Not one to make the same mistake twice, I prepared for the Bike MS ride in Mooresville this year (See Alabama Chapter Bike MS Historic Mooresville 2009 story below). I rode my bike regularly starting in May and I got stronger on the hills as each week passed. I even rode in the WC Handy Century ride a couple of weeks beforehand. And, Team Doozer DOUBLED in size. Okay, I convinced my friend to ride with me. This is significant since I got lost last year and had to ride an EXTRA 15 miles. This year, Todd and I were going to stick with 75.
Eh, whatever. None of that prepared me for the challenge I experienced at this year’s ride.
We arrived at the race early enough to pick up our registration packets, eat some fruit and granola, slather up in sunscreen, pack a few Gu, and sidle up to the START line with time to spare. All the volunteers were so enthusiastic, thanking us for being there and encouraging us before we’d even clipped in our pedals.
We rolled out right at 8:00 on a beautiful Saturday morning. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, though the forecast called for rain. And, in the Serengeti heat of North Alabama, I was looking forward to it. We knocked out the first 25 miles in record time (for me). We kept up with a pretty fast pack of Regions guys. Their jerseys were green, too. I think they thought we belonged there. Anyway, drafting is really cool.
The first rest stop was even better. They had towels soaked in ice water (laced in alcohol to keep it from freezing), so they cooled you down and woke you up all at once. After a few minutes, we set out for the next 25 miles. We toured back country roads and saw lots of corn and lots of cotton. We didn’t see much shade or any clouds. Where was that rain?
It is now generally accepted that MS involves an abnormal response of the body’s immune system that is directed against the myelin (the fatty sheath that surrounds and insulates the nerve fibers) in the central nervous system.
We were on our own now, and I was slowing down. Wait, I slowed down and couldn’t keep up with the Regions guys, so we were on our own. The course was different, too. Last year, there weren’t any hills (except for the quick rise and fall over the interstate). Just before our second rest stop, we went through a series of short, steep roller coaster type hills and ended our second 25 with a long slow downhill. Once again, the rest stop was filled with volunteers buzzing around filling our drink bottles, squeezing out chilled towels, spritzing us with cold water and offering us a table full of snacks. Just as we were leaving, one of the volunteers pointed in the direction we were supposed to go and said, ”There’s a bit of a hill when you leave out of here, about a mile and a half.” Wait, what? Right, all that downhill coming in equaled a serious uphill on our exit. It was a long slow climb.
The last leg of our journey was by far the most physically and mentally challenging two and a half hours I can remember. I remember lots of sun accompanied by an ever repeating cycle of corn, hill, cotton, barking dog, hay, hill, turn, drink, truck, cotton, corn, hill, trampoline, hay, drink. Is that a mule? It went on for miles. We were so exhausted we couldn’t talk. Well, I could talk, but Todd was too tired to respond, so we rode in silence. I wondered where my friend from last year was. This had to be so much harder for her. I couldn’t imagine riding this ride with MS. We rode past one of those huge multicolor information signs along the highway that mindlessly blinked encouraging slogans separated by the date, time and temperature. August 14, 2010, 12:49 pm, 98°. Wait, what? I thought the high was supposed to be 92°. And where is that rain?
Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, although individuals as young as 2 and as old as 75 have developed it. MS is not considered a fatal disease as the vast majority of people with it live a normal life-span. But they may struggle to live as productively as they desire, often facing increasing limitations.
We pulled off at a gas station and sat in the shade. Oh happy day, there was even a breeze. Just 8 more miles, we could do it, right? This was the first time I wasn’t sure. I have ridden this many miles many times. What was wrong with me? I wanted to give up, but didn’t. I’m still not sure why. Every one of those 8 miles lasted an ETERNITY in my head. I even resorted to my version of the Dorie character in Nemo. Only, instead of “Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!”, it was, “Just keeping spinning! Just keep spinning!” The support vehicle pulled alongside us and asked how we were doing. Just two more miles. We could do that, right? I felt a surge of excitement, until we made the final turn. The clouds were coming in on a stiff head wind. Ugh! We were both cussing. Could this get any harder? Then finally, off in the distance, I could see the tents. The finish! We’d done it!
MS can cause blurred vision, loss of balance, poor coordination, slurred speech, tremors, numbness, extreme fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, paralysis, and blindness and more. These problems may be permanent or may come and go.
I was completely sapped, so we went to the hospitality tent to get some drinks and sit right in front of a very big fan. Once again, the volunteers were enthusiastic and helpful, getting us everything we needed. In a few minutes, my friend from last year came and sat next to me. I told her again how impressed I was with her. She brushed off the compliment remarking that she’d only done 39 miles. There was no ‘only’ on this day. I don’t know many people that don’t have MS who could ride 39 miles on a mild fall day, much less on a day like this one. Once again she was my hero, encouraging me when she’s the one with MS. Once again, I was the one that benefitted most from taking part in this year’s Bike MS Mooresville ride.
For more information about the disease or how you can help others with MS, visit the Alabama Chapter website at www.nationalmssociety.org/chapters/ALC/index.aspx