For the past 22 years, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has been sponsoring over 100 bike tours around the country to raise money for MS research and programs. In Delaware, a 150-mile, two-day bike tour stretching through lower Delaware attracts over 1800 riders and hundreds of volunteers. The Delaware tour begins at Smyrna High School on Saturday at 8:00am and takes riders down to Dewey Beach. On Sunday, riders retrace their steps and go back up to Smyrna High School. Each direction is 78.3 miles, so it's actually 156.6 miles, but who's counting?
This year, I decided to give the tour a shot by joining Accenture's bike team. Team Accenture had a training schedule and riders of all levels, so I figured they'd be more my speed as a novice rider than the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers at Info Systems, who are die-hard cyclists. :-)
I trained in north Wilmington, where there are beautiful trails of killer hills everywhere you look. My bike team captain said that by mastering a 10-12 mile ride of significant hills will prepare you for the 78-miles of reasonably flat terrain for the Bike to the Bay. So I did.
Before this summer, I couldn't think of the last time I rode a bike for more than a block. (Maybe high school?) I had a lot of learning to do, and I thank the InfoSystems bike team (the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers) for letting me pick their brains on the basics of biking and what essentials I'd need to purchase. My Accenture team captain, Julie, was great about answering my detailed questions... anything from anatomically-correct female bike pants to questions about rain gear. I've learned so much about this sport in just three months, and I'm totally in love.
I know there's a lot of information on this page, but I'm hoping people
who haven't ridden long distances before can use it perhaps as a guide to
getting started. I know that I wished I had something like this a few months
Socks: Pearl Izumi cycling socks - these are essential. Cycling
socks are made of the same moisture-wicking material, but they are tighter
than normal socks for support. It's pretty normal for legs and
feet to swell on long bike rides, so I was sure to go for cycling socks
instead of regular sports socks.
Footwear: Nothing special... just my old, worn-out running shoes. These fit nicely into my pedal cages.
Helmet (or as my dad's friend says, "hemmet"):
A great, light hemmet in a funky blue color (didn't want to look
too girlie); comes with a sun visor. Underneath I had to wear my
doo-rag... a summer workout essential for preventing sweat in the eyes, and
perfect for hiding the terrible case of helmet-hair you get. I did most
of the ride with the doo-rag on under my helmet, and a few legs with it off.
The helmet fit a bit better with it on (I had the helmet fit adjusted
to my head while wearing it-- ask your bike dealer to do this for you-- trust
me), but I was cooler with it off. Do what works for you, obviously.
Gloves: Avenir half-finger gel gloves. These gloves ROCK. On the palm, they are leather with five gel-filled pads which are strategically placed to absorb the shock associated with riding a bike with "10-speed" style handlebars. On the back of the hand, they have spandex so they fit your hand perfectly, and it also has this 3" x 3" patch of terry cloth on the back of the thumb area, which is perfect for wiping your face. Whoever came up with that little feature deserves to be a millionaire. I can't tell you how many bugs got stuck to my face; having this "built in towel" was magnificent. The gloves have a velcro closure on the back of the wrist; they were cool and comfy, and also prevented the blisters, finger numbness and finger pain often associated with a lack of decent gloves.
Bike: 20" Raleigh Technium 6061-T8 -- it has only 10 speeds, but it definitely served my purposes well. My bike has a weird history. In 1994 I helped move a friend out of her house while her boyfriend was at work, She put most of her stuff in storage, but she didn't have room for her brand new bike. We offered to keep it at our house in our shed, where it stayed for the last 8 years untouched. So it's a brand-new, 8 year old bike. I tried contacting her over the years to no avail, so I decided to inherit the bike. If she ever comes looking for it, she'll have to pay me for the modifications, however. :-) This poor bike was unloved and lonely for so many years, so I was honored to spiff it up bit.
