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Three Rivers to a Great Lake
A Report on the MS 150, "Escape to the Lake" Tour
Pittsburgh to Conneaut, OH | June 7-8, 1997
By Jay T. McCamic
This article first appeared in the newsletter of the Wheeling Area Bicycle Club.
"They smeared their faces with sheep fat. They wore armor of boiled leather. A horde of riders all climbed into the saddle to the battle cry of "morindoo" (mount up). The locals were terrified, riders such as these had never been seen. The Mongols striking terror across the vast plains."
Well, not exactly. In the early morning as over 1800 riders rolled out of the Traco lot in Cranberry for the 1997 MS 150, it did, for a moment, feel like being a part of the "Mongol horde." For once cyclists were in the majority and ruled the roads. In a group this large a certain solidarity in numbers takes over and you get a sort of giddy, relaxed camaraderie with strangers, all cyclists, the best people in the world. Now there were some aberrations, mind you, the courier dude puffing on a cigarette, the one with the Alexi Lolas goatee. He rode a serious road frame, spray painted an ugly flat, rustoleum red, with a single front chain ring and an attitude to match--but hey, this is America and as Chuck Berry likes to say, "You can be what you want to be, baby."
The first day was cool, overcast and rain threatened most of the way. Wheeling club members Jeremy McCamic, Jim Brink, Karen DiOrio, Ella Jane Custer, Nathan McCamic and myself on a tandem made the two-day, 150 mile trip to Conneaut, Ohio to complete the "Escape to the Lake" tour to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Jeremy and Ella, both Big Boy 20K Distance Race participants, and Karen, a regular runner, were physically "tuned up" for the rigors of the ride. The rest of us relied on mental preparation and a rhythmic mantra, "Tylenol, aspirin, Tylenol. aspirin..." You get the idea. We always have a good time when surrounded by the cycling masses in this annual, extremely well organized event.
For the uninitiated, it goes like this: You sign up for the ride and receive a pledge sheet and application for meals and lodging at Allegheny College in Meadville for the end of day one. There is a small fee for the dorm room If you prefer, you can camp out in the gym for free with your sleeping bag, etc., or you could stay in a nearby hotel. All bikes, bags, and riders have their own number so it is easy to retrieve your gear, which is hauled for you. You only have to carry water bottles and food, but there are frequent rest stops supplied with Gatorade, water and food. Sandwiches, cookies, bananas, a variety of Power Bars and other nutritional items are heaped up for the masses. At Meadville they have movies at the Student Union theater and there is a shuttle to and from Otter's Pub for those interested. Maps are provided, but are hardly necessary as each turn is well marked with people telling you "Turn here." At busy intersections there are people to regulate the flow of car and bicycle traffic.
Here are some tips for surviving in a large group of riders: Never ride more than two abreast, single file except when passing is better. Talk to each other, say "car back," "passing on your left," etc. Brake very carefully to prevent pile ups. Ride predictably. Learn to shift and spin, drink, look behind and eat without wobbling left and right.
Since we didn't really train this year we now know why they have all those rest stops every 15-20 miles or so. In years gone by we remember flying by those stops riding in pace lines and zooming along, stopping only for the lunch break. There is something to be said for taking a more leisurely "social" tour. Waving to the townsfolk, chatting at each rest stop and sampling the goodies. Also, the new Oatmeal Raisin flavored Power Bars actually taste like food!
(If you would like to try out an MS Tour on a smaller scale they have a 50 mile rails-to-trails version (all paved) called the "Tri-City Bike Tour," which is a 50-mile, one day loop of historic Franklin, Titusville and Oil City, Pennsylvania on August 23, 1997. When we think of oil, we think of the deserts of Arabia and OPEC but remember--it was first discovered right there in Oil City, PA.)
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