MS-150 Tour

                                by Robert Forest  ([email protected] )

I did the MS-150. It was great. I wrote an article about the experience.

Here it is…it’s longer than I planned, (It turned out to be a Novel)

It was a dark and stormy night. Wait a minute. That comes later in the
story. A lot happened before the ride ever took place.

The Multiple Sclerosis 150 bike tour took place April 18 and 19. For me, it
began in January.

I began working in Houston in early January. One of the first people that I
met, was introduced as an avid bicyclist. When I told him that I rode a
bit, he said: “Why don’t you do this years MS-150” ? “What’s that”?, I
asked. “A two day, 170 mile ride, from Houston to Austin”. “About five
thousand people did it last year”, he said. “Wow, that’s a long ride” I
remarked. “They must be crazy”, I thought. Hmmm…My kind of people. The
more I thought about it, the more I felt challenged. All of a sudden, I
wanted to know more about it.

At this point, I really hadn’t made up my mind about doing the ride. I
began spinning (Bicycle type workout on a stationary bike) twice a week at a
local athletic club. Spinning, for me, is the closest thing that I’ve found
to actually riding a bike. One night the class was unusually large.
Everyone was asking each other; “Are you doing the MS-150”? Someone turned
to me and said; “Are you doing THE RIDE”? “Yeah”, I said, “Are You”? That
did it, I was committed.

Along with spinning twice a week, I began to run the small hills of Buffalo
Bayou, located about 200 yards from my apartment. Buffalo Bayou is a
beautiful designated park area that stretches many miles through Houston.
Not only is it a great place to run, but it’s many hills and sandy creek
trails make for excellent mountain biking. It’s like being in the woods in
my own back yard.

The Conoco Bike club began having weekend training rides. Most of these
rides were held to the Northwest of Houston. The land begins to get hilly
out there, and it’s good training. I was going home to Lake Charles every
weekend so I missed most of the rides, however I was determined to do at
least two of them; The Chapel Hill Ride, and the Good Friday Ride.

Chapel Hill promised challenging hills and a chance to see Texas Bluebonnet
country. It’s a shame I missed it. I received directions from the bike
club, but I wasn’t sure how to get to Hwy 290 from my apartment, so I
printed directions from the internet. Guess What. You can’t always believe
what you read. The internet was wrong.
I ended up about 30 miles from Chapel Hill. By the time I got to town,
there was not a rider in sight. I was mad. I was disappointed. I didn’t
even feel like riding by myself. The country was beautiful. There was even
a Blue Bonnet Festival taking place in town. I could have checked it out,
and probably had a good time. I didn’t care, I didn’t want to have fun. I
took my bike and went home.

Good Friday rolled around. The ride began in Katy, Texas. I found Katy and
the bike club. The weather was perfect. It was cool and sunny. You
couldn’t ask for a better day. The ride was to take us about 30 miles north
of Houston and back.. I got behind a great pace line. We averaged about 21
mph. Everything was going great until mile 28. Pshtsssssssss— Flat.
Lucky for me there was a slack van or I would have had to hitchhike back to

Well, I missed one ride and had a flat on another. Everything had gone
wrong that was going to go wrong. Right?

Friday night, the night before the ride, finally arrived. It was a dark
and stormy night. (I told you that would come) I didn’t sleep much. I kept
seeing visions of the Weather Channel. Masses of rain were stretched
across the Texas, Louisiana Gulf Coast. Friday Night – 40% chance of rain.
Saturday – 90% chance of rain and thunder storms, a few possibly severe.
It didn’t look good.

Saturday morning found me up at 4:45 a.m.. I was so busy the night before,
I’d forgotten that I was out of coffee. I hate it when that happens.

As I loaded my bike, the wind blew, the rain fell, and I kept asking
myself, “Are you crazy or what “? If I hadn’t told everyone that I was
riding, and collected all of that donation money, I could just go back to
bed. I HAD to ride now.

The Conoco bike club started the ride at the Conoco Center a little before
7:am. It was barely sprinkling, the wind was out of the Northeast.

I hooked up with three people from the athletic club spinning class; Mike
Skinner, Ross Lee, and Meridith, our fearless instructor. At first, we
laughed and joked about the rain and wind. This was an adventure, we were
having fun. We passed the first rest stop at mile fifteen. We pushed on.
The rain fell harder, the wind blew colder, and I heard thunder in the
distance. The jokes came at longer intervals. The laughter wasn’t very

Mile thirty and the second rest stop came into view. We pulled in. Fresh
oranges, bananas, water, and sports drink awaited us. People were trying
to laugh. Many were complaining about the weather. Spirits were fairly
high for most of us. The rain actually slacked a bit, luring us, back on
the road.

