But the second day was still on, with an 8am start out of downtown La Grange, so we made our plans - Kevin and I were to drive up Sunday morning, meeting Lee and BJ who were coming down from an overnight stay in Austin. Meanwhile, Barbara (Kevin's wife), who had spent Saturday night visiting friends in Wimberley, would meet us at the finish in Austin and shuttle us back to the car in La Grange. Got it? Good, not sure I did.
So it was an even earlier start than usual for Kevin and I, without the Starbucks stop for once as we were both adequately caffeinated. We anticipated traffic and were certainly passed by plenty of vehicles with bikes but in fact made good time, good enough in fact to take a break in Ellinger at Hruska's, purveyor of authentic kolaches and klobasikys (and gasoline). One of the many cyclists there was none other than Tom, a good friend of ours, who was doing the ride with his teenage son John again (apparently still asleep in the truck outside!) A couple of years back Kevin and I rode the Bastrop to Austin section with Tom and John and this gave me a wonderful excuse for taking it slowly (John can't keep up if you go too fast). It was not to be this year however.
We hooked up with Lee and BJ in La Grange and got geared up for a long day in the saddle. Not only was the first day cancelled, the Challenge route through the Parks was also closed, so we would be on the Lunch Express route, straight up route 71 into Bastrop, then on to Austin for a total of 68 miles. Not as many as we had expected but enough all the same.
Lee had perhaps foolishly decided to ride the first and last ten miles in an Elvis costume (he had one lying around the house, as you do) in the hope of raising a few more bucks for the cause. With his wig (on top of his helmet of course), gold shades and rhinestone-studded jump suit he was quite impressive, although I suspect Elvis didn't use white duct tape to keep his flares out of his bike chain. To round out the effect, Kevin had loaded up his cellphone with Elvis's greatest hits and brought a portable Bluetooth speaker which he hung from Lee's saddle. This not only added artistic verisimilitude but had the benefit of making sure that Kevin wouldn't get out of Bluetooth range in front of us. Lee gamely tried to adopt an Elvis sneer but he has far too sunny a temperament to make it convincing, and he was also having a blast.
And so the adventure began, with "Hound Dog" blaring from Lee's bike, unusual even by our standards. We rode down to the County court house and found a sea of cyclists all standing around waiting for the off. Lee immediately attracted a lot of attention, with numerous young women in lycra wanting their photo taken standing next to the King. With hindsight we should have charged for each snap.
After about 40 minutes standing around with no signs of progress, word went around that it would be at least two more hours before we got going, so we decided to take matters into our own hands. We knew the route - basically straight up route 71 - so all we had to do was get on to it somewhere. After a few minutes riding around we spotted the highway and we were off.
71 is a divided highway with two lanes each way, and there were enough cyclists on the route for us to take a lane for ourselves. The first 15 miles or so is pretty flat and the surface is excellent, so we rolled along in fine style under clear skies with little or no wind. The cars and trucks were forced onto a single lane and were more or less keeping pace with us - so one group of ladies in a minivan, delighted at the sight of the King, cruised alongside for a while, all of them shooting cellphone videos.
We pulled in at the first rest stop for Lee to strip off his jumpsuit and resume his normal persona. Then it was back at it, with a slightly more challenging section in front of us.
A few weeks back, Lee and I had driven up to Bastrop State Park to plant trees with a group from the MS 150 Club 300. There had been a pretty bad wildfire and we were glad of the opportunity to give something back. After the tree planting we had cycled the two Parks and then returned to the car via route 71, along the section we were now seeing. That time it was wet and windy, today it was dry and calm but the rollers hadn't got any flatter. I was in my granny ring and granny gear a time or two but made it through and felt fairly good at the end in Bastrop.
The lunch break for the second day is at the Middle School. We knew from experience that it would be hectic, with long lines for everything, especially the toilets, and the lunch wasn't that fancy anyway, a turkey sub with chips and an apple. As it was barely 10am we weren't all that hungry anyway, so I suggested a minor deviation. I was pretty sure that a mile further down the route at a big intersection there was a gas station, where we could get water and chocolate milk (of course), eat our snacks and gels and use a flush toilet.
Great idea but sadly my memory was flawed - we got to the intersection and there was no gas station (memo to self - possible retirement business opportunity?). There was a big strip mall though with an Academy, surely they would have water at least?
