Did I mention I did a little bike ride in Houston?
I was wrong about the number of riders participating in the event. I said 13,000, but they actually re-opened the registration to allow another 500 riders for a total of 13,500 riders. In case you're wondering, that's almost one entirely uninterrupted paceline for 100 miles.
The event started off just after sunrise, with a carnival atmosphere that was really cool. I pulled into the overnight parking lot at the starting point stadium around 5:30 in the morning. I was a guest member of the large Sun & Ski corporate team, something like 350 riders, so I wanted to get there in time to get all set up and ready to go in the staging area.
BP (yes, British Petroleum) is the title sponsor of the event and has been for a number years. It was announced at the event that they would be continuing as the title sponsor for another few years at least. In the above picture, you can barely see the BP logo on the balloon. They were gasing it up just before I snapped this picture... it looked really cool in the dark and lit up with the flames. The reflective dots are the lane markers for all of the corporate team staging areas. BP had the largest contingent with something like 500 riders- it was pretty impressive to see.
This is what happens when 13,500 riders get stuck in traffic lights... you can't see all that clearly, but the line of riders in the distance is practically never ending.
I spent the first 15 miles or so riding with the owner/ founder of Sun & Ski Sports, Barry Goldware. Barry is an exceptionally nice guy, but is not a lifelong cyclist like I am. I told Barry in the first mile that I was really impressed by his commitment to do the ride. It takes a lot for somebody who doesn't ride all the time to commit to riding 98 miles the first day and another 80 (or so) the second day. I have a ton of respect for Barry and all of the other folks who did the ride without years or even months of regular training. Hell, I've been racing and riding for about 25 years and it was still a long day for me.
The first real crash happened somewhere between miles 15 and 20. It was at this point that Barry and I got separated. Once I realized I wasn't going to find him in a sea of several thousand other riders, I decided to just go out and ride my ass off. I had a blast doing it too...
If you've never done any of the large group rides/ charity rides, I highly recommend them. As a race geek, I knew that the ride wasn't going to be smooth and fast like a race, but the fun of riding with so many people pumped up on doing something wonderful for a wonderful cause, was just the best. Yeah, I know, some bike snobs will turn their noses up to the idea of riding with "commoners" but they don'tknow what they are missing. Sure, there were some riders I didn't want to be next to or behind, but even those folks were reveling in the good deed they were doing- how can that be bad?
Among the really cool things to happen during the ride, was the overwhelming support and enthusiasm of the various towns the ride procession rolled through. There were people stopped along the roads all the way, yelling support, holding up signs of encouragement and generally being nice. In a couple of places, it looked like the entire town was out on the street to welcome us. Complete with bands and the local high school cheerleading squads. It was better than any actual race I've ever done.
We rolled through the town of Fayetteville on our way to the overnight stopping point Lagrange. Fayetteville has a posted population of 261 people, but I'll bet there were 400-500 people lining the one road through town. Yelling and screaming, waving flags, ringing cowbells (and you can bet they were real cow bells) and generally having fun. Fayetteville is one of the most picturesque Western post card towns. It was apparently an old stage coach/ train depot town over a hundreed years ago. The original buildings were amazingly cool.
Here's Belleville, the midway point rest stop and lunch break. I stopped to fill my bottles back up and have a few orange slices.
Here's the Masiguy bike next to a Masi Alare, our least expensive bike. There were a lot of Masi bikes on the ride. Every time I saw one, I would say to the rider, "hey, nice bike" as I rode by. I got a lot of really perplexed looks for that. I had a couple of good conversations with some of the Masi owners too. One guy recognized me and asked if he could get his picture with the Masi Guy. Obviously I said yes. This was hugely flattering and really made me smile. I mean, I'm just a bike dork with a blog after all.
The sea of riders and bikes in Belleville. It was amazing to see so many bikes and people.
There was also a sea of people trying to get to the bathroom...
Bottom right... yep, my steed again...
Along the way to Lagrange, we rode through some really pretty pasture lands. The roads were either flat or rolling slightly with very few "hills" to speak of. I mean, even I was able to keep it in the big ring and roll over nearly every bump we came to. Although towards the end I think I dropped it into the small ring on a couple of the rollers.
Prairie to the right of me...
... more prairie and an oil refinery to the left of me.
The road ahead is full of riders to chase down...
... and the road behind is full of riders trying to chase ME down.
More to come...