Bike Modofications: Nothing major here. I replaced the handlebar tape with something slightly padded (and something that looked a little cooler than what was on there), and I bought a gel-padded seat so my butt wouldn't hurt. Lastly, I bought an odometer/speedometer thing just because I'm geeky. My local bike shop (Dunbar's Cyclery) did all the work, and it was cheap. They also did a general tuneup, making sure the gears were OK, lubing everything, and sticking on new tires. Lastly, I replaced the pedals with simple (cheap) toe cages. Beginners like me (and broke people like me) often opt for the toe cage, which is like a regular bike pedal, but your toe fits inside this little cage thing so you can pull up on the pedal with your hamstrings as well as push down... you're using your whole leg instead of just your poor quads. Serious bikers go for the shoe/pedal-clip system, which keeps your foot attached to the pedal peg while you ride. This is good because you don't have to worry about your foot slipping out of a toe cage, but it's scary because if you ever need to put your foot on the ground it takes time. Don't want that. Intermediate bikers choose toe cages with biking shoes, which have a hard plastic non-flexible sole. You can't walk in them very easily, but they use your quad muscles more efficiently-- you're not pushing down on the padding of your running shoes before moving the pedal. (A small point, but on a huge ride, it adds up I imagine).
So! Here's the list of modifications:
At work, we were joking that my bike should also have a clothespin holding a playing card in the spokes, a plastic basket, a bell and a horn, plastic fringe from the handlebars and the all-important orange flag on a flexible pole on the back. That would have rocked! :-)
Jeremy asked me what my biggest fear about the ride was. I told
him that I wasn't really afraid of not finishing... if I didn't finish,
fine; as long as I gave it my best shot, I was going to be OK. But
my biggest obstacle was mental focus. I noticed that while I was training,
as soon as my mind drifted towards the things that were bugging me, my performance
degraded and I felt tired. So Jeremy offered this advice: "Whenever
your mind drifts to X, just think about something else. Have a list
of other things to think about... like, how cool your bike is, how much money
you've raised for Mindy, how cool you look in your gear, how wonderful your
friends are who supported you with great words and donations, how nifty
the scenery is going to be. But do NOT let yourself even entertain
a thought of X. It's not good for you. Be on an X moratorium
until Sunday night." So I did, and it TOTALLY worked.
(X Moratorium, by the way, is the name of my next band. tee hee)
On the night before the ride, I vowed to be in bed by 8:00pm. To prepare for the ride, I packed up some stuff, cooked up some whole-wheat pasta and chicken, and reviewed the fantastic, encouraging emails I received. I took the amazing phrases from these emails and wrote them onto my water bottle with permanant marker, so every time I would take a sip, I'd feel recharged mentally as well as physically. I got to sleep by 9:00pm -- an hour after I'd hoped, but still OK.
My alarm went off at 5:10am. I hit the snooze three times, so I didn't get out of bed until almost 5:40. It was pitch black out. Took a quick shower, dried off, meditated for about 5 minutes, ate some Wheaties (of course!) while I watched the Weather Channel (Forecast: 83 and humid with winds out ofthe SW 10-15 MPH; in the afternoon, the humidity lifts and winds shift from the west 8-10 MPH. This was a relief, considering the rain they had originally predicted). I then got suited up for the ride, double-checked my packing list, and hit the road for Smyrna High School around 6:25am.
My CD player in my car died, and my cassette player is cranky, so it was all radio. Good tunes I heard on the way down: Dave Matthews- Where are You Going; Paul Simon - Boy in the Bubble ; Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here; Rush - Closer to the Heart.
I got to the high school at 7:05, and by the time I put the wheels on my bike, got my gear all situated and rode over to the registration site, it was 7:20 or so. I grabbed a drink, pinned my number on my jersey and dedicated my ride to Mindy by hanging the "I'm riding for" sign on my bike. We got our team picture taken, and we were ready to go!
We queued up at the starting line at around 8:00 and took off at 8:06am. I started out riding with my boss Mark and his wife Angie. After about two minutes and I took off and paced myself at 12 MPH. The majority of the ride I rode alone; I much prefer it that way.
When I reached the first rest stop, I decided that I should call my home voice mail at each rest stop and leave a little travelogue for myself. Here's the transcription of the messages I left. Items in italics are things I added after the fact.