Indeed they did, and also chocolate-flavoured coconut water! First things first though, they had very nice, clean restrooms in the back (I attracted quite a few puzzled stares as I clip-clopped my way through the store). The coconut water turned out to be very odd indeed and I didn't finish it. Back at it for the last 30 miles or so into Austin. The plan was to stop at the last break before the city for the Return of the King but not before then, giving us about a 20 mile run.
But no plan survives first contact with the enemy, and in this case once again my right foot was that enemy. In previous years it had begun to hurt after 40 or 50 miles and got so bad that I had to stop and walk around without my shoe on for a while. I hadn't had too many issues with it during training this time and had hoped I would be ok, but I wasn't. After ten miles it was really giving me gyp as they say. I tried unclipping on a downhill and that seemed to help, so I started riding without clipping in, but when we reached the Webberville break point I had to ask the guys to stop.
Kevin was looking like he was in the middle of a gentle ride around his neighbourhood! Lee also looked strong but he admitted to being a bit tired. I took my shoes off and slogged over to get some water. Kevin gently suggested I take some tylenol for the pain on the basis that it couldn't do any harm and that made some sense.
Normally the exit from this stop takes you back onto the route a little further down, but the field you have to cross was flooded so we had to double back and join a long line of riders trying to get back at it. We finally got going with about 20 miles to run. The tylenol didn't help and I was soon hurting again. I gritted my teeth and pedalled on but I was really slowing the guys down.
We got to the last break before the end only to find it had been moved from the roadside and into a field some way back. We turned off anyway for me to get some more shoe-free relief, but didn't actually go into the rest area.
Come on then, let's get 'er done. We passed the Austin City limits sign, normally a boost but to be honest not much help this time. There are several decent rollers on the way in, and the climbs were killing me. With about a mile to go I was dead in the water and actually pretty much out of water too, so we pulled over opposite a gas station, ostensibly for water and for Lee to don the jumpsuit once more, in practise because I was beat. Kevin took his life into his own hands, dodging cyclists and cars while attempting to run across a road in cycling shoes, but emerged with armfulls of water bottles just like a pro domestique.
There really wasn't much left of the ride, and Lee was getting lots of love which was quite a boost. We made the final turn into the chute with Lee in the lead, waving left and right to the cheering crowds. I can honestly say that I've never enjoyed an MS 150 finish as much as this one, cruising along behind the King.
So there we were, in Austin after perhaps the most painful time in the saddle I'd ever experienced. We dropped our bikes at the compound and found the BHP tent. Barbara and BJ were already there (they had expected us a lot earlier, sorry ladies I kept your boys out longer than I meant) so we got a warm welcome. There was damn good food to be had too, excellent ribs (pretty spicy!) and a sausage on a stick that was very salty and unbelievably delicious. BHP had supplied a keg of Shiner but good old Chris (who had been in for hours of course) had brought Karbach just as she said she would and handed me a Rodeo Cown, nectar to go with the ambrosial BBQ.
Off for a shower (no line for us VIPs of course!) and then back to the tent to break the news to the guys. Back in January I had decided that this would be my last MS ride. I told Susan at the time but didn't tell Kevin or Lee, not wanting to cast a pall on our training and the fun we were having. To lighten things up I had bought them both Monty Python "Ministry of Silly Walks" watches and duly presented them along with my news. In pro cycling the team leader generally gives his team a gift of some sort, often a nice watch, a Rolex if they had a good season. I couldn't see that hppening but they got ThinkGeek's finest, a nice tie-in to the Python theme we'd had all year too.
So that's that! Since 2003 I've raised close to $200,000 for the MS Society, thanks to generous friends like you few who read this drivel I put out. I've also had a lot of fun and a fair bit of discomfort but that's nothing compared to the daily life of people with this noxious disease.
There's no doubt that the last few rides were made immeasurably easier and more fun by my good friend Kevin. I owe you a huge debt of gratitude Bass Man, not least for the musical portions of your instruction. This last year was even more enjoyable because Lee joined us. We made quite a team!
As an epilogue, the title of this blog post comes from a song written and performed by Daevid Allen, founder member of Soft Machine and Gong and thus a major source of musical entertainment for me as a young man. Daevid lost a fight with cancer earlier this year at the too-young age of 70.
I started this blog to drum up pledges for my rides. Since I'm not riding any more, this will be my last post. Thanks for reading!