OK, it wasn't as bad as that! The real "Sunday in Hell" is the Paris-Roubaix pro race that's run every Easter over cobbled roads in Northern France. This year's MS-150 was a struggle for me, mainly because I couldn't get enough training, due to sickness and bad weather. Next year will be better!
A lot of logistics to wrangle this time. Susan's sister's partner's twin brother David, who lives in Austin, rode the bus down on Friday and spent the night with us. I drove him to the start (to drop his bag and pick up his bike), then drove back home where I'd arranged to meet up with Christina and Taylor. We saddled up and rode to the BHP start, where we hooked up with the rest of the team, including David - all by 7.00am.
We have our own team start partly for a bit of pre-ride bonding, but mostly to avoid the chaos at the official start (10,000+ riders all trying to get off at the same time!). Sadly, this year the official start had been moved and our route took as right to it - so we had to wait anyway. Oh well, it was a good opportunity for more bonding, and got us ready for the endless lines that would face us over the next two days.
Off we went on a clear, cool morning with a fair tail wind and storms in the forecast. I'd forgotten just how flat it is around the city - we didn't climb anything close to a hill until about forty miles out, practically at the lunch stop. The rain held off and it was pretty comfortable riding all the way. Unfortunately my lack of training was starting to make itself known, via a certain discomfort in the hinterlands, so to speak. This was to continue all day and into Sunday. Experienced riders tell you that miles make smiles, and they don't mean that your legs get stronger.
The tail wind kept going, but by mile 65 or so I was running out of steam. Everything hurt (feet/backside/back/neck/shoulders) and the climbs were really taking a toll. I knew that I had one big climb outside Fayetteville to face - the dreaded Rek Hill - and wasn't sure there was enough in the tank to get me over it. Turns out there was, but only just. Fayetteville was a big boost, as ever - the whole town turns out to cheer on the riders.
With twenty miles to go I was running on empty, living for the sight of a rest stop. Finally we made the last turn, and the Fayette County fairgrounds appeared. In the past this would be the end of the first day, but this year BHP's tent is in the overflow camping area in the Walmart parking lot, ingeniously dubbed "Camp Walmart", and it's three miles further. I'm really struggling now, but I dig deep and find enough to get me in.
I limp into the tent (right foot is killing me!) and receive a warm welcome from the Mules, who of course have been in for hours and are already several beers to the good. I find a Shiner beer in one of the coolers and slump into a chair next to Gregor, feeling about as bad as I ever have while riding. The lack of winter and spring training certainly took a toll. Somewhat refresshed IO struggle to my feet and go looking for my gear. I find my bag on a cot quite close to an exit - just what I wanted, perfect for the midnight loo visit - grab my sponge bag, towel and change of clothing and head off to the shower trucks.
My 2009 pledges ($11,000) put me in the top 300 fund-raiser club (Club 300) and entitled me to a few perks. The one I planned to make the most of was a dedicated shower truck, allowing me to skip the long wait at the other trucks. Sadly this wasn't offered at Camp Walmart, so I had two options - take the shuttle bus to the Fairgrounds and use the Club 300 truck there, or take the bus to La Grange High School and use their athletics facilities. The first bus I saw was heading to the High School, so I followed fate and jumped on. This turned out to be a poor choice, as the wait at the High School was pretty bad too. At least they supplied towels, which meant I didn't have to try and get mine dry before Sunday afternoon in Austin.
A short wait for a bus and I was back in Camp Walmart. I went over to the massage area and got in line. I don't really enjoy massages but it seemed like a good idea and Susan loves them. I chatted briefly with another rider while we watched a masseuse turn someone into a pretzel, then I was up. 20 minutes of agony followed - does this really help? Back with the Mules and time for the usual post-ride banter while we waited for the food to be ready. Fajitas, beans and rice and another Shiner to the good and I was feeling a lot better. At this point in the proceedings we're all starting to run out of steam and wondering how soon we can go to bed. But first, my duties as a host - David is in line for food so I join him for a chat. He had a great day in the saddle, riding with the Mules until the lunch break, when he left them still eating.
And so to bed, where I find I'm surrounded by Janis from work and her two adult children. I ask them if anyone snores and they both point to their Mum, who grins sheepishly. Fortunately I brought my ear-plugs. Into my sleeping bag and a quick call to Susan, yawning the whole time, before settling down.
