I’ve been riding the MS 150 Bike to the Bay (from Maumee, Ohio to Port Clinton) for eight years now. I started in 2000 on a trail bike with my brother Christian. We completed the entire 75 miles of the first day, were the last riders in followed by the SAG wagons, and we did not come back to do the second day. We both returned the second year but only did 50 miles each day of the two days, which was rough enough since it was the year Mike died and he was supposed to do the ride with us. I didn’t ride in 2002 and in 2003 I’d moved to Colorado. I did Colorado’s MS 150 in 2004, completing the first day of 75 miles (with lots of long climbing), but only completing 45 miles of the second day, giving out on the second of two very long climbs. It was a steady 7% grade for several miles of out a canyon, which I’d probably be able to finish nowadays, during an hour when the sun was beating down directly into the canyon. I SAG’ed out of the canyon to the next rest stop and tried to ride from there, but was only able to make it to the next rest stop after that. I had “sewing machine legs” and knew I had to quit because I was too exhausted to maintain control of my bike.
I returned to Ohio at the end of the summer in 2004, and returned to Bike to the Bay in 2005, where I completed 75 miles of the first day, got into a fight with my ex-boyfriend when he stayed with me at the over night, and then did not have the heart to complete the second day even though I could have. It wasn’t until 2006, on my hybrid, that I not only completed both days of the ride, but I did my first century (100-miles) ever. In 2007, with my new Giant road bike, I completed 100 miles of the first day and 75 on the traditional route the next day, which was a repeat of the previous year. 2007 also marked the year that I set the goal to complete three two-day rides–MS 150, Roscoe Ramble, PVG–and completed them all. So I was finally able to find the strength to hold myself together to complete two-day rides. (The first day is never the problem; it’s the second day in which you struggle to continue.)
When I look back at my early struggles—and my rugged determination to finally finish one of these rides—I’m really impressed with myself for how far I’ve come. The MS 150 has a big history with me because it was the ride of firsts for me. It was the ride that helped nurture a love of cycling, a love of long road rides. Even my unsuccessful completion of the MS 150 in Colorado nurtured a love of climbing hills. Even long, endless hills. Accomplishment feels good. Completing a goal you’ve set for yourself—especially when it’s hard—gives you a high like nothing synthetic can. It builds confidence and makes you stronger. The MS 150—especially Bike to the Bay—has made me stronger. Because the ride supports the National MS Society, and the cause is so near to my heart because my grandpa H had MS, this ride has inspired me throughout the years to push myself above and beyond all my limits.
This past weekend, I hit another milestone. I completed both days of the 100 mile route, which in and of itself is nothing new for me as I’ve completed TOSRV three times already. However, I made a new personal speed record, completing the first day with a 17.3 average—that’s without the aid of a paceline. Granted, there were some mighty tailwinds that helped push me whenever I turned east; however, I used my advantage to the fullest by also pushing harder so that I could go even faster. I hit some steady 21-23mph speeds for some stretches of road. After starting the ride at about 7:30am, I completed at 2:32pm, with a total ride time just under six hours (5:53’40).
Granted, the space between Toledo and Port Clinton is Ohio’s flattest. I’m sure I could never get such a great average on a ride that offered even one or two serious hills. And though I know that I was using this ride to train for STP, which is a few weeks away now, I’m totally aware that it was hardly a fair comparison to a ride that is actually going to have a hill or two (possibly a long climb somewhere). Still, I feel that by pushing myself just a little harder on this flat ride, I’ve helped to build the strength in my leg muscles that I will need for more hilly rides.
After my victorious completion of the first day, I set up my tent, showered, and waited for Michael to arrive. He’d decided to come camp with me on the field of the elementary school* and then ride the Portage River Tour from Elmore, Ohio, which he’d done last year. Ironically, the Portage River Tour crossed paths with our first and second day’s route. I did end up running into Michael in Pemberville the next day when I, at 60 miles, was headed to lunch. That was really weird! But a pleasant surprise.
