Living with MS is a struggle that I can only imagine, but if someone of something was trying to send me a message this weekend about what it might be like to live with MS, I got that message loud and clear.
I'm no stranger to long-distance riding. In fact, with over 7,500 miles logged since the LAST time I rode the MS-150, this ride was nothing at all to be nervous about. I planned, packed, prepared everything, and was ready to go. I had even rode to work the day before, as usual, not even feeling it necessary to take the usual day of rest before the big ride. The wife and I ordered a couple pizzas from a local Italian restaurant, cheese for me, and settled in for a nice Friday evening. I ate hearty, knowing I'd burn it all off, and drank plenty of water. But for some reason things were not sitting right in my stomach this time. Different sauce? Hard to tell... something was off.... but it was time for bed... I had bigger things to worry about, like getting up at 4:00am to make the jaunt out to Richards Gebaur in Belton. Tomorrow was the big day!
Who was it that said that famous line about 'the best laid plans'? It escapes me now, but it was echoing loud in my head when my alarm went off at 4:00am. I darted to the bathroom with the worst stomach cramps in as long as I can remember, and a few moments later I was flushing the previous evening's nourishment down the drain. Frustrating -- I needed those calories, but for some reason they had not digested -- but I instantly felt better, and decided to go ahead an go to the ride. After all, I had a commitment to pedal out the miles to back up the pledges I raised -- this was not going to stop me! I showered, dressed, kissed the wife and kids goodbye and proceeded to the kitchen. I took my vitamins, grabbed my pre-ride super-carbo endurance fuel drink (with caffeine) and proceeded to the garage, where my fully packed and bike-racked car awaited. I was ready to roll... but my stomach would have other plans.
I was alive with anticipation for such an early hour -- the streets of Johnson County are calm and inviting at nearly 5:00am on a Saturday. Dark pavement with street-lit splotches, the occasional rabbit, house cats darting across the street, and me alone in my trusty Civic motoring southbound, sipping on my breakfast, listening to Paul Oakenfold's latest on the CD deck. Nothing drives an endurance cyclist's soul like good techno-industrial music before dawn.
Almost 30 minutes later, I kill the ignition, emerge from the safety of my car and I am suddenly surrounded by hundreds of my comrades, all in uniform, readying for the day's task. The symphony of tire pumps hissing, Velcro fasteners closing, opening, re-closing, the rustle of windbreakers, the slamming of trunks, sliding van doors, keys rattling, water bottles being shaken, pieces of conversation about the wind direction, temperatures, "it's gonna be a perfect day", "good day for a spin" -- it's a welcome sound, comforting - miles and miles away from the ringing of phones and the clatter of keyboards and clicking of computer mice. I am fully clocked-out, and ready for this weekend.
I ready my gear, and roll my bike up to the hanger at the top of the hill - inside it is bustling with people checking in, standing in line for a pancake breakfast, fastening rider numbers, snapping pictures. Only a matter of time!
Unfortunately, my stomach still has that -- "hey, I'm not empty down here!" feeling. It wasn't as bad as the 4:00am episode, but it was still there in the background as I sat and chatted with teammate Mike Thursby over breakfast, wiping away tears from still-groggy eyes. He does the cause proud -- wearing rider number 17, indicating he raised a LOT of money for MS last year. It was still early...but outside, the first hint of daylight was blossoming in the east. Less than an hour to ride! After breakfast, we rallied for a quick team photo, and then it was outside to the start-line to stand with our bikes and wait for the first gun. Nerves were starting to run high! Sure, it's only a charity ride -- everyone out here has trained, ridden countless miles in preparation, many of us have done this ride before -- this was my fourth year, so why the nervousness? It's just excitement -- hard to explain until you are standing there with your bike.
For me, however, the excitement in the air was punctuated occasionally by the need to exhale deeply -- that 'feeling' in my stomach was getting stronger. "Just ignore it.... ride it off, man", I kept saying to myself - which is the same exact successful formula I've used in the past when things were not quite 100% at the start. I've always managed to ride past the pre-ride 'issues' before - this would be no different.
