MS 150 in 2007 - 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 participating 2004 in the North Dakota MS 150 and last year 2006 in the Florida MS 150, I had signed up again as member of Team Citrix for the challenge of riding from Miami down to Key Largo and back – as well as the fund-raising. My goal was to raise at least $500. Team Citrix was 10 riders strong with captain Jon Schaubhut, just like last year.

 

Most people start preparations for a ride like this way ahead of the event. This year Jill and I wanted to participate on a tandem bicycle. Jon had borrowed us the tandem a couple of weeks early to prepare specifically for this event. As a result, we had at least two weekends with 100 training miles each. One of those rides took us up North to Hutchinson Beach near Stuart. Along the way we stopped at the scenic Jupiter Inlet.

So we did already get used somewhat to the tandem – we’re likely going to buy our own, as riding on the tandem is lots of fun.

As if timed that way, I also got a perfect weather pattern for a long tailwind ride the weekend prior to the MS150, which allowed me to implement a long planned tailwind ride from Orlando down to Palm Beach. I used the trip report as an opportunity to contact some old rider colleagues and entice them for another pledge J

 

I registered with the MS Society, which provided a template for my personal fund-raising website and that of Team Citrix, 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.

 

Saturday, April 21, 2007

 

The alarm clock rings at 5:30am. We need to get down to the Miami Dade College campus South-West of Miami – about a 1.5 hr drive from Palm Beach Gardens. We put some fresh coffee in the travel mugs and get on the road for an uneventful drive.

Once at the campus, we re-assemble the tandem and put on the bike cloth, getting ready for the adventure. The morning sun comes up and gives everything an extra sparkle.

 

 

We meet up with 4 other riders from Team Citrix, the rest isn’t here yet. Our overnight bags go with the UPS trucks and we advance to the start line. We’re actually among the last group of riders for the 8:15am start window.

 

 

An hour ago there were several hundred riders rolling through this start gate. In some ways, this is very similar to last year’s ride: Same start and finish, same route, same weather pattern, same tandem, same Team Citrix captain etc. So there is an eerie familiarity about this, something like a Déjà vu experience.

 

 

Other than our chain falling off which requires us to stop briefly there are no incidents and everything is smooth. The temperature is good and the wind is gently from our back left. Jill and I get used to the tandem rhythm and enjoy the first rest stop at the Monkey Jungle.

 

The route zig-zags East and West between progressing further South towards Florida City and then the Keys. About 10 miles down the road is another rest stop, where we pose for the double tandem picture.

 

 

Next to me and Jill we have Jon, his wife Karen and her friend Jeniva. We are even wearing the same jerseys as last year!

 

So we continue for a couple of miles, with not much discernible progress through lots of fields, nurseries, construction sites, and a huge concrete building which makes us guess whether it was a jail or a school (The signs say it’s a school – some might consider it a bit of both…)

 

At the next rest stop there is an interesting tree with odd-shaped roots, which brings out the monkey in the man.

 

 

Soon thereafter we get to Florida City and briefly stop on US-1 waiting for the local police to stop the traffic and grant us safe passage. There are many volunteers to organize and safely conduct a large event like this. 2000 riders on public roads, there are a lot of safety issues to consider. But as far as we can tell, no incidents like last year’s heat strke or otherwise. Before we know it we are on the Card Sound road down to Key Largo, which starts out with a 7 mile long straightaway…

 

 

The scenery changes from open fields and nurseries to sawgrass and swamp. Quite lovely actually to get away from the city traffic and busy roads. We stop at the next rest stop. Some clouds build up and temporarily darken the sky a bit, but as it turns out there is no rain, not even a sprinkle in the cards today.

 

Soon after the stop we get to the toll booth and then the tall Card Sound bridge.

 

 

After some brief but intense uphill pedaling we reach the crest of the bridge and stop to take in the view.

 

 

Today, as it happens, there is a regatta with dozens of sailboats just getting ready to sail under the bridge.

 

 

The boats are all flying their big spinnaker sail, which makes for an interesting perspective on the down-wind side of the bridge. The mast of this yacht misses touching the bridge by less than 5 feet. It feels like you can reach out and touch the sails.

 

 

Of course we need to have the tandem-train-on-top-of-the-bridge picture taken again very similar to last year J

 

 

One more rest stop provides relief from sitting in the saddle for now about 4 hours or so. Here we see Fernando chatting with Jon after some refreshing Gatorade.

 

 

Shortly thereafter we reach the Junction with Hwy US-1. From there it’s another 5 miles, somewhat less pleasant and quite busy with traffic.

 

 

It feels good to finally reach the entrance of the John Pennekamp State Park. Once inside the park our mood brightens as we roll towards the Finish line for today’s ride.

 

 

We sit together with the rest of Team Citrix under a big tent and have lunch. Not that anyone is really hungry after having stopped at so many rest stops for snacks, fruit, and drinks, but it just feels good to sit and rest. As you can see, there are many who just sit and nap…

 

 

After this late lunch we pick up our bags and hop on the shuttle for the short drive back to the Marriott Key Largo hotel. Thanks to Jill’s foresight we have a reservation there for a lovely room. After a refreshing shower and some nap time we go over to the Gus Grille restaurant. We have coffee and Key Lime pie to this lovely view:

 

 

You may remember this view from my trip reports of the Harley Davidson rides down to Key West in 2005 and 2006. This is simply one of the best spots in Key Largo. The sunset view from our room isn’t too bad either…

 

 

We walk back to the State Park for dinner and the beach party, even though we are utterly unimpressed with both food and music. As Jill puts it: Standing around and watching other people get drunk isn’t our thing. But at least we have the company of Team Citrix and can reflect on the first day of this year’s MS150 ride.