*Like TOSRV, this year’s MS 150 had a detour. Our overnight stay was at Bataan Elementary School in Port Clinton as opposed to our usual stay at the Port Clinton High School. Not that it mattered; the showers in the high school are generally just as cold as the showers we got at the track across across the street from the elementary school, except that we had no mirrors and one electrical outlet in the locker room. That was fun.
Anyway, when Michael arrived on Saturday, we took the JetExpress into Put-in-Bay (I had my free ticket from the ride). I was silently on the look out for some place that served mojitos, but, alas could not find one in any of the places we visited. I assume some establishment on Put-Frakking-Bay must serve mojitos, but I just wasn’t lucky enough to encounter one. We did enjoy dinner at my favorite restaurant on the island–Mossback’s–where I had the perch basket and Michael had walleye. We drank a few glasses of pinot grigio–which was second best to having a mojito–and then headed out for Heinemen’s winery. Which happened to be closed when we got there (at 9:00 on a Saturday!?), but the owner (we think) let us in and gave us a free glass of wine. Out of a sense of gratitude, I bought a bottle of burgundy because it’s red that’s good chilled. And it will probably be gone in another week if this heat keeps up.
We didn’t hang on the island long. Our return ferry was 10:15 so that we could get some sleep. We got back to the tents at 11 and I promptly fell asleep. I was woken every few hours to the loud sound of trains–loading cars or something–which I kept mistaking for thunder, sending me into a panic. (I don’t relish being out in a tent on an open field in the middle of a t-storm.) Needless to say, I don’t think I had the most quality sleep despite my comfortable air mattress.
Still, like every cyclist camping inevitably does, I got up with the sun at around 5:30, changed and started to break down my tent. After breakfast, Michael departed and I had nothing better to do so I took off into the morning to begin my ride. Like the day before, I knew I’d have to try to beat possible thunderstorms predicted for the afternoon. None came the previous day and I had a hunch my luck was running out. It was 6:30 when I ventured out onto the course, ready for another 100-mile day.
The day started out gentle enough with little wind and a moderate temperature, though humid. My legs were stiffer, though getting on and off the bike was more difficult than actually riding–it must be a muscle memory thing. While on the main route, I saw a lot of other riders; however, as soon as I got onto the century loop, I was alone for a good 10 miles before I saw anyone. And then another 10-15 miles before I encountered a group of cyclists from the area, one of which I recognized as a member of TAB (Toledo Area Bicycles) with whom I’d started TOSRV when I met up with my friend Sue on the first day. It was a long, lonely trek on straight stretches of flat roads in the middle of Absolute Nowhere Ohio. All the rest stops were in empty, sleepy towns that made me feel as though I were a traveler in some post-apocalyptic world. I’m guessing about 1/3rd the participants of the MS 150 ride the second day; even less ride the century route. Even less ride the century route the second day than the first. I really had to make sure I didn’t miss any route arrows. Though, I will say, plenty of SAG vehicles passed me, assuring me I was on the right path.
The wind picked up steadily as each hour passed. Unfortunately, the century route took us way north of the regular route, so we had to go back south before returning to the main route. South was directly into the wind while heading west brought a difficult crosswind that was almost as hard as the dealing with the wind head on. I was finally forced to spend long stretches in my middle chain ring, spinning to make myself feel as though I were making progress, even though my speed started to drift more between 13-14mph during those legs of the ride. It was a little depressing, but given the fatigue of my legs, I just did the pace and cadence my legs could handle.