7:15AM -- the pack is beginning to roll out, finally! The new start location presents more than a couple of logistical problems to the ride organizers as cyclists begin to bottleneck a bit at the route-head. It takes a little working out, but soon it is behind me -- I touch fists with Jim Holt, another Team Sprint rider; we wish each other well for the day, and I am in the saddle at last - ready to work. I half-promised myself I would 'take-it-easy' for the first part of the ride today, for my stomach's sake, but those kind of promises seldom last next to the pure energy of several hundred cyclists jockeying for position. For those that wish for a fast time at the Kansas City MS-150, the key to a good start to the day is to get out of Belton as quickly as you can. The pack begins to find it's own pace in the first 5 miles or so, and the speed demons are busy passing on the right -- I cannot resist any longer. I've never been accused of riding a conservative ride, no matter how advantageous it might be on occasion. I see another Team Sprint jersey coming up on the left... and she is hammering early, too. I take cue, and start my own assault on the pack. The first turn comes, traffic everywhere - both cyclists and cars choke the road. After another 15 minutes and handful of miles I am finally past the last stoplights; entrance and exit ramps coming from the highways below, indicating the first real section of open road -- time to find a pace. I see a few more familiar faces from the local race scene, and exchange a few pleasantries as we fly past the slower riders - a hill comes up and I am alone again (can you tell my training has been hill-specific this year yet?) and I swallow up the last few miles of road before the first big turn of the day -- I have someone latched onto my back in my draft, and the additional inspiration lifts my speed a couple miles-per-hour more -- soon, it's time for the first real hill of the day after another turn --- this is the one no-one seems to remember, because of all the monsters later in the day near Chillhowee, MO. The road pitches up violently, and the pack comes grinding to a near-halt with a clatter of rapidly-switching gears. My training pays off, and I rise from the saddle and dance up the wall -- but at a price. The last few pedal strokes come harder than the first few, and my abdomen begins to scream in protest, legs tightening in the process. The stomach problems I'd nearly forgotten about were coming back in full force. I shifted into easier gears and took a swig of water as I rounded the top of the rise. Things were beginning to feel as bleak as 4:00am, but I continued onward, and managed to get some of my pace back from the effort of the climb, but things were not the same. It was time for me to take it easy, whether I wanted to or not. Thankfully the road was flatter here, and I was less than 10 miles from the second rest-stop. I had at some point blown right past the first rest-stop, and I was half-wishing I'd have stopped for a break. Too late now!
A few miles later, and I was almost feeling euphoric again -- the pedal strokes were coming easier again, and my stomach was beginning to calm down to that dull-awareness feeling back -- there was definitely something still going on in there, but it was again fading into the background. Maybe this would be okay after all? Five miles from rest-stop #2, the pain had subsided to the point that I felt like lifting the pace again, but doing so was a major mistake. A mile of flat-land, and then a few hills came -- even though they were much shallower than that first big hill, they were taking their toll at a faster rate than before. I started up a particularly long rise, and started to shift to compensate -- and I shifted, and shifted, and shifted....until I was out of gear. I had no push left -- at all. Along with that was a nice cold sweat -- combined with the 65º morning temperatures, I was starting to get quite chilly, and it was making me feel downright ill. Less than 1km to the rest stop -- I was definitely taking it. Half disappointed at myself for stopping so soon (last year I didn't stop until the 4th rest stop), I dismounted and walked directly into a porta-john.
About 10 minutes later I was strolling across the gravel parking lot to the medical outpost. They were fairly surprised to see me -- rest-stop #2 generally gets requests for band-aids, Advil and the like... the serious medical issues are usually farther downstream at stops 7 or 8, depending on how hot the afternoon gets. So, when I appeared in the doorway, their faces went from smiles to looks of confused concern.
"Are you okay?" one lady asked.
"Well, I'm not sure yet... I wanted to ask....", about which time I started shaking from the chills of extreme dehydration. I had orally expelled nearly 60 ounces of liquid, and I had NOT had that much to drink yet.
In the process of trying to flush out whatever was upsetting my stomach, my body had effectively diverted all the moisture in my body to my stomach, and with it all the nutrients, electrolytes, minerals and calories I had worked to store up. My system was crashing.
"Uhhh, you should sit down because you're turning white...", and a few more people in red medical shirts appeared.
In a matter of minutes I was laid out on a cot, covered with blankets, blood-pressure cuffs, and concerned eyes. As my shaking condition worsened, and the chills became more pronounced, concerned calls over the medical radio to the main medical station at rest-stop six pretty much nixed my chances of RIDING out of rest-stop #2. I began to resort myself to this reality, and was frustrated that my plans were begin altered by an unseen bug somewhere deep inside my digestive tract. At the same time, no matter how strong my will might have been, there was no way I was going to do much good in the saddle without some serious rest and a some liquids. I began the slow uptake of sugary sports drinks to quench my dehydrated state, and bid farewell to my epic day-one performance I had promised so many people.
