MS 150 Ė Breakaway from Miami to Key Largo

 

 

The National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) society has regional chapters in every state which organize many fund-raising activities, among others an annual weekend ride over 150 miles, the socalled MS 150. After I had already participated 2 years ago in the North Dakota MS 150 in August 2004 I knew about this type of event and the many good things that come of it. So I decided early to sign up for the MS 150 of the South Florida chapter of the MS Society from Miami down to Key Largo and back. My fund-raising goal was again at least $300. This time I would ride with Team Citrix, 8 riders with captain Jon Schaubhut, who is a colleague of mine at Citrix.

 

The preparations for this ride start way ahead of the event. I registered with the MS Society, which provided a template for my personal fund-raising website, email to friends and, most importantly, an electronic way to submit pledges. Then I put the word out to my coworkers and many bike-riding friends. It would be a 150 mile course in two days.

This year would also be special since I was asked to ride on a tandem bike with our captainís wife Karen. First we had to fit the pedals and my shoes to fit the tandem bike. I had never done such a long tandem ride, except the much shorter tandem ride with friend Klaus in Minneapolis in October 2004. After all the preparations the only thing that was left to do the evening before was to go to sleep early and get to Jonís house in Boca Raton at 5:00am. I decided to stay at a friendís house in Fort Lauderdale to avoid driving back and forth to Wellington.

 

Saturday, May 6, 2006

 

The day starts with a big surprise: When I step outside my friendís home at 4:15am my car is gone! Did I park it there last night? Yes. Whow! - It has either been stolen or towed. I call the police and find out that the car has been towed as it was parked behind two other cars and partly on the road, which I thought was uncritical as it was 20 yards from the end of a dead-end community road with only two homes past my spot.

 

Since my bike cloths and helmet are still in the car I need to get to it right no Ė otherwise I canít ride in the MS 150 and neither could my tandem partner! My friend drives me to the towing company lot at 4:30am, but they are only open Sat 9:00-12:00. Luckily we meet an employee at the gate who is kind enough to get my backpack with the bike cloths from the car. So at least I can participate with my gear. I quickly call Jon to re-arrange the pick-up and have them stop on their way south to Miami to pick me up. We get there almost on time and prepare our bikes. Meet some of the members of Team Citrix (from left): Mert Onur, Jeniva and Rich DiPietro, Michael Wolf, Ken ?

We will ride with two tandems: Jon with his friend Richís wife Jeniva on one tandem, Jonís wife Karen and I on the other tandem. My jersey isnít quite color-coordinated with theirs Ė but it is the official MS 150 jersey I got 2 years ago for the North Dakota MS 150, so I guess itís ok J

Our bags for the overnight stay are transported with the UPS truck. Everything is organized quite perfectly - after all this is the 20th anniversary of this ride and with 2000 registrations a sold out event.

Since we already had picked up our ride kits and prepared our equipment with stickers and labels, we are ready to roll very quickly and before we know it, we are off to a good start.

The first part of the ride is through smaller roads in the South-West part of Miami. The route meanders West and East between sections leading further South towards Florida City, the southern-most part before heading out towards the Florida Keys. We stop at every other rest-stop to relax and drink plenty of water and gatorade.

The heat is going to become a big topic today, as the temperatures will climb to the low 90ís (33C) and the sun is relentless. Sunscreen is a necessity, as is plenty of water. The sliced oranges at the rest stop taste mighty good. How sweet it is to have so many organized stops and volunteers taking care of everything Ė quite a contrast to the fully self-sufficient riding I did in Minnesota in 2003-2004. After such rest-stops our two tandem train is ready to get on the road again.

Riding the tandems takes a bit getting used to. Starting and turning can be tricky, so is drafting behind another rider or tandem, as your mind only controls your own legs, not those of your tandem partner! So you canít quite ride as close to the bike in front or accelerate or stop as fast as with a normal single bike. But once the train gets going, you can really move along quite nicely!

By 10:30 we have reached Florida City and need to stop for a few minutes as the police controls the flow of regular traffic and us riders to cross in large batches over to Card Sound road, away from the main route down the Keys on US1. Team member Georgy Momtchilov Ė who had overslept and was thus not on the original team picture Ė had caught up with us and is now riding with us. He is taking pictures of the two tandems which show the change in scenery from the farmland near Miami to the swamp and sawgrass of the Keys.

