MS 150 in 2008 - Miami to Key Largo

 

 

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The Florida chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) society had again organized its annual fund-raising bike ride, the MS 150 from Miami to Key Largo in early May 2008. After participating in North Dakota in 2004, and in Florida in 2006 and 2007, 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 again to raise at least $500 (achieved as of May 10, 2008 – Thanks to all donors for their contributions J).

 

Note:

  • Here is a link to my personal MS page, where you can still make a secure online donation!
  • To see all pictures of this ride in original resolution, please visit our Web Gallery here (created on our iMac with iPhoto).
  • Download the Google Earth tracklog of the route on Saturday from here (.kmz file).

 

Team Citrix was really only 5 members strong: Like the last years, team captain Jon Schaubhut and his wife Karen as well as their friend Jeniva, and then Jill and myself.

 

This year was going to be the first time we would ride on our own tandem. After last years ride on a tandem borrowed from Jon we had so much fun that we decided to buy our own tandem. We initially put it to use as a training vehicle for our 2007 Kilimanjaro expedition. Then we got to like it so much that we pretty much rode all year round with about 60-80 miles per weekend. So this year we would be in pretty good shape for the MS 150. We load the tandem into the car the evening before so we can get an early start tomorrow morning…

 

Saturday, May 3, 2008

 

The alarm clock rings at 4:30am! We need to leave around 5:00am to get down to the Bank United Center at the University of Miami campus in Miami – about a 1.5 hr drive from Palm Beach Gardens.

Once at the campus, we park the car and re-assemble the tandem.

We put on the bike cloth and gear, apply some sun-screen and get ready for the adventure. First we need to drop off our bags which will be transported to the Finish. Then we get towards the Start area. A 15 min wait for a Portolet sets the tone of the morning. Then around 7:15am we’re ready, but that doesn’t mean we can begin to ride yet.

There are 2700 riders registered this year, and they can’t all start at the same time. Riders are let go in groups of 50-100 riders every 5 minutes or so.

This means we need to get in line and slowly inch our way toward the Start line. We’re thinking we should have slept an hour longer…

The crowd makes us feel different – we usually ride by ourselves in the early morning hours and other than the occasional small ride group passing by we are not used to ride in large packs. After about 45 minutes we finally reach the Start line.

At exactly 8:00am we pass the Start gate. It feels good to finally get on the road and start pedalling! We quickly get into a good rhythm and Jon is drafting behind us. Life is good on Day 1 at 8:07am J

We need to warm up and ride carefully through the city streets and traffic lights which thankfully are controlled by Miami police so we can cross most intersections without stopping. The ride is quite scenic along Old Cutler Road, with occasional round-abouts and us passing other rider groups.

After about an hour or so following South Dixie Hwy (parallel to US-1 Federal Hwy) we turn to the West on SouthWest 216 Street. With the East winds we can pick up speed and now ride at up to 25 mph. We pass literally hundreds of riders – this will become a familiar experience for us on this weekend J

Team Mack Cycle also has two tandems in their group, so they ride with us for a while. (Their team raised over $30,000!)

At about 9:15am we reach our first rest stop. We stop for about 10 mins to drink, eat some fruit and refill our water bottles.

Soon we get on the tandem again and continue the fast ride. The route meanders through the South-West of Miami, going West and East, South and North to stretch the distance out to the 75 miles. A screen-shot of Google Earth with the GPS tracklog shows the route.

The South-East wind is picking up to about 10mph. On our last leg towards the West we get some good tailwind and pick up our speed all the way to 28mph! We are flying past many riders – it feels great to be in good shape and to ride on the tandem, which is inherently faster than a single bike.

I don’t take any picture for 75 mins so focused am I on the high speed ride. At 10:15am we are already past Florida City and pedalling on the Card Sound Road heading South-East.

Here with headwind the advantage of a tandem becomes even more pronounced: When riding more directly into the wind you essentially have two “engines” but only one drag, hence you ride faster than a single rider. This enables us to pass even strong riders or groups thereof. No wonder you see us smiling in this picture J

There are many SAG vehicles and motorcycles along the route; this is a very well organized event with hundreds of volunteers, flawless logistics and plenty of rest stops.

We arrive at the lunch stop around 10:30am. A well deserved stop, and we are ahead of our own time. We sit in the shade and have some salad and fruit bars.

