Greetings again, EKAAH followers! Once again, this is WB, finishing my story of my participation in the BP MS 150 ride from Houston to Austin. The first two parts of my story can be found here and here. When I left off on my last post, I had just finished the 84 miles from Rhodes Stadium in Katy to the fairgrounds in La Grange, TX. It was bout 2:00 in the afternoon, and I had been riding since about 7:00 that morning. I was beat. However, before I could rest, I had to find the Team Total tent, and I had to find my family! I had my cell phone with me, and I knew that my supportive family was in the area. They had driven from Houston to spend the afternoon and evening with me.
The town of La Grange has a population of about 4,600. For one night in the spring, the small town hosts over 13,000 cyclists, their families, and volunteers. In order to do this, a tent city is constructed at the Fayette County Fairgrounds.
In case you are curious, this is what 13,000 bikes look like. If you figure that each bike costs $500 (probably a low estimate), then this parking area has $6.5 million worth of bikes in it!
Large cycling teams have one or more tents, and individual tents are pitched in open spaces. I made my way to the Team Total tent, where I met Reza. Although we had lost track of each other in the last part of the ride, we finished at about the same time. I parked my bike and found my assigned cot in the tent. Soon, I was joined by Kara and the kids. I then headed off to the showers.
Kara and the girls spent some time with my camera.
After I got back from the shower, I had learned that Reza had caught up with Cheryl (from the Mattress Firm team). It turns out that they had room for a couple more people in their tent, and they had actual mattresses to sleep on! Also, the Mattress Firm tent was close to the start line for the next morning’s ride. This proximity was important since I had a time constraint for Sunday’s ride. Kara and the kids helped me transport my bike and my gear to the Mattress Firm tent. I soon discovered that the Mattress Firm team had secured the best restroom facilities in the entire fairgrounds. Most of the other teams had port-a-potties, but Mattress Firm had rented an air-conditioned bathroom trailer! It was truly a luxury.
After the move, we all piled in to the minivan for a short trek to Smithville where we met my brother and his family, and our parents for dinner. Smithville is famous for being the setting for the movie Hope Floats (for you Sandra Bullock fans). It was great getting away from the hectic crowds in La Grange to spend some relaxing time with my extended family. Plus, the cousins seemed to have a good time with each other.
After dinner, Kara dropped me off in La Grange, and then took the kids to a clean, comfortable, quiet Hilton hotel room in Austin. As I settled in for the night, I tried my best to get some much needed sleep. Unfortunately, despite the wonderfully comfortable mattresses, I could not sleep. The tent houses about 30 people, and it started raining heavily around midnight. Between the sounds of the rain, and people getting up to go to the restroom and other disturbances, I did not sleep well at all. I had been advised to set my alarm at around 4:30 so that I could set my bike near the start line. I woke Reza so that he could do the same.
It was important that I got an early start on Sunday, since I had a plane to catch in Austin at 5:15 pm. Of course, that meant that I had to get to the airport at 4:15, and I had to shower and change prior to that. I was faced with some critical choices on Sunday. We could either choose the Pfizer Lunch Express route, or the Bechtel Challenge route. The Lunch Express route was supposed to be quicker along the main roads, but more boring. Also, the Lunch Express route was more open and exposed to headwinds.
The Bechtel Challenge route presented another choice: take the “park route” or bypass the park to the main roads. I had been advised that the park route was extremely hilly, but beautifully scenic. However, if it was wet, the park route would pose some serious hazards to cyclists. Several people relayed accounts of horrific wrecks on the wet, hilly roads in the park in years past. As I placed my bike in the pre-dawn drizzle close to the start line Sunday, I still did not know which route I would choose.
After securing our place near the start, Reza and I set out to search for coffee. We found some at a neighboring tent, and then we returned to pack up our belongings and stretch for the ride. All the time, I was pondering if I should play it safe and get to Austin in plenty of time to catch the plane, or challenge myself with the more adventurous route. As dawn neared, I soon realized the wisdom of placing my bike early.
It’s tough to tell from this picture, but at the 7:00 am start time the line of cyclists stretched back for probably a quarter of a mile or more. I was told that those in the back would not be able to start until two or three hours after the first riders set off.
Similar to the Saturday start, the rain had fortunately stopped by the time dawn broke. The weather forecast had showed that the line of rain storms would continue to move east, and that we should be dry for the rest of the day. That also meant that there would be a headwind as we travelled west. I chose to take the Bechtel challenge route, and I would assess the road conditions and decide on the park route when I got to that point.
Since I was under a time constraint, I knew I couldn’t stop and take pictures as often as I had on Saturday. However, as we rode along in the early morning, I soon heard the sounds of a bagpipe in the distance. Once again, bagpipe man had stationed himself along the route to entertain the riders. There was a large group clustered around him, so I only got a quick snapshot.
I would have liked to have had my picture with him, but I had to press on. When I came to the entrance of Buescher State Park the roads had started to dry out. I made the quick decision to take the park route.The park route was truly an amazing cycling adventure. It was a roller coaster ride through a dense pine forest. Since the roads were still wet in places, I rode conservatively through the park. I achieved my top speed of the day at 37.9 mph on the park route down one of the hills, but I easily could have topped 40 mph or more. The route took us through Buescher State Park and the adjacent Bastrop State Park. At the end of the park route, we emerged from the pine forest in Bastrop, TX.
There was a lunch stop in Bastrop, but I elected to skip it and press on to Austin. At the next rest stop, I called Kara and let her know that I was getting close. The hills on the last few miles into Austin were brutal, but I had to keep pace. Soon, I could recognize the familiar urban setting of downtown Austin.
The welcome sight of the state capitol loomed ahead as I rounded the last turn towards the finish line.
Thousands of people had turned out to welcome us to Austin. I was exhausted, sore, chaffed, sunburned, and wind burned, but none of that seemed to bother me much as I rode through the crowds to the finish. I had made it!
I crossed the finish line at about 1:15 pm, which left me plenty of time to get cleaned up in time for my plane. I was certainly glad to see Kara at the finish!
I even managed to get a much needed nap in after a shower but before I had to be at the airport. The ride Sunday was nearly 75 miles, but it was definitely tougher than Saturday’s ride.
I was glad that I took the park route. I know that I would definitely have regretted not taking the challenge. We are already making plans for next year's ride!
Thanks for letting me share my story!