We stop at another rest station, shortly after passing an Emergency Vehicle helping a victim of heat stroke. We are all drinking enormous quantities of water and gatorade Ė somehow your body has a way of telling you what it needs.

Despite the headwind of about 10 mph we are still all smiles, as you can see on the faces of Jeniva, Karen, Georgy, Jon, Rich and myself. (Well, Jonís is a smirk, but he also smiles a lot J) The next major attraction is the Card Sound road bridge ahead right after the toll station.

I know this road well after my Harley ride down to Key West just two weeks ago. During that ride I turned around and did this bridge maybe 3 times just because it is so much fun to open full throttle and let the explosive force of a 115 hp engine revving at 8000 rpm catapult you up the long slope. Today it is much harder and slower going on the tandem. But the view is as magnificent, if not more:

You appreciate things more when you have to earn them and sweat like crazy getting there. This is a high-light, not just in terms of the altitude of approx. 80-100 ft above sealevel. Luckily there are always enough riders to ask to take picturesÖ

The following section is very hard, both in terms of the heat around noon as well as the fresh headwind which is demoralizing on long straight roads. Luckily Jon and Jeniva do most of the pulling work upfront and Karen and I can draft in their slipstream. Another rest station along the road invites for a refreshing stop in the shade of a tent with icecold gatorade.

You also get to see a few un-orthodox bike designs such as this recumbent.

I even see a rider the next morning on a 3-wheeled recumbent who has one artifical leg from the hip down. He wears a regular bike shoe on his artifical limb strapped into the pedals and looks ready to roll big time!

Back to the present: Another 10 miles or so until we reach Key Largo require some good effort on our part.

I had also forgotten this morning to ask for my sunglasses from my car at the towing lot, so I am riding without sunglasses today, not a recommended best practiceÖ

Once our Card Sound road merges back with US1 we are in Key Largo. Now it is another 5 miles or so until we get to the John Pennekamp State Park Ė famous for diving, sorcheling and glass bottom boat tours. These last 5 miles are the worst of the entire trip, primarily because of the heavy traffic on this road. As I had read in many books: Donít ride a bicycle on US1 down to Key West! But eventually we make it safely to the State Park with its inviting FINISH sign.

Notice the bike racks to the right where we drop off all bikes for safe storage overnight. Then we cool off with drinks, shade, and mist rain.

One of our team members (Mert) is being met by his family (wife and son), who go on a glass bottom boat cruise to enjoy the afternoon. After some late lunch and some lingering around in the heat of the afternoon most of us get on the shuttle to drive to our hotel, the Ocean Point Suites in nearby Tavernier, about 9 miles further West. Georgy and I stay around a bit longer to get a massage Ė ah, that feels so good after such a ride to get your feet and back massaged! Finally we also jump on the shuttle and leave towards our hotel.

There we shower to wash off the sweat and then jump in the hotel pool to cool off. When the sun gets low and the heat of the day subsides we get together to go out for dinner.

After a little drive and a long wait for table we are finally seated to a table for 10 and look forward to dinner (from left): Karen and Jon, Ken, Jeniva, Mike, Rich, Mert and his wife (?) as well as Georgy.

All are hungry and sleepy after the sun and sweat during the day. We need to fight off sleep long enough to see the food arrive. After dinner and returning to the hotel room most of us donít remember anything other than crashing out on the matraces. We sleep like babies.

 

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Not very long, however. The alarm goes off around 4:45am. We want to catch the shuttle around 5:15am. So we all lign up in front of the resort and wait for the shuttle. And wait some more.

The shuttle isnít coming. (This is about the only logistical problem this MS 150 had, transport to and from the John Pennekamp State Park.) So we hitch a ride with other ridersí cars and Mertís familyís SUV. When we get to the state park there are already hundreds of riders lined up for a 7:00am departure.

Of course this is not a race, so the actual departure time doesnít matter much (at least not for us), as long as itís within the allowed window between 7:00am to 8:15am. Today we mainly want to get on the road a bit earlier to avoid the worst of the heat in the morning. Plus, today we will have tailwind, as the South wind is still blowing just like yesterday. We again have to negotiate the first couple of miles along dreaded US1.