The heat became unbearable in the afternoon hours and, with the wind, it became the most unwelcome combination of discomfort. There was a great tailwind to the north, but I couldn’t enjoy it fully because in the absence of the breeze I could really feel the 90-degree heat pounding on me and coming off the pavement. I stopped at all the rest stops–which I don’t do since they are only 10 miles apart and I usually only need one every 20 or so–and filled my water bottles with more ice than water to keep the temperature of the drinkable to the next stop. On the final eastern stretch to Waterville (the last stop), I was so overheated in the push against the wind in the oppressive heat that I did something I never do: I started squirting myself with water (I usually hate being wet). It was the kind of heat you felt as though you couldn’t breath, suffocating. The water helped.
After I checked my stats at the Waterville stop, I realized I was going to be significantly short of 100 miles when I reached Maumee. I was only at 81 miles and I knew the finish line was 10-12 miles at the most. So I spent the last leg back trying to find some way to extend my route. I just couldn’t let the ride end at about 91-92 miles and still claim I did a century. You just can’t come so close–no matter how tired–and not complete. So at one of the turns in Maumee, I went the opposite direction to ride about three miles up the road along the Maumee River in what I learned was the Side Cut Metropark. We actually rode this stretch the day before when leaving Maumee. It’s quite a pretty spot–perhaps the prettiest in the area. Meanwhile, as I rode, I noticed the sky was starting to get a little dark. Rain was on its way.
I had six extra miles when I returned to the main route. When I hit the finish line, I still was two miles short so I continued through to the parking lot of the fairgrounds and followed the parking lots through the vast complex of buildings near the fairgrounds. When I got to the end of all the parking lots, I was still a mile and a half short, so I crossed the street and rode to the end of a neighborhood street. By the time I made it back to my car at the fairgrounds, I had good and honest 100 miles and it was, again, 2:30pm. I only had a 15.7 average and a ride time of 6:22’34. I can live with that, given the heat and the wind. (To be honest, most of my averages down here in “hill country” are around 14-16mph.)
Next time I do the century on the second day of this MS 150, I’m going to have to remember it comes up short and try to take a few extra miles sooner in the day. The route crosses a few bike paths that I could easily use to add on mileage in a more laid back setting. I actually did do the second day’s century once, in 2008 when I was pulled off the first day’s route at 64 miles because of the perceived threat of thunderstorms, and I knew it came up short. I was just hoping they’d changed the route or something so that it was no longer true.
It started to sprinkle a little as I was loading my gear back into the car. I stuck around the fairgrounds to enjoy the barbeque chicken dinner the MS 150 treats us with. The real rain held off until about a quarter to four when I was safely at Sue’s house taking a shower before driving home. Sue and Michael both were both stuck in it on their rides on the Portage River Tour. I was glad I managed to finish so early, but it was only because I had an usually early start.
It was a good weekend for me. I have to admit I was feeling unusually spry. My mind was full of writing and ideas and I felt as though I were turning over a new leaf in my life. I thought often of Mike and knew he’d be proud of my tenacity, especially how its grown with this ride over the last ten years. I thought about my grandfather who couldn’t ride a bike because was diagnosed with MS before I was born. I thought of the inevitable chain of events that makes up life–the joys and the sorrows. I’ve come a long way in my riding… and I’ve come here first because of the inspiration of the ride and the desire to achieve a specific goal… However, the fever of cycling took over my life as a way of dealing with and managing my grief. I don’t know where I’d be as a cyclist if Mike had not died. I might have come here, we might have come here together. But cycling most definitely became my way of managing my grief. It gave me something to live for–something to make me feel alive–in those long empty days after Mike died. It was the one thing I could do that didn’t inevitably remind me of him to the point of which it was too painful to partake in the activity.
Although, I admit, I could not help but think of that first MS 150 this year–as opposed to every other year–because it was 10 years ago that I did my first. And I remembered Mike who drove to each stop to encourage me and my brother. How we inspired him to want to do the ride the following year… (and he signed up but never did lived to do it). His ghost still lingers at the stops along the main route I still hit as a century rider.
So maybe we would have become cycling freaks together. Still, it grew into my own thing in his absence. And I’ve ridden a long, long way to get where I am today. Cycling kept me sane.