The day had finally arrived. After all my training (not as much as I should have), all my fundraising (again, not as much as I should have), and all of my carb loading (way more than I should have), the Bike MS: Tour de Farms had finally arrived. Some of my teammates and I had stayed at the Murray mansion in St. Charles, and we got started a little later than we had wanted to. I had checked the weather report before we left and it appeared as though we were clear of any rain until about noon or 1pm. When we arrived at the NIU Convocation Center, headquarters for the Bike MS ride, they announced the big start of the race at 7am while we were still in the parking lot. No worries, we had all day to get our 100 miles in.
We got started about 7:20am, and there were plenty of riders just taking off with us. I was riding with 2 teammates, Cathy and Nat. This was my first time riding in a group, and I have to admit it was really fun. Having conversations with others can really make the miles go by quickly. We started off at a good pace, and we passed a few riders and we got passed by some others. By the first rest stop we were moving right along. We snacked and refilled our bottles, and were off again.
At this point, we came across a rider that was obviously a more skilled and experienced rider, and being the competitive person that I am. I took the opportunity to pick up my pace and learn a little bit about cycling. The other rider tucked in behind me, to draft off of me for a while. He rode just off to the left of my back tire and benefited from me breaking the wind. A short time later he returned the favor by taking the lead. He pointed out where I should be riding and little hand signals to indicate when and where he was moving. It was a very cool learning experience, one I would like to do again. And while I was learning these little bits about riding in a group, the other rider and I were flying; just about 20mph for several miles. Eventually I did hang back to rejoin my teammates, but it was very cool nonetheless.
Throughout the ride, we travelled on roads that were open to regular traffic. Many of the intersections were monitored by volunteer staff, to ensure the safety of riders while out on the road with other vehicles. When we came up to one such intersection, I could have swore I heard the volunteer say that the course was being closed because of bad weather. I questioned a few other riders to see if they had heard the same, but no one really knew for sure. When we got to the next rest stop, a volunteer had held up the entire group and was announcing that the ride was being paused do to some severe weather coming in. the volunteer said that we would be transported by bus to the next rest stop, where there would be more shelter (this particular rest stop only had 3 pop-up tents). Cathy, Nat, and I waited patiently for our turn to load on the bus. But soon the rumor began to surface that the race was being cancelled for the day, and the buses would be taking us back to the start line. None of us wanted to do that, so we decided to ride for the next rest stop, 17 miles away.
Ten miles into that leg we came to another intersection. The rest stop was to our left, but the volunteer was stopping all riders and telling them to go right and go as fast as you can back to the Convocation Center. The storm was only a couple of miles away and it was BAD! As i looked up you could see the wall of black clouds that had descended on the farm land to my left. Later I would ask my teammates for their forgiveness, but I just leaned over my new aero bars and put the hammer down. I was riding well over 20 mph the whole time. To start the storm was at my back but when the temperature dropped suddenly, I knew it was very close. It started with a few drops of rain, then the winds really picked up. I when I say picked up, I mean they were blowing harder than I have ever felt in my life. I struggled mightily to keep Roxanne on the road. Riders were falling off their bikes all around me. Fortunately, safety vehicles were there to attend to them, and I kept pushing. Then the rain started to come down in buckets. Eventually it was more than I could take, and I came upon a townhouse development that had a privacy fence. I ducked into the ditch behind the fence to get out of the wind. I could see a shopping center a couple of blocks away, and I called Katie to let her know I was okay. After couple of minutes, I ran with my bike on my shoulder to the shopping center and found shelter in a Goodwill store (the name was especially fitting for me at that point). I hunkered down in the foyer of the store for about an hour while the storm passed and called Katie a few times to let her know I was okay and to find out where my teammates were (thankfully they were safe as well). Here is a picture of the rain from the safety of the Convocation Center.
After about a half and hour, the storm had cleared enough for me to ride the last 2 miles to the Convocation Center. My family was there to greet me, and the place was full of people with stories about where they were and what had happened.
We waited around other riders to come in and we attempted to entertain our children. Eventually the organizers announced that riding was cancelled for Saturday, and lunch was being served in the atrium. A few minutes after that the beer tent opened up and my day of riding had officially come to a close. Here are a few of us sitting down for lunch.
I was disappointed that I did not get to ride the full course, but I was ecstatic that my teammates and family were safe; it was a truly harrowing experience. Riders had found shelter all over the place. My teammates found an open garage, others took shelter in a farmer's barn, and even others actually made it to that third rest stop. For those that remained out on the course, many of the volunteers continued to monitor their posts, so riders were able to get in a few more miles. But for me, making back to my family in one piece was victory enough for the day (and did I mention the beer was free), so I remained at the team tent for some camaraderie and got mentally prepared for the ride on Sunday.
Before closing, I must give a special thank you to the residents in and around DeKalb, who sheltered so many riders during the storm, and an extra special thank you to the staff at the Goodwill on S. Annie Glidden Road, http://goodwillnil.blogspot.com/, who gave me shelter, rags to dry off, and ziplocs to protect my gear for the last couple of miles; your care and assistance was invaluable to me.