I rode my first MS150 this past weekend and it was really an amazing event. The organization and the ability for them to accommodate 2700 riders was, in a word, astounding. From the moment I pulled my bike off the roof rack at Century College in White Bear Lake I was impressed. The registration area was packed but the number of volunteers made for a wait time of less than a minute in my case. Once I got my luggage and bike tags and handed them my pledge folder and signed waiver, I was back at my bike getting everything ready for the trip Northward.My partner in the event, Jason White arrived shortly afterwards and we had our bikes loaded onto the semi-trailer and bags in the motor coach within ten minutes. After a two and a half hour ride to Spirit Mountain, we pulled our gear off and made camp — on the ski run. Not ideal and not even remotely dry, everything went to together as well as can be expected. Jason, checking his bags realized he had no shoes, so we hopped one of the shuttles to Canal Park, found some shoes, ate some good Vietnamese, bought a six-pack of Summit and boarded a return shuttle — open beer in hand.
After finishing the six-pack, and spending a few minutes listening to one of the worst bands on the planet, it was time to try to sleep. No luck. Tossed and turned, looked out of the tent at the lights of Duluth/Superior, counted sheep… Nothing worked. At 6AM I realized that I’d only gotten about three hours of sleep. To say the least, I was worried what that might mean to my day.
After a quick breakfast, we tossed our bags onto a big truck and went off in search of our bikes.
The first mile or two are spent getting to the Munger Trail down one of the roads most in need of paving I have ever seen. Thirty miles an hour in a crowd dodging potholes is a difficult task and will wake up even the most groggy of cyclists. At the entrance to the trail laid a woman, face covered in blood being attended to by medical staff. She looked shaken but not too bad apart from the face. My guess was she hit gravel — and that she was inexperienced. Still, another jolt to the system. It was crowded to begin with, but Jason and I began to move forward passing ten or more for every one that went by us all the while in some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen.
The MS150 is such a value, $35 registration gets you an amazingly well supported ride. Breakdown? Toss the bike on the trailer and they’ll get you fixed and back on the road. Hungry? Thirsty? Sunburned? Hangover? The rest stops every 10 miles or so are fully staffed and stocked with anything anyone riding a bike could need.
The first 30 miles or so on Saturday were uneventful. It rained for fifteen minutes or so, but not that badly. Lunch, thanks to Papa John’s was pizza and it really hit the spot. At about 50 miles, my hands, wrists and shoulders were getting really sore. I was in agony, but a stop at the next rest area, some stretching and Tylenol got me through the last 20 miles — barely. The legs, lungs and ass were still in tip-top shape, which surprised me. I knew my hands would hurt, but not like this.
Arriving in Hinckley and having a celebratory beer, we were in the first three or four hundred riders to arrive, found us with plenty of time and space to get a good camping spot set up. Next up was a shower and some swimming at the high school. The swim was a great move. Jason talked me into it and I’m glad he did. Stretching out the muscles in the pool was just what the doctor ordered. After a quick nap, which again found me having trouble sleeping, we got some food, a couple of more beers and conversed with a few of the other riders. Next up, dinner.
We were a bit bored after dinner and walked around town a while. Still bored. Went back to the camp and walked around. Thankfully it was getting dark and time to go to sleep. Between the sound of the porta-potty doors slamming, drunk people talking and Jason snoring (I don’t hold this against you at all, my friend), I could not sleep — AGAIN! I’m not a religious guy, but I prayed for sleep. I’m even less religious after these prayers went unanswered. The last I looked at the clock on my phone it was 2AM and I wasn’t asleep for some time after that. I just rode 70 miles and I couldn’t sleep. I was so worried (which I’m sure didn’t help the situation).
At 5:30AM we got up and started getting ready for the day. On the road by 6:20AM or so, we skipped breakfast and figured we’d eat at the first rest stop, which we did. Everyone at these stops was amazing. I couldn’t stop thanking them, but they wouldn’t have it, one-upping mine by thanking me! The first 40 miles were on ill-paved county roads, but the additional space to pass was nice.
Right before lunch Jason blew a tire. While we tried to remove the tire, we were passed by a multitude of riders all asking if were alright. After we determined that my patch kit wasn’t going to do the trick – the tube was busted at the stem, I left for the next stop 11 miles away. As I rode off to flag down help, I saw the van pull over to assist Jason.
I didn’t want him to have to wait too long for me at the next stop, so I peddled hard, but it’s tough to ride alone. I was doing about 16MPH when a guy blew past at 20 or 21. I knew he was my answer. I cranked it up and caught him a half-mile later and was on his wheel for the next 10 miles into lunch. Invigorating. Jason wasn’t there yet, so I ate and watched for him. About a half-hour later he arrived on the van, bike fixed, ate lunch and we were off again.
With 32 miles left, Jason alerted me to the fact that my bike was “falling apart”. What? I looked down and saw that my bottom bracket was working it’s way to the right — which answered the question I was having as to why I couldn’t get on the big gear up front. The ring on the left was going for noisy ride on the left spindle. I heard, “Look out!” and looked up just in time to see me heading right for a street sign. I ducked just in time and hit it with my shoulder and lower back. Whew! That was close. I didn’t have the tools to fix my bike so we limped gently into the next rest stop 5 miles away at about 11 or 12MPH. The guys at Gateway Cycle, yanked the cranks, and fixed my issue as well as adjusted the derailleurs and lubed the whole mess in less than 10 minutes — gratis! These guys were rock stars and will get my business when the time comes for a new ride.
Twenty-five miles to go, Jason looks at me with a strange grin and asks, “how are you feeling?” I looked back and said, “great!” We were doing way BETTER than day one. We were kicking ass. The body felt good, the legs a bit more fatigued with the hills earlier in the day, but everything else in excellent shape. We were going to make it. With ten miles to go, Jason mentioned it was kind of a shame not to get a century ride in with 70 down and feeling so good. I agreed, maybe next year we can go the extra 20 and add that milestone under our belts.
Rounding the last corner and hearing the crowd was one of the finest moments of my life. Seeing all the families affected by MS cheering and ringing bells, was… well, it was life-changing. My sunglasses hid the tears streaming from my eyes. I was totally overcome. I got to do this amazing ride with Jason which was great, but the real reason we were doing this was for these people. I am so thankful for being able to do this. I can’t imagine not being able to do it every year in the future.
A woman died on the ride after missing a stop sign. It’s easy to do. We blew through many on our trip (albeit slowly and with as much of a view both ways as we could muster) as coming to a stop and restarting on those sore muscles is really difficult. I feel awful for her and her family and all involved in the MS150. It was bound to happen some time and I hope that it doesn’t tarnish an otherwise unbelievable event.
I’m going to be a fund-raising monster next year. This is a great cause — even more to me now after reading about MS and seeing those affected by it. Keep your checkbooks handy, because I’ll be asking.
Jason and I decided it would be easier and more fun to have 4 riders next year. Easier to distribute the load of pulling the other riders. Interested? You’ll need to be able to keep a pace of 16 to 17MPH for hours on end, but if we can do it, so can you. Let me know!