I don’t remember much detail about the next 20 miles. We began to get into
some small hills. It rained harder. The wind switched from Northeast to
Northwest and felt stronger. The temperature was dropping. It was really
quite miserable.

We arrived in Belleville, TX at 10:30 a.m. Belleville was the designated
lunch stop. Lunch was being served and eaten under huge covered picnic
areas. There were no walls, it was freezing. The rain continued to fall.

We had our choice of turkey or peanut butter and fruit cocktail or hot
potatoes. I had the turkey and hot potatoes. I can’t ever remember a
bland turkey sandwich and plain old hot boiled potatoes, tasting so good.
The rain fell harder.

Someone finally opened up a huge old building. It looked like an old square
dance hall. There were no heaters, but at least we could get out of the
wind for awhile. The building filled up quickly.

Some people were so cold and wet that they were physically shaking. I was
lucky. The day before the race, a coworker, Carol, had offered her rain
suit top, made for biking. I almost refused, but I didn’t and I’m truly
thankful that she was so persistent in her offer. Carol, I owe you one. I
remained completely dry from head to waist.

A man walked in the building and announced that there were several vans
running outside with the heaters on, and we were welcome to warm up in them.
He also announced that there were school buses that would take riders and
bicycles to Lagrange, the designated night stop, if we did not want to
continue riding. We talked about it, I think that everyone there at least
thought about it. I didn’t want to ride 50 more miles in freezing, pouring
rain. On the other hand, I didn’t ride 50 miles on my bike, just to hop a
bus for fifty more to get to Lagrange. The guys I was riding with had made
this ride before. They had nothing to prove, but I did, this was my first
MS-150. We declined both offers.

Faced, as we were, with such ubiquitous obliquity, (eat your heart out, Sid)
we decided to wait until the rain slacked a bit, and then continue until
one of us died from hypothermia. I mean, what the heck? Hopefully, at
least two of us would live. Two out of three isn’t bad. Is it?

We left Bellville at 12:40 pm. We had been there for over two hours.
Meridith was now riding with another group, so it was just the three of us.
Once on the road, I was surprised to find that it only took about 5 minutes
of pedalling to warm up. I felt good again. The rain wasn’t too bad, and
most importantly, we were moving toward our destination.

About twelve miles later, the rain stopped. I saw a patch of blue in the
West. The blue sky grew larger with each mile. Without warning, the sun
hit our faces. What a sight for wet eyes. It felt great. It’s amazing how
we take such things for granted. We thanked God.

We pulled into the next rest stop in the sun, smiling, laughing, and feeling
like we had crossed a major hurdle. Everyone felt good. People were
striping off their wet shirts, wringing out their socks, forgetting that
they were feeling miserable, less than an hour ago. Life was good.

About that time, I saw the first of many school busses, packed with
bicycles and riders. You couldn’t blame them for not wanting to go on in
the rain. They saw us laughing in the sun and feeling good. The buses
wouldn’t stop once they had been loaded. We had made it. They didn’t.
Their faces looked sad. I didn’t hear one derogatory comment about the
people on those busses. We were all too glad that we were not among them.
At least I was.

We couldn’t wait to get back on the road. We had the sun. Nothing else
seemed to matter. Mile after mile, we enjoyed the scenery. We passed towns
and roads with German names. The land was really starting to roll. It
was beautiful. We passed a farm. It looked like they were having a big
barbecue. Cars lined the driveway.
The front porch was filled with people looking our way. Folks were standing
on both sides of the highway,
waving as we passed. I waved back. I felt like I was helping to liberate
the country. This was fun.

The hills began to get steeper and longer. I was feeling great. My legs
were in good shape, I didn’t feel tired.
This is what I had been training for.

Things went well until about mile 80. It was then that I noticed the pain
in my left knee. I tried to ignore it. Then my right knee began to hurt.
I think it was because I was favoring my left. I kept telling myself, “I
will feel no pain”, “I
will feel no pain”. My knees kept telling me “Oh yes you will”, “Oh yes
you will”. Mind over matter doesn’t always work.

Somewhere between mile 80 and 90, there was a rest stop. I went to the
medical tent and had some “heat” ointment rubbed on both knees. I felt
fine, as long as I wasn’t peddling.

The last ten to fifteen mile were pretty painful. I was thinking about
tomorrow. Would I be able to do 70 miles in pain?

As we entered the fairgrounds at Lagrange, the pain in my knees almost
vanished. We had reached our destination for the day. We had made it. It
felt good.

We immediately found the Conoco tent and went in. There were a lot of
people already there. They looked relaxed and happy. They had made it too.
Food was everywhere. There was grilled chicken, burgers, chips, cookies,
almost every munchie you could think of. Beer, soft drinks, water, you name
it, it was there. Steve Moskowitz, president of the Conoco Bike Club, told
me that I would feel spoiled once I rode with the Conoco Club.
He was right. I didn’t have to fight the crowds in the fairgrounds, like
the thousands of other riders.

