Friday, August 16, 2013

Bike MS - A Guest Blog by Caroline B.

This month I have a guest blogger, my longtime friend, Caroline. She participated in Oregon's Bike MS in my honor last weekend. When I asked what her experience was like, this was her very touching response:

In February of this year, I participated in my first organized bicycling ride, "The Worst Day of the Year Ride", in Portland, Oregon.  This ride was created to be a fun event held on what is, supposedly, statistically, Portland's worst weather day of the year.  After I finished the ride, I encountered a booth full of flyers for several upcoming organized cycling events.  One flyer in particular caught my attention--Bike MS.  I first was drawn to this ride 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.

For months after The Worst Day of the Year Ride, the Bike MS flyer remained on the floor of my car, where many a flier has been left until its day of doom--the time it finally meets my recycle bin.  However, some part of me couldn't bear to part with the Bike MS flyer.  Perhaps it was the part of me who knew that the athletically un-inclined and inexperienced cyclist in me could actually finish a bike ride longer than anything I had previously fathomed.  Perhaps it was my friend Caroline telling me that I, too, could become active in the MS community and could make a positive difference!

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.  The length of the ride scared off my boyfriend Ben, so 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 in June, and became part of a very warm Bike MS Oregon community.

Prior to the date of the Bike MS ride, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (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 Bike MS 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.
On the Friday evening before the ride, Deb and I drove the one-and-a-half hour drive from Portland to Monmouth and checked in to our rooms at beautiful Western Oregon University, which graciously lends its campus to Bike MS each year.  Early the next morning, Deb and I set out on the longest ride either of us had completed, 64 miles.  We rode a scenic loop, heading east from Monmouth, through rural 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 enjoyed our dinner while getting to know three other people sitting at our table and learning their stories.  We were amazed by guest speaker Maureen Manley's story, who, when in her twenties, was a world-class cyclist headed to the Olympics.  She began developing symptoms, starting with impaired vision, which forced her, albeit reluctantly, to focus on her health rather than on her Olympic dream.  It turned out that Maureen was experiencing early symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis.  Despite this, 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, Deb and I had planned to ride the 35-mile route.  But after making a simple calculation (64 miles + 35 miles = 99 miles, just one mile short of 100), Deb convinced me to venture out on the 50-mile route instead.  After a lengthy ride on Day 1, the second day's ride felt more challenging, but it was well worth it!  The route headed south from Monmouth, through both barren and forested land.  I felt so grateful for Deb having encouraged me to challenge myself with this longer route because, as I approached the halfway point at Chip Ross Park, 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.  The ride on Day 2 wound down with one last rest stop along the beautiful Willamette River, followed by the final stretch back into Monmouth.  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.  As I reached the finish, I was welcomed back by name over a loudspeaker and, again, nearly brought to tears from exhaustion.

In preparing for Bike MS, I grew to learn quite a bit about myself and how to make long rides more enjoyable.  Of course, it is essential to stay hydrated with water and energized with food, but I learned the specific intervals at which I need to make this happen for myself, in order to have a successful ride.  The wonderful people at Bike MS put together a highly-organized and fully-stocked event, accompanied by the kindest and most supportive staff.  I appreciated the very frequent rest stops that provided not only water and electrolytes, but the most delicious and nutritionally-balanced rest stop food I have ever had!  Even for a picky eater like me, there were several options for all types of palates.  (My favorite were the peanut butter and banana sandwiches made on local whole-grain Dave's Killer Bread.  Yum!)  Additionally, 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!

I feel lucky to have been personally introduced to such a warm community with such an important goal--to STOP MS in its tracks, RESTORE lost function, and END MS forever!  The staff and volunteers at the Oregon chapter of the NMSS have taken great care of me, and I can only imagine how hard they work to help those who are more directly affected by 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.

From February to August, I participated in four different organized cycling events and, by far, Bike MS has been my favorite!

There are roughly one hundred different Bike MS events of varying lengths all over the country.  And there is no excuse not to participate--there are activities for all ability levels.  Participants, including older children, can ride their bikes along short or long routes.  Or leave the bikes aside and take part in the day's alternate events at the Bike MS village, including yoga, swimming, and massage.  Bike MS is sure to benefit you as much as it benefits those with MS in your community!  I hope to see you in 2014 at Bike MS!