MS 150 - Riding for fun and funds in North Dakota

 

On the prior weekend I had picked up a brochure about a charity bike ride in Casselton, ND – just 20 miles West of Fargo – for a good cause: Helping to raise funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) society. I decided to partake in this ride and to raise at least $300 (twice the minimum to participate). It would be my first fundraiser ever – and I only had one week to do it. So I enrolled at the MS Society, which provided templates for a personal website, email to friends and, most importantly, an electronic way to submit pledges. So I put the word out to my coworkers and many bike-riding friends. It would be a 150 mile course in two days, with an option to extend the first day to a 100 mile ride. For more information on this event, click here. And you can still sponsor me here!

 

Friday, August 13, 2004

 

Every day of that week I got a couple of pledge-notifications via email and saw the total amount go up. On the last day prior to the event I came to the office wearing a bike jersey and helmet and put my bike near the coffee machine to raise awareness and make a last ditch fundraising effort.

This paid off and I eventually surpassed the $1,100 mark - including Microsoft’s generous policy of matching charitable donations 1:1.

On Friday I went to the local office in Fargo to register for the ride and get the ride bag with official tags, map, and various advertisements. Thereafter, I went to the grand finale of a West Fargo Pyrotechnics Guilde International Convention – for some very spectacular fire-works, the largest I had ever seen. This was also the evening of the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, so lots going on this evening. It was past midnight when I finally got to sleep…

 

Saturday, August 14, 2004

 

I slept through my alarm clock at 5:15am. When I woke up it was alread 6:10am – some folks already were having breakfast in Casselton since 6:00am! Damn, I am late! I throw everything in the car and leave still half asleep, only stopping at a gasstation to buy some breakfast for the drive to Casselton. One sponsor at Microsoft wrote in his comment box: “Ride hard!” Well, the first thing riding hard this morning was my car, flying down the Interstate to reach the starting point 20 miles West of Fargo as soon as possible.

Luckily I got there with about 10 mins to spare, enough time to change cloths, sign in for the ride, and pose for a quick picture.

There were about 85 riders signed up, a bit less than what I had expected, but definitely a nice group to ride with. Before I knew it the start signal for the ride was given and we were off. It was quite cool, which made for some chilly first ½ hour.

I took lots of pictures from the other riders as well as had one of them take one picture of me.

I chatted with Andrea, who also comes out to ride with us on Wednesdays for the Rollag ride. Her husband Kent was one of us 6 riders going to Winnipeg last summer. The 150 miles would be by far her longest ride for a weekend. After a while I decided to speed up, both to warm up and also catch the lead group of riders. This took me about 10 miles and was a piece of hard work. Just as I got there, many of them stopped for the first of the many rest stops. They had set up a food stop about every 10 miles, much more than I was used to. In fact I was still a bit chilled, had hardly taken a sip of my two Gatorade bottles and was in no mood to stop. So I continued, which quickly brought me up to the front rider, a young college kid native to India by the name of Rahul. So he and I rode for a while behind the lead car, driven by yet another one of the many volunteers which make such a ride so special.

Turn after turn we navigated our way through the lonely backroads. There is hardly any traffic at all. Eventually we reached the little village of Page, designated as lunch stop. It was barely 9:00am and we had ridden only 35 miles, so lunch was not exactly what I had in mind. We stopped for a quick drink and soon continued on to do the detour to Hope for the 100 miler. Just short of Hope there was a van parked at the official turn-around point with more drinks and fruit and other refreshing food.

Rahul and I stopped for a quick chat and drink – it was only 9:30am. By now we were riding far out in front, but on the way back to Page we saw several other riders who also went for the full 100 miles. Back in Page another quick stop with food; many more riders were here who just went for the regular 75 mile distance. After maybe 20 minutes I started over and continued on West ward. The 100 km mark rolled by. The roads were practically empty, you could see only a few other riders when the roads spanned from horizon to horizon.