At one point there was talk of a drive all the way to Sedalia, to which I adamantly protested. One way or another, I was going to finish this ride on a bike - even if a large chunk of it was going to be missing from the middle. About forty-five minutes later, I was crawling into the back of an SUV and laying down for a long drive to rest-stop #6 for a medical re-evaluation. The chills began to melt away from the sun streaming thru the windows, and soon the lull of the tires and engine found me drifting into an exhaustive sleep.
Before I knew it, I was coming awake after having slept a good amount of time in the back of the SUV. I was at rest stop #6, and it was time to check in at the main medical tent and possibly get a clean bill of health. I really wanted to continue riding. Another 45 minutes or so, and I was sitting up and getting ready to go. I still did not feel like eating, and the first thing I did after I returned to my bike was pour out the nearly full bottle of Perperteum – I had a few sips of it right before rest stop #2, thinking that I was bonked, and in the process I developed a pretty bad taste association with the orange-vanilla flavor. I would do the rest of the ride on Gatorade and water, something I was more than a little nervous about based on previous experience. My only strategy at this point was to finish, not to finish fast, so perhaps it would be okay. I threw my leg over the top tube of the bike again, and I was rolling. I stopped on my way out of the checkpoint, after having bumped into Scott Woermann – he was having an epic day so far, and was talking to the folks at the Bike Stop trailer about how well his bike was working. We parted ways, and I was on the open road again for the first time in a couple hours.
I slowly raised my pace back up, and soon I was feeling pretty good, even on the hills. The ride in the SUV had put me back near the front of the field again – I wasn’t sure if I should’ve felt guilty about that, but it was nice to have familiar territory – empty pavement. Having logged nearly every single mile in utter solitude this year, I was used to being alone with my thoughts and the pavement. This way I could regain my pace, and do some self-evaluation of my physical issues. So far, so good. The miles were coming easier this time. Before long, I was starting to sweep up some of the riders from the road ahead. Not bad, considering the way the morning had gone! Rest-stop #7 came and went, then #8, then #9 where I picked up my ‘Century Pin’ for riding 100 miles --- I figured I’d at least get that many for the total weekend. Then, the last 10 miles were upon me.
For some reason, the last ten miles were the best of the entire ride. The maladies of the morning were completely forgotten, and I was finding energy from unknown stores. I began to lift the pace again, sweeping up riders left and right, even small pacelines here and there – including a very persistent three-man group that presented a fun challenge to the last 5 miles or so – most of those last 5 miles were on long, rolling hills and I was finding my form again. It was turning out to be a pretty good day – I guess the rest helped. I managed to hold off the pursuers, and rolled into the fairgrounds at Sedalia – DONE! Time to rest!
I checked my bike, got my luggage (thanks, Alan!) and proceeded to kick up my feet and recover a little bit. There was a lot to do at the overnight – dinner, a presentation to watch – including the honoring of the only four riders to complete ALL TWENTY of the Kansas City MS-150s to date! Impressive! Things were winding down, as streams of riders continued to pour in from the road. I bumped into Scott Woermann again, and Greg Caspers, Jim Holt and a few others from the team and from other rides earlier in the year. It was good to see everyone – it’s the people that make this ride so great, after all! I set up my tent, and relaxed to the tunes of the Blue Notions while the sun began to set in the western sky – and before long it was time to turn in. After all, I needed to give my stomach some time to recover, and 4:30am would come very early.
DAY TWO – It was a rough night, but I rose fresh and ready for the next 50 miles. It was going to be an awesome day…but it was quite chilly in the AM, likely in the high-50’s at best. I was ready with arm and leg warmers, and I was comfortable for once – every time I’ve been out here, the second day has always been pretty cold – I’m sure sleeping outside has something to do with it! I got my luggage on the truck, got my bike out of the Swine Hall (nice name, eh?) and proceeded inside for a pancake breakfast. It went down pretty good, along with some twangy orange (?) juice. Heck, nothing beats a free breakfast! A hot cup-o-joe, and I was ready for the start line. Everyone had about the same look on their faces – WHY AM I UP? I met up with Jim Holt and Greg Caspers again, and we chatted about the previous day while we waited for the signal to ‘go’ again. Shortly, wave after wave of riders began to stream away from the start line – Day two was underway!
