I first was drawn to Bike MS because of my longtime friend, Caroline Kyriakou, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis a few years back and has since been very active in the MS community, including leading her own Walk MS team in her hometown of Boston.
I must admit that my decision to participate in Bike MS, in part, was for personal and somewhat selfish reasons. As described in the Bike MS flyer, the ride was a two-day cycling event held in August. Both days of the ride began in the small college town of Monmouth, Oregon (home to Western Oregon University), ran through scenic parts of rural Oregon, and then looped back to Monmouth at the end of that day’s ride. So, in addition to supporting a close friend’s cause, I thought it sounded like a lovely idea to be able to challenge myself physically by cycling some to-be-determined, large number of miles through beautiful parts of Oregon during the state’s brief sunny season! I grew excited, yet nervous due to the length of the ride, about the possibility of participating in Bike MS.
Never one to be stingy by keeping physically-exhausting workouts to myself, I sought to enlist a partner with whom I could share this experience. I asked my physically-fit friend and colleague, Deb, to join me. Like me, Deb was a relatively inexperienced cyclist, but was up for the challenge! Once I had found solace in finding a cycling buddy, I finally made the commitment by signing up for Bike MS.
Prior to the date of the Bike MS ride, the NMSS Oregon Chapter held multiple welcoming events. At a Happy Hour Meet and Greet, the staff at the NMSS were more than willing to answer my numerous questions and set my mind at ease about the length of the ride. With their help, I was able to raise more than double the minimum fundraising requirement by fully utilizing my Bike MS fundraising webpage. I was also informed of an upcoming 52-mile practice ride, which at that time, was longer than any ride I had completed. To gain more cycling experience, I decided to participate in the practice ride. As the only woman, I brought up rear of the cyclists, but the participants and support staff were phenomenal in helping me along this challenging ride, waiting for me to arrive at all rest stops and serving as my cheerleaders along the way.
The next phase was the actual event itself. Bike MS offered six routes of different lengths over the event’s two days and, by then, Deb and I had finally agreed that we would ride 100 miles in total.
Deb and I set out on the longest ride either of us had completed, 64 miles. We rode a scenic loop through farming communities and wineries. The last ten miles were particularly challenging for me, but I kept my friend Caroline in the forefront of my mind and, by the time Deb and I crossed the “finish line” (in quotes because Bike MS is a ride, not a race), I was near tears, overcome by my own physical fatigue and with emotional empathy for others who take on the challenges of MS on a daily basis.
Following the first day’s ride, we were welcomed back with a barbeque dinner, an inspiring guest speaker, and live music. Deb and I were amazed by guest speaker Maureen Manley’s story, who, when in her twenties, was a world-class cyclist headed to the Olympics. Despite her diagnosis, Maureen never gave up her cycling dream. She rides frequently and I was surprised to learn that she had ridden that day’s course with us!
For the second day, the route headed through both barren and forested land. At the halfway point I was surrounded by a breathtakingly picturesque, tree-lined landscape. Soon after entering this beautiful area, however, I was also greeted with a 500-ft climb in elevation over a one-and-a-half mile period. Pedaling up this hill exhausted me! At several points, I wanted to stop and rest, but I convinced myself to persevere until I had reached the top of the hill. After fifteen minutes of I-could-walk-faster-than-this pedaling, I had finally reached the top. Following a brief rest with my fellow exhausted cyclists, all trying to catch our breaths, I headed down the opposite side of the hill.
For me, this was almost as tough as the ride up, as I did my best to safely navigate the curvy road at speeds nearing 30 miles per hour. Even more difficult than the steep hill at the middle of the ride, the last few miles proved a serious mental challenge for me. To make it through, I surrounded myself with constant positive talk for the entire final seven miles of the route.
I consistently felt supported during the ride, from the cheerleaders’ warm welcomes at each rest stop, to the multiple bike mechanics riding the route, helping those with flat tires and other mishaps, to the support staff driving the route to make sure that no cyclist was left behind or was without water. This year’s Bike MS event in Oregon involved nearly 600 cyclists, riding thousands of miles, raising over $400,000 (and donations are still being accepted for this year’s event until the end of September), and was supported by over 250 volunteers–all to help make a difference in the lives of those living with MS!
When it was announced during the evening program on Day 1 that sign ups were now available for next year’s Bike MS, Deb and I jumped at the chance! Hope to see you in 2014!
To read Caroline’s blog post in full click Bike MS ~ A Guest Blog by Caroline B.