Saturday, April 24, 2010

MS150 report!


It was one week ago today when I set out with some 14,000 other riders on the 26th annual (now sadly "BP") MS150 ride from Houston to Austin. Here is my best attempt to run it down for those very few who may be interested in the details.

Flew into Houston on Thursday evening and went to a wonderfully filling dinner with my folks and my friends Bob and Carrie who just happened to also have flow in the very same day. We had a big pig out at Cyclone Anaya's, which I do like to hit every so often when in Houston. Kind of local chainy, but muy delicioso!

Crashed out promptly that evening. Awoke nice and early (6:30) as a warm up for the truly gruesome get up times that would be required the next couple of days. Ate a salad for breakfast, which was mentioned in this cheesily written but overall very gripping and inspiring book I finished reading that very night. Not bad for breakfast, a salad. Does bring on the lunch urge a little faster than normal though. Kind of makes me want to get into running too, but we shall see. If my wife goes a bit more whole hog, perhaps I'll be her pacer!

I headed over to the Omni hotel, where registration and whatnot was going on. Registered and poked around in the expo area, which was not nearly a gianormous as I'd imagined it would be. Just one largish meeting hall deal with about a dozen or so vendors. There were some pretty great deals to be had on lycra and other plastic based clothing items, so I picked up a few bits, including this pretty nice Capo bib short (pair of bib shorts?!) for 50% off.

While that special chamois bears an unnerving resemblance to a presenting baboon, I can assure you that it's the most comfy chamois I've ever had in contact with my taintal region. I also picked up a cheapish rain shell/jacket as I forgot mine at home. My bike arrived shortly thereafter with Jason and his lovely mother, Rita straight from Austin. I had ebayed and sent to Austin a Shimano R700 compact crank to have installed on my trusty Paramount as I was a bit apprehensive about the hills of day 2 on a normal 53/39 (probably would have been fine as it turned out, but anyway). It was a weird aftermarket gearing the seller had on there of 52/34, rather than the normal 50/34. Upon giving this thought for a couple of days the week before, I realized a 52 big ring would probably prove less than ideal as on my normal road bike in Chicago with a 50/36, I'm almost always, always kicking around the lowest gearing on the 50 ring, so a 52 would just make that a little bit less appropriate. I ended up ordering a 50 tooth big ring at the last minute and figured I'd change this out at the hotel. Once I got my bike out, I realized that the shop in Austin (which I guess shall remain nameless) did a kind of half-assed job of changing the crank out, leaving the chain at least 2 or 3 links to long (it was sitting 3 cogs up on the rear cassette when I got it out but the chain was already rubbing on the fully collapsed rear derailleur. Thanks for the questionable work small certain Austin bike shop I have spoken kindly of recently in these pages....)! Fortunately, there were a few local bike shops set up at the hotel, so I took this mess over the the West End Cycles folks who sorted me out in short order. Afterwards I took a little 6-mile spin and tweaked some seat height and front derailleur position until everything seemed kosher. Thanks West End! Whilst tweaking my seat, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that my seat post has some sort of stripped seat pivot situation going on. I kept finding my seat in a more backwards angle / taint hurting position than I thought I put it in and eventually realized it was popping back every so often. Groan. It was too late to do anything there but keep an eye on it.

The steed:

The weather was predicted to be pretty poopy, with 50% to 60% chances of rain on Saturday and Sunday respectively. While not as bad as the storms that resulted in the cancellation of the first day last year, it wasn't looking ideal. But if there's one little advantage being from Chicago provides, it's that a bad spring day in Texas is a pretty decent summer's day in the midwest.

I had a lovely dinner at home with my folks Friday night (Grilled shrimp, couscous, roasted veggies and a wonderful bottle of Chardonnay, thanks ya'll!) and went to bed around 10:30 in order to rise at the gruesome (for me) hour of 4:45am. As is the norm when I'm doing a big ride, I slept rather spottily and ended up laying awake from about 3:15 am until 4:20, when I finally just gave it and arose.

DAY 1:

My folks were up shortly thereafter and after wolfing down some sort of slightly preservative laden breakfast burrito and some fruit and coffee, we headed over to my meetup with Ryan, Jason H and Danny at Ryan's sister's place about 3 miles from the start at the Omni hotel. Got there, realized I didn't get safety pins in my lil packet to use for my bib number. Ryan had to wake up his sister for this (who was inexplicably sleeping on the couch at her own place when I arrived). Thanks Sally, sorry about that! She was kind enough to wake up and take a few snapshots of our motley crew. Here we are in all our pasty, chilly pre-dawn glory:

We finally rolled out of there at about 6:30, so as not to be late for the 6:45 start. Almost ate sh*t a few times on the very dark way over. Some pretty industrial sized gaps in the little drainage bibs that stick out into the road. Smooth it out Houston!

