(Years ago, my then-girlfriend Susan and I tried to convince a group of drunks in a redneck bar in Springfield that I was actually Prince Andrew, the Queen's second son. We only half-succeeded but since then she has called me her prince. When she told her on-line friends about the MS150 they dubbed me "The Prince of Rides". They're a literary bunch)
This was my rider bib from the MS150. I didn't feel very unstoppable, particularly after 80 miles in the saddle on the first day.
David, my sort-of but not-really brother-in-law, came down from Austin for the MS150 again this year. I dropped him off at the start at 5.45 and went home to meet up with Jorge, my Colombian buddy and colleague, an MS150-debutant. We all met up again at BHP's official start in time for a team photo and a 6.30 departure.
It was a chilly morning - in the mid-40's, practically Arctic for us Texans - and both of us were shivering as we made our way north on Eldridge in the pre-dawn gloom. David and I are certainly an odd couple. Tall and thin, he looks like a cyclist, he's a randonneur and triathlete (his warm-up for the MS150 was a half-Iron Man event the previous weekend) and there's no serious doubt that he'll get to Austin. In contrast, I'm short and squat, looking more like a former Rugby front-row forward, and tend to get followed rather too closely by vultures, especially in the final stages of the ride. To balance things out a bit, he rides a defiantly low-tech Raleigh tourer that he got on Craig's List, which he has pimped-out by adding a rack and a trunk. I, on the other hand, am pushing a full-carbon Trek Madone rocket and rocking a pair of Lance Armstrong-inspired Oakley shades. I suspect we look like a kid and his dad out for a ride.
When the sun came up we had a beautiful morning, perfect for riding. The wind was out of the north, not favourable at all for us, but very light and not a factor at all. The chill (and our breakfast coffee) had a predictable effect, however and we were both ready to relieve what is called un besoin naturel when cycling in France (and when you stop it's un arret pipi). Somehow we missed the first rest stop and had to hang on until the second, which did not arrive a moment too soon.
I discovered a great joy of riding with a buddy - you don't have to lay your bike down at rest stops, you can lean the bikes together. A short break and we were back on the road. This stretch is quite familiar from the recent Cheeseburger run - would I hit the wall again at 70 miles? We passed the roadside diner that was so hospitable to me and I thought about stopping to thank the owners, but there were too many bikes around me.
A little further on, David and I caught up with a rider on a shiny chrome recumbent, complete with fairing. He was also a Club 300 rider and we chatted for a few miles. He's a contractor who got into riding when he had a job painting markers on a bike trail. He rode the trail with spray paint cans in his cupholders (recumbents are the bike equivalents of Escalades), got his job done and exercised at the same time.
We reached the Brazos river and the end of the Houston area flatlands. From now on we would be in rolling country all the way to Austin. The first few hills warmed my legs a bit but felt pretty good. With just a few miles to go to Bellville and the lunch stop, we were passed by an ambulance and the group came to a halt. Ride marshals came back and told us to relax, there was a wreck ahead that would take some time to clear. It was getting warm now and some of the pack dismounted and found shade. We began to move forward very slowly and someone joked about the MS150 walk to Austin. Eventually we got past the scene of the wreck and got rolling again. With 15,000 riders on the road, wrecks are inevitable, but fortunately this one was not serious enough for a helicopter evacuation.
Into Bellville for lunch and a chance to try out our bike-balancing skills again. Lunch was a sandwich (ham or PBJ!), your choice of a small serving of pasta or potatoes, an apple and a Bluebell ice-cream sandwich. David, who has an excellent appetite, accidentally violated protocol by taking both starches, and then felt guilty about possibly depriving a tired, hungry cyclist rolling in for lunch at 2pm, only to find no pasta was to be had.
Back on the road and lots of traffic through Bellville proper. There were lots of people in the town square cheering us on, a nice little boost. The route takes us past the Hill, formerly home of the best burgers in Austin county, then on to FM159 for a roller-coaster ride to Fayetteville and La Grange. Just before Fayetteville we climb the dreaded Rek Hill, which I always remember as being worse than it really is - today it's no tougher than any of the other climbs. The training must be paying off.
Riding through Fayetteville is one of the high spots of the whole tour. The entire town turns out to welcome the riders, and there's always a particularly lively bunch outside a tavern, who have probably been cheering and quaffing since 9am. Lots of people put bubble machines in their front yards, too.