9:04am - Rest Stop #1 -- 10.7 miles. "Okay, I'm at my first rest stop. I reached my first rest stop at 9:04; took exactly an hour to get down here, because we left the start at 8:06. The ride wasn't bad at all, and I'm actually surprised at how I'm not dying, even remotely. It's real pretty down here in Slower Delaware; I've never been this far down in Delaware before; there are lots of riders, and all of them are friendly and cool and supportive and overall it seems like a very good thing, and I'm not regretting doing this even one bit. The roads we're taking are teeny tiny back roads, and there are hardly any cars. The turns (and there are many) are well-marked, which is a good thing. My muscles are doing fine, and I'm very happy I got the bike seat and handlebars raised; definitely $25 well spent. I'm gonna go get something to drink. Buh-bye."
10:27 am. Rest stop #2 -- 20.5 miles. "We're 20 miles into the tour now. I started the most recent leg with Mark and Angie-- they were pacing themselves at 9MPH which is a little too slow for me, so I moved on ahead. We have one heck of a head wind - about 15 miles an hour and so my pace wasn't as fast as was it before. On the first leg, my pace was about 12.5 to 13.1, and this time around I didn't get into the 12s very much at all, hanging mostly in the 11s. We passed a Food Lion, and I said out loud, "Holy crap, we are NOT in Kansas anymore." (Food Lions being a grocery store found only in southern states.) I took a picture of it, just because it was funny to me. We passed this chicken farm -- holy cow, you haven't lived until you've smelled warm, humid chicken farm-- I'll tell you whut, that's inspiration to pedal faster. Anyway, I'm just hanging out by the railroad crossing here at the rest stop-- I don't even know what town I'm in-- but I'm waiting for Mark and Angie to roll in so I can snap an action shot of them. But if they don't show up in 2 or 3 minutes then I'm outta here. I'm feeling OK, but I'm starting to get a little hot-- I could easily see that two rest stops from now things are really gonna be sucking. Anyhoo, two rest stops to go and then it's lunch!"
11:35am: Rest stop #3 --28.6 miles. "Hello, hello! My legs are starting to hurt, along with my right big toe strangely enough. I think Mark and Angie left the previous rest stop ahead of me... I didn't see them leave, but I'm pretty sure they started off ahead of me. I started to get hungry so I pulled off the side of the road to have one of those power gel things-- it tastes like raspberry cream cheese which is precisely what you don't feel like eating when you're hot and sweaty and thirsty... but if you gack it down it with water it really helps. It's sitting well, my stomach stopped growling, and it definitely gave me a kick of energy. I have one more of these gel things and a Luna bar just waiting to be eaten... but I'm gonna go see what tasty treats they have at this rest stop, as I'm feeling a little peckish. In other news, I've been riding behind these really anoying people with their children on the backs of their bikes; they are riding on the yellow line all the time. These roads are open to traffic, so there are cars coming up behind us and cars coming head on as well. These people are so busy talking to each other that they don't ever look up to see the cars coming their way, so I'm always yelling up "CAR AHEAD" when normally as a rider in the rear of a group I only should be yelling "CAR BEHIND." Ah yes, there are stupid stupid drivers, even on bikes. For the most part I'm riding alone... occasionally I'll have people in my sight in front of me, to whom I'll yell up to... but I'm usually flying solo. It's the only way to go. Anyway, I've been averging 11.8 to 12.1 this time around; my legs are really starting to feel it, but I'm gonna be okay... the tiger balm on the back of my neck is really helping. OK, Grease for peace, I'm outta here."