We rolled up to the start to find that there was NOT A BIG HURRY! Note to any future riders, unless your oil company sponsored team raised $250,000 or something, you may as well take your time getting to the start. We got to listen to a good 45 minutes of verbal tongue-lashing through a portable squawk box setup that sort of comically threw the breaker on the generator powering it a few times. Accompaniment was provided in the form of various hits of the 80s, Huey Lewis and the News, Survivor, etc. We finally managed to squeeze in with some team that must have rolled out around the 8,000 to 9,000 riders mark. It strikes me that if you pay your fee and do your fundraising, maybe you shouldn't have to sit on a cold road and listen to an obnoxious emcee for most of an hour, but I digress...

It's all better once you're rolling! We took a windy path up N. Eldridge twisting around NW Houston and ended up on some farm road (FM154?) while getting a light raining on for about 45 minutes to an hour. That finally petered out around mile 20 or so. At the first rest stop we almost immediately ran into my old friend and sometime roommate Todd. He joined our little train and we spent a few hours on the road catching up about the last, oh, decade or so! He was on the Sweet Leaf Tea team, but they were pretty well atomized all over the "field" such as it was, so he joined up with us for the day.

Nothing too eventful to report over the course of the day. I had some of the usual energy ups-and-downs that come with 100 mile ride. The route had some very modest rolling hills but was pretty flat overall and we had favorable winds. One thing that is always amusing at these sorts of giant rides, but seemed ESPECIALLY intensive at this ride, is the whole "on your left" etiquette. We all know that sometimes it's quite good to give riders on your right verbal notice if, say, you are passing them pretty closely or perhaps very quickly. However, I think it's fair to say that if you are in a field of 14,000 riders and you are riding on the far right side of the road at around 11 to 13 mph, there are going to be a LOT, LOT, LOT of folks coming by "on your left" pretty much constantly and all day long! It really should come as no surprise! That did not stop a lot of people from seeming really surprised and ENDANGERED that some riders were coming by about 4 to 6 feet away from them on the left without a CLEAR ANNOUNCEMENT to the effect. Reactions ranged from a light sort of tu-tut-ing (yelling "riders on the left" up ahead of them as a little rebuke) to some straight up "you need to call out buddy!" etc. Here's my hunch: Maybe this is a combination of people who have just read the "rules" of riding etiquette and just tend to the pedantic in matters of safety combined with a smaller minority of riders who want to reserve the right to swing wildly over to the left side of the road at a moment's notice and consider it really dangerous that anyone would ride by them without crying out "ON YOUR LEFT!"

At any rate, I think I must have given out at least a few thousand on your lefts over the course of 2 days. Sometimes there were so many in a row that I'd just realize I was saying it a few times even during big empty spots on the road, just sort of muttering it like a crazy person.

With about 20 miles to go on "Stage 1" we got passed by a few of Todd's buddies on the Sweet Leaf team and ended up jumping on their train and powering into the day's finish at a nice 20-ish mph clip. I think one guy pulled us the whole way. No complaints about that, he didn't seemed to object or care one way or the other. Some pics of day 1 (psychedelic photos courtesy of the my pHoine somehow):

The end was at the LaGrange fairgrounds and was an instant village of corporate team tents, miscellaneous vendor and support tents and the like. Pretty cornfusing layout, we wandered around in a semi-daze for a while before we all met back up at the Sweet Leaf team tent where we were graciously allowed to park our bikes for the night, saving us from the (presumed but not confirmed) mess of official bike parking. Wandering around ensued. Got some tasty morsels of food from a few friendly grillmasters, some delicious beers courtesy of old Emo's alum Vince, who now is the brewmaster at St. Arnold's in Houston (who also had a large team out on the ride).

Eventually our trusty "team car" in the form of Jennifer, Ryan's S.O. came along and scooped us up and off we went to our digs for the evening in the evergreen woods outside Smithville, TX about 20 miles away from LaGrange. Her sister has an incredible little spread out on 7 acres on a dirt road off a dirt road. We couldn't have asked for a nicer spot to relax and recharge. After showering, we drove to Bastrop and had a nice dinner at a little local Italian/Greek joint. Bellies full of pasta, we didn't last long upon our return. I think I was in bed by 9:45 and got to sleep through a night of pretty glorious thunderstorms with just a screen door between myself and the great outdoors. Beautiful music to sleep to. Must have rained a couple of inches overnight!