Twenty miles to run to the overnight stop at La Grange and I'm starting to flag a bit. David of course looks a fresh as paint and is happy to stay with me, although I warn him that the pace may drop a little. We make the familiar turn before the last rest stop (and have a 200 yard down-wind run!) and decide to push on without stopping.
By now I'm running on will power and muscle memory. My right foot is very painful and my backside is demanding relief, so I try to find a position on the saddle that helps both, leading to a peculiar cross-wise perch. The legs are still strong, though, so I can ride out of the saddle and at least try to get some blood flowing back into my gluteus maximus. At some point along here we are passed by two kids on fixies!
Finally we make the turn onto Route 71 and we have a two mile downwind run to the finish. As we get closer there are cars and trucks lining the road and lots of people cheering us on. We cross the finish line, where someone on a PA is welcoming riders by name, presumably by quickly looking up their number. He doesn't spot me but manages to get David and announces "Here comes David Baxter, pedaling hard" (David corrects this to "hardly pedaling"!)
We ride clear of the usual congestion around the finish and dismount. Jorge is right behind us! We shake hands and congratulate each other. He had wanted to ride with us but we got separated at the start.
Once again, the BHP team tent is in the overflow area, but rather than the dreaded Camp Walmart from 2010, we're in Camp St.Marks in the grounds of a medical centre about a mile back down route 71. There is a shuttle but it's a short ride and Jorge and I decide we have a little bit left in our legs (and butts in my case). David has to pick up his bag so he rides the bus.
We find the team tent and roll up to a warm welcome from Ben and the other volunteers. They give us cold towels and show us where to park the bikes (much better bike racks this year). I find my bag and drop it on one of the cots, then get a good ribbing from the Mules, who have clearly been in for some time. They're enjoying beers and a riotous game of Jenga, while Taylor (who couldn't ride due to illness) is busy mixing up frozen Mimosas in her camp blender.
I'm feeling some of the symptoms that I experienced during the Cheeseburger run, so I decide to take a nap before showering. I don't really sleep but I feel a lot better after 20 minutes. This year we have our own shower and toilet trucks, pure luxury after last year when I waited in line for ages for a shower. The toilet truck has flush loos and air conditioning, much better than the porta-potties we've been using all day.
Back in the tent, I lie down for a bit more rest. Gunilla has the cot next to mine and encourages me to eat something, even though I'm not really hungry, so I make a sandwich and take a Stella from the Mules' beer cooler and sit and chat for a bit.
Dinner is Pappa's mexican from Austin, really good fajitas. David and I sit with Kevin, Tom and some of the other riders and talk about the day we've just finished and the one ahead of us. The Sunday route has a few options - there's an express route straight up 77 to Bastrop, the challenge route through Buescher and Bastrop state parks, and the bypass route that is a combination of the two. The Park (as we always call it) certainly is a challenge - 12 miles of very hilly terrain, with nerve-wracking descents and lung-bursting climbs. Just getting there involves a few hills and the fearsome descent out of Smithville, where elite riders probably top 50 mph. Most of us want to ride the Park this year.
After dinner, a beer or two and a chat I'm more than ready for bed. I find my ear plugs and a spare pair for Jorge and wriggle into my sleeping bag. I don't usually sleep well on the Saturday night, a combination of an uncomfortable bed, lots of noise in the background and nerves about the Sunday ride, but I slept pretty well, waking at about 4.30 (the lights go on at 5.00am!).
Paddy had asked the Mules to wear their jerseys today and I had brought mine. I was also
wearing my bib shorts (with the Livestrong logo
down the leg!) so I was feeling like a pro. BHP had provided a "Continental" breakfast of cold cereal and various processed foods, but there was a hot breakfast with coffee to be had on the other side of the campground, so Gunilla and I set off in the dark in search of pancakes, lit only by a full moon.
After breakfast I broke down my bed and packed my gear, then helped about 10 other riders with their beds. I pumped up my tires, found Jorge and David and we rode to the start.
This is where we saw the real benefit of the overflow campsite. Riders at the main site are not allowed on the road until sunrise at 7am, and people begin lining up at 5am, so you have a long wait at the start. This morning they let us off at 6.30am and we didn't have to wait at all. Off we rode in the gloom on another chilly morning.
