I sincerely want to thank ya'll for your words of support and well wishes as I faced my 75 mile journey from Miami to Key Largo. I was scared. Out of my mind. And for good reason, as I later discovered. But it helped to know that the internets were pulling for me.
So, the Tale of the MS 150 Bike Ride...
On Saturday morning, we got up at 3:00 a.m. To head to Homestead to start the ride. No, I didn't mis-type anything. 3:00 a.m. And I was so nervous that I couldn't even be tired. No, wide-eyed and bushy tailed. That was me.
Why was I nervous? Well, when I signed up for the ride, I hadn't really considered the route we would be taking. I was focused on whether or not I could pedal a bicycle for 75 miles. But, the night before the ride, I began to ponder how one would travel from Miami to Key Largo. And then it came to me... one does that by riding on TWO LANE ROADS. There is no other route. There is no way to get to the Keys except this TWO LANE ROAD. That we would be sharing with VEHICLES. Cue Kendra to get NO sleep.
So, around 4:45 a.m., when we finally got all of our crap together (there were five girls riding and two accompanying cheerleaders... that is some serious chaos. Like wrangling cats.) and were headed to Homestead, I mentioned my nervousness to my little sister. Her response? Oh yeah, there really aren't many precautions in place. One year someone died on the ride. WTF???
So, armed with the knowledge that someone died trying to complete this ride, I embarked on my journey. It was 7:40 a.m. First obstacle: sunscreen in my eyes. That's right. I am trying to navigate a bicycle with only one eye open. Oh, and did I mention that I had never ridden this particular bicycle for more than one mile before? Uh huh. Brand new bike. On a 75 mile ride. BRILLIANT. (As an aside, I am in love with the new bike now... but STILL! Who starts a brand new relationship on a 75 mile ride?!?)
Things go pretty well for the first 30 miles. Keep in mind that my "training" consisted of two lengthy rides. Yes, only two. The longest of those two was around 34 miles. So, miles 30-40 went ... badly. VERY badly. I thought I was going to pass out. Then I thought I was going to throw up. It was 11:30ish in the South Florida sun. The heat was coming up off of the pavement in waves. I was guzzling water out of my pak... and drinking Gatorade at every stop... but the heat was almost unbearable. I seriously began to question if I could make it.
Amy was incredibly kind at mile 40. There was a rest stop. She brought me Gatorade. She found a tiny patch of shade for me. Because there was NO SHADE ANYWHERE on the route or in most of the rest stops. Just sun. Blazing sun. Amy gave me a pep talk. We were sticking together at this point. The other girls were ahead of us. The next stop was lunch at mile 50.
Somehow, I rallied after the rest and Gatorade. Feeling pretty good, I was keeping a decent pace. Decent, not good. We were the Happy Tortoise Cycling Team, after all. But, right before lunch, things got really confusing. The route wasn't marked well. There were no signs telling us that a rest stop was coming up. Amy was dead tired and convinced we were going the wrong way. Then she was certain we had missed the rest stop. I was equally certain that we had NOT missed the rest stop, but kept that mostly to myself to avoid having a circa 1983 Trek thrown at my head. We asked three different people how far the rest area was. The first person said it was half a mile. The second person told us we had, indeed, missed it AND LUNCH ALONG WITH IT. The third person confirmed that we were only a short distance away... but by this point, Amy had had enough. She caught a ride for the last mile before lunch. I pedaled away doggedly.
Lunch... yeah, no one told me that when your body is that exhausted, you really have little interest in food. It tried to eat pasta. Nope. Fruit. I could eat fruit. And more Gatorade. And water. But anything solid sat in the pit of my stomach like a baseball.
Amy and I had a lengthy discussion about whether or not she wanted to continue after lunch. I knew if she didn't, that I needed to cut my break short and get on the road as quickly as possible. She was insistent that, while there was nothing she wanted less than to get back on her bicycle, she felt compelled to go on. So we set out together. But within about 3 miles, it became apparent that Amy wasn't going to make it 20+ miles. I lost my riding partner.
This brings me to the most trying part of my journey. The last 25 miles of this ride were the most desolate, isolated, soul-scorching landscape I have ever seen. There was NOTHING but grass. Brown, dry grass. And occasionally a bit of water. The smell of death was literally everywhere... I was constantly gagging or sucking down water to avoid vomiting. I prayed. I begged for mercy. I cried. I considered quitting. But I pressed on anyway. I had to. I can't explain why. I just had to finish.
Then, the most amazing thing happened. I pulled into the rest stop 11 miles from the finish line... and I saw Betsy running toward me to greet me. She was jumping and bouncing and handing me Gatorade... And she didn't even know that the whole time I had just been praying that she might be at one of the rest stops. That maybe if I saw her, I would be able to finish. And there she was. I cried. And then I realized that Angie was there, too. And Heather. And Doc. And Laura. And Brenda. They had ALL waited for me. The girls that had trained for this by riding every weekend. The girls that could pace at 17 mph, while I could only ride 13 mph by this point. THEY ALL WAITED. Very few times in my life have I been that grateful.
They rode with me for the remaining 11 miles. Angie was there when I told her I didn't think I could make the last 4 miles. And she and Heather calmly but firmly told me I WOULD ride those last 4 miles. Heather promised that the scenery and civilization of Key Largo would make those last 4 miles fly by. They didn't. But it was a nice gesture on her part.
I have rarely been as proud of myself as I was when I crossed the finish line. I felt like I had searched the depths of my soul and found something precious... my strength. And, as gruelling as the whole experience was, I would do it again.
But, maybe next time I will train a bit more. Heh.