 

 

Sunday, April 22, 2007

 

In the morning we are lucky with the Shuttle – unlike last year, where we waited for 45 mins and then filed into private cars with no shuttle ever showing up – this year, we step out of the hotel room and see the Shuttle pull up at the Marriott. Within 10 mins we are on site at the Pennekamp State Park. The sun isn’t up yet, it’s all a bit droopy.

 

 

We have some breakfast and slowly prepare to get ready for the ride back. After all, this is not a race – certainly not for us – completing the ride is all that counts, not beating your personal best time or someone else’s time.

 

 

Every 5 mins or so they let a block of riders start. It’s about 7:30 am when we leave the Start area.

 

 

We ride for a while along US-1 until we get to the quieter Card Sound road. Today the East wind is not in our favor, at times from the side, at times a head wind. That’s to be expected when you ride back the same way you came from, except if you are so lucky that the wind shifts and you ride with tailwind both on Saturday and Sunday (like I did in July 2003 in South Dakota between Fargo and Watertown for 555km on one weekend J).

 

We follow the group and get into a good rhythm. At one point a sporty tandem passes us and we consider jumping on it’s wheel. As we hesitate for a bit it’s hard work to close the gap of about 100 yards at speeds of 25 mph (40 km/h) or more. But once we’re drafting behind the tandem it is better and we sustain that speed for a while. Turns out they wanted to catch up with their group that had started at an earlier 5 min window. Once we reach the next rest-stop the group they needed to catch is resting there! So they relax and cruise at a more leisure speed. There is time to chat and for Jill to take a picture of the other tandem.

 

 

Turns out it is Matt Miller, founder of www.CDifferent.org as guide for visually impaired athlete Charles Plaskon (left). I am inspired by the fact that through Matt as the guide this practically blind athlete Charles can participate in this ride and enjoy the experience. They apparently already completed Ironman triathlon races, so by comparison the MS 150 is a piece of cake for them, but nonetheless quite inspirational! Check out Matt’s organization’s website for more photos and details.

 

Soon their group swallows us from the back.

 

 

We rest just before the bridge and after seeing Jon and the other tandem with Karen and Jeniva pass, we continue up to the top of the bridge.

 

 

The view isn’t quite as exciting as yesterday due to some cloud cover, but it’s still very scenic. Just like last year, the downhill part gives us the top-speed of the day (33 mph, 53 km/h).

 

 

We reunite with the other tandem in Team Citrix; they have another pair of fresh, matching jerseys J

 

 

We stop again at the rest stop in the middle of the long straight-away for some refreshing snacks and drinks. Nobody is in a big rush, especially not when the weather turns nicer and there is so much good food prepared by so many volunteers J

 

 

It seems as if there is even a separate parking area for tandems!

After 15-20 mins of refreshments we are ready for the next leg of this journey.

 

 

Not long after this stop we reach Florida City at the beginning of Card Sound road.

 

 

Now we need to turn East and pedal straight into the wind for a couple of miles. That’s no fun. At least with the tandem you are a bit faster than single riders as you have less “drag per engine” with two riders sitting right behind each other.

 

After a hard 5 miles or so into this wind we finally reach the Miami Speedway again for a round and then some stops.

 

 

 

 

The speedway oval is again a highlight of this MS 150 ride – of course it’s not quite the same as the first time for me, but still quite exciting. We rest again and drink plenty of fluid, interrupted by sitting in the shade and applying more sunscreen for the remainder of the day.

We continue along beautiful alleys of palm trees…

 

 

…past the Homestead Air Force base and another rest stop at a park where the route slightly differs from last year and we zigzag across the park instead of following the busy main roads.

 

One challenging part is the local garbage dump - the only “hills” in South Florida - at the Eastern most point of our return journey. Unfortunately the North-East wind makes us smell the foul gases L so we have a real incentive to get to the upwind side of this as quickly as possible!

 

 

We get some drinks at the rest stop immediately thereafter and later, after another 10 miles or so, we reach the Deering Estate park with its picturesque coral walls and beautiful gardens.

 

 

Even the volunteers are now in a good mood, as seen here with trumpet and leis dancing and singing for the arriving riders.

 

 

There are only a few more miles and one Highway overpass for us in order to reach the Miami Dade college campus again. After many hours of riding and lots of sweat we roll over a sign “U did it” painted on the road. Jill is naturally all smiles J

 

 

The odometer reads 149 miles when we pull into the lineup to the Finish line. 30 hours after we started here the day before we enter the campus area again. We are greeted to applause and get medals for finishing.

 

 

Jill’s slightly cynical comment after the ride to her colleagues: “I paid $300 to torture myself over the weekend.” But see for yourself: Doesn’t she look happy and very content about completing this ride and raising funds for a good cause?

 

At the beginning of May it looks like with Citrix matching donations we have surpassed the $4,500 mark. That’s something to be proud of. We helped the MS society in their quest to “Start to Finish” this disease.

 

You can get involved, too: Give a donation – or better yet - Join a team for next year!