Well this post is a bit overdue but better late than never I say! A few weekends ago Patrick and I participated in the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s “City to Shore” ride. We started in Cherry Hill, NJ (about 8 miles from Philly) and ended up in Ocean City, NJ (about 75 miles from Philly). We did some fundraising to help the Society find a cure for MS but mostly went on the ride to say we did it and have fun!
The ride is a two-day event and we had originally planned to camp beach-side upon our arrival in Ocean City. After a week of rainy-weather forecasts we booked a hotel room at the last-minute. This meant less gear to schlep with us so when the alarm went off at 4:00am on Saturday morning the bikes were already packed and ready to go. We set off through empty city streets toward the light rail that would take us to the start line. We had a quick pit-stop at the 24-hour convenience store to pick up coffee drinks (have YOU ever tried to bike at 4:00am without caffeine??) We shared the train car with several other cyclists and more got on at each stop.
The starting line was conveniently located at the Cherry Hill train station’s massive parking lot. Bright street lights pierced the pre-dawn darkness, thousands of cyclists milled about waiting for the start and the line for the porta-potties seemed to stretch on forever. We had arrived early enough to join the first wave of “century cyclists”– people like us who wanted to add an extra 25 mile loop to their day to bring that day’s mileage up to 100 miles. Unfortunately the aforementioned line prevented us from setting off early so we ended up waiting at the head of a mess of about 6,500 cyclists for the “official start”. As we waited in the fairly quiet queue we heard someone’s over-inflated tire burst with an impressive “PSSSSSSSSSSST”, bummer!
Finally we were on the road at the official start time of 6:40am. The route wound through sleepy Cherry Hill neighborhoods and into the countryside. We slipped past fields still blanketed in mist, a cloudy sky preventing the sun from peeking out to burn off the morning dew. The miles seemed to fly by quickly and I gleefully called out each mile marker. We soon pulled into the first rest stop for a potty break and some breakfast.
Feeling energized from some bananas and Cliff bars we almost decided to skip the next rest stop to keep our rhythm up. But as we breezed past the rest stop entrance I heard a volunteer shouting “THIS IS THE LUNCH STOP!” I’m not one to pass up free lunch so we quickly pulled over to scope it out. There were huge tents set up with boxes and boxes of prepared sandwiches, ants-on-a-log and fruit. Another tent had freshly grilled chicken sandwiches and all the fixin’s. Normally I would have gone crazy on all this good stuff but it will still only 9:30am and a chicken sandwich did not sound appealing. So I grabbed some stuff to eat later while Pat the “Iron Stomach” Kelley inhaled two chicken sandwiches. We both grabbed a few extra Cliff bars, a habit that would continue throughout the ride.
The next dozen miles rolled past easily on the mostly flat course. We flew past NJ’s famous blueberry fields, some of which are surrounded by gigantic Jurassic Park-style fences. I made pterodactyl noises for a few miles to entertain us. Soon we found ourselves at the turn-off for the Century Loop. The loop was scheduled to close at 11:00 but we were there with plenty of time to spare and we eagerly turned off to join the “hardcore” cyclists. As we chugged along I noticed that there were very few ladies on the Century Loop. C’mon girls!
There was a really nice rest stop on the Century Loop. Kids enthusiastically filled our water bottles and handed out energy bars. There was a feeling of camaraderie but also pending exhaustion among the cyclists. I ate my lunch and felt instantly better. We picked up some “Century Cyclist” patches and hit the road again. After 15 more miles we were dropped back onto the regular route. At first I thought I was having deja vu but then realized we had joined the regular route a few miles BEFORE the Century Loop turn off.
People clog the entrance chute of the next rest stop where we turn off to get more water. I noticed that the “elite” riders were also the most discourteous riders all day. One team in particular, The Flamers, seemed to think they were especially entitled to not follow the race rules. It was disappointing but luckily most cyclists just wanted to have a nice time like us! After a very quick stop we hit the road again, determined to get into Ocean City around 3:00pm.
