The North Carolina version of the National Multiple Sclerosis biking-for-fundraising event is now called the BB&T Tour to Tanglewood, and while I wish everyone a safe and successful ($1.2 million is the goal) ride up there in the Triad-Piedmont the weekend of Sept. 26-27, I won't be participating.
It's not about trying to get $400 in contributions from friends, family, co-workers during trying economic times or that maybe I can't push my 52-year old body like I used to. Nope, simple fact is, the challenge is gone, and whether I should be willing to put my healthy self in service to others might be a legitimate question. Legit but no, sorry, I want the fun and challenge I remember when this ride was was called the MS 150 Bike to the Beach.
I've done that ride four times, and in 2006, after busting it pretty well (avg. 21mph) while drafting a couple tandem riders, I was having one of those joyous gatherings the MS 150 put on for lunch when an ambulance went back down the course, and everyone wondered how bad some rider had gotten hurt. It turned out a girl (my apologies for not remembering her name--it turned out her family actually attended the same church as me) was killed, the only fatality the ride had ever sustained. While the family told everyone concerned that she wouldn't have wanted to cause the event any problems, things changed beginning the next year. When it became two-75 mile loops around Myrtle Beach vs. the glory of riding alllll the way across the state, and I'd have to foot the expenses of driving across the state and two days in a hotel because I couldn't just get up early and drive to the starting line, that kind of took the romance out of it. Pardon me for saying this, but it seemed to have become JUST about the money.
Personally, starting the ride in Rockingham and ending Day One in Florence--although that last year it was a memorable stop in Darlington--wading into the ocean briefly, having a deserved couple cold ones at the end before napping on a bus ride back (bikes were shipped in moving vans), then finishing a contemplative drive back to Charlotte as the sun set, was a great weekend. I felt I'd achieved something, and it was kind of secondary that I'd also benefitted those who were less physically fortunate by doing the fundraising.
That last year was special, including the fact that the team I'd done some Sunday morning training with (the Mojos, who provided a *great* spread of food and beverages, including escargot and petite chocolate desserts!) won both People's Choice and Judges Award for best jersey, and *I* was the ONLY team rider around to accept because everyone else left for the hotel. There was actually the purity of "slapping the wall" in semi-sympatico with those NASCAR drivers because they let us ride around the track at the end. Finding out the local high school wasn't an option for sleeping accomodations was an unkind surprise, one that multiplied when, despite what they told us about having diligently *attempted* to kill the fire ants in the nearby camping area, those ants were still pretty active, even if not swarming. I eventually got about two hours sleep by moving to the tarmac and sacking out under one of the massage tents, thankful for the breeze of two large fans, the heck with those up-real-late guys still guzzling at the beer truck and watching the Tennessee game. It was 88 miles the second day, and I felt great almost all the way because its *supposed* to be a challenge, and I'd done the training to deserve it being easier.
Riding across the state with several thousand people, checking out who I might vote as 'Best Buns', that was cool stuff. That there had been tens of thousands of riders and doubtless MILLIONS of miles riden before that unfortunate fatality was a testament to the state and local police and authorities who did everything possible to make the ride safe. Everyone cheerfully said, "Thank you sir!" as we passed cops, and talked amiably with all the volunteers that go into making such an operation work smoothly. Somehow going on a 90 mile-two day loop, even with options to take additional side loops to turn the ride into a 'century' (100 miler) doesn't seem to measure up. Maybe I'm the only guy that feels the thrill should be part of it, I dunno.
It might not be the greatest analogy, but while hitting a bucket of range balls yesterday, I sliced a 7-iron like I was Kevin Costner in 'Tin Cup' and zapped one of those ever-present geese right in the head. It went down flapping, all the other geese came crowding around to see what was wrong with 'Freddie' as I named the unfortunate one. At the turn I mentioned the conking to the snack bar lady and she said, "Oh, he's fine. He's blind in one eye, but he's eating and swimming no problem." While I might beg to differ about how being half-blind and "just fine" equate, I *know* those geese will still be on the range tomorrow, and I'm not giving up golf either. The point is, stuff happens, and maybe the event is safer now on a shorter, better controlled course. I just won't be there.