Cyclists and volunteers were everywhere. It was awesome! It was like watching ants mill about from their ground perspective. People were registering, loading camping gear into trailers, pinning on numbers, checking over their bikes one last time, chatting, getting in line for the start, etc. 7am came and so did the start. We were off, out the school parking lot and onto the open road, heading 82 miles to Joplin. We lost Keith D. in the crowd here, a friend that I know through the Sunrise Coffee Rides I do every other Wednesday, but picked him up later at lunch or at a rest stop and I rode with him pretty much the rest of the weekend.
The first hill everyone came to, a bottle neck happened and so did a lot of yelling and clinking of metal on pavement. Several riders behind us dismounted at the same time, causing the riders behind them to come to a halt and tip over in their clipped-in cleats and pedals, then the riders behind them and behind them, etc. It was a mess. Luckily we made it through several bike lengths ahead of the ill-fated dismount.
The rain didn't really let up for hours. It was cool riding, though. After a while you got used to it and just enjoyed the fact that you weren't sweating your rear off. We were riding really strong for us, averaging 14MPH over the whole of the day. We ticked off rest stop after rest stop and town after town (Clever, Billings, Mount Vernon, Sarcoxie, Carthage and Joplin). Lunch was in Sarcoxie. We picked up Joe T., another Sunrise Coffee Ride guy at that point and the four of us made our way into Joplin around 2pm. We had a ride time of 5:28. It was great to finish the day and see my wife, who was working as an event volunteer, welcoming arriving cyclists to their day's destination.
Saturday, after the ride, I took a shower at the high school gymnasium I was to call home for the night and then went out to welcome arrivals, chat with friends and just experience what the ride was all about. There was a program early in the evening with speeches and a raffle. My wife Abby got to play Vanna White and pull numbers from a box for the raffle on stage. Oddly enough, the MC for the evening's presentation (Rick Moore with KTTS Radio) had also shaved his head a couple of months ago with my wife for the American Cancer Society's "Shave to Save" charity event. After the program, I kissed the wife goodbye for the evening, she had to go pick up our daughter, and then I got dinner with my employer's boyfriend before he headed off to his hotel. Then I wandered in to crash out on a basketball court floor for the night with a few dozen others that apparently like to suffer through a night of semi-sleep.
Sunday morning, up at 5am again. A breakfast of pancakes thrown at me, literally, by the same pancake girl from the Pancake Ride a while back. See Pancake Ride post. I then stuffed my gear back into the bags, donned my slightly ripe riding apparel for a second day, chucked the bags back onto the shuttle trailer, picked my bike out of the impound lot and started looking for my riding buddies. Unfortunately, John, my training partner all summer long, had gotten pretty sick on Friday. Somehow he managed to ride Saturday, but was too rough to do so on Sunday. He was definitely missed. I was bummed to not have him along the second day.
Keith and I rode out together behind most of the crowd in the morning. The air was cool to the point of cold. Maybe down into the upper 50s. It was foggy and brilliant as the sun was rising and we rode back east to greet it. I wasn't nearly as sore as I thought I'd be from the first day and sleeping on a wooden floor with little but a foam pad and sleeping bag between me and it. We rode pretty hard to the first couple of rest stops. I started feeling it about mile 30. The sun also started to shine hard and warm up the roads. The first day we largely went downhill, leaving the Springfield Plateau as we headed west, so Sunday we had to battle fatigue a little more to retake the hills going east. We averaged about 12MPH for the day.
We cycled through Fidelity, Sarcoxie and then to Freistatt for lunch. When we got to Marionville (Home of the White Squirrels), we knew we were in the home stretch. The last two rest stops and the push into the hills around Clever were pretty tough for me. I quit trying to keep up with Keith about eight miles out from the finish. I just kept a pace I thought I could maintain. Barreling down a hill a few miles away from town, I got a bug hammered into my right eye and had to come to an awkward and frantic stop. Luckily the volunteer on the motorcycle manning the turn at the bottom helped me figure out if it was still in my eye or not. Then it was the big climb into town. I was in kind of a window to myself at this point. I was really tired and couldn't see a rider in either direction, ahead or behind. I thought I might have gotten off route through town, but eventually stumbled across the marker arrows again that lead towards the school and the finish line.
I saw the school, a guy asked me my rider number as I came to it. I shouted, "207!" as I passed and headed for the last turn before the parking lot and "Finish" banner and crowd. It was such a cool feeling riding over the line, the people shouting congratulations and making noise, an announcer calling my number, name and hometown over the loudspeaker. Just amazing. Even more so receiving a medal of accomplishment from a woman in a wheelchair with Multiple Sclerosis that was handing them out to those that finished. It was very humbling. Here I just rode a bicycle over 150 miles across the SW part of our state and she wasn't able to get out of a wheel chair, but she was cheering me on and giving me a medal. I'm not the tough one or the hero here.
My wife Abby also met me at the finish, as well as John, who had to drop out of the second day due to illness, and a handful of other friends and their family that had gotten to the finish before me. I sat my bike down, caught my breath and wits and then went in for a plate of BBQ. My head didn't really clear until I was about done with my plate. I must have been starved of something, it was a feeling I've never experienced. I couldn't even focus my eyes correctly to read.
What an amazing weekend and an amazing event to be a part of. Six months ago, I was a fairly out-of-shape 42-year-old that hadn't touched a bike much in five or six years. But through my wife's involvement with the MS Walk and Bike MS, I was inspired by her volunteer work and the fact that a friend of the family, someone I like and respect, was diagnosed several years ago with MS. Every mile or hill I didn't want to pedal through or over, I reminded myself it was nothing compared to what those living with this disease have to go through on a daily basis and that at the end of my weekend, it'd be over, but for them, there is no cure.
I certainly plan to ride again next year. I'm not sure I'll be like some of the guys I met that have been riding as much as two decades or more, but I'm going to try. Anyone is welcome to join me.
Some stats given to me by my iPhone Strava App:
152 miles in two days. 4,553 feet of climbing. 4,522 calories burned. 11 hours and five minutes of ride time.