Even at 6 a.m. it is still dark, but the spotlight that came through the curtain of our hotel room helped make it feel like it really is morning. When I got out of bed, my legs and shoulders were tight, but not sore. Intense training prepared my body for the first day. I cannot say the same thing about my butt, which felt bruised and battered.
In our pajamas, Team Sonia searched for breakfast. As a group we were a little tired and a little cranky. Being 76.5 miles from your car and the only way to get to it is to sit my burning butt on a saddle and peddle my way there seemed overwhelming.
With our bellies full, we head back to the hotel, put back on our bike gear, pack our bags and head out. This time I walk to the start with a new sense anxiety: my pedals. Physically I was ready to go, emotionally, I could have used another day to rest. I didn't sleep well that night. I had dreams about failing and when I woke up my brain focused on my biggest anxiety about cycling: unclipping from my pedals. Sand in my clips made my feet stick in the pedals, fatigue made it hard for me to snap out, but I could do it and we headed out.
The weather Sunday morning not ideal for cycling, it was a misty rain that made everything wet and slick. It was a warm, humid day.
The first 10 miles were torture. The first obstacle was bumpy, beach roads that made sitting on the saddle nearly impossible. This went on for miles and once the road got smooth we had to tackle the bridge. This is when I realized how tired I really was. One rule of cycling is to start out slower than you think you can so you can have some energy stored for the end when you need it the most. This bridge makes that rule very hard to keep. Many riders walked up and over the bridge. We pushed up and over two bridges only to be rewarded with a flat tire at the bottom. My teammate got a flat. The National MS Society provided a ton of support to riders, so it wasn't long before help arrived. Within 10 minutes we were back on the road, but less than 2 miles later the same tire went again. Sitting on the side of the road waiting for this tire to get fixed, thoughts of how long this ride was going to take started creeping in.
With a brand new tire, we're back on the road. It's smooth until it starts raining. Water and dirt from the road is spit from the tires in front of me and on to my glasses and I can hardly see. Today miles don't pass as quickly as the day before. Instead of the feeling of accomplishment with every passing mile, I have the feeling of anticipation for the coming miles.
Lunch comes right before mile 40. The lunch stop is set in this open field that is covered in sand. Even with my cleat covers, there is little I can do to prevent sand from getting on them and I begin to panic. I cleaned my shoes with some water before we got back on the road and tested and retested my pedals. Less than a mile back on the road, we came to an intersection. Traffic forced us to stop. I tried to unclip and I couldn't. Panic set it. If I can't unclip, I can't stop. I manage to slow down enough so that Jon can grab me and stop me. He reached down and unclipped my pedal for me. For the next 15 minutes, we sat on the side of the road trying to figure out what the problem was. We cleaned the clips again and I clipped and unclipped several times. Everything is back in working order, so we get back on and ride.
Miles pass, time seems to stand still. I have no idea what time it is because my watch stopped. I feel out of tune with the world. We stop at a rest stop and see there is 19.5 miles left to the end and one more rest stop. We decide we're going to skip that stop and take on the final 20 in one shot.
Soon enough we are at mile 70. Only a few left to go, but they aren't easy. The roads are relentlessly uphill. The scenic neighborhoods we cruised through on Saturday became one challenging hill after another. The sky clears and the sun comes out bringing heat with it. Everyone is tired, but the end is near so we keep going. There is one last hill to conquer before we hit the finish line. As we approach there is an officer directing us. He tells us to slow down because there is a medical crew at the bottom of the hill. As we crest the hill, we see there is a biker on a stretcher no more than 50 feet from the finish line.
I feel awful for the guy. I heard there were a lot of accidents along the road. A lot of riders fell and didn't get back up, but this was the worst. He was so close and didn't make it. But there's not a lot of time to reflect on his situation. We're directed around the scene and on to the finish. Crowds are cheering, people are waving and taking pictures. I was less emotional at the finish than I was the day before. Maybe it was exhaustion or the intensity at which I was riding that I just wasn’t able to turn it off fast enough and take everything in.
This was my first big ride, and experience that I will not soon forget. We've already registered for next year and I have a feeling that this is just the beginning.
We took a few pictures, but not many. Here are a few photos of our team and one of my bike right before we left on Sunday. They aren't great, but it's impossible to ride and take pictures at the same time. The National MS Society is posting photos and if I find any of me and my team, I will also post them. Thank you to everyone who offered me their support, without it, I'm sure I could never have done this. Together, with events like this, we can find a cure for multiple sclerosis.