I signed up with a company-sponsored team; this was, I was told, the best way to experience the ride. Rather than having to fend for yourself at any point (well, except when you're actually riding), the team would transport your luggage for you, have a cot set up for you, have masseuses waiting for you at the half-way point, cook for you, etc, etc.... I joined Team TOTAL (pronounced toe-TALL), a team sponsored by a petrochemicals company in Houston. I didn't know anyone at this company; a friend's sister worked for them...or used to work for them...or something.
We drove into Houston late Friday night (late like we got in at 1:30 a.m.) and crashed at my cousin's house for a few hours before getting back up and heading down to the start line. Since this wasn't a race and I wasn't being timed, I couldn't have cared less whether I got to the launch on time. I just wanted to make sure there were still enough people around that I could tell which direction to ride! I have never before been part of an event with so many participants! Even though the official start of the race was nearly a half hour before I got to the line, I still had to wait another 30-45 minutes to actually make it to the front.
This is about half-way up the line at the start:
Once we got started, there were cyclists as far as the eye could see! There were thousands of cyclists doing the ride (each of whom raised at least $400 for the National MS Society). I have never been a part of something so humongous--it was very, very cool!
See the tiny little dots against the trees? Those are all riders!
There were all kinds of riders out there: young and old, fit and not-so-fit. There were tons of kids doing the ride with their parents, many on tandem bikes but just as many on their own bikes (some of which were nicer than mine!). There were several couples on tandem bikes and a few riders doing it on the sitting-down-chair bikes (I forget what they're called, but the ones with the nice big seats where your pedals are out in front of you rather than under you). There was even at least one guy doing it on a unicycle! Talk about saddle sore...yikes!
Cyclists aren't supposed to ride with headphones b/c they make it hard to hear cars or other cyclists approaching. Instead, I bought a small speaker that plugs into the headphone jack on my mp3 player and strapped the player to my bike. We upgraded my card to hold 10 hours worth of music or something crazy like that, so I just turned on my radio and rocked out. The people riding around me loved the music and would often ride with me for a while before falling behind or pulling ahead.
The route stayed mostly off the major highways, sticking instead to small FMs (Farm-to-Market roads for those of you not familiar with Texas road signage). The wildflowers were out in abundance, and as mentioned above, there were literally thousands of cyclists as far as the eye could see in both directions. Many of the families whose farms we were riding by came out to the roadside to cheer us on and thank us for riding. They were cheering us on? They were thanking us for riding?? I felt like it was us who should have been thanking them for sitting outside on a warm day and supporting us! The best moment was through Fayetteville on the first day--our route took us right through downtown, and it seemed like the whole town was out lining the street cheering for us. It was like being in a parade!
I'm not sure if the audio will upload as well, but I'm just commenting on the the crowd and the cold beer that one guy is "offering" us, and at the end I'm happy that at point I've officially ridden farther than ever before!
The worst part of the experience was the camping overnight. Our accomodations were wonderful as far as camping goes, and heaven knows I was so tired after riding 80-something miles on about 4 hours of sleep that I could have slept anywhere. However, the temperatures got down to 35 degrees that night!!! I was not prepared, having only my normal sleeping bag and having left my Antarctica sleeping bag at home, but I wasn't so bad off as some. Apparently last year it was stifling, so many returning team members had only brought thin sheets!
Overall this was probably the most fun I've ever had at all the events I've ever done. Everyone was out there to have a good time, no one had a bad attitude, the weather was gorgeous, the scenery rocked, and it's so cool to say that I've ridden my bike from Houston to Austin! I will definitely be doing this ride again every year that I'm able to! I'm so glad I put this on my list!