As the Houston winter turned to spring conversations turned to the MS 150. The main event of the year for many in the Six Thirty group. There was an expectation that you were riding the MS150. What could possibly stop you?
The MS 150 is a two-day ride of between 150 mi / 240 km and 180 mi / 290 km, depending on which of the three starting points you choose in Houston. Day One ends at the Fayette County Fairgrounds in La Grange. The final destination is next to the Texas State Capitol in Austin. The purpose of the ride is to raise money for multiple sclerosis research and other services supported by the National MS Society.
75 mi / 120 km was well beyond my longest ever ride. My first challenge was to convince myself that I could ride that far. So I rode the events that were billed as MS 150 training rides, like the Gator Ride in March. I huffed up the climbs at Cat Spring, Chappell Hill and Bellville, hoping that I would be adequately prepared for the mythic hills of Austin. By March I felt I probably had enough miles and climbs in my legs to sign up for the event.
I was a very late entrant and was lucky to get a place. The MS 150 is a very popular ride and the 13,000 places get snapped up very quickly every year. I was, it seemed, a beneficiary of the appalling weather that plagued the 2009 ride. Day One had been cancelled and the rain, wind and cold made Day Two miserable for the riders. Some of whom had decided not to sign up for the 2010 event. Leaving spots available for latecomers like myself.
Once I had my place in the event there were two things to do. One was to raise the minimum fundraising pledge. I had left myself very little time to hit up my friends for donations. Most of whom were looking for their own donors anyway. The solution was simple. My biker chick and I split the required amount between us.
The second task was to find a team to ride with. The obvious choice was my employer, but the Hess Corporation team was full. Tom B. came through for me, again, and managed to get me a last-minute spot on the Exxon Mobil team with him. I was so late that I had missed the deadline for ordering a team jersey. Not such a bad thing in hindsight. I don’t think it would have done me much good to be seen in an Exxon Mobil jersey by the great and the good of Hess Corporation.
As the big day drew closer I continued to worry about never having ridden 75 mi / 120 km before. So the weekend before the MS 150 I rode in The Space Race. A loop from Gulf Greyhound Park in La Marque through the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge to the west, then north to the outskirts of Angleton before heading eastward toward Alvin and back to La Marque. I felt good at the halfway point. I felt really terrible with 20 mi / 32 km to go. I was hot and tired and hungry and barely maintaining forward progress into a constant headwind. The event was billed as a 100 mi / 160 km ride. I was so thankful that the finish came sooner than advertised. I didn’t get my first century ride under my belt that day. But more importantly I did come away convinced that I could finish the MS 150. Even if it almost killed me!
A group of Six Thirtyers rolled out of Jack Rhodes Memorial Stadium in Katy at dawn. It would take far too many words to describe the energy, the excitement, the exuberance, the entertainment and the exhilaration of the next two days. This is one of those events where you truly had to be there.
In Bellville and Fayetteville and La Grange and Bastrop and Austin there were crowds lining the streets ringing cowbells, blowing bubbles, waving signs, cheering, tooting horns, shouting “thank you.” We even had live music. A fiddle band at one point. A bagpiper in full regalia at another. There were brigades of cheerful volunteers at every rest stop. The familiar faces of the West End Bicycle guys at their bike service tent in Industry. Everyone encouraging us on with a friendly wave and a smile.
This is some of the Six Thirty group at the lunch stop at Bellville on Day One. There were five of us in Exxon Mobil jerseys. Only one of us was actually an employee of that company.
On Day Two we all put on our Six Thirty jerseys. It has become a tradition that the group foregoes the Bastrop lunch stop sandwiches provided by the MS 150 organizers for the much tastier fare at Whataburger. Texas’ own burger chain.
This was the first time I had been to a Whataburger. I shouldn’t have waited so long. As Whataburger say in their commercials, “It’s shut your mouth good.”
After our burgers, fries and shakes it was 32 mi / 51 km to the finish line in Austin. Where Tom and I naturally had to pose in front of the Texas State Capitol building for the signature glory shot.
I knew right there that I would do this ride again in 2011. What I didn’t know right there was that the experience in 2011 would be even better.