! But we already knew that :-)
Apr. 21st, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC)
Wow! Congratulations!

I watch the Tour de France every year, and don't think I would ever contemplate doing something like this myself. I'm in awe.
( 5 comments — Say something )