Rahul had to slow down on the way back to Page and was no longer with me. Later it turned out he had serious trouble finishing this first day reporting feeling dizzy and light-headed. I suspect he didn’t drink enough and got dehydrated. One of the few rules of long distance bike riding: Drink, drink, and then drink some more! Staying hydrated is the single most important thing you need to do on a long and hot day on the bicycle.

Since it was a ride, not a race I had plenty of time to look around or stop for a nice scenic picture like this Colnago-framed summer still with sunflowers.

Don’t expect much out on those roads, but that vast open space has its own appeal. And at Sibley we reached the Sheyenne River Valley, certainly the scenic highlight of this round-trip. We stopped for some refreshing drinks as well as a fun get-hit-with-a-wet-sponge-in-the-face game courtesy to more volunteers.

I had heard there was only one women rider in front of me (doing the 75 mile), so naturally I kept pedaling at a good speed trying to catch up. Which I did at the next crossing of the Sheyenne River, with some moderately steep hill of maybe 200 ft. Most riders had serious problems with those hills, as we practically have no training grounds like these around Fargo. Now out in front and nearing Valley City, the goal for the first day, I pondered what to do with the rest of the day. When you get to Valley City from the North, you pass under a very long and impressive railroad bridge.

After a few more minutes riding through town following the many signs set up for this ride I soon arrived at the Valley City University Campus, the Finish for the first day. It was 1:30pm. There was only one volunteer there, and it would be another 4 hours prior to the banquet and dinner. Within minutes, Rahul showed up. He had taken a ride in one of the support vehicles as he felt incapable of finishing the ride due to his state of dehydration. So we had the volunteer take a picture of the first two finishers.

I figured there would be another 7 hours of sunshine on this beautiful day, too much to just relax and stay put for the rest of the day. So I decided to finish the entire loop on this afternoon, which would put me to a 175+ mile first day! The reaction of the volunteer when I announced that plan reminded me of the old saying: “If you want to see the Gods laugh, tell them your plans!” Anyway, off I went after only 15 mins or so. The next 20 miles or so would be both the most scenic, but also the most physically demanding of the entire ride. I had to ride into a 10 mph headwind and there were three serious hills to be crossed. On one of them I took a picture of the 200 km mark rolling by at 53 km/h – reminded me of the Winnipeg downwind ride of last summer, where I was speeding along for hours at that speed in the flats!

In Kathryn I stopped for a coffee and some sweets to satisfy my craving for sugar and coffeine. Kathryn has one street, one bar and one restaurant and about 60 people. So no problem finding the right spot. In a nicely refurbished room I drank multiple cups of coffee, had two bowls of vanilla icecream and a delicious, warmed up caramel bun – all for a staggering total of $ 2.48 I doubt you’ll find a better meal value anywhere in the U.S.!

Folks kept asking about the MS 150 ride and why we were 1 day ahead of schedule… Well, I pressed on, crossing the Sheyenne River one last time on Highway 46 through what is known locally as the Little Yellowstone park. Now for the first time I started to miss the frequent rest stops with food and drinks. In fact, the route had been chosen to purposely avoid traffic, and as such there were practically no gasstations or convenience stores to refill the drink bottles. In the tiny little village of Nome I found a soda-machine and even a little bar that was open. It was getting later in the afternoon and the 250 km mark rolled by around 5:00pm. Unfortunately the SW wind was diminuishing and didn’t provide nearly as much push as I had hoped. There was a stretch of really bumpy road and I realized I was getting tired and thus less tolerant of anything that didn’t go smooth. Luckily, upon getting closer to Casselton, the road had a fresh surface and the rest was smooth riding all the way back to Casselton. Just prior to 7:00pm I passed over the Interstate 94 and then rolled the last two miles to the parking lot where we had started 12 hours earlier.