Buddy, our host and VERY reluctant outdoor dog:

Jason relaxing with his personal digital device:

Mini-cabin and my sleeping digs for the night:

The lovely grounds and our trusty team car:

Ashen, team dog along for the ride from Houston:

More beauty from the front door:

Relaxing, porch style!

DAY 2:

Another 4:45 wakeup. In hindsight, we should have probably been quite a bit earlier, as we rolled back up to the fairgrounds right at 6:35 or so to find WELL OVER 10,000 of the 13 or 14k riders all lined up already being barked to anew by the emcee. There was no team x leaving first deal this day, just letting the line trickle out the gate. The place was a swamp with all the overnight rain and we were running all over creation to try and find our way back to the Sweet Leaf tent. Finally managed to locate our bikes (schlepping through soupy fields in cycling shoes does not rate as one of my favorite activites!). We queued up with the Sweet Leaf folks on our little arterial roadway and waited while they slowly let people out the gate by the few hundred at a time. UGH, wait, take 2 steps forward, wait, take 1 step forward, wait, wait, take 1 step forward, etc. etc. Took about 40 minutes to get out of the joint. We probably rolled out around riders 10,000-ish, an inauspicious start for the second day in a row. Fortunately there were 2 routes right out of the fairgrounds, us taking the hilly challenge dealy, which seemed to be at least a bit less trafficked once we got going. Left into a light rain again and it was QUITE chilly for TX, like 53-ish degrees).

Here are some images of the morning including the ridiculous lineup getting out of that joint:

Riding, riding, riding. After about 25 miles, we hit Buescher State Park. It IMMEDIATELY got really beautiful. Small road, just barely 2 lanes. Towering trees. This part of the route was about 12 miles of pretty decent rolling hills. Maybe 100-200ft. each, probably rode a couple thousand feet of elevation change. I really enjoyed this part. Did most of my climbing out of saddle using my big chainring. It got to be a sort of experiment after a while. I only gave in and went to the little ring twice for about a minute each time. Feels good climbing and you always get the downhill payoff. A bunch of exhilarating 40-ish mile downhills throughout. I was sad when we suddenly got dumped out onto Highway 71 with the rest of the riders. We powered along to lunch and on, keeping a pretty great clip for the remainder of the ride. There were some pretty decent headwinds here and there, but we got a fair share of nice tailwinds too. Lots of false flats that seemed MUCH harder than the actual steep hills of before. After some time, it was just Ryan and I doing a little 2 man "breakaway" all the way in for the final 20-ish miles. We must have passed a few thousand riders in that time averaging around 19mph for the whole end of the ride.

Came into Austin on FM969, nee MLK JR. Blvd. Eventually got routed through a neighborhood, over to Manor Road and on into town on Dean Keeton/26th street. Had a nice surprise when we found my brother and a couple of old friends waiting out on Dean Keeton for us, they gave a big yell and took off on their bikes to meet us on the other side of UT at the finish. We turned into campus and ripped through there on those nice rolling campus roads with almost no one at all around us, having just happened to find a big break in the pack there. It was REALLY fun and brought on a nice burst of energy that carried us all the way back onto MLK through the barricaded last few blocks with thousands of spectators lining the road. Felt like a little faux race finish and actually got me a little verklempt to see all that support. What a big event this thing is!

Then, it was over! We decamped from our bikes on a little right of way a couple blocks past the finish and waited for our friends. St. Arnold's was no longer providing beer, saving what was left for their team. BOOOOO!!! Have some more for sale for cryin' out loud. People who have just ridden 80 miles will often need a beer! The whole second day I felt remarkably good. I was worried about feeling like a wet noodle after the first day where, at times, I was feeling pretty shagged out on the route (around miles 60/75). Not to worry though. No problems from my right knee, even with all the climbing and just felt pretty great overall. The 4 mile ride back to my brother's house did leave me feeling like I had ridden enough for the day, but it wasn't excruciating by any stretch.

The rest of our "team" made it in within about 20 minutes total and the lot of us rode back to my brother's house for a very nice BBQ dinner party that had been put together. Showers for all and a nice beautiful sit around (it got sunny and ALMOST warm for the rest of the afternoon!). Thanks to Eric Hartman who very generously brought over a massive spread of pulled pork and brisket, mac/cheese and beans. Good times!!

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