Jon arrives a few minutes later, he has had trouble keeping up with our tandem pace… Everyone tries to recuperate. I feel already quite a bit stressed, perhaps I was riding too hard in the beginning? Jill feels great, which is not a surprise given her daily workout regime. Compared to last year we are riding faster and she is feeling stronger. One mistake I am making here in the first 2-3 hours is that I don’t drink enough Gatorade, just water… This will have negative consequences before long…

Just before 11:00am we’re getting ready for the last leg, about another 25 miles or so. Soon we’re getting to the toll booth before the big Card Sound Road bridge.

No crocodiles crossing for us, but a tough climb up the bridge into the wind. Once on top we’re happy to look around a bit, but we don’t stop.

As we roll down we pick up speed, but into the wind we top out around 27 mph or so. It is getting really hot now, with temperatures in the high 80’s.

A Sherrif stops us at the rest-stop just after the bridge. Apparently there is an accident on the road ahead with ambulance blocking one side of the road in a turn. So we get a mandatory stop for a few minutes – good time to drink plenty of water.

Soon we can get back on the bike again. After a few miles the road turns towards the South-West and we are now mostly sheltered from the SouthEast winds. Our speed is still pretty good around 22mph, but my legs are starting to cramp up. At one point my right thigh locks up in pain! I need to unclip and stretch the leg to shake off the cramp. Lack of sufficient fluids and minerals in my body give me the worst cramps I can remember having had on the bike. I hold my right leg stretched out but continue to pedal with the left leg; Jill also keeps pedalling so we continue at slower but still decent speed. Other riders pass us – the only time this weekend that happens J - and advise for us to stop. But within a minute or so I can clip back in and continue to softly pedal with both legs.

Soon thereafter we reach the junction with US-1 in North Key Largo. From here it’s just another 5 miles or so to the Finish at John Pennekamp State Park. It feels great to reach the entrance to the Park and there is a sense of relief when we turn the corner towards the Finish line.

At 12:35pm we arrive just 4.5 hrs after leaving in Miami with a ride time of 3h 54min. There aren’t too many riders here yet, which gives us a less crowded experience at the food and massage places.

After a little while we pick up our bags from the UPS trucks and then wait for the Shuttle to take us to our hotel.

Unfortunately our shuttle ride takes ½ hour for what amounts to less than 2 miles direct distance. Our driver first goes South for a loop of several hotels – our stop is North of the park. Then we get stuck in a parking lot due to someone parking in a turn thus making it too narrow for the Shuttle bus to pass through. It is hot in the bus and we are longing to get to our hotel, the Key Largo Marriott. When we finally arrive, it feels great to take a shower and just relax into the afternoon.

We each read our books and place some phone calls from the comfortable room - Jill had made the reservation many months ago so we are all set. While we initially thought about going back to the Pennekamp park for the dinner party there, we are just too lazy and just have dinner at the local restaurant.

What a way to end the day with a sunset dinner at the Gus Grille restaurant J (If you have followed the motorcycle and MS150 trip reports on my website, you will remember seeing photos from this same spot for each year since 2005!)

To top things off, we are treated to a sunset beach wedding right below the restaurant. Here is the bride walking down the aisles:

After a Key Lime pie we muster our last remaining strength to climb the stairs up to the 3rd floor and retire ealry to a deep sleep to recover for tomorrow’s ride back.

 

Sunday, May 4, 2008

 

We get up early again before 6:00am. Same procedure as yesterday but in reverse: The Shuttle brings us to the Park and we drop off our bags. The we get in line for some breakfast – but honestly the pancakes are so bland and dry (they ran out of sirup) that we can’t eat them. Instead we just grab a banana and some cereal bar – improvised breakfast.

The sun rises early, so at 7:15am we are again applying sunscreen for the ride back. The UV index is listed as 10 (extreme) – you definitely do not want to ride without sunscreen in this weather!

Again we are waiting quite a while, but there is no hurry – after all, this is not a race, but a ride. When we get to the Start line, I hand the camera to a volunteer to take a picture before we take off on Day 2.

Beautiful morning sunlight, we are in good spirits after a good night’s rest. At 7:40am we are crossing the line and leaving the gate. It feels good to ride again. The bike rides smooth after I checked the tire pressure and added some chain lubricant courtesy to one of the many rider check points in the Start area.

We again pass many other groups on the way back. ½ hour into the ride we pass the group of team Bacardi.

I am happy to feel my legs in better shape than I thought after cramping on this section of the road just 18 hours ago… After one hour we take a quick pit-stop – one of the signs that you drink enough is that you need to pee every 1-2 hours.

