On the weekend of June 6th, I biked the MS 150, a two-day, 150-mile journey from just outside Duluth, in Proctor, Minn., to White Bear Lake, just outside Minneapolis.
It was an immense, intense, amazing, awesome experience, all to benefit the MS Society’s Upper Midwest division. I was a little heartbroken when it ended, because it was a blast. I camped, I biked, I ate pancakes — LOTS of pancakes — and then I biked some more.
The MS 150 first began in 1979, when Will Munger, then Executive Director of the Society’s Minnesota chapter, rode from Minneapolis to Duluth with his son. The dad and son duo couldn’t finish the journey in a day, so they stayed overnight in Hinckley, just as MS 150 participants do now. They rolled into Duluth the next day, after which Munger realized that, if he and his son could make the trip, so could others. Bicycling across Minnesota, Munger decided, would be a cool way for cyclists to raise money for the fight against MS.
Minnesota’s first MS 150, in 1980, had 200 participants, and its success inspired MS Society chapters around the United States to stage their own bike rides. Thirty-four years later, 2014’s Minnesota 150 had almost 4,000 participants and raised $3 million. It’s come a long way since that first father-son journey.
Let’s break down my MS 150 experience, now more than a week past.
To keep ourselves accountable, and to maximize our F.U.N. 150, my girlfriend Nola and I joined Team B.A.O.B.s (the Badasses on Bikes), a coterie organized by my friend Josey Balenger.
Josey, whose mom has multiple sclerosis, has participated in the MS 150 for the past few years, and it’s a very meaningful cause to her. She rallied a team of eight cyclists, some of whom (ahem, okay, just me) were a little tardy in getting signed up and started on their fundraising. We went on training rides together. We took the MS 150 bus up to Proctor together. And ultimately, we rode our bikes Minneapolis-ward together.
My training process was pretty minimal. Back in November, I started a new job in downtown St. Paul. That means I’ve been bicycling between Minneapolis and its sister city quite a bit. Basically, that was my training regimen for the MS 150. Beyond that, between April 1 and the big ride, I biked somewhere every day, to work, to the grocery store, to everywhere else. I love bicycling, more than any other form of transportation, so participating in the MS 150, though it’s QUITE A BIT longer than my average weekend ride, was a natural fit. I was ready for it.
My steed of choice for the event was my Trek Madone 4.5, a carbon-framed beauty I’ve outfitted with comfy cyan bar tape, Continental Gator Hardshell tires (for protection from road blades), and stickers from my favorite local businesses. Team spirit.
Our first day of the MS 150 began with rain. Amidst chunky raindrops, on the Proctor High School camping grounds, we jumped out of our tents and took them down. The rain had begun with pitter-patter and then strengthened, as we laid there facing our tent ceilings, into a steady, heavy fall. We checked our phones and realized the rain wasn’t stopping anytime soon, late morning at the earliest. So what do you do when you can’t do anything else? You go forward anyway! The pouring continued as we walked our stuff (tents, overnight bags, etc.) to the MS 150 baggage trucks, and we went into the high school for a humongous breakfast. I drank five cups of not-so-good, smells-like-a-boot Folger’s and filled my stomach with ultra-delicious pancakes, flipped off the griddle by a guy in a tie-dye T-shirt.
Outside of Proctor, our bikes waited for us — laid out in a parking lot beneath the rain. I figuratively kissed my Madone, got onto its saddle, and began pedaling. Shortly before 8 a.m., Team B.A.O.Bs set off together, on the MS 150. We were soaked before we’d even started. The roads were gritty and filled with stones and potholes. The crowd before us was, at first, a slow-moving mob. We pedaled onward, and to be honest, I was loving it. Inclement weather equals adventure equals fun.
At some point in the first hour, riding side by side, Nola and I made a big decision. Charged up on Folger’s, I told her, “Let’s skip the rest stops. I just want to keep going.” Rides like the MS 150 have taught me, you understand, that time is as much of a wear-down as pedaling. I knew that each time I got off my bike at an MS Society rest stop, my legs would turn stiff and unyielding. No matter how much I wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, made by the MS 150 volunteers, I knew I just needed to keep going. So we did. We rode and rode, through beautiful forested areas soaked and evergreen with rainwater. Nola and I made two stops: once to remove a layer, because my faithful bright orange raincoat was heating me up, and once for a Domino’s pizza lunch.
We rolled into the halfway point of the MS 150 around 12:30 p.m. It felt amazing. The massage I got later that afternoon felt even more amazing.
The second day of the MS 150 began like the first one. Not with rain, you understand, as the sky was bright and sunny and blue, but with pancakes and gross Folger’s. Whatever works.
I pumped up my Madone’s tires to 100 and got my saddle adjusted by a Maple Grove repairman (thanks, bud!), then set off once again, this time all together with Team B.A.O.B.s. We’d decided to stick together throughout the Day 2, from beginning to end. We rode in a tight line, with a revolving leader. My turn to lead came 20 miles in, and I led our team of eight around potholes and other hazards, just as the other leaders had. We maintained a steady pace, and I checked back every so often to ensure that we were sticking together. The first leg of our ride was enhanced — in my opinion, anyway! — by the wireless speaker in my bike bag. I set it to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, which scored our pedaling. Good beats.
The sights were different on Day 2. Whereas at first, we’d pedaled on paths through pure forest, on Day 2 we rode mostly on the highway, with a super huge landscape stretched out around us. Hypnotized by the landscape, by the line of cyclists before me, and by the steadiness of my pedaling, I zoned out. Continual action turns you into a robot. A robot who gets places. My butt began to hurt a little bit around the halfway mark and, at a rest stop, behind someone’s house, I took off the workout pants I’d started the day in and changed into some chamois pillow pants I’d packed in my day bag. I feel shy in spandex, but saddle pain has a way of vanquishing shyness.
Shortly after 3 p.m., Team B.A.O.B.s rolled into the finish line almost together. On the MS 150’s last hill up, I separated from everyone and gave the last bit — the last stretch, the last leg, the final skittle — my all. I pedaled as hard as I could and speedily rolled across the finish line. Again, it felt amazing.
Had it been hard? Nah, not really! Had it been fun as [heck]? Yes, yes, yes!
That night, Nola and I celebrated our MS 150 achievement with cheeseburgers and milkshakes at Snuffy’s in Roseville, then with Edge of Tomorrow at Showplace Icon. It felt good to be home, and we’d gotten there using only our legs. Our pedaling legs.
Thanks again to everyone who donated to my MS 150 fund and helped make this happen. I've never biked for a better cause!