That night, Ross and Mike, let me use their hotel room shower. I owe those
guys a tremendous thanks. Their company made the whole trip a more
enjoyable experience. After the shower, I felt like a new man. I didn’t
have a room, I was camping in the Conoco tent along with about 12 other
riders, so I took the shuttle bus back to the fairground.

I tried to go to bed early, about 9:30. As tired as I was, I couldn’t get
to sleep. I guess there were about two to three thousand people camping at
the fairgrounds. It takes a while for that many people to get quiet. It
was well after midnight before I dozed off. I was awakened, by one form of
noise, or another, at least ten times.

At about 5:00 am, I heard someone talking about pancakes. In fact, I could
smell pancakes. I immediately got dressed and made my way to the biggest
pancake cookoff that I have ever seen. Every flat, metal grill in
Lagrange, and the surrounding territory was being used to cook pancakes.
They filled my plate. I grabbed a large cup of hot coffee and sat down to
the best hot, buttered, syrupy, pancakes I had ever eaten.

At about 6:40 am, we began lining up for the start of the second day’s ride.
In a ride this huge, you have to have some organization. You don’t let
5,000 riders just take off. That would be a disaster. We were the second
group to take off, so we were well ahead of the masses.

Almost immediately, we fell into a good pace line. We were averaging about
21 mph. Was it my imagination, or were there more downhills than uphills?
It was strange, leaving Lagrange felt mostly downhill to me. My knees
weren’t bothering me at all.

We rode for miles through patchy fog. We knew that the sun would shine
brightly, once the fog burned away. About an hour into the ride, it did
just that, revealing a beautiful, crisp morning.

The countryside was beautiful. Green grass and trees blanketed the rolling
landscape. One day I’d like to enjoy it, without having to worry about
watching the rear tire of the bicycle in front of me.

We neared the town of Smithville, and the longest downhill of the ride.
In fact, it was the longest hill that I’d ever done on a bike. My
odometer registered 39.7 mph. I didn’t peddle a stroke. There’s not a
doubt in my mind that I could have reached 50mph, if I would have wanted
to…maybee next time.

As we approached Buesher State Park, I thought about all of the stories
that I had heard. Ten miles of steep, winding hills with blind turns. The
Park was heavily wooded, and the smell of pines and damp foliage filled the
air. The hills were not as tough as I thought they would be. I could feel
that the hill training we did in spinning class was really paying off.

The only problem I had was that my knees were beginning to hurt again.
With each hill they hurt more and more. I slowed down quite a bit. I told
Ross and Mike not to wait for me, I didn’t want to slow them down.

When I pulled into the next rest stop, I found Ross and Mike waiting for
me.. Ross suggested having my knees wrapped. I did just that, and was
surprised to find the pain greatly diminished.

I did the rest of the park with minimal pain. The park was challenging.
The downhills were a blast. We said adios to Buesher , as we cleared the
last, and longest hill in the park,

We then approached the town of Bastrop, and the designated lunch stop.
Subway sandwiches, chips, and bottled water, awaited hungry riders. We sat
in the shade, the blue sky rained sunshine. What a gorgeous day to be
riding across Texas.

I can’t say enough about the volunteers who manned all of the stops. They
were great. It was truly amazing how well everything was organized.
Whoever did the planning and coordinating for this ride did a fantastic

Leaving Bastrop, we encountered another series of downhills. I love
downhills. Once out of town, we chanced upon another great pace line. We
rode 19 to 21 mph for many miles.

We passed the scene of a chain reaction bike wreck. A rider was down in the
road. There were plenty of people surrounding him, and they appeared to
have the situation well in hand, so we rode on. Things can happen fast when
wheels collide. Cement is not very forgiving. It hurts.

We pulled into the next rest stop. It was beginning to get hot. Cold
sports drink and orange slices went down easily. We didn’t stay very long,
we had about 20 miles left to go. We were getting anxious.

The land became surprisingly flat as we approached Austin. That seemed
strange. I expected just the opposite.
For the next 15 miles, we rode through open fields against a headwind.

Our last rest stop came into view. We almost passed it up, but we didn’t.
We wanted to hit the finish line feeling fresh. We were almost there.
People were beginning to get excited. None could sit still for very long,
we were soon on the road again.

The last five miles were a breeze. My mind was filled with mixed emotions.
I was glad it was almost over. I was sad it was almost over. I felt a
great sense of accomplishment. We crossed the finish line three abreast,
slapping high fives as we rode. We had reached the end.

Every once in a while, something happens in our lives that allows us to
capture moments of pleasure and pain that we experience. Entire scenes are
forever etched in our minds to be lived and relived. The MS-150 gave me two
days of my life, that I will never forget.