MS City to Shore Ride Recap September 22, 2019
My legs are achy, my shoulders are stiff, and I currently can't sit on a bike saddle, but I did it! I rode the MS City to Shore Ride's century course. I was one of over 7,000 cyclists (I saw some number plates in the mid-8,000's),
I'd never done one of the big charity rides before. I used to only own mountain bikes, so it wasn't until I got my RLT and started doing some actual road riding that this sort of thing began to appeal to me. I did see a few mountain bikes out there, and another rider told me someone rode it last year on a fat bike! Not me though. I swapped out my Schwalbe G-One 1.35" gravel tires for some slick 28mm Continental 5000's. After a small garage catastrophe, I determined running them tubeless wasn't a good idea, so I bought the skinniest tubes I've ever used and timidly pumped them up to 95psi. Nothing exploded this time, so "road bike" with little but the wide flared bars, lower gearing and thru-axles to differentiate me from the leg-shaving roadie crowd.
Getting up at 4am to ride was a new experience. Waze said it would take about 45 minutes to get to Woodcrest Station in Cherry Hill, where the 75 and 100 courses started. As I was headed north on 295, I started to notice a lot of bike racks on other cars, and I suspected that the ones without had bikes inside. I took the Woodcrest exit, and was abruptly stopped dead by a huge line of those same bike-carying cars. The last mile added 30 minutes to my careful planning, but I did get into the cattle chute for wave 2 by about 6:15am. Wave 1 was launched at 6:30 and our pen was released at 6:45.
It was 53 degrees according to my watch, the sun had just risen, and I was suddenly riding my bike up the center of the road in a world utterly taken over by bicycles. In my mind, the hard part of all of this was actually over now. I'd raised the money to get into the event. I'd managed to avoid catching whatever cold was going around the office in the days leading up to the event. I only blew my bike up once. I woke up on time, and I found the start line. Now all I had to do was pedal a lot and have fun!
I watched the mile signs as the 1 hour mark drew near to try to figure out what average I was doing. The first few miles were slow until the group spread out, but I was still well past mile 16 by 7:45. By this point, the sun had come up to provide a bit of warmth, though my watch still said 53 degrees. I'd stubbornly refused to wear anything more than shorts and my brand new short-sleeve URBN jersey, but the initial chill faded from my knees and I reminded myself that the forecast had the day warming into the 80's later.
The course was amazing. Police waved us through most of the intersections. Some roads were completely closed to cars and I happily pedaled down the yellow center line. With so many cyclists, we had the whole lane on most of the other roads, and only occasionally had to worry about passing cars. I passed a total of two crashes where where ambulances were attending to someone who had gone down, but neither looked serious. Support vehicles were often nearby, sometimes (ahem... white van with "candy inside" written on back) close enough to reach out and touch.
The road surface ranged from awesome to "I kind of wish I'd kept my gravel tires on", but other riders were pretty good about calling out the smallest imperfections. Only once did the rider in front of me yell "hole" a split second before my front tire slammed into it. No additional damage was done to my already thoroughly dented front rim. I wonder if I would have even felt that little hole on my mountain bike.
I pulled into the first rest stop's thumping music around mile 20. At first, it seemed like I'd ridden into a block party, and I was again reminded of just how many many many riders there were by the huge area of racks for bike parking, and row upon row of porta potties. My stomach still wasn't awake, but I'd just managed to down a chunk of banana when I heard a woman say something about rookie riders over the ringing of a cow bell. I approached and said "I'm a rookie, what do I need to do?" She grabbed a sharpie, spun me around and wrote something on my plate, telling me it was "for the raffle." I was a mile down the road before I thought to ponder (and fear) what exactly she could have written on my back to haze the rookies.
A little before 9am, I hit rest stop #2 at mile 34. This one was bigger and was serving "lunch", the smell of which immediately woke my stomach from hibernation. The choice between chicken sandwiches and veggie burgers gave me some pause. I'd had chicken the night before, so I took a gamble on the veggie. The guy in front of me asked for double-patties, which sounded like a fine idea, so I had the same. Another banana later and I was off, with my HydroPak still plenty full, me not wanting to add any unnecessary weight by topping it off. I also found out that the Rookie Tent put a different mark on my number plate at each stop to verify that I'd been there. That's much better than the "Bet you can't pass me" I had convinced myself they had written at stop #1.
A few miles before the century split, I heard the telltale sound of a high-end freewheel clicking directly behind me as someone got on my my wheel. I was pedaling a steady but strong rhythm, and I could hear them clicking periodically as they coasted in my draft. I rode a few miles before he suddenly came around me and said thanks, and he'd take a turn pulling. To my surprise, he had 6 other riders behind him, all wearing matching orange and white jerseys, and I'd been leading all of them without knowing. I hopped on the back of their line and let them plow through traffic for me.
