2012 Bike MS: The Citrus Tour
So, after several months of training rides and more than a couple of blog posts, the big ride is finally over. It was, in a couple of words, a complete blast and exceeded my expectations in every way. I’m going to write a wrap up with some thoughts and observations later this week, but for now here’s an overview of what turned out to be a tremendous weekend.
(Disclosure right up front, because of the threat of bad weather – which really didn’t materialize, except for some rain and wind on day 2 – and the amount of hills on the course, I decided to stick with the 50 mile option each day, so I put in 100 miles total. From talking to others it seemed many people did the same thing I did, and I’m glad I did. I’ll explain why as we go along.)
Saturday started for me when the alarm went off at the altogether unholy hour of 4:00 AM, but I still had an hour and a half drive ahead of me to the ride start at Bok Tower Gardens and I still had some preparation to do. After gathering what I’d need for the first day (making sure I left some day 2 supplies for my wife and kids to bring to the hotel for day 2), I got in the car and was ready to go, but couldn’t shake that nagging feeling that I was forgetting something. Before I turned the ignition and disturbed the morning stillness, I realized what it was. Nothing too important, only this:
Now you tell me, would there have been a bigger FAIL than putting in all the work, raising all the money, and getting up before the sun for a bike tour, only to forget your bike? I think not. Let’s never mention this again, shall we? Thanks.
Anyway, once I got the bike loaded in the van, I was truly ready to go this time, and made it down to Lake Wales, casting a nervous eye around the skies. The weather reports leading up to the weekend had not been encouraging, as there were 70-80% chances each day of severe thunderstorms, and the forecast was unfavorable enough that the ride organizers decided to cancel the century route option for the first day in the hopes of getting everyone off the course before bad weather set in.
Since I had already picked up my registration packet early, I kicked back in my car for a few minutes and had the first of many bananas for the weekend, and then made my way to the starting area. There were six waves of riders going out, and since I wasn’t riding with a team I stayed toward the back of the crowd and ended up going out with wave five.
It was waiting in line that I saw an amazing sight: a cyclist at the starting line preparing to ride a big wheel bike. And by big wheel bike, I mean BIG WHEEL bike, like this:
I was so stunned by the fact that he was actually able to get on that monstrosity, much less attempt to ride it, that I forgot to take a picture of him before we left. But believe me, it’s true. I’m not sure how far he rode, but I know I saw him again the next day and it looked like he was setting out again, so at a minimum he rode that big boy 100 miles. Major props to you, big wheel bike man. You are a better man than I and I’m not ashamed to admit that.
As for the ride itself, the weather turned out to be absolutely perfect. It was overcast, warm but not hot, and not a hint of wind the entire time. Couldn’t have been better. There were plentiful and well-stocked rest stops nicely spaced along the to route, all manned by some fantastic volunteers who really went out of their way to keep all of the riders well hydrated and fueled up. This was my first large group ride, so I had been a bit apprehensive ahead of time about how I’d adapt to riding with so many other riders in close quarters, but it ended up being a lot of fun and very easy to get along, thanks mostly to the good nature and mood of most everyone out there on two wheels (can’t say the same for everybody along the way we passed on four wheels though.
Since this wasn’t a competitive event, there was a definite communal vibe amongst all of the riders. Anyone who was stopped along the route had multiple inquiries if they needed help, and just about everyone had a good morning or words of encouragement when you passed along the road, especially during the hilly portion of the ride around Lake Wales and Davenport. (Remember what I said about hills, those will come back into the story later)
In what seemed like no time, the group I had stuck with for the last 10 miles was rolling into the Caribe Royale parking lot and across the finish line. Day one was over and, while I’m fairly certain I could have ridden the full 75 miles Saturday had I attempted it, I think in the end my decision to stick with 50 was a smart one, as you’ll see in a bit. For now, it was time to relax and enjoy a well earned reward.
I felt really good after the first day, and went to bed excited to get back out on Sunday, even though the bad weather we had been expecting Saturday seemed to be rolling in overnight. When I got back to the starting line on Sunday to begin the ride back, it was drizzling and noticeably cooler than the day before. I donned the super ugly rain jacket that I had picked up a couple of days before, and I must say, even though it is unnaturally bright it turned out to be a great purchase. It was light, fit easily into one of my back jersey pockets, and made me visible for 30 miles in every direction despite the misty rain. Plus, if I lose my job I can easily become one of those guys who directs planes into the gate at the airport. I’ve already got the uniform.
The first half of the ride went by fairly easily, despite the early rain and wet roads, and as we made our way south the skies lightened gradually until the sky was mostly sunny. The only down side to this was the fact that the wind was picking up and by the time we turned west towards Bok Tower it was steady headwind blowing into our faces as we hit those aforementioned hills. While the rolling hills around Bok Tower had been a challenging but fun change of pace on the first day when we hit them early in day, this time we were hitting them during the second half of the ride with tired legs and with a consistent headwind to boot.
Now, you may not think that Florida has any hills worth mentioning, but the terrain around Lake Wales is nothing to sneeze at. On the downhill you could easily push 35-40 mph, so making your way up was definitely a challenge for a hack like me. In fact, the combination of wind and climbs was nearly enough to make me doubt if I could finish a couple of times. In the end I just kept going, and I realized how much my preparation had paid off. A year ago I wouldn’t have made 10 miles even on flat ground. That being said, I know that next year that I’ll be paying more attention to hill work while I prepare for the 2013 version (oh yes, I will be back).
Here’s the street view of the “big hill,” which rather sadistically is the last mile you ride before turning back into the gardens.
After that last test, it was a short ride back to where we started at dawn the day before. I won’t lie to you, Sunday was the hardest thing I’ve done athletically in a very long time, but, in the end, I made it. Whereas Saturday I felt like I could have gone one much farther, I don’t think I would have lasted another mile on the return route. While I think I trained well to ride 150 miles, I hadn’t trained to ride THESE 150 miles. Regardless, I was proud to finish the 100 and proudly accepted one of these at the finish.
So, that’s it for ride itself. I really couldn’t have enjoyed it more and will definitely be participating every year from now on if I can. (And next year I know to head down to the Lake Wales area and put in some more time getting used to riding those rolling hills) I’ve got some more thoughts on the last several months that I’ll share with you later as this post has gone on far too long already, but for now I’m going to go put on another layer of Biofreeze and lounge around the house with my bling. Oh, and if I see another banana anytime soon somebody might get hurt.