Ever so briefly last Saturday morning, it seemed like riding our bikes 107 miles in two days was going to be a little easier than we'd thought.
Despite our best efforts and a GPS, we were among the last cyclists to arrive at Bok Tower in Lake Wales, the starting line of Bike MS: The Citrus Tour. This is a wonderful annual event that drew around 1,000 cyclists, and not just because it raises money ($689,311 to be exact) to fight multiple sclerosis. It's great fun and meticulously organized — with a firm rule that latecomers will be driven with their bikes to catch up with other riders at the first rest stop.
"Sagging'' is what they call it, and you don't want to do it unless you have to (no kidding!). But though I normally hate to be late, shaving 10 miles off the top of this trip sounded great.
You see, until last Saturday I had never pedaled more than 30 miles in a day.
What were we thinking? If your best fitness intentions have ever been derailed by life, you'll understand.
My husband, Logan, and I are taking a two-week bicycle vacation in Europe in May, so we knew we had to train, but finding daylight hours for riding was tough. The MS ride, we decided, would force us to figure it out — especially after we'd extracted more than $1,000 in donations from friends and family.
But when a group of cyclists suffered simultaneous flat tires on train tracks, it was decided they needed the sag vehicle more than we did. My reprieve was snatched away.
So we rode off on our own steam — and yes, made it all the way back, too. Among the lessons we learned about cycling, MS — and ourselves:
• You may surprise yourself, Part 1: The numb feet, sore hands and stinging backside weren't as bad as I expected, since my parts kindly took turns tormenting me. That is, until they all ganged up for the steepest hill of the ride.
• Part 2: Just when you think you can't go on, you may discover you have another gear.
• Learning from the pack, Part 1: You don't have to have the greatest physique or the fanciest gear to make it to the finish line. You do, however, have to stay upright, as I reflected when we came upon a cyclist who had overtaken us, but then took a tumble and had to be sagged.
• Part 2: Cyclists can be competitive, but also kind and encouraging. We pushed off with a fellow late-starter who made sure we knew how to read the road markings before he sprinted out of sight.
• Part 3: You can't get worked up over cycling-induced numbness when a man in an "I Ride With MS'' shirt — meaning he has the condition — passes you.
• Road Rules, Part 1: We heard a few cyclists complain about the traffic, but we were prepared, thanks to the famously impatient drivers of Tampa Bay. We may not have buns of steel, but our nerves are pretty solid.
• Part 2: Any traffic-weary cyclist can relate to how cool it is to have six lanes of traffic stop for you. Many thanks to the fine sheriff's deputies of Osceola, Polk and Orange counties for ensuring our safe passage.
• Lance Who? Part 1: After a day of cycling we all gathered for dinner and motivation from Maureen Manley, a member of the U.S. Cycling Team back in the day with Mr. Armstrong. During the 1991 Women's Tour de France, her vision blurred and she crashed — because, she soon would learn, she had MS.
• Part 2: Back then, there were no treatments and Manley was soon in a wheelchair. Today, she told us as she strode athletically across the stage, there are numerous effective therapies, but still no cure. Manley is an amazing speaker and advocate — and is back on her bike. Read more about her at her website, MaureenManley.com.
• Watch the signs, Part 1: Corny jokes posted on roadside signs helped power us up that last hill. Sample: "What kind of pizza did the man who hated salt order?'' A few feet later came the answer: ''Pepper-only.''
• Part 2: All our complaining body parts seemed to fall silent as, coasting toward the finish line, we saw these three signs:
This is what it feels like
To have MS