I wasn't drafting closely, but even a foot or two back, I was coasting half the time instead of constantly turning the pedals. What a difference that made! They all had Century Cyclist stickers on their plates too, so I stuck with them to make sure I didn't botch the rapidly approaching split. At the split point, the 75-mile riders groaned and peeled off to the right, while our orange freight train with a blue and yellow URBN caboose barreled straight ahead onto century territory.
There were a lot less riders in our way now, so we could really haul. Our group picked up a few more solo riders, and the next 10 miles were gloriously fast. It wasn't until the century rest stop that we all went our separate ways. I got a nice MS patch, filled my HydraPak with a grape/limeade mix, ate a banana and a waffle, and set back out alone before anyone else seemed to show signs of leaving. There was a long gradual uphill on imperfect pavement before we rejoined the main course, which would have been somewhat uneventful if it weren't for the friggin' F16 fighter jets that suddenly blasted overhead at ear-damaging volume. I actually had a moment of "this must be the end of the world" panic before I realized it was just a little jet and not a planet killer asteroid. After they thundered away, there were no sirens or explosions, so I concluded that we were not at war and pedaled on.
The Final 25 Miles
My right calf got crampy after I tried to do a wheelie for a particularly enthusiastic onlooker, and there was a constant battle to find the least worst saddle position, but the biggest challenge was avoiding the slower traffic now that I was riding with 75, 54 and 25 mile course riders. It was now quite an impressive cross section of bikes and riders. I saw everything from an 80's Rockhopper and an even older Schwinn to what was likely a brand new $13,000 Trek Madone Project One in beautiful metallic burgundy. Two bikes (not the Trek) had milk crates on the back. There were plenty of tandems, and even a triple - I had to count the seats twice on that one to make sure I didn't need to spend time in the shade tent. A big-box store mountain bike with disc brakes that were making an unholy cacophony was the only rider I truly felt sorry for - no idea how that bike passed a basic inspection and I hope someone at the next rest stop got his wheels turning again.
Every so often, a team would ego-check me by flying by at 20+ mph, but most of the traffic was moving a bit slower by now. The onshore breeze's headwind and the mercury pushing up past 80 degrees were combining to make pedaling a bit less comfortable.
I started downing gels and more waffle at the 77 mile stop, then refilled my nearly empty HydraPak at the last stop at mile 89. I'd brought some Gatorade powder with me just in case there was only water available, and this was the only stop like that. I measured poorly and left with an overly concentrated mix in my pack and some peanut butter packs for the finish.
Ocean City's 9th Street Bridge is a glorious roadway, and I'd ridden it with Lynn on beach bikes when we visited there last year, so I somewhat knew what to expect. Trying to climb anything at mile 94 of a ride though is quite a mental test. There were lots of walkers, but one lane was blocked off just for us, so I had plenty of room. I stood and did my best to hammer up the first hill, making it more than half way up before I plopped back onto the saddle with a wince and downshifted to a more reasonable level of effort. The view was a great distraction from the discomfort, and I was feeling pretty good about myself until a singlespeeder wearing neon spandex blew past me on the last hill of the bridge. I caught up to him at the light and verified that it wasn't a fixed gear, so at least there's that.
The last half-mile in Ocean City was filled with cheering onlookers. I felt like sprinting, but we had to stop for red lights on the island with friendly police officers helping us cross. One nice officer even offered to take a group's picture for them. Finally, I saw the finish, and crossing it to a chorus of cheers and cowbells was absolutely wonderful. I ended up with just a little over 6 hours of moving time, and a 16mph average over 96.12 miles. I didn't turn off Strava at the rest stops, and it didn't pause since I was walking around, so that created a few prominent dips in my average speed. I was handed a very nice metal medal for finishing, which I totally wasn't expecting, and then herded into the huge post-ride area.
I found the luggage tent and my duffel that they were nice enough to deliver to the finish line for me, and changed into some comfy sandals. There was more food, a live band, some giveaways and a huge secure bike parking area (I'd actually packed a lock in my duffel, but I never needed it). Everybody was thanking the riders. I found the rookie tent, signed a big poster, and entered the rookie raffle, though they never looked at all the symbols and marks my rest stop volunteers had so carefully drawn on my plate.
I had been provided a wrist band for a pasta dinner, and this was the only place where there was some confusion. I'd failed to transfer the details for the dinner into my phone and three people that I asked told me the dinner was in the High School. I thought I remembered an email (which I couldn't find) saying it was at the Music Hall, and that ended up being correct. The dinner didn't start until 3pm and two other riders and I were the only ones there when the doors opened. The meatballs were divine.
Getting back to the start point took significantly less time. After I walked back and retrieved my bag and bike, staff carefully loaded my bike onto a semi and me onto a Greyhound, then I got carted back to Cherry Hill in air-conditioned comfort.
This event really exceeded my expectations, and I'm definitely doing it again next year.