I had ridden just a little bit over 185 miles or 300 km. This confirmed again exactly my formula of 100 km per 4 hours over a long day of solo bike riding (without wind or pack riding). I loaded the bike in the car and drove the 40 miles West on I94 to Valley City. When I arrived, the last couple of folks were coming out of the dining hall in what seemed to be a wrapped up banquet. I came late, but not too late: The friendly staff in the kitchen had heard my tale and catered me with an extra large bowl of pasta and lemonade. That tasted delicious, as we all know: Hunger is the best cook. I chatted with some nice folks, thus learning more about the MS disease and the regional chapter organization and had more pasta and lemonade.

After that feast I went back to the nearby campus dorms for a shower. During a short stroll I called my wife in Florida to learn that Hurricane Charley had spared our West Palm Beach home in a rare turn all the way around Palm Beach County. Folks on the Florida West Coast around Ft. Myers were not so lucky and saw there homes devastated by a category 4 hurricane reaching top sustained winds of 185mph – at that speed the 12 hour ride would be just 1 hour!

 

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Again we needed to get up early to get ready for a 7:00am departure. Again it was pretty chilly in the morning with temperatures around 50F (10C). Again there was the crowd gathering on the parking lot. Luckily I had found an individual willing to drive my car back to Casselton, so I would have the car back at today’s Finish line. One particularly inspirational encounter was with Jay. He has been aflicted with MS for 15 years now, but that has not let his spirits down or kept him from pursuing his dreams. In fact, he rode the entire 150 mile loop on a hand-powered wheel-chair-type bike!

Given the steep hills of the Sheyenne River Valley this was absolutely remarkable. Good luck to Jay on all his future endeavors!

The entire pack left at 7:00am sharp and “warmed up” to a first hill:

We rode the 20 miles to Kathryn again in what had to me a distinct deja-vu flavor due to the same ride the day before. The wind was stronger, but then I stayed in a group of riders and we weren’t trying to go very fast either. Andrea was again with me in the beginning, apparently going strong on her longest bike ride.

We all stopped in Kathryn at rest stop Number 2 for the day. Two more steep hills would follow to get us to Little Yellowstone Park again. Cruising down that hill I took a picture of my odometer clocking a tailwind-assisted speed of 66 km/h. Others were riding right next to me:

We stopped at the bottom for yet another food stop. This was most definitely the most well-fed long distance ride I’ve ever done. Going back up the hill was the last climb of the day.

We continued riding together, now assisted by a fair tailwind. Knowing the route ahead of time was somewhat comforting, for example I could mentally prepare for the bumpy stretch in the road and anticipate the best road conditions at the end. We had a lunch stop in Nome, too bad I was not hungry. But then I was not eager to continue alone, so I waited for the lead group to start again. We continued on and stopped one more time in Alice, more food and more lounging in the grass under the shade of a tall tree.

After that second to last stop Rahul and I picked up the pace – I guess we were both in “summit fever” and zoning in on the finish line. The 400 km mark rolled around at 11:52am and the wind picked up our speeds to between 35-40 km/h. I really got in the zone and kept a high speed, which dropped out all other riders. The last stretch going north to Casselton I got that same feeling like on the Winnipeg ride – tearing up the endless straight roads with a good tailwind. What a rush! Soon I was back at the car after a total of 425 km (265 miles). Minutes later Rahul and then some other riders arrived. Plenty of volunteers and family members or friends were already at the finish. There were many handshakes and hearty laughs, as well as a massage therapist taking care of our sore muscles. Best of all, the Outback Steakhouse had sponsored ribs and other great food for us riders. Too good to pass up, even though I wasn’t real hungry.

We had lunch and chatted for another hour or so. One by one the other riders closed today’s loop and joined the fun around the finish line. This was one great event: Meeting nice people, riding many miles near home including the scenic Sheyenne River Valley, gaining weight from the massive food and drink supplies, and last but not least raising money for a good cause. Not bad for my first fundraiser J