Our small caravan rolled out of Orangeburg shortly before 4 PM on October 24, 2011. My emotions at the moment were a mix of excitement and resignation. I was excited because I knew I was starting out on my last leg. I was resigned to facing whatever new challenge would come my way. It was not a matter of if something would happen, it was just when would it happen.
One thing I noticed immediately is that I had finally reached the “flat roads for as far as I could see” portion of the ride. Actually, if you notice the elevation profile below you will see that starting in Orangeburg the “EKG” flat lines. The route now starts a very gradual and consistent descent to the coast.
It was hard to keep from overdoing it at this point. I settled in a rhythm that was moving along at an average speed of 22 mph. The terrain combined with a nice tailwind was moving me down the road! I reached Interstate 95 in fifty minutes.
I passed beneath the overpass and kept pushing to hold my average. My plan was to make as much time as I could in this first hour and then ease up a little to cover the last three hours. Somewhere around the second hour I would make a stop to catch my breath and then finish up the last two hours as best I could.
Out of curiosity, I flipped my computer screen over to see the wattage I had averaged over the hour since leaving Orangeburg. I saw the number “209” and smiled. All of those hours training with Jim Cunningham were paying off. How many times did he send me out there for hours to average 210 watts? Now here I was over 8 hours into the 2011 Ride for Mike and I was naturally slipping into my training.
At 183 miles in we had reached Harleyville. I remembered the town from my planning because of its interesting name. It was one of the towns I referenced when I was raising $20 per mile.
The fund raising was going well by this point. I had hoped that some folks would get excited about the actual day of the ride and be willing to give toward the cause. At first, I was a little discouraged. During the first four hours, I believe one or maybe two pledges came in.
I think people were just waiting until I reached the harder sections! By the time I reached Harleyville, we were starting to get notified of multiple gifts. Annette would contact me on the radio when someone tweeted or made a pledge. Whether it was a $20 pledge or a $1000 pledge, it was like getting a shot in the arm.
I always wanted to know who it was who gave. Sometimes I would ride for a bit feeling perplexed because I didn’t recognize the name. At other times, I’d get downright emotional with my eyes misting up as I heard the name of someone who had already supported me in so many ways. Needless to say, if you gave during my ride, you played a bigger role in my success than you might imagine. Truly, it was OUR success — not just mine.
Speaking of the radio. You may have noticed it in some of the pictures. You can see it hanging on the left side of my helmet in the photo above. It is a simple multi-channel two-way radio. I tried to find an ear piece that would work with it, but was never successful. It was by accident that I found this efficient location for it.
I had been keeping it in my pocket or trying to hang in on my jersey. However, it was awkward talking into it and depending on where it was on my jersey, it could be hard to hear. During the Family Fun Ride while trying to make an adjustment to my jersey, I tried to find a place to temporarily place the radio. I then thought to hang it on my helmet strap. I ended up leaving it there because it made it very easy to hear Annette and because it was so light, I didn’t really notice it. The only downside is that it looked funny!
We rolled blissfully along. Several times when traffic allowed, Eddie would come around a allow me to draft. We were not able to do it as much during this section because there was more traffic. The closer we got to Charleston the more traffic became an issue.
Another issue was my feet. My legs were feeling pretty good at about 10 hours in. However, my right toes were cramping something awful. This often happens to me toward the end of a very long ride. The problem here is that I wasn’t at the end! I still had up to two hours to go and the pain was increasing.
Finally, I pulled over because I couldn’t take it anymore. I sat on the back of the car while Annette started to massage my foot. It was feeling somewhat better when Eddie came over. “Let me do it,” he said. “Eddie, you don’t want to massage my foot!” I replied. “No, really, I do it for Melissa all the time.” He insisted that Annette move over and let him take over. WOW! He worked that cramp right out. I heard joints and ligaments popping and before long the pain was gone.
I can’t say enough wonderful things about Annette and Eddie. They completely served me the whole time. I was starting to feel selfish and spoiled by the time we reached the outskirts of Charleston. They protected me, feed me and cheered me all the way.
As we rode along we moved out of less populated areas into — not really towns — but areas with more residences. You could tell that you were coming up on a more populace area of the state. At the same time, I could never see any signs that would let me know where we were. Several times I pushed the radio button to ask, “Exactly where are we?” I was trying to get a reference for where we were in relation to Charleston as the light began to fade.
Fade it did! We were moving around Summerville through the small town of Knightsville. At this point we were about 205 miles into the ride. Traffic was heavy due to the fact that we were rolling in toward the end of rush hour.
On the map, it looked as though the area where we would be riding would not have heavy traffic. Once again, planning the route from a distance was proving problematic. Traffic was heavy in both directions.
As we made a left turn onto Ashley River Road I heard an “angry horn” blow behind us. The natives were getting restless. I don’t really mind traffic too much, but angry and frustrated drivers scare me. Combine them with growing darkness and I was starting to get nervous.
I wasn’t as nervous as Annette. She was the one following in the car and slowing the traffic. She was aware of the traffic and would work to let cars through as often as possible. The problem was that in some places the shoulder wouldn’t allow it. At the same time, as it grew darker she was less interested in exposing me to the traffic.
“We’ve got to get more lights on you,” she radioed. “Pull over and let’s get more lights on the back.” We pulled over on the side of the road and moved my warning light from the front of the bike to the rear. I then put on my helmet light for the front illumination. It was now I rued the depleted battery from earlier in the day.
Then we saw a sheriff’s car pull up. At first I thought he might be pulling over to offer us assistance. However, I remembered the horn from earlier and also other instances I have had in the past with coastal area law enforcement.
Sure enough he was stopping to find out what we were up to because they had received a complaint about us. As he approached us, he had a look on his face like we were crazy. However, as soon as Annette explained to him what we were doing and how far I had ridden, he softened.
“Well, I can’t tell you to stop,” he told us. “But I do need to tell you that we have received complaints. It’s not the bicycle,” he went on to explain. “It is the car.” I told the officer thank you for his concern and we would have Annette go around me at the sign of any traffic. Then I blurted out, “We’ll probably stop at the town line.”
Little did I know that the “Charleston Town Limit” sign would pop up only about 5 minutes later. I saw the sign and kept going. It was just too early to pull over. At the same time, the darkness started to swallow me up. Annette would come around me to let traffic by. The cars would come around and I would be left with only the lights on the bike.
We were now moving down a portion of 61 with a canopy of trees above it. The moon was a sliver — but I couldn’t even see that. The helmet light was giving me some warning of what might be ahead, but I could not see anything around me. There were no street lights. There were few residences in this historic plantation area and what structures there were were away from the road.
I pulled my phone out of my jersey pocket to take a look at the distance recorded on my Cyclemeter. 217 miles had been covered by this point. I had committed to 220. Maybe wisdom was the better part of valor and it was time to call it. I radioed Annette, “Honey, I’m going to call it a 220 miles.” I could hear the relief in her voice, “I think that is a good idea.”
Over those last three miles the traffic picked up once again as we started to move into a more residential area. The lighting improved, but that was offset by the rough road and heavier traffic around us. Then we ticked past 220 and we pulled over in front of a hair salon.
True, it wasn’t a triumphal entry to the gates of the MUSC Children’s Hospital, but as Mike McCaskill told me, “If anyone complains about it, just tell them to go ride 220 miles!” Even as I sit and type this, I don’t second guess my decision. We did what we set out to accomplish. Hundreds of people were reminded of the life of Mike and over $12,000 was raised in his memory to help little Rebekah Grace Ellis.
Really, THAT is what the ride was all about.