What do you give the man who has everything? Our son, Wes, is quickly approaching the state of having everything, and at Christmas he suggested that family members support him on his ride in the Texas MS-150.
The Texas MS-150 is one of a number of fund raising bicycle rides run by the Multiple Sclerosis Society (MS Society) at various locations around the country. These are not bicycle races, simply rides. Each rider is expected to ride the entire distance, about 150 miles, and to solicit donations from. sponsors. Riders are encouraged to form teams. Many businesses sponsor teams. The MS Society organizes and provides the logistics for the event. Each MS-150 is a significant event, and in total, they net millions of dollars of donations that go to MS research.
Last weekend we were in Texas cheering our son on as he rode from Houston to Austin. Of course everything in Texas is bigger, so the Texas MS-150 is between 160 and 180 miles long depending on which of several options the rider chooses. I am not sure how the Texas event compares with other states, but this year’s Texas MS-150 was BIG. 13,000 bike riders registered. We saw all kinds of bikes including at least one hand cranked bicycle and at least 4 kinds of recumbent bicycles. Many couples rode tandems. Many parents rode tandems with a child in the second seat. There were also several bicycles built for three. Where possible they dedicated one or more lanes of the road to the bicycles. Even so, the stream of bicycles stretched for miles. Quite a sight to see, especially since each team had a different design shirt, and many cyclists added extra decorations to their helmets or shirts.
Of course there were more than the 13,000 cyclists. Riding along with them were ride marshals in red shirts, volunteer police (certified cops) in blue and white shirts and volunteer EMTs (also certified) in red and white shirts. Other volunteers monitored the route on motorcycles and in vans. Local sheriff’s deputies provided official traffic control. The ride is two days. Lunch is provided by volunteers each day, and the ride took over a fairground to provide supper, entertainment and sleeping quarters for the cyclists. Each day there were designated break points complete with water, snacks, etc. Again run by volunteers. Many of the teams had support groups who set up tents at break points. Bicycle shops from that part of Texas also set up temporary facilities at each rest area and did brisk business selling bicycle accessories and servicing those bikes that broke down or threatened to break down. Some one did a lot of work gathering together all the volunteers and organizing them. The organization appeared to be excellent.
Since this was not a race, the start and finish were casual. The cyclists had their choice of three official start points in the Houston area. In addition to this, many of the teams sponsored by businesses started at their corporate headquarters. The official start was at 7:00 Saturday morning, but some slipped off early. Others did not even show up until an hour later. It did not matter. By break area 3, everyone was on the same road. On Sunday, the cyclists had the option of taking the Bastrop Challenge, a side trip through the Bastrop State Park that added both extra miles and some challenging hills. We camped in that state part. The bikes came right past our tent. The Bastrop Challenge is a beautiful ride, but not for the weak. By the time they reached Austin, everyone was together again for a finish in front of the capitol building. Talk about a big party in Austin, cyclists, support teams, spectators, and volunteers.
The organizers identified “the turtle”, the bicycle furthest from Austin, and followed “the turtle” with a sweep van. With that many bicycles on road, flat tires and breakdowns were inevitable. We saw occasional bicycles being worked on on the side of the road. We also saw several cyclists carrying their bicycle toward break areas for service. School buses that picked up anyone who wanted to give up. Each bus was tailed by a small truck to carry the bicycles.
Wes rode the entire route (but decided he was not up to the Bastrop Challenge) with no problems. The curious can see his picture at the official photographer’s web site. We saw him off at the start. Then after eating breakfast, we found the pack on a country road shortly downstream from BP3. Due to cell phone communications, we could confirm he had yet to pass that point. For the next two days, we played leap frog and only missed him once. We got to the finish in Austin less than a minute before he rode past. We had fun. With all those bikes, there was no lack of entertainment.
For all of you bicycle enthusiasts out there an MS-150 would be an excellent way to enjoy a long ride while benefiting a good cause. For those who are only spectators and sponsors. Look up the nearest MS-150.
To those cyclists who are timid about ranging too far from home, let me point out that the MS-150 is a very well supported event. There is no chance of a cyclist being stranded on a lonely country road. There is no need to carry food or baggage. Just carry enough water to keep hydrated until the next break point area.
I have known several MS patients. It is a terrible disease that slowly robs the victim of control of their muscles. One of my former employers had a mill manager with MS. He was reassigned to an office near the door to the research building. His new job was corporate planning. His reserved parking place was next to the door. Each day we would see him struggle on his crutches to get from the car to his desk. The best short description of an MS patient is an otherwise healthy and normal person trapped in a body that does not work well.