On September 6th I embarked on one of the most physically and emotionally challenging rides in my cycling history. When the starting cannon went off at 8 am that morning I had no idea what was waiting ahead for me and the other 2,000+ cyclists who had signed up to ride in the 26th annual Bike MS event. I had been training and fundraising for this weekend all summer, now all I needed to do was to ride 150 miles (241.4 K).
For the past four years I have participated in the Bike MS cycling event held in New Bern, North Carolina. This is a two day ride which welcomes cyclists of all abilities to ride on Saturday and Sunday. The distances range from 25 to 100 miles each day and are fully supported with an amazing army of volunteers. Traditionally, many riders will ride 100 miles on Saturday and 50 miles on Sunday but there are all sorts of variations during the two day event. The primary goal is of the weekend is to raise money for the National MS Society, Greater Carolinas Chapter but along the way you build camaraderie with your team and create lasting friendships.
Back to the starting cannon… BOOM! The first wave of cyclists head out on the road. Wave after wave of riders are released and adrenaline is pumping. I’m elated as we cross over the now bicycle only road and I know my Fly6 is capturing everything.
Within a few miles our team (On Draft) begins to gather together and we ease into a pace-line rhythm which we have been working on all summer. As a team ride leader, this is one of those times where I check to see how we are coalescing as a group, following our team safety guidelines and monitor the pace. Our pace-line has morphed into a 25 mph (40.2 kph) freight train and there is no way we can sustain this for 100 miles. Another ride leader and I break out into the front, inform teammates we are setting up a double pace-line and then slow the pace down to a very sustainable 20 mph (32.1 kph). The video clip link is a great view of our team double pace-line as I peel off from the lead position and fall to the back.
Leading up to the ride, we spend the summer training on weekly scheduled group rides, add long rides on weekends and participate in larger group organized rides. I’m a Monday night group ride leader and it has been a joy to watch our team grow from a group of random cyclists into a true team. We watch out for each other, ride safe and keep focused on our team fundraising for the MS Society. During training rides I always have the Fly6 with me. The light is a safety necessity but the video from the camera has provided an extremely useful training tool. Since I’m often leading the group, I don’t see what is happening behind me; it was invaluable to watch the video and focus safety talks on areas for improvement during the following week.
Now, we are at the end of summer riding on the relatively flat roads of New Bern, enjoying all the benefits from our training and finding a comfort zone within our group. Unfortunately, when you have this many cyclists in the same place the statics are not in your favor for an accident free event. As we were riding, we saw a group on the side of the road with multiple riders flagging us to keep to the left of an accident and to move on. Like any traffic incident, the worst thing you can do is slow down too much and divert your attention to the point where you cause another accident. The group on the side of the road clearly had the situation under control; adding another group standing around wasn’t going to help so we slowly and carefully rode on. My video later showed that a couple of riders choose to stop and made sudden and unexpected maneuvers which were a hazard for fellow riders. Now, I have another safety talking point for next season. Thankfully, no one was too seriously injured in this event.
Rolling on, there was another notable accident. This time it was our group impacted. Ultimately, no single person was to blame for the situation. In this case the incident was caused by a chain reaction of events that started with a single pace-line passing our double pace-line unannounced. This accident was more serious and resulted in multiple injuries. Watching a teammate taken away in an emergency vehicle is both heartbreaking and intimidating. We still had over 70 miles left to ride that day.
After our rest stop regroup at mile 30, several of us were visibly shaken, there were a couple of cracked helmets, some road rash, and assorted cuts and scrapes. Except for our teammate taken away in the ambulance, we were together and there was a determination to keep it that way. It was sincerely endearing to see how protective we were of each other and how important it was for us to stay together.
Following an uneventful leg of riding that helped clear away some of the specters from the previous accident our next rest stop was a lunch break. We formed up as group post break; I found a random stranger with a nice camera to take a group photo and we hit the road again. Now we were battling the sun and the relentless heat of the late North Carolina summer. Quickly, my water bottle became my best friend and then I realized I wasn’t sweating. A few miles out from the next rest stop, I watched our pace quickly drop below 18 mph and it was apparent the heat was taking a toll on everyone. By the time we reached our designated stop I was over-heated and a bit out of it. Fortunately, a few electrolyte pills (thanks to another teammate for sharing) and lots of water quickly revived me. Another rider wasn’t as lucky and couldn’t finish the ride due to the heat. I later found out we were riding in a 105 degree heat index. Our group size was shrinking but we were in this together and we were going to finish together.
On the road again and ready to face anything … then the rain started. Yes, nature was having a bit of a laugh and decided that it was time for us to navigate rain slicked roads, reduced visibility and water rooster tails from bikes. The rain created a more dangerous road but it also significantly lowered the temperature and it was obvious we were finishing this 100 mile ride. Sure enough, a dozen miles later we were rounding city street corners and there was the finish line. I was soaking wet, hot, tired and thirsty but I had a huge smile on my face crossing that finish line.
During the evening, we met up with friends and teammates in other pace groups. We talked about the heat, the accidents and the rain. Everyone was there with a story to share. Our friends who were taken away in ambulances were going to be okay after some healing time and they were good humored about the day’s events. The victims of the heat were recovering and we had a great evening filled with laughter and smiles.
On Sunday we were only on the road for 50 miles. The weather was far more kind, the atmosphere calmer and crowds somewhat smaller. Thankfully, it was a very uneventful day for our group and outside of battling a notable headwind for 10 miles, it was ideal riding. As you can see from the attached video image, I passed on the Fly6 to another rider and I was all smiles for the ride that day.
There is something very special about riding in a large group charity event. The electricity of crowd and the instant kinship with 2,000 other riders is palpable. Couple this experience with raising money to fight a disease for the volunteers you see at rest stops or on the side the road with big “thank you” signs and it qualifies as a lifetime milestone event. Find something you are passionate about and commit to it with tenacity. You too will find yourself peddling with purpose.
Dawn Bardon: Durham, North Carolina, USA is my current home base but I’ve lived and traveled extensively around the western half of the US and plan to keep exploring the world on two wheels. For the last 4 years I’ve been riding with a team and served as a ride leader for past 2 years. I complete in triathlons during the warmer months, a few random fun runs and I enjoy rock climbing, hiking and photography. You can find me on Twitter https://twitter.com/SliceOSunshine