Ok, so we left off on the journey into Lagrange...
The roads were, as shown in the previous post, pretty darned flat. I'm not complaining, since I am a professed "non-climbing fat guy". Once I got good and warmed up, since it was a chilly start to the morning, I just put my head down and pretty much time trialed between conversations and the two rest stops I made to refill the water bottles. At one point I pulled up behind a group of about 8-10 riders going at a pretty good pace, so I dropped into their paceline and rolled with them. When I got to the front, I just rolled into a normal, comfortable pace. Admittedly, as somebody who has been racing and training for the past 25 years, my idea of a comfortable pace may be different to a few people. The group I was with was a group of guys who obviously ride regularly, but I doubt they are fulltime race geeks- even though they had shaved legs. Well, I ended up on the front of this group for nearly ten miles before I realized, "gee, I've been pulling for a long time, maybe I should pull off..." I looked back and three guys were there and when I pulled off, the first guy asked "is it ok if we take a pull?" I laughed and apologized for being antisocial. We rolled along a while longer and then I rolled away at my own pace again and thanked the group for the company.
One of the very best parts of the ride, for me to see, was the number of families out on the ride with their kids. 98 miles from Houston to Lagrange and there were kids on their own bikes or riding tandems/ Alley Cat attachments. That is amazing to me. I stopped about a dozen times to encourage a few of these folks with their kids. I saw a few kids that could not have been any older than 8-9 years old. Whoa! Amazing.
I made my last stop with about 25 miles remaining to Lagrange and the fairgrounds where we camped out over night. Topped off the bottles again, ate a few orange slices and pieces of banana and had a handfull of cut up Snickers candy bar... on ice! Nothing like a cold piece of Snickers when it is about 90 degrees and very humid. During those last 25 miles though, I was visited by the Care Bears and Papa Smurf sat on my handlebars and insulted my manhood, suggesting that Smurfette could kick my ass. Needless to say, the sugar was wearing off and the miles were catching up to me. This lasted for about 5 miles before the Hammer Gel kicked in and saved my butt before a full-blown bonk settled in. By the time I got to Lagrange, 98 miles after Houston, I'd been on the bike riding for a little less than 5 hours and managed a pace of 20 mph. More importantly, I'd ridden with a whole bunch of people who were riding for a great cause and were having a lot of fun.
(This is early in the day... before the rest of the riders arrived.)
There is something to be said for a warm shower after such an effort... even a shower in a trailer with 20-30 of your closest friends that you stand in line for, for about an hour. That had to be one of the greatest showers of my entire life!I was coated in sun screen, dead bugs, road grime and sweaty salt deposits. That portable shower trailer was an absolute Godsend. Everybody coming out of it said the exact same thing... it was pretty funny.
I'm going to confess; the best part of the entire day was the post ride massage I got at the tent of my Sun & Ski hosts. They provided free 30 minute massages by real massage therapists for all of their riders. All I caught was her first name, but "Pat" gave my tired, knotted legs and back an amazing massage. Pat, I am guessing, learned her trade from former Soviet sports massage/ KGB agents. She had hands like a vise and gripped my leg muscles tight enough to make me wince a few times, but it was SOOOOO worth it. I hit that table stiff as a board and walked away like a Play-Doh noodle! Thank you, thank you, thank you Pat!
Ok, the massage might be tied with the post ride BBQ, which Masi sponsored (yes, you can thank me... well, my boss actually, but I'm stealing the glory). The beef brisket was insanely good. The chicken was delicious and the grilled sausage was so good I had three helpings of it. The beans and potato salad were great too... but that might have been because I was starved. All told, I must've had 4 plates of food stacked a good 6 to 8" deep. To wash it down, there were copious quantities of Shiner beer. I'm not sure how many I had while "rehydrating", but it was more than 2. That much I know...
That evening, I slept in the big team tent in my sleeping bag on the ground with the other Sun & Ski team riders. Sadly, I made a bad choice of ground and slept poorly with the rocks and roots poking me. I slept, don't get me wrong, I just didn't wake up feeling like I'd slept much. Due to a misunderstanding on my part, I didn't join the other riders and ride into Austin. Instead, I helped my hosts tear down there massive set up and got riders out onto the roads. The first riders were lining up to depart by 5:00AM. It wasn't even light outside and riders, by the hundreds, were preparing to ride. It was actually really cool to see the place humming with activity.
(Riders lining up in the darkness for a day in the sun.)
After tearing down and getting all of the riders off and on the road to Austin, we were on our way driving back to Houston so I could catch my flight back home. There were all kinds of problems with my flight home and luggage getting lost and then found, but I was home and in bed by midnight! I got up with the kids and took them to school, since I hadn't seen them in nearly a week... and then came home and crashed out until about noon. Needless to say, I didn't go to the office.
All in all, the experience was incredible. I joined a lot of people joined in the goal of finding a cure for MS. I had my aunt Joan in my thoughts the whole time I was there. Next year, I'll make sure I plan better and make sure I stick around to ride into Austin for the full impact of the event (as well as bring a bed roll to place under my sleeping bag). I'll take more pictures too and maybe even stop at every rest stop and spend a bit more time talking to folks. Regardless, you can plan on seeing me there again.
(Oh yeah, at the fairgrounds that night, they showed the movie Breaking Away... yeah, the movie with Dave Stoller riding a Masi Gran Criterium.)