We quickly stop at a gasstation for me to buy fresh batteries for my camera.

Once on Card Sound road the ride is much better: Little motorized traffic, shadow of trees along the road, very smooth surface due to a recent new paving, tailwind, and lots of riders in good mood!

The next couple of miles pass by quickly. Due to the tailwind we cruise along with about 22mph (35 km/h) which brings back memories of some of the great tailwind rides I had done in Minnesota (Winnipeg, Minneapolis, Sioux City, Iowa-2-Canada).

Before we know it, the tall bridge is in front of us again. We again stop on top to take in the view.

Going down the long ramp with tailwind gives us the top speed on this tour at around 35mph (55km/h).

 

The rest of Card Sound road is very familiar by now and essentially the same experience as yesterday in reverse, exchanging the frustrating headwind yesterday with a pleasant tailwind today. Soon we are back in Florida City. Going back to Miami there is a different route, with at least one highlight: The route diverts to the Nascar Homestead Speedway! Here Rich is leading the way alongside a seemingly infinitely long parking lot towards the speedway.

None of us had ever seen this motodrome from inside, so this will be a first for all of us.

We all pose on the inside of the big oval next to an official Nascar support car:

Neither has anyone of us ever been riding on the tarmac of the speedway:

The skid marks are not from bicycle riders, as we tend to keep it under 200mph in the turns J

It takes some extra attention in the steeply banked turn with the tandem when starting and stopping. A few riders try to put the foot down on the downward side and as a result fall over! After some more rest, drinks and sunscreen we all escape the motodrome-turned-velodrome impressed, but unharmed.

Back on the road more hot stretches of road zig-zagging to the North-East towards Miami. Right in front of the Homestead Airforce Base one of the spokes on Georgyís front wheel is breaking, which gives us a quick photo op with the (hard-to-see) airplane in the background.

More zig-zagging and long hot roads. We pass a huge landfill, luckily on the upwind side Ė I hear last year the wind direction was not so good and made this a particularly smelly part of the ride L Right around 12:00pm noon we pass the 200km mark.

Not bad for us on the tandem! Again the two tandems pull the rest of the train as seen here from the camera above the helmet looking back.

As we get to the next rest station we donít need any more coordinating discussion about whether to stop at this one or not. Everyone is tired and thirsty. We stop for at least 15 minutes, enough to get some relief and enough fluids. The many enthusiastic volunteers as well as the prospect of being within 10-15 miles of the finish line also helps to raise the spirits, as you can see on the faces of (from left) Jon, Jeniva, Georgy and Rich:

We have some scenic riding along a coral wall and some nice artwork ahead of us.

Then we have another 10 miles or so of again dense city traffic, with some intersections nicely controlled by police blocking traffic and letting the riders pass freely, but other intersections with regular traffic lights. Again I notice how many bicyclists do not follow traffic lights and just run red lights! I donít like running red lights, much less when there is so much traffic, but I absolutely donít take any risks steering a tandem as you bear responsibility not just for yourself but also for your stoker. So I stop multiple times and we fall behind of the others who appear to be in summit fever, racing towards the finish. Eventually Mert on his single and Karen and I on the tandem reach the Miami Kendall campus again around 1:30pm and cross the FINISH line after about 147miles (236km):

We all get medals for finishing and are warmly greeted by all the volunteers and other riders.

We walk on over to the cafeteria where we are treated to all sorts of fresh food, in particular the classic chicken with rice and black beans.

Georgy and I head on over to the gym for another massage. It is again extremely relaxing and enjoyable to have the muscles worked on. Another rider (Gwen from Team Bacardi) takes this final picture of a very relaxed Georgy and Thomas:

 

After an uneventful drive back to Richís house in Jonís neighborhood we are all treated to fresh coffee by Jeniva and share the first pictures off the camera on our PCs.

This was one great event: Meeting nice people, riding many miles near home, gaining weight from the massive food and drink supplies, and last but not least raising money for a good cause. Thanks again to all who gave a pledge and thus contributed to the mission of the NMSS: To end the devastating effects of Multiple Sclerosis. We riders from Team Citrix can feel good about having done this ride and raised considerable funds (around $4,500 incl. corporate matches). And we have one additional pledge: We will come back next year and do it again!