1:02pm: Lunch. 41.4 miles. "Oh my god... this past leg was really tough... holy cow. I guess they make you work for your lunch. I'm really starting to hurt now -- my legs are good and sore, but the saddle-soreness has vanished; not sure if I'm numb or just used to the feeling or what. My wrists are sore from holding myself up-- one of the drawbacks to a 10-speed bike. Next year maybe I'll look into getting one of those elbow extension bars for the bike, so I can lay forward on my elbows. I definitely have an advantage over these people who are riding their big, heavy mountain bikes. I took a long time at the last rest stop, so now I'm more towards the rear of the pack, but I'm still riding alone. I just don't like riding with other people; I can't concentrate on my breathing when there's people yapping. I'm sure to say hello and "on your left!" when I'm passing, but that's about it. We've ridden through every economic region so far... here in Milford, the homes are huge, Victorian things with columns. We also drove through areas so depressed you could cry. I rode through a little town called Wyoming that was absolutely adorable. Cute antique shops, and the coolest train station you ever want to see. I felt like this place hadn't changed in 100 years. Lunch consisted of sandwiches (had a 1/4 of a PB&J, but the white bread just seemed stupid to me) and then I ate the guts of a turkey and cheese sandwich, a banana and a 1/2 can of cranberry juice. Not nearly enough, but I'd rather eat nothing than eat something that is not going to sit well and leave me miserable for the rest of the day. Anyway, everyone keeps saying that from here on out, the ride is easier. Let's hope it is, because I don't know how many more legs like this past one I can take." I wound up putting my head down for about 15 minutes, and then I took off around 2:15.
3:17pm: Rest Stop #4: 48.6 miles. "This leg was by far the most annoying. Hills all over the place, gravel roads (what's up with THAT?), dangerous intersections, I don't get it. I take comfort in knowing I'm way past the halfway point now. My legs are bad, and just as soon as I think I can't get back on my bike, I read the little inspirational messages I wrote on my water bottle, and I get going. The phrase "Everyone knows it's Mindy!" (sung to the tune of "Windy" by The Association) really does it for me, as does "Yes you CAN, yes you WILL!" which Brian DeRiancho wrote me. I also started singing to myself to get through some of the rough spots. I'm not sure how these songs popped into my head, but they did. I was all by myself on the road, so I was really having a good time; nobody to feel like a dork in front of. I sang, "On the Road Again" by Willie Nelson, "We Don't Need Another Hero" from Tina Turner (where did that come from?), and "Once I was the King of Spain" by Moxy Fruvous. I've been noticing that I'm taking more and more time at these rest stops... I can't believe it's so late. What crack was I smoking when I told my folks I'd be rolling in at 4:30? I ate my other gel pack thing-- this time it was the tangerine. Let's hope this stuff works as well as the first pack, because I'm dying. I actually entertained the thought of asking the SAG vehicle for a ride to the next rest stop, but they'll only take me to the finish line. Sorry buddy boy, but I didn't ride 50 miles to cross the finish line in a f-ing truck. I still have almost 30 miles to go. I can do this. It's gonna suck, but I can do this. I can do this. I can do this."
4:30-ish; Rest stop #5: 58.9 miles. "OK. This leg was very flat thankfully, but it was also felt very, very long. I am absolutely wiped out. This is the Carl Schnee rest stop, and since I'm on the tail end of the pack, most of the goodies are gone. It's OK... right now, I just want to collapse. My co-worker Lisa is laying on the grass in the shade of a parked car, and I think I'm going to join her. I think I just need to relax for a minute and eat a banana. Lots of horses, dead cornfields (getting me thinking of Halloween) around. I must have eaten 53 bugs... you ride through these bug swarms that are impossible to see because you're moving so fast, and then next thing you know they're sticking to your sweaty face and your lip balm, going up your nose and in your ears. Very lovely. Thank God for the terrycloth patches on the back of my gloves-- at least I can wipe my face. I'm only averaging about 10-11 MPH; slowing waaaay down. I'm just wiped out. I have a rotten headache and can't figure out why. Is it a potassium headache? Am I dehydrated? Is it the heat beating on my skull? Am I overdoing it? I'm gonna rest in the shade for a minute, nurse my water bottle and see how I feel. Only one rest stop to go."
