Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A journey unlike any other: Day One

Saturday at 3:45 a.m. the alarm went off, 30 minutes later, I stumbled out of bed. I'm exhausted but I get out of bed anyway. I put on my bike shorts and jersey and I'm ready to go. The starting line is in Cherry Hill, N.J., about a 45 minute drive from my teammates' house where we stayed Friday night. At 5 a.m. we pack up the car, stop to get coffee and breakfast and head off.

More than 7,000 cyclists were scheduled to participate in the MS150 City to Shore ride, so traffic was backed up heading to the start before 6 a.m. Slowly we made our way through traffic and parked the car. After dropping off our luggage and making our way through check in we line up with other cyclists. There's no turning back now.

In the background there's a TV news personality giving riders weather updates and an announcer directing riders to the start. There is music and cheering, but I'm focused on the ride.
The countdown begins. I clip one foot into my pedal and get ready.

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …. Go! There's a crowd of volunteers, friends and family cheering us. The first couple of miles are through a residential neighborhood. Some homes have signs on their lawns thanking us for riding. We are in a good mood. The road is smooth and everyone is starting out slow, warming up our legs for the miles ahead.

Leaving the neighborhoods for the open road is a relief. Each intersection is manned by local police and MS Society volunteers pointing us in the right direction. We thank each as we pass them and they return the thanks and cheer us on.

As miles go by, the crowd of bikers thin out and my team finds its' rhythm. Miles and time pass with ease. I'm feeling strong. We stop to refuel at a rest stop. Food and water are a necessity. Cycling takes every ounce of energy and these stops are vital. Next stop is lunch. Hot food, protein, carbs and drinks are plenty. We linger for a bit during lunch, check our bikes over and when we're rested and refueled, we get back on the road. Lunch is set up only 19.5 miles into the ride so we have many more miles to go.

As we ride further into the New Jersey I notice the scenery is changing. Dirt on the side of the road turns to sand and gravel. The air begins to smell of salt, but there's 20 miles left to go. The weather is clear, but the roads are a little wet from overnight rain. The air is thick with humidity, but it's not hot. At one point I look at my odometer and see we've hit 65 miles. "Right now is the furthest I've ever ridden on a bike," I say to my teammate.

Mile 70 marks the final 6.5 miles. I'm feeling optimistic until I see the bridge we have to cross to get into Ocean City. I'm tired and I don't know if I have the energy to make it across. Half way up the bridge, my team falls apart and we separate. We cannot make it up together, it's every man for himself, but we get up and over it and catch up to each other. I feel great … until we get to the next intersection. There is a man standing with a sign that says "Only 3 miles and one BIG bridge left."

Oh. My. God.

I look ahead and see the bridge. It's tall. The air is so heavy that I cannot even see the top of the bridge. It is frightening. Everyone struggles. Many riders stop and walk their bikes up the hill. I shift gears and keep peddling. I cannot stop. I will not stop. My breathing becomes labored, I look around and my team has broken up again. At the top of the hill, we are rewarded with a steep downhill.

Only a couple of miles left. Volunteers are at every intersection. There are many turns through the beach community. Children are standing on the corners cheering us and holding signs. As we get close to the finish the crowd gets bigger. Everyone is cheering.

I knew this ride was going to be hard, but what I wasn't prepared for was how emotional it was going to be. At Saturday's finish, I called my mom and found myself crying. I couldn't believe what I just did and the amount of support total strangers gave to every rider. A woman stood at the entrance to the rest area handing out medals to all the riders. Food, drinks, music and children's activities awaited riders and their families. We ate, got a massage and went to our hotel for a shower and rest.

Tomorrow …. Photos and part 2: Sunday.


Autumn's Mom said...

Wow! I'm all teary. I'm so so proud of you. Someone was talking the other day about our use of the word awesome and how we've down played what it's supposed to mean. But I sincerely think you are AWESOME. What an accomplishment. I'm glad it was a good experience for you and so rewarding :)

Candy said...

great job!!!

K-Mom said...

CONGRATULATIONS on finishing the ride!! When I used to work the bike tour in the Carolinas, I always tried to work the finish line because I loved watching the cyclists faces as they crossed the finish line.

Cried every time. This was a wonderful thing you did, you should be very proud!

Scooter Kitten said...

Way to go Diane!

Right before I left for vacation that Saturday I found out my cousin would be riding in the same event. I wonder if you passed her by. Glad it didn't rain on you since it was pouring for us.