I had an awesome weekend this past weekend doing the Mass Red Ribbon Ride. Two days of riding, 182 miles, the
hillsmountains of western Mass, a little over 12 hours on the saddle… they all added up together for a great weekend.
Woke up Friday morning and kind of hurriedly did my actual packing. In retrospect, I should have packed Thursday night. But due to changing my transport plans at the last minute, didn't have as much time as I expected on Friday. After packing up, headed down to Starbuck's to grab a quick breakfast. Riding with a heavy-ish backpack made things a little bit more interesting as I wasn't used to it and it made a big difference on balance and things like that. Then, to South Station on the T to take the Amtrak train out to Pittsfield. Had met up with a few of the other riders and had a good time on the train. Once we got there, checked in and had dinner and the opening ceremony. Lots of recognition of the agencies across the state which are benefiting from the fund-raising, some of the sponsors and a slide show for why some people ride and crew. Then, back to the hotel (… I decided to splurge rather than camp while biking that much 🙂 where we hit the pool a little and eventually went to bed on the early side.
Saturday morning woke up bright and early (6 am) to head to the start. Checked in and got my rider number. Somehow, I ended up being rider #42 which was pretty cool 🙂 Grabbed a quick bite to eat, had a few opening words and then we were off to start on the 76 miles for the day. First leg was nice — very scenic and a flat, smooth bike path for half of it. It was a little chilly but the sun was shining and things were warming up pretty quick. After the first pit stop was where the going got tough… a 1500 ft climb in just about 3 miles. Over half of which was covered in gravel. It was a grueling climb. Was able to power up the first bit on some momentum, spinning and pure willpower. Unfortunately, after the first “you're almost there” sign (… a third of the way up) I started to get to just having to mash and go slow. Took a few breaks on my way up to regain my breath but reached the summit without pushing the bike or grabbing the SAG wagon. From there, anything seemed relatively easy and it was on the lunch stop and regrouping with the rest of the Quad team.
After lunch, started out and that's when probably the worst moment of the weekend occurred. One of our riders hit something on the road on a pretty quick downhill and went down. We stopped and waited for assistance from EMTs and an ambulance as it wasn't pretty — helmets save lives. I've now seen proof up close and personal of that. On the positive side, he ended up coming out pretty much fully okay and should bounce back. But, that shook us a lot for the rest of the day until we could get a good status. But, we got back on our bikes and headed onto the next pit stop. And through some stroke of good luck, it was the pit being crewed by some volunteers who were associated with us. So they were able to help a bit in getting us back into a better frame of mind and moving on.
The rest of the ride was largely uneventful. Some rolling hills that by the end were feeling annoying, but nothing like the mountain of earlier in the day. And we were riding very carefully. Got to the finish, put up the back, showered and then proceeded o take advantage of the massages being offered. That was nice. Then, the pasta dinner, the slide show of the day, getting some ice cream and eventually to the hotel for the night and sleep. Was good to sit around and talk with riders about the day and just kind of relax.
Sunday morning we got to wake up even earlier (5:15) and to the start so that we could ride out at 6:30 am. Quick breakfast and check of the bike and then we were off in the 45 degree weather. Unfortunately, I had never gotten back my jacket after deciding not to ride with it on Saturday, so it was pretty chilly still. But, got moving and had someone join up with me after a few miles and we rode along. Eventually, caught up with another little group and rode along as a group of four until the first pit stop. By that point, the sun was actually really out and so I was feeling a bit less frozen. Although there were hills, they seemed like a lot less of a concern after the mountain on Saturday.
Between the first and second pit, rode along with the same group and eventually were caught up a bit by the rest of the Quad bunch (well, at least the ones who didn't decide to see how fast they could finish the day :). We rode along with them into the second pit for a slightly longer stop. And then, it was on to some big downhills as well as some less big uphills. Made it to the lunch stop (65 miles) and was feeling pretty good. Had pulled quite a bit, but my legs seemed to still be there and I was mentally feeling pretty good about the whole thing. And the sun was out for another gorgeous day.
Left lunch and that's when I hit it hard… I'd ridden 140 miles in two days and was starting to feel it. But it was supposed to be the “lots of downhill portion”. I have to say, those were the hardest “downhills” I've ever ridden… maybe because they were going up hill a bit too 😉 But just kind of fell in drafting for a little bit and then had Bobby ask me to pull for a bit. And that was good to help get me into the next pit stop. Also, I was helped by some timely orange juice with real fruit sugar to give me a boost.
Left the pit and was able to go strong into the final pit stop where we picked up some Coke (caffeine for the final 10 miles), some salt and headed off for a very nice group finish at Regis College after 106 miles for the day where we were met with cheering, showers, a bbq and some closing words. It was interesting to learn that the woman who had joined me in the morning (and stuck with me for the rest of the day, mostly riding along behind but still giving me a little bit of a push when I needed it 🙂 was the number two overall fundraiser!
All in all, a very good weekend. The rest of the riders were great. The crew was great. The pit stops were fun, well staffed and had plenty of good stuff to pick us up when we needed a boost. All in all, I would say that the ride was a great success. My only “regret” was I decided not to take my camera, but there are plenty of other pictures from the official photographers… link to come once they're up.
Over the course of the weekend I met lots of new people, all of whom ride or crew for their own reasons. Some have personal experience — the Positive Pedalers were a group out there riding and crewing themselves. Others had a friend or a loved one who is or has been afflicted by HIV and AIDS. And then there were those (myself included) who rode to help how we can — by riding. All of this helps to raise awareness as well as helping the various non-profit agencies involved with the ride with the funds they need to operate by meeting each rider's fund-raising goals (… I still need to finish reaching mine)
I'm very glad that I listened to the encouragement from people to go for doing this. For anyone else thinking about taking part in anything even remotely similar, stop thinking about it. Do it. I'm already starting to think about riding again next year. Because it's not over…