The miles seemed to somehow become longer and I started to get that feeling like I was riding through Jell-O. As we rounded a curve I felt my front tire slip and thought that I must really be getting exhausted. I convinced Pat to stop at the final rest stop so I could re-group. As we pulled in I realized my “exhaustion” was caused by a flat front tire! Fortunately the ride provided free mechanical service at all the stops. 20 minutes and one new tube later we were ready to hit the final stretch! Words cannot express how happy I was to discover that flat at the rest stop and not on the side of the road. From mile 1 we had seen cyclists with their wheels up, fixing a flat or waiting for help. Most of them were little skinny road bike tires that had been over-inflated. Gotta love those weekend cyclists!
As the last 9 miles slowly disappeared behind us we started seeing more and more supporters on the roadsides. A group of kids waved homemade signs and cheered for us, a little girl sat on her bike at the end of her driveway yelling “GO! GO! GO!” and a boy scout troop handed out free lemonade at their own impromptu rest stop. My weary legs felt a burst of energy from all these kind people showing us that they knew we could make it.
Ocean City neared and I started hearing grumbling in the ranks about “the bridges.” As in: “save your energy for THE BRIDGES” or “last year I couldn’t make it over THE BRIDGES”. I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a little concerned. But I put it out of my mind, no way I was taking a SAG wagon ride at this point! I could smell the salt water in the air and my bum longed for a stretch so on we pushed. The line of riders jammed up at a series of stop lights and we found ourselves in a holding pattern for about 20 minutes. Pat played the defence with his pannier- keeping stupid cyclists from whizzing past the stopped line of bikes (to go where, exactly???). Soon enough I could see the dastardly bridges in the distance.
I was scared. They looked like the first hill on a reallybig roller coaster and, to my tired legs, they seemed about 10 miles long and 50 miles steep. But I was also thrilled to see them. I had 98 miles behind me and nearly 7 hours in the saddle. Would I let a couple of small (GIGANTIC) hills keep me from obtaining my goal?? No way. So up, up, up we chugged and down, down, down we breezed. I wish I could say the view was worth it but honestly most of my brain was focused on keeping my legs pumping. We avoided possible calamity as those dang Flamers squeezed past us and the traffic to our left, without even the smallest whisper of “on your left.” Pat reminded them not the be fools ;) We cleared the second bridge as well and soon rolled into Ocean City.
With one mile left I started to get delirious from exhaustion and happiness. The streets were lined with people waving signs and cheering. A man in a wheelchair shouted “thanks for riding for ME!” and I nearly lost it. The finish line chute was bordered with gates and people who don’t even know us screamed “congratulations!” and “you did it!” while clanging cow bells. The finish line announcer was pretty anti-climatic in his announcing as we rolled under the banner, “You are at the finish.”
I hear someone shouting my name from the sidelines and soon pick out one of my volunteers from work! He’s there to support a friend but congratulates us on finishing too. He also breaks the news that Ocean City is in a dry county so we won’t be having that celebratory beer I’d been looking forward to for about 45 miles… Instead we hit up the free food tents, grab our finishing medals and t-shirts and then walk the boardwalk.
It’s a beautiful afternoon and we treat ourselves to some gelato and cheesy fries. As we walk to our hotel we see a beautiful rainbow form over the ocean. My heart bursts with pride at our accomplishment and the beauty of the day we just shared. We retire to our hotel to stretch, take long, hot showers and to regroup. We decide that the day was just perfect and that a 75-mile ride back the next day would be too much. We sign up for the free bus that leaves in the morning and slip into a deep and well-deserved sleep.
The next morning we load our bikes into a moving van with hundreds of other cyclists who will join us on a school bus ride back to Cherry Hill. The drive takes about 1.5 hours, a hilariously short time compared to the 7.1 hours it took the day prior. Soon we’re pulling into the train station parking lot, our bikes are unloaded and we board the return train. A police officer at the Philadelphia stop congratulates us, noticing our matching City to Shore t-shirts. Breakfast is at Famous 4th Deli where we both tuck into massive omelets and bottomless coffee. It’s the perfect end to a challenging and rewarding weekend.
We rode 100 miles at an average speed of 15.2 MPH. From start-to-finish the ride took 8 hours, 7.1 of which were in the saddle. We ate at least 8 Cliff bars each and drank about 1.5 gallons of water each. One flat tire, 2 finisher medals and tons of fond memories. Thank you to all of our sponsors and supporters!