I never sleep really well on the Saturday night - it's not very comfortable, I ache in every joint and I'm usually a bit wound up about the Sunday ride - but I get a few hours before movement in the camp wakes me up at about 4.30 am. The lights are still out so I try to be discrete as I gather up my riding gear and head over to the changing cube. Today I'm repping Club 300, with my brand-new top fundraiser jersey and socks. The lights come on (5.00am!) and I can start packing up and breaking down my cot, with help from Janis' son, who is in the USAF and spent three months in Iraq sleeping on one.
I dig out my bike maintenance bag and go looking for my steed, which had been left outside in the weather with all the others. It rained a bit overnight, so I dried her off, then cleaned the chain and applied lube. Richard comes by and I offer him the use of my rag and chain oil. He's suitably impressed by my preparedness and grateful for the chance to dress up his ride a bit.
Time for breakfast, and there's already quite a line for pancakes and breakfast tacos. It starts to rain so I pull on my rain jacket. Then it starts to rain really hard, and we cluster under the awning by the cooks. I snag a plateful of pancakes, a big gob of butter and a pint or two of maple syrup - wonderful. There's even half-way decent coffee from the nearby Exxon station. The rain stops, we load the truck and then line up for the start.
I could go to the front of the line (another Club 300 perk) but I hang back, chatting with Richard and Leslie. The hot topic, as ever on the Sunday, is which route to take to Bastrop. The traditional route through Buescher and Bastrop State parks is much more challenging than the express route, which is basically a straight shot up Highway 71. So far I've gone through the Parks every year and found it challenging and exhilarating, but it's much harder too, and after yesterday's slog I'm not really up for it. The heavy rain (now stopped) supplies a built-in excuse - the Park roads are likely to be wet and possibly dangerous.
So it's the lunch express route for me, out there in the traffic on 71 with several thousands of my closest friends. It's fast but tedious. I skip the first rest stop and run into Kevin and Tom at the second. We chat and Kevin points out that the lunch stop is about ten miles away. there's no way I'll be ready for food by then. Back on the road, Kevin and I keep pace for a while but he eventually hangs back a bit to allow Tom to catch him. Pretty soon we reach the junction where the two routes merge. I catch a rider just out of the park and ask him how it was - "Perfect" was the laconic response.
We descend into Bastrop, a very familiar route, crossing over the Colorado before turning into the high school. I'm really not ready for lunch and feeling pretty strong, so I blow past the stop. There's a decent head-wind and it starts to kick in pretty soon. The road is surprisingly quiet, given the size of the field. I'm passed by Gregor and some others in a paceline - if they're so fast, why were they behind me, anyway? Country roads, climbs and descents, and various species of road kill all roll past. I break at the next rest stop and eat a bit more than normal, to make up for missing lunch. I'm in Webberville, with about 30 miles to run. Normally I'd stop only once more, but I'm tiring and aching again, and hit both of the remaining break points.
I finally pass the Austin city limits sign (woo-hoo!) and now the right hand lane is coned off for us. The last ten miles includes four good climbs but I'm feeling no pain by now. Along one stretch I'm passed by a paceline lead by Jason, with Paddy and Phil in tow amongst others. I tag on to the line until the next climb, when I blow past (Jason is holding the pace down to keep the group together). Taylor calls out "Go Andy!" as I pass.
We can see the UT tower now and the end is definitely in sight. We run down through the University, turn on to MLK and we can see the barriers and crowds. One last left hander and there's the state capitol, framed under the finish sign. I try to smile and look happy but really I'm just glad to be done.
At the team tent I get a warm welcome and a cold beer. I grab my bag and head off to the shower trucks. Five minutes later I'm luxuriating in a strong flow of hot water - feels wonderful. Back at the tent and there's a hot lunch - very good lasagne, with steamed vegetables and salad. Definitely the best finish line lunch we've ever been served. Kevin and Tom roll up and we exchange celebratory fist bumps. David cruises in, too, looking as though he'd just had a pleasant jaunt around his neighbourhood. He'd decided to go easy, but also went through the park, which he enjoyed.
Time to head out. I get one of the last seats on a bus and doze my way back to Houston, where Susan is waiting to pick me up from the Omni. I arrive home to a hero's welcome, some decent Pinot Noir and a fabulous roast pork dinner. I could get used to this -