Sunday, June 10, 2007


Overall it was a good ride this weekend.

This is the fourth consecutive year I’ve biked the MS150. There’s no such thing as a perfect weekend when it comes to biking from Duluth, Minn., to the Twin Cities. This year proved to be no exception, but I’m not complaining.

It seems like every year we get rained on during our Friday afternoon trip from the cities to the Duluth area. One year it rained about five minutes after leaving the parking area. One year it didn’t rain until we got halfway up the freeway. Another year it was raining when we arrived in Duluth. This year it was sunny and mild, but rather windy upon arrival. That made setting the tent up a bit of a challenge, but at least it was dry.

Each year I ride with Margaret, a friend I met several years ago on a different bike trip, a trip that was discontinued after 2001. Since 2004 we’ve made the MS150 an annual biking weekend. We normally set up our own tents, but thanks to the wind we helped each other out.

There had been a wind advisory for the Duluth area through Friday evening, and by 10 p.m. it had died down. It wasn’t very windy at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, either. But there was enough wind coming out of the south through the morning that it proved to be a challenge for most of our ride that day. The route is essentially north to south both days.

Last year we didn’t get rained on much over the weekend, but it was about 35 degrees when we woke up Saturday morning, and it was so cool I wore my windbreaker for the entire ride, both days. That’s highly unusual since I’m a veritable furnace. Last year the wind was out of the north on Saturday, however, so it pushed us all the way down the bike trail we use for most of Saturday’s ride. We averaged better than 17 mph for our 70+ miles that day.

This year it was warm enough in the morning that I could ride with only a short-sleeve shirt, which was a good thing because I didn’t even bring my windbreaker. But the wind cut into us enough during the day that I finished 73 miles with a 14.9-mph average. I don’t like biking bright and early when its 40 degrees, but last year was a much more enjoyable Saturday ride because it was so quick and easy.

This year Sunday’s ride was better than our Saturday ride. (Sunday always feels like more of a chore for various reasons.) On Saturday evening the forecast called for wind out of the south at 10 to 20 mph, but at 6:50 a.m. Sunday there was no sign of wind. At the halfway point the current conditions in the Twin Cities had the wind at 6 mph. Not too bad. It picked up toward the end of the ride, and it got hot after noon on Sunday, but we did rather well, averaging better than 16 mph for the day. I’m glad we were done by 1 p.m., it was a scorcher this afternoon.

Sunday’s route ended at 74 miles, meaning the total for the weekend was 147. I was fine with that. I obsess slightly about numbers, but I was tired enough not to care that we came up three miles short this year. Most years we end up a little over 150.

Every year I wonder why I keep pushing myself to do it. Why do I insist on putting myself through the early mornings, waiting in line for the mass feedings and the unpredictable weather that we have to bike in? Part of me says I have to know I can still do it, but sometimes I wonder if I can keep it up for another 10 or 20 years.

Yet each year I see numerous people who work a lot harder than I do, and I feel like a moron for wanting to throw in the towel. I don’t have the fanciest, most expensive road bike, but I ride a pretty decent clip most of the day. On Saturday I estimated we beat 85 percent of the riders to the finish line, and there were about 3,300 riders this year, I heard.

The problem is that I can’t take it slow and easy, I have to be working as much as possible. Some years I’ve penalized myself by working too hard in the first 25 miles. I end up paying for it in the last 25 miles. That’s when I question why I do it.

Then I see the people who are 75 or 100 pounds overweight, the guys (although not many) who are twice my age and the riders who are on bikes that aren’t designed for 75 miles of riding. This year I saw a guy riding a three-wheel bike, a guy riding a hand-crank bike and a guy pulling a Burley the entire way, to name a few. These people are working harder than me, for one reason or another, and yet I doubt my own ability and want to retire from the event. That makes me ill.

Then there are the young children riding behind a parent’s bike. When I was a child you could have never convinced me to bike 75 miles, even on one of those detachable tandem bikes. Yet these kids are out there for hours. It’s amazing.

And most of the people I see riding under such circumstances know they’ll be out there for eight hours or more, automatically. I was on the road for about six hours each day, including rest stops. Some of these folks I see skip breakfast and start before I do because they may be on the road until 4 or 5 p.m.

When I see a rider who is 75 pounds overweight and riding a slow bike I am stunned because they have to know they’re going to be out there all day . And on Sunday that meant enduring heat in the upper 80s, assuming they didn’t take the SAG wagon to the finish.

Those to me are the real champions in the fight against multiple sclerosis, not a candy ass like me.

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