5:06pm: No rest stop. 66.7 miles. "Dear God, kill me. I am dead. (*big, defeated sigh*) I am sitting on the side of the road on a hill made of hay in the middle of absolutely nowhere. I cannot go an inch farther. I just called my dad to apologize for making him wait so long, and to tell him that I'm waiting for the pick-up vehicle to come get me. He told me that he didn't think I trained hard enough, which ticked me off-- the last thing I want to hear is that I didn't do something right; I just want to be comforted and to be told that I did a good job anyway. I'm sure he didn't mean to upset me, but I'm pretty fragile right now. I'm sure it's me. ... So I'm just gonna sit here and wait for the Loser Truck to come get me." The truck took another 5 minutes to get there, and by the time they arrived, I was feeling better. They told me it was less than 2 miles to the last rest stop, so I felt inspired to get at least that far so I could grab something to eat and drink. I told them thank you, and they drove away, and I got back on my bike. I couldn't prove my dad right, dammit! :-)
5:17pm: Rest Stop #6: 68.5 miles. "OK! I'm at the Plantations, which is the last rest stop. This is it, folks, the home stretch! It feels so good to be here; I didn't think I'd ever get to this point. The next stop is the finish line. I just filled my bottle with Gatorade, which always helps. Mark and Angie are here, I'm glad to see them. Elvis is also here, and I'm in love with this guy. How tacky would it be to give the King my number? I'm gonna go have my picture taken with him -- this guy is a riot (and cute). Anyway, I am totally charged up on adrenaline, and I am gonna pound this sucker in the ground. Yes you CAN, yes you WILL! Everyone knows it's MINDY!"
(From here on out, this stuff was all written post-race.) I called my dad and Jeremy at 5:26 to tell them I was getting ready to leave this rest stop, and I'd see them at the finish line. They said they'd be waiting! I started riding with Mark and Angie, but they were going a little slower than I wanted, so I took off after about 5 minutes and rode alone again. Elvis drove by a few times and was yelling stuff out the window to me, but naturally I couldn't understand a word. But it made me really happy just to see some festive guy dressed up in an Elvis outfit hanging out the passenger window of an SUV yelling, fake sideburns and jewel-studded collar flapping in the breeze. What more do you need in life? :-)
Once I got onto Route 1 (about 10 minutes from the finish line) I caught up with a rider and we got to talking. Her name is Sally, and she's riding on the Wilmington Trust team. This is her second year doing the ride (I think), and she was super-cool. She warned me about the dreaded Route 1 Bridge and we agreed that we would walk our bikes up the bridge if we had to. I was happy I'd have a bike-walking buddy so I wouldn't feel like such a schlump. But when we came upon the bridge, I said to her, "Sally, I think we can take this sorry bridge!" And she said, "YEAH!" So up we went, screaming our lungs out, pedaling in super-low gear up this hell-bridge, legs burning, neck throbbing, almost about to cry from sheer exhaustion but also from the rush... and then we peaked the hill and screamed for joy! I yelled "K'Plagh!!" because no other word summed up my thoughts. :-) We flew down the hill, but had to be careful because there was a ton of traffic, it being the main highway into Dewey Beach (for you NJ-ites, it's like Route 37 going into Seaside). Soon we rounded a corner, and we could see the orange cones of the finish line in the distance ahead, and we started whooping it up. People were lined up on the side of the road, cheering us on... just us two... it was incredible. I was riding with one hand in the air, screaming like a drunken football fan. The rush was absolutely unbelievable-- people I didn't know sticking their hands out to slap ours as we went by. I saw my dad in the distance taking my picture as I was coming in... and then my brother, and then Jeremy, and then Mom and Mindy and the kids. It was such an incredible feeling-- I did it... I frikkin' did it... I rode over 78 miles (my odometer said 82.3) and I was so charged, I could have powered New York City. I crossed the finish line and jumped off my bike, gave Sally a high-five, and people came up to congratulate us... and then my family came running over to give me flowers and hugs... my mom was crying -- so was I... it was just the most amazing feeling.
I told Mindy to take a look at the back of my bike which had my "I'm Riding for Mindy Knapp" sign on the back of my bike... she cried and said the most beautiful thing: "Marrying your brother, having these beautiful children, and seeing my name on the back of your bike... these are the greatest highlights of my life."
It was all worth it, baby.
So this leaves me with one question:
Who's riding with me next year for 150 miles?
Click a thumbnail to see the bigger image...
Jill: Strong like bull