Friday, July 8, 2011

Ride Report: 2011 MS Tour de Farms

Day 1, Rest Stop #3 (came back through twice more - once for the 100-mile loop, once for the 125-mile loop)
Panasonic Lumix GF1 20mm f1.7 (all other photos taken with iPhone 3Gs)
The weekend before last I participated in the Multiple Sclerosis Society's "MS Tour de Farms" bicycle charity ride.  It is a two-day ride that is held annually in DeKalb, Illinois, which is about 70 miles west of Chicago.  This was the first year that I did the MS ride, but it probably won't be the last.  Near perfect weather was just the cherry on top of a really fun, well-supported event.

The ride is split into two parts and you can ride both or either: Day One (Saturday) had the most participants and you were able to choose from 35, 50, 75, 100 (century) or 125 (double metric century) mile rides.  Day Two (Sunday), which did not have quite as many riders and generally seemed a lot more low-key and laid back, had 35, 50 and 75 mile options.  The routes between the two days had the same starting point, but were completely different, with the day one route heading north of the town and the day two route heading south.

Never one to pass on the opportunity to go to excess, I did the longest routes each day.  The first day I rode on my own the entire route, but was able to tag along with different groups at different times.  Most of the large ride groups are going faster than me, and those are also most of the riders doing the longer routes.  This meant that the course got progressively emptier as the day went along.  I was not in the stragglers at the very end on either day, but I was definitely in the back half of the riders that did the longer routes.  (I may not be fast, but I am persistent.)


Day one also had near perfect weather.  It was sunny and cool, but not cold, in the early morning, with the day getting overcast and staying cool through the afternoon.  Riders were able to start anytime between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., but I got to the start line early because I knew that I wanted to do the long route and rolled out with the mass start, which included a large portion of the large riding groups.  The first 10-15 miles of the day was a casual, party-ride atmosphere with the riders being so plentiful as to take up the entire right side of the road and with few riders really pushing the speed of the group.


As the ride progressed, the riders began to thin out and you started to get pace lines and drafting groups forming up.  I tagged along with some of the less aggressive of these groups and made really good time for my first 60 miles.  Then, about mile 70 I made a big mistake and neglected to eat at the century loop rest stop.  I was feeling good and so just filled my water bottles and headed back out.  The back half of that 25-mile loop was probably the hilliest part of the course, and I was bonking pretty hard by the half-way point and ended up just crawling along, literally cursing at myself to keep me going.  (Hopefully there were no small children within earshot.)

Some crazy Aussies, attempting to do the full 125-mile double century on a single-speed, beach cruiser tandem
 . . . in togas.  I think they ran out of time and "only" made it through the century, bickering the whole time
like an old spinster couple.  My understanding is that they also raised a very healthy chunk of money for MS
in the process.  Hats off to you both! Bloody brilliant - one of the high points of the entire ride.
You have to love the headgear.  There was a woman at the start line on Saturday doing these balloon treatments to your helmets for a small donation to MS.  Good stuff.
Cant' remember this little guy's name, but he was the official cheer squad at the century loop rest station, cowbell and MS scarf and all.  Brought home one of these scarves for Rudder.  No cowbell for Rudder...yet.
I made it back to the overlap rest stop and came very close to calling it a day, forgoing the second loop and settling for just the century (100-mile) distance.  The one real critique I have of the ride is that the "double metric" (125-mile distance) involved just doing the "century loop" twice.  Even though the scenery wasn't all that varied - cornfield, cornfield, cornfield . . . ooh hog farm!, cornfield, cornfield . . .  - something about knowing that you were just going to have to go and do 25 miles of route that you had already done was very disheartening.  Some of this was likely due to the fact that I was a bit bonked at that point, but it would have been easier to pick the longer route if it meant seeing some new roads.


Still, when the time came to make the turn back to the start or go for the double-metric, I made the right choice and headed out on my second time around the "century loop."  Since I had eaten at the overlap rest station, and made sure to eat at the century loop rest station this time around, the second lap was better than the first, but I never really recovered back to the level I had been at before the bonk.  Also, by this point the riders were getting pretty thin on the roads.  Out of the approximately 2000 riders for the event as a whole, only about 3 or 4 dozen riders did the double metric, and I was probably somewhere in the last third of that group.  Speed is definitely not my strong suit - in the last 20 miles I watched my average speed steadily drop as the post-bonk effects continued to do their work - but I can be impressively obstinate.

