I've been wanting to participate in a charity ride for some time. The opportunity came knocking when my wife attended a talk given by Jim Stratos, one of her co-workers at Verizon. Jim was recruiting for Team Verizon Fios, the company supported MS cycling team. The team riders raise funds which are matched by the company. When I learned I could join the team I jumped at the chance. Thanks to the kindness and generosity of friends I quickly met, and exceeded the fund raising requirement. The fact that our neighbor, a working mother, is diagnosed with MS would give the ride extra meaning for me.
|Team Verizon Fios 2011|
The Coast to Coast edition of the MS rides is a 170 mile two-day venture to Cape May, the southernmost point of the state. The start is set at Monmouth University in Long Branch. An overnight stop is scheduled at a school in the Pinelands. The National MS Foundation takes care of the riders' needs throughout the event. Bag transport, bus transportation back to the starting point, and to hotels for the overnight are provided. Food and water is available all along the route at rest stops and at the finish location. The folks organizing the event seem to have thought of everything.
It occurred to me that being in Cape May, with my bike, was an opportunity to log some additional miles by riding back to the starting point. I added a second overnight to my itinerary by reserving a nearby motel room in Cape May. I would leave Monday morning at 5:00am for the final leg. Also, I thought it might be more of an adventure to do the three days of riding on the fixed gear bike. To make it all work out I needed to pack everything for the three days in one backpack. During the 170 mile trip to Cape May the MS volunteers would transport my bag to the overnight and the finish. Once re-claimed at Cape May I would have to wear the pack on the ride home. In the interests of keeping the weight down I would only allow myself essential items.
Being more used to the small crowds at Randonnuering events I was amazed at all the people and bikes amassed around Monmouth College when I arrive at 7:00am. Coincidentally, my friend, and fellow Team Verizon member, Todd, is parked in the next spot. Todd, a fellow rando rider, is riding the first 85 mile leg to the Pinelands, which was one of the ride options. His girlfriend Leslie, a member of another team, would be riding both days. I check in at the Team Verizon table and collect my rider number and a very spiffy team jersey from Jim. After which, I drop my pack off to be transported to the overnight stop. I ready my bike and line up with Todd and Leslie for the 8:00am start. Todd informs me there are 1800 people participating in a variety of ride options ranging from 25 miles to the 170 mile Coast to Coast. Once the go signal is given, with the cutting of a tape, we are off. It takes awhile for the mass of cyclists to get through the starting gate and out of the university.
|The team gathers at the start|
|Todd (center) ready to go|
Team Trane is Leslie's team. They are well represented among the masses in those first few miles, including a couple on a tandem. With all of the riders around it's difficult to stay together. After the crossing of a pedestrian bridge, which riders must dismount for, I lose sight of my two riding companions. I'm not sure if they are ahead or behind me. I ride my normal pace assuming I'll run into them again.
|Team Trane has one of very few tandems on the ride|
|Dave, former Mayor of Lacy Township|
|Scott, a fellow fixed gear rider|
At 5:30 am I board the shuttle bus back to the school for the start of day two. I enjoy a nice breakfast with Jim, Kathleen and some of the other members of Team Verizon Fios. The team is consistently one of the top fund raisers participating in the ride. After breakfast I ready my bike, which was conveniently stored overnight for me, and move outside for the start. A small group sings the National Anthem followed by the tape cutting, signaling the official start. I look around for my team, but see no one in the area. Not knowing what else to do I start the ride.
|Yours truly on the morning of day two. photo by John|
|John and Rich in the Pine Barrens (Day Two)|
|A fast paceline just before the 48 mile rest stop (Day two)|
|Dave F, Team Verizon Fios (Day Two)|
The roads on this section are familiar. I've definitely ridden this way before on the NJ 600k. There is ocean to my left and I'm still enjoying the wind at my back. Other than a couple of riders, who are not part of the MS ride, I see no one around. The two riders I see are a couple on vacation from Pennsylvania. They ask me what ride I'm doing, having seen the number pinned to the back of my Jersey. We ride for a few miles conversing until I make the turn for the Sea Isle City rest stop which is at the Ambulance Corps. I pull in, noticing there are no other bikes in the racks. I ask the volunteers if anyone else has been in. They say I am the first. They have only seen two riders a short time ago, who passed by without stopping. I'm a little baffled how I could be so near the front of the ride. I didn't think I was pushing that hard. I refill my water, use the bathroom and head out just as three riders are pulling in.
|My Jamis Sputnik is the sole visitor to the Sea Isle City rest stop|
|Steve and Ken E, two of the guys I finished with|
|Ken T. leading the group in the final twenty miles|
|My location for night two|
At 5am I depart the motel heading north on US 9 in darkness. It is raining lightly, but the temperature is a comfortable 67 degrees. There is very little traffic about. The skies lighten quickly, but it remains overcast, although the rain has stopped. I remain on US 9 to State Route 50, which will lead me into Egg Harbor City. On Route 50 passing through Mays Landing I spot a McDonalds. I've been looking to try their new oatmeal. I pull in and am quickly enjoying a tasty bowl of the stuff. Not on the level of the steel cut Irish oatmeal I eat at home, but it will do in a pinch.
|Pointing the way home|
|Hmmm. Probably not reasonable to make a stop in AC|
|Taking in the scenery of the area|
|The Pine Barrens are as quiet as it gets in New Jersey|
After working through a navigation problem just prior to Tom's River, I find my way to the bridge to cross into Seaside Heights. It is a nerve racking mile or two, being buzzed by traffic traveling at very high speed, with no shoulder to use. I'm relieved when I finally end up on Route 35 where it is also busy, but there is a usable emergency lane. I'm keeping any eye on the time, and am becoming concerned about making the train. I have about 110 miles behind me and about 10 left to cover. With about 35 minutes left. Given all the traffic lights through the shore towns it will be very tight. I do my best to keep my average speed up, but am having difficulty as the roads are not in ideal condition through this section. I'm dodging pot holes and broken glass. I enter the town of Lavalette knowing that Bay Head is just a few towns further north. I have about 15 minutes to make it. After passing Normandy Beach I know that I just need to make it through the town on Mantoloking and I'm there. There is six minutes left. The area seems to have been flooded recently as there are road crews working on the sewers. At one point just as I approach the town the road crew stops all the traffic to allow a big truck access to the work area. With only a few minutes left I know I'll miss the train. It will mean an hour and a half wait for the next one. I find a nice coffee shop in Bay Head named Rockin Joe's, where I can relax for awhile. A half hour before the scheduled train departure I ride over to the station. The train is on time delivering me to Long Branch by 4:30. I ride the three miles to the college locating my car in the lot. Despite the missed train I am home in time for dinner.
The third day of riding added 125 miles to the event, putting my three day total over 300 miles. While not the crazy total a Randonneuring event would deliver, it's a worthy accomplishment none the less.
In many years of riding I've participated in very few charity events. Which is something I feel badly about. Cycling can be very self indulgent. For sure, I've done my fair share of indulging. I'm grateful for this opportunity to use the activity I love to do something for others. Collectively, all the riders that gathered for this single MS event raised the better part of a million dollars. The funds to be used for research and support for those with the disease. That is a significant accomplishment. One that will certainly make a difference. It is more gratifying to have played a part in bringing that about than completing the ride. Although, both have meaning to me. I look forward to the chance to do this again. I hope you will join me in the effort. If not for this cause for another of your choice. Together we can really make a difference.