On the subject of weather, the forecast for last weekend was terrible -- thunderstorms and wind both Saturday and Sunday, with the probability of rain between 60 and 100%. Friday night I barely slept at all trying to run all the plan B's in my head while listening to the thunder and rain as flashes of lightning turned the bedroom into a disco hall. I was happy to get out of bed at 4:30AM. A few minutes after five I was in the van, headed to Lake Wales.
I was in the top 100 fundraisers last year, as I have been for several years now. One of the perks is that I get to park in "VIB" (Very Important Banana -- no, I have no idea) parking close to the action, but the lot was already full. I got a decent spot among the less important bananas, and hiked over to pick up my packet and turn in the one non-electronic donation I had received. On the way back to the car to get my bike, I ran into Rod, a member of the Fedex Team with which I ride. We agreed to meet up, but by the time I got back, no Rod and no team. No matter. I rode out with the next group and quickly fell in beside Greg, another cycling geezer, who was going at the same pace as I was. The skies were overcast and there were plenty of puddles, but there was no significant wind, and no rain. Surprisingly, it was like that, or better, for the rest of the day. Huh! Not a drop of rain, and even a nice tailwind for a good many miles.
Greg and I rode together and chatted the entire day, and the 78.8 miles (who's counting?) passed quickly, though the Garmin showed 5:15 riding time. Not bad, given the distance, and the fact that I was riding the touring bike, including one full pannier.
After a shower and a little nap, I met up with my buddy Wayne, whose MS prevents him from actually riding these days. We exchanged "What's news," and attended the banquet together. It seemed less inspirational this year for some reason -- perhaps because of the loudmouth at our table who (in my opinion) did not show the appropriate respect to those who were speaking up front. After the dinner we walked out to the parking lot together and it seemed like the weather was taking a turn for the worse. I went to bed resigned to deal with whatever the next day might bring and I had a wonderful night's sleep.
At breakfast on Sunday I met up with the rest of my team, who this year number only seven. We rode together for the first 40 miles, at which point I turned off to complete the "75" mile route as they took the 50 mile option. Almost immediately it started raining, so I stopped and pulled on my rain jacket. A few miles later the skies really got dark, the wind spun up, and the rain started to get serious. I happened to be near a shopping center at the time so I took shelter under an overhang and got the rest of my gear on -- rain pants, helmet cover and sealskinz socks. An MS-150 support truck pulled up and the driver called out the window, "Well, I can see what you plan to do," and commented that there were a couple of women under cover in front of the supermarket who might like some company. I confirmed that these were the two gals I has seen shortly after the turn off. They were wearing dark jackets and had no rear lights, so I figured I could do a good deed by riding out behind them with my hi-viz jacket and super-bright rear flasher. The rain let up considerably after 15 minutes or so, and we headed out.
In fact, the weather steadily improved from that point on, except for the west wind that gradually increased as the afternoon progressed. The pace was a bit slower than I would have been doing on my own, but I enjoyed having the company, so I rode the remaining 35 miles with Kristin and Charlotte. They are mostly into adventure racing, which sounds like military basic training -- obstacle courses and the like. Kristin also does a fair amount of endurance cycling, but her friend Charlotte, not so much. Charlotte had also done the first day's 78 miles on what Kristin called "that piece of shit mountain bike" and was now riding another 78 on a somewhat better, but still not good, hybrid road bike. Anyway, she had heart and commitment. There was never any mention of quitting, though there was some praying I caught her doing from time to time.
About ten miles or so from the finish, we started to collect SAG (support and gear) vehicles, falling in behind us, making it clear that we were now the last, the very last, riders on the course. At first I was concerned that having a bunch of trucks right behind her might add to Charlotte's misery, but she said she didn't mind, so I just relaxed and tried to stay within ten or so bike lengths of her. Kristin didn't have a rear-view mirror and kept creeping away up front, so I figured it was extra important to stay close. Anyway, in the end Charlotte rallied and we rode side by side across the finish line. I have gone across the MS ride finish lines many times, but never have I appreciated the cheering or felt as much emotion as this time. It was inspirational for me to be there with Charlotte. At that moment she represented everyone who has ever pushed him/herself beyond what seems possible in order to reach a goal. There were tears in her eyes, and mine, too. It was an honor to be there with her.