Across the finish at the end of Day 1 and an extra three miles due to misreading a sign
(completely my fault, not the event's).  When the GPS hit 125 and I knew that if I hadn't gone off course
I would have been done, I died a little inside.  This was the second-farthest I have ever ridden in one day.

While Day One had been an energetic run on the front end, with a whole lot of suffering on the back; Day Two was a casual, friendly ride on the front end, followed by a long, tail-wind enhanced sprint to the finish line.

Day 2, Front End of the 75-mile Loop, still heading into the wind.
On the morning of day two, I met up with some friends who had done the 75-mile route on day one and were planning on following that up with a relatively easy 50 miles.  After a questionable, but tasty, breakfast of reconstituted eggs, greasy sausages and oatmeal served up in large buffet chaffing pans over sterno, we rolled out of the start a little after 8:00 a.m. and proceeded out at a cruising pace, chatting and joking as we went along.  I'm not sure if it was the fact that we got started a little later than I did on the first day, but the whole second day to me seemed a lot more casual and low-key.  There seemed to be a lot less riders (and I think this is true, a lot of riders that I talked to on Saturday were only doing one day), and there seemed to be less organization and a lot less hoopla surrounding the ride than on Saturday.

C middle, J right, and C's niece M left (collectively, a/k/a "the peloton."
Do not let their smiles fool you.  They will drop you in a heartbeat at the first sign of weakness.
That said, that first 35 miles was a great time.  Easy, casual and a lot like hanging out on a Friday night with good friends . . . only on bikes.  C and J are a couple that K and I have come to know through K's running groups.  J and K were running buddies that have morphed over time into friends.  This was the first time that I had hung out with C and J on my own, without K along to mediate, so I took the opportunity to conspire to get them to get K more into biking.  (My attempts at getting more into running having been met with limited success.)  At about mile 35, we stopped for lunch and then parted ways as I headed off solo to do the 75-mile route and (I thought) left them to finish up their 50.  I learned later that J was feeling so good that she decided to head out and do the full 75 as well, being one of the last riders to head out onto the 75-mile route, but making it into the finish well before closing time.

There was a little wind on Day Two, which we had been heading into it for most of the ride out and which had been slowly, but steadily, increasing as the day went along.  After leaving the group at the mid-way rest station there was about 15 more miles of riding into the wind, but the last third of the ride (except for the devastating last half mile) was all with a tail wind along rolling hills that made that portion into something akin to a carnival coaster.  Having cruised the first 35 miles, my legs were pretty fresh, and I made the most of it, spinning myself along at an average of 26-28 miles per hour and passing a ton of other riders, who I am not sure appreciated my late-day enthusiasm and energy.

I had taken Monday off to recover, so knowing that I didn't have to ride and didn't even have to particularly get out of bed at any particular time the next day, I didn't hold anything back.  Which was all great and a ton of fun, right up until the turn back directly into the wind for the last half mile to the finish line.  Seriously, if the parking lot with my car had not been on the far side of the finish line, I am pretty sure I would have called it a day right there.  As it was, when I finally did roll into the finish, there was hardly anybody around (I learned later that the vast majority of the Sunday riders had opted for the shorter courses due to the somewhat higher temps from Day One).  And in retrospect, I feel like I probably was a little rude when I barely slowed down to snag my orange MS bandana (Rudder wears it quite well, btw) and biked directly away from the event to my car, so that I could load up the bike, get a shower and head back home.

Stats on end of Day Two.  Great event.  Will be back!!
A shower and a vanilla shake from McDonalds later and I was feeling a lot more human.  But I still played the iPod 80s mix loud and did my best Saturday night Karaoke impression to stay awake on the drive home.  That night I slept the righteous sleep of the dead and happily exhausted.  (K slept slightly less righteously, as she said my snoring was some of the loudest she had ever heard.  Sorry babe.)

In sum, I would definitely do this ride again.  It was well supported, lots of great people (riders were all cool; volunteers were fantastic - - - you all rock!!), nice scenery (if you like corn fields and barns, which I do), good weather (which historically is sort of unusual, I guess), a fun little town (watch out for the cold showers at the NIU dorms, though), and a great cause.

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