I credit the pancakes! Day two went much better than day one from the gate. I was feeling fresh, humming a tune or two, and I began to find my pace early – time to make that first bus back to Richards Gebaur! The first part of day two comprises about 12 miles of fairly hilly road as you make your way north from Sedalia – I was in heaven: fast descents and energized climbs out of the saddle, I really enjoyed that first section, and before long it was time for a left turn marking the separation from the long and short options for the day. I took the left, committing myself to the 50 mile option. Day one’s route is nice, but I live for day two – it’s arguably more scenic, with rolling hills, endless fields, old barns, the occasional horse-drawn carriage near the Amish community on highway B, and very little vehicle traffic. After conquering the hills and most of the pack, I settled into a cozy 21-23 MPH pace into a slight headwind and started the march to Knob Noster, MO. One by one, I picked off riders and exchanged ‘good-morning’ wishes, taking in the scenery as I went – my only regret was not taking along the camera for Day two – missed several good shots, but I guess I was a little tired and forgot to put it in my back pocket!
I managed to stay on the bike with zero problems all the way to the 40 mile point on the road – time for a refill of Gatorade and water. I stopped in, and said hey to a few more familiar faces, including Scott Woermann’s wife and the doctor from Rest-stop #6 from yesterday.
“Feeling better I see! Only a dozen or so riders through here so far”, he yells.
A little later, a big paceline rolls up, including a few members of Team Sprint – they continue on, but more than half the line stops for the break also. I think Caspers was in the first group, but I can’t be sure – they were FLYING! I shed the arm and leg warmers, and enjoyed an orange while I rested a spell. It was warming up fast out here! Excellent day – good day for a ride, always. Back on the bike, and feeling good, I stuck with the big paceline, at least until I got frisky and shot off the front in typical fashion. It would not last, though – the sheer momentum of a 25-person line will eventually run down all the individual riders, and I was no exception. They passed me up, and advanced up the road a bit. Day two, however, was my day to make up for Day One’s shortcomings. After all, I had promised to sweat and hurt for the cause, right? Time to work – I shifted into a harder gear, and began to eat up some of the road between myself and the last man in the big line. Slowly but surely, I was gaining ground – then I was on the back, enjoying the draft – we were making very good time, hitting 30 MPH easily on descents and hammering the flat sections at a 25-27 MPH clip, the entire line flexing back and forth across the lane like a serpent with an accordion for a body. In no time at all, we were at the sharp left turn that rejoins the short and long loops, and the road was suddenly clogged with other riders. The line maintained enough momentum to get over the next couple of hills, but eventually we began to slow a little. I was primed and ready, so I advanced up the line on the left and the leader and I shared a few bars of a song from the musical “Oklahoma” – ‘O, what a Beautiful Morning’, I think it was – not sure WHERE that came from! – and I was off the front of the group again, but again not for long. About a mile later, I was getting overtaken again, but this time the wordplay between myself and the paceline leader was inspiration enough. He began to appear over my left shoulder, and I greeted him with a groan of self-disappointment.
“Sucked up by the peloton, again!” he triumphed.
But I would not have it this time! I shifted, laid down a serious acceleration and was off the front again, this time for good – an awesome day, indeed, as I finally rolled across the finish line about five minutes ahead of that paceline. Still feeling a little ‘iffy’, but I was DONE --- time to relax on the bus back to Gebaur.
Dude, climbing to the finish!
Yeah, yeah – it’s not a race, but I was feeling good – a little speed play is always good for the soul! So was the applause as I crossed the line with a salute to the crowd with raised hands – It was awesome to finish! Physical adversity, personal challenges, and (for me) 105 miles later, my MS-150 was over. I had earned the century pin from yesterday at the very least, but consider me 45 miles short for the cause. I’ll make it up next year --- I’m already planning on taking a little detour and turning Day One into a 150 mile affair next September. Heck, I might even ride TO Richards Gebaur next year – if I get a hotel room in Sedalia, I can eliminate nearly half my luggage by leaving the tent at home. Hmmmm…. MS-250, anyone?
Wonder how many extra pledges THAT might raise???
Actually, I’m starting a new team next year – Team CommuterDude (who’da thought, right?) – IF YOU WANT TO SADDLE UP FOR THE CAUSE, you know where to contact me!
Well, for this year the ride is a wrap! See you in September 2004!