Bike MS NYC (Almost) Century Ride Part III: A Fateful Decision

This is my third post about my experience at last Sunday’s Bike MS NYC.  If you haven’t already, you should first read

Despite an inauspicious start, I was actually having a pretty good day, cycling-wise.  Although I wasn’t quite making the time I had hoped for, it was mostly due to the crowded conditions at the mass start.  Any time the crowd cleared, I was able to surge ahead, but I quickly caught up with yet another dense group of riders forced to make their way slowly down narrow roads.  Further boosting my morale, I made it up the two major climbs of the day without having to dismount and walk the bike.  In fact, other than some red lights, I hadn’t put a foot down for the entire first 30 miles.  I rolled into the Alpine rest stop ready for a break yet eager to get back on the road.

The Alpine rest stop is the only rest stop to be visited twice (first outbound then again on the way home) by both 55 and 100 mile riders.  Therefore it is the site of choice for many of the ride’s sponsors to give out free samples of their energy bars, gels, drinks, and powders.  Unfortunately only a minority of these are kosher, but I always manage to find a few items to make the stop worthwhile.

Besides the sponsors, another great feature of the rest stops is the awesome crew of volunteers providing orange slices, trail mix, and (more) bananas and water bottles.  I have no idea how the organizers find such nice people to stand out in the rain all day handing out food and drinks, but these people are amazing, remaining smiling and positive in the face of constant demands from weary riders.  Last year I brought along a spare battery pack for my phone, but the darned thing simply would not give up its juice to charge my dead phone.  I asked around among the volunteers if anyone had an iPhone charger I could borrow, and incredibly one of the volunteers offered to let me use her car for 10 minutes to charge up the phone!

The Alpine rest stop is also where the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, organizer of Bike MS and many other fundraising athletic events, presents information regarding multiple sclerosis.  I stopped here for quite a while last time, since, as anyone who knows me very closely will understand, I am a strong believer in their mission.  [In fact, it is not too late to sponsor my ride, so click here and donate now!]  This time around, I stopped only briefly to say hello to a nice young lady living with MS who comes out each year to cheer on the Bike MS riders.  I wish I could have stayed longer, but last year I believe I spent well over an hour and a half at this rest stop, and as a result I didn’t finish the ride until mid-afternoon.  This year, with almost double the mileage to complete, I couldn’t afford to take my time quite as much.  And so, after a quick restroom trip and some food and drinks, I got back on the road.

Last year at this point, on the 55-mile route, I did a quick loop past the NJ/NY border into Rockland County and made my way back to Alpine.  Now I had the opportunity to explore new towns and see new sights.  On the way up, the route takes you up River Road on a route close to the waterfront with beautiful views of the Tappan Zee Bridge.  We rolled through Nyack’s quaint downtown lined with cafes and bike shops, then rode up 9W through Rockland Lake State Park, before veering west into Congers for a rest stop.  This stop, while not quite as large as Alpine, still offered a decent selection of food and drinks, so I grabbed what I could and moved on.

The route then winds its way through back country roads, pushing further north.  Some of these roads, quite frankly, did not feel all that appropriate for cycling.  Most roads had little or no shoulder, and they often featured quick turns, occasional tough climbs and rapid descents, and mostly on two-lane two-way roads with 45 MPH speed limits.  I’m not sure what other roads may have been available to the route organizers, and perhaps they figured that century riders are self-selected pros at riding with fast rural traffic, but I was decidedly not comfortable riding here.  Also, my climbing at this point was clearly not on par with the other riders.  At each red light, an informal group of riders would form, and when the light turned green I would keep up with them for a while.  Yet inevitably, at the next climb, I would watch as one by one they would all pass me and leave me behind.

Somehow, I made it to the last rest stop in Garnerville.  This, I was told, was roughly the halfway point.  After a quick 8-mile loop through Stony Point, skirting Harriman State Park and the base of Bear Mountain, I was told I’d be back at this rest stop then on my way home.  Given the misty rain coming down at this point, stinging our eyes and making the roads slick, I overheard many riders debate whether to just skip the loop and go home.  Already quite tired and wondering how I was going to make it all the way back, I seriously considered it as well.  Just then, a small group decided to make their way out and do the loop, and I made the fateful decision to join them.

Almost immediately, the route hit a somewhat significant climb.  I shifted into my small chain ring in front, but the chain slipped and I hopped off the bike to reset the chain.  Just as I stood up straight, I felt a sharp pain in my thighs.  A cramp!  I sat down for a minute and watched, distraught, as one by one everyone in the group passed me, asking if I was OK.  “Just a cramp, thanks!” I said, trying to remain positive.  Five minutes later I got back on the bike and crested the hill.  I coasted down the gentle slope while slowly pedaling to try to relieve the cramping.

Just then, rolling at about 25 MPH downhill on a narrow 2-lane road with many potholes and no usable shoulder, my ride took a dramatic turn for the worse.  As I rolled straight through a T intersection with a stop sign for traffic coming from my right, a minivan driver decided he was not going to wait for me to pass.  The driver slowly rolled into the intersection and BAM.

And that is where I will pick up and conclude the story tomorrow.

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