Why We Ride
by Vernon Steele
This is why we ride was the motto of the charity bicycling tour 2006 MS150. The MS150 is a 150-mile ride to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, a group dedicated to helping people with and researching multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that strikes the central nervous system with a wide array of debilitating symptoms. This was the first of two weekend charity rides for which I trained, raised or donated money and pedaled all the miles to the finish line.
The 24th annual MS150 ride was my fifth, so I knew what to expect. I bicycle year round, but I train for these long rides with a few 40- to 50-milers in moderately hilly terrain in Montgomery and Howard counties.
A cool May Saturday greeted the group of about 700 cyclists gearing up for the 7:30am start beneath a blue and white arch of balloons. I was at the head of the pack leaving Franklin Park near Purcellville in Loudon County heading out into the beautiful farmland of northern Virginia.
The first day, I rode over 100 miles south of Purcellville on little-traveled country roads. I was hot, tired and felt like a truck ran over me. But I felt much better after I found my camping gear (transported by truck, thank goodness), set up camp at the Loudon County Fairgrounds, had a cold shower and enjoyed a BBQ buffet feast and live music.
Early Sunday morning we got back on our bikes and rode another 47 miles back to Franklin Park. At the finish line we were met with throngs of cheering people from the National Capitol Chapter, some victims of MS, thanking us who rode for a cause.
My 150-plus miles raised over $500 for the National Capitol Chapter of the MS Society enough to buy one wheelchair. I dedicated my ride to two good friends who have MS and to the 400,000 Americans with MS.
I also have a church friend who has cancer, so I rode in the American Cancer Society’s Shorebird Century the following Saturday in Salisbury. Again, some 400 avid cyclists started from Perdue Stadium (hence the name Shorebird) on another spectacularly sunny though markedly warmer morning to cover 100 kilometers (about 62 miles).
On the Eastern Shore there are no hills, and so pedaling was easy, but constant. Sometimes the wind blowing against me made it feel like I was pedaling uphill. We were blessed that day with little wind.
Once in a while, the large chicken farms break up the monotony of the flat roads. It is here that I learned the meaning of the word bucolic. It clearly describes the countryside of this part of Maryland.
I was proud to dedicate this ride to a friend with cancer. At the finish line, a placard with my friend’s name was one among hundreds of other names in a long row.
This is why I ride for those who can’t.
Vernon Steele is a research scientist at the National Cancer Institute in the area of Cancer Prevention, as well as the father of the staff writer Carrie Steele. An avid cyclist, he rides some 2,500 miles a year on charity rides, weekend rides and riding to work in Rockville. This is his first Reflection for Bay Weekly.