A few miles along and we passed an MS150 icon - a piper, in full gear, standing by the road, playing his heart out. He was on "Amazing Grace" as we passed - David would have preferred something more upbeat. The three of us kept together well through the hilly terrain, stopping once before Smithville and the Park. Pretty quickly we made a familiar turn and a short climb before the big hill. I normally let the bike go, at least for the first few hundred yards, but there were too many other riders around and I had to check my speed. Jorge went flying past me but I caught him on the run out, and David reappeared too. Jorge's top speed on the descent was 40mph, David had 38mph and I was probably somewhere in between.
The next rest stop is at the start of the Park and we agreed to take a break. When you wear bib shorts and need a pee, there's no real option other than taking off your jersey and slipping off the should straps. This also requires unloading the gel packets, sunscreen, valuables etc out of your jersey pockets or there's a good chance they will end up in the septic. No that easy in a confined space. I'm still not convinced of the virtues of bibs but other riders swear by them (not David though).
Jorge bumped into another BHP rider, Matt, who had trained with us a couple of times. He wanted to join us so our little peloton became four. It was clear that we would all ride the Park at different paces so we decided to regroup at a prominent point near the end of the Park section. This shot was taken while I was still on pace with David. I was working hard but he had time to sit up and smile for the camera! I'm sure he dropped me soon after.
The Park was as tough as ever, but the roads seem to have deteriorated a bit since my ride in 2009 (I shamefully skipped the Park last year). On one particularly tough section I heard another rider encouraging himself by yelling "Come on, Mule, get up there Mule!". As I went past him I called out "Granny ring" - his reply was to the effect that he was already there and the next gear was "foot ring". Hope he made it.
There's a second rest stop in the Park, and I normally stop there, feeling I've earned a break, but I decided to push on so that I didn't keep the others waiting. A few more climbs and a long, long sweeping descent and I was out. I saw David waiting by the exit and pulled over. A few minutes later we saw Matt, and after a few more, Jorge appeared. He had struggled but made it through without having to dismount.
We merged into the stream of riders on the lunch express route, rode the long descent into Bastrop, crossed the Colorado and turned in to the High School for a 9.30am lunch. We were early enough that there was no line for the sandwiches, but we couldn't find a place to sit and ended up on the kerb. Here's Jorge and I, looking pretty relieved to be on the last leg of the tour.
After a good break we saddled up for the last 32 miles of the ride. I'm glad we arrived when we did - by the time we left the lines for lunch and the porta-potties were very long.
The final section is pretty boring, mostly flat until the Austin city limits. I'm starting to get tired and sore in the same places as yesterday. We agree to stop just once before the finish and I'm very glad to take a break and remove my shoes for a few minutes (even though I find a few burrs!). There's a Goya coconut juice stand and Jorge and I slug back a couple of cans. I still don't like the slimy lumps at the bottom.
Matt is on the right and Jorge on the left in this shot - David was probably in front of us. Somewhere on this stretch we passed the shiny recumbent rider from yesterday - he yelled "Charge!" as we rolled. At last we pass the Austin city limits sign. The right-hand lane has been coned off for us but this doesn't leave a lot of room, especially on descents, and we need to stay alert. The approach into the city centre has a number of climbs and descents so we can't relax. David is beside me and identifies a number of local beauty spots, including the football stadium. We turn onto MLK Boulevard with the finish line in sight. David pulls ahead and rides close to the barrier, high-fiving with the crowd. We group up and cross the line more or less together.
We all shake hands and then ride over to the BHP tent. The Mules have been in for a while of course and are eating lunch. Jorge spots some Colombian friends and stops for a chat. David and I get lunch (very good chicken kebabs and asparagus - the food has been excellent this year), then he heads back to his car and the short drive home. I get in the long line for the showers, standing behind a rider with road rash all up the left side of his body. Apparently he was carved up by another rider on the way into Bastrop and went down hard. Hope the shower wasn't too painful, amigo. Back to the tent, where Jorge is still deep in conversation (and still eating kebabs!). He's getting a ride back to Houston with a friend, so I walk over to the bus depot and catch a bus back to town, where Susan picks me up. We have a celebratory dinner on the patio and an early bedtime.
(The following weekend, David went on a 375 mile randonee event that he completed in 38 1/2 hours. Hopefully he slept in the weekend after.)