On the way up the bridge we see another nice Santana tandem.

Due to the tailwind on this section, on the way down we reach almost 40mph (~62kmh) – close to our all-time speed record in Florida.

Unfortunately the AAA batteries in my TrackStick had been emptied over night and I didn’t bring any spares. I now regret not having stopped at a gas-station – in any event, I don’t have the tracklog of the return trip L That will have to wait until next year…

We make great time on the Card Sound road due to the slight tailwind with speeds around 23-25mph, nonstop back to Florida City. Here we turn to the right heading East towards the Homestead Speedway. This leg seems to have full headwind every year, and we grind into the wind like a turbo-charged machine. We pick up many riders who jump from their respective group and draft behind us. Looking back we realize we pull a line of drafting riders shouting encouragement for us…

We reach the Homestead speedway before 9:30am less than 2 hrs after leaving Key Largo, feeling pretty good. By now the loop around the speedway has become quite familiar, three years in a row!

In the turns one has to be careful not to strike the concrete with the outside pedal – it is much steeper in the turn than the photos make believe.

The rest stop in the “Victory Lane” here is very scenic, after riding the “victory loop”. Jill and I ride well ahead of Jon, Karen and Jeniva today, so we don’t see them along the rest stops.

My motto for today is to drink plenty of gatorade, then drink some more … to avoid the leg cramps from the day before. Soon we’re heading out again to keep our rhythm. The route leads in zig-zag first West around the Speedway complex, then North and East. At one point we are passing on the North-West corner of the Homestead Airforce base.

No time for stopping today, as we are riding with a fast group of strong riders. Turns out that drafting with a tandem is tricky, as the stoker on the back (Jill) doesn’t see exactly what the next rider upfront is doing and so it’s hard to adjust/coordinate the exact speed. Soon we’re by ourselves again anyway as they don’t continue past the next rest stop.

Luckily the South-East wind allows us to pass next to the massive garbage dump without getting the bad smell as we pass on the upwind side. We plan to stop just one more time at the Black Point marina. On the long road to the East we again pass two large groups – riding the bike should always feel this good J

The 200km mark rolls around just before our stop. This marks our last stop, with great refreshments and drinks. The heat is on again, but we’re inside of 25 miles to the Finish now. A view down in the “engine room” of the Santana Sovereign tandem ;-)

It is on this stretch of the route that we have a dangerous encounter. We are coming up on a group of about 20 riders. They are still about 50 yards ahead of us when they pass an intersection with green light. As they pass, the light turns yellow. We are getting really close to the tail end of the group, but we’re still maybe 25 yard away when the light turns red. The group obviously stays together and the last riders cross the intersection after the light turns red. We’re closing in at high speed (25mph), but the light is red and instantly the cars waiting at the intersection will start crossing right in front of us. So I need to brake hard – well the cars see us and let us pass, now slowly. Bad timing and a late decision to slow down on my part, this was (hopefully) my only mistake during the MS 150. Safety first!

This scenic section of the old Cutler road reminds me of the previous years. Now we’re getting closer and there are probably no more than 10 miles to go. Some meandering and going around some Highway is required to get us back towards the University campus. A badly timed red light stops us for another 2 minutes or so, before we finish off the last couple of miles. At 12:03pm we’re back to the campus and crossing the Finish line.

Elapsed time 4h 23min, ride time 3h 45min with just a bit over ½ hr rest stops, average speed exactly 20mph – probably our fastest MS 150. Happy to be back at noon we park our bike and walk over to the food tent. Despite the heat we’re hungry from the 150 miles and get some sandwiches and Tony Romas ribs.

After two rounds of food we need to wait once more, this time for our bags to be brought back in one of the 3 UPS trucks. Eventually we get those back and roll over to our car.

We send a text message and hope that Jon, Karen and Jeniva will make it back safe as well. After loading the bike back into the car and cooling the vehicle down from the intense mid-day heat we are finally back on our way up North I95 back to Palm Beach Gardens. Feels good to let the car’s engine do the work now.

Upon arrival back home we add the two medals from the 2008 MS 150 to our collection. Looking back now after the ride we feel good about having completed the entire 150 miles in under 4 hrs ride time each day. We also feel good about having raised near $1000 – that’s also easier on a tandem (as each rider has to raise the $300 minimum). Next year we want to form a larger team – want to join us for the MS 150 in 2009?

 

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