friends, MS

She Rides With MS 2016: Oxford Edition

A recap of our Bike MS: Oxford ride, as told through photographs from the weekend.

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Team PsalMS, from left to right: Meghan O., Christy, Gail, Erin, Ben, Emily, Katie, Meghan M. and Jill.

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Nothing builds team unity like an official jersey. This year, Team PsalMS went big on the jersey front with a little help from one of our seven new members, Christy Daniel, who got us the hook-up for some sweet Le Col unis (at a discount, no less!). As evidenced by the team picture above, taken before our Saturday ride (when, collectively, the nine of us rode 625 miles), we also went big on the socks front. In fact, the nine of us heard no combination of two words more frequently on the rolling stretches of open road around Oxford, Ohio, two weekends ago than these: “Nice socks!”

The Ohio Valley MS chapter moved its ride from Cincinnati to Oxford this year. That was part of the reason we were able to recruit seven new members to ride with us; seven of the eight ladies pictured above are Miami University alums. That meant, when we weren’t riding, we could be chowing down on a Szczerbiak bagel from Bagel & Deli, or revisiting the old haunts of Limelight and Hooterville, or partaking of (numerous) late night Skyline Chili Cheese Sandwiches for those of us who no longer live in the fair state of Ohio and thus can only eat Skyline from a can (a deeply inferior chili experience). The bike routes were prettier and more scenic — hillier too, though that made for some exhilarating downhills (fasted speed: 39 mph) as rewards for the difficult climbs.

The other opportunity afforded by our jerseys were many opportunities to explain why our name is Team PsalMS. Though not as comical or witty as, say, our favorite fellow team, the Handlebars (from its team page: “We believe that facial hair and spandex will have a direct effect on the lives of our friends living with MS”), or others like Cobra Kai (with the tagline, “Sweep the leg MS!”), our name has significance behind it which led to some meaningful conversations on the road. Bicycling is a more social sport than running. It’s better suited for conversation and leisurely rest stops (unless, like Christy and Katie, our two century riders, you’re out for speed and distance). It was easy to strike up a conversation among our team, given how far back many of those friendships go. But we were pleasantly surprised how easy it was to talk to anyone, anywhere, during any part of the weekend. The camaraderie we felt, even with strangers, was genuine.

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The official jersey.

Just so you can fully appreciate how awesome our jersey is, here’s a close up. Several team members were not even aware, until someone pointed it out on Sunday, that the outline of Ohio is a bike chain. That was Christy’s idea.

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Bike selfie

Bike selfie. As this was taken before the ride began, it was totally safe.

Our intent was to ride 50 miles on Saturday and 25 miles on Sunday, a modest upgrade from our 50 miles last year. But the day was so pleasant, and the miles passed so quickly, that we and Meghan Orr opted on the fly for the 75 mile route. While we trained a wee bit more for this Bike MS ride than we did last year’s (when, we confess, our training consisted entirely of five mile round trips to the pool and a steady stream of Oreos), our longest training ride was a Loveland bike trail-flat 35 miles. So 75 was a bit outside our comfort zone.

And yet, like our half-marathons, the miles pass faster during the actual race. The 75-mile route took us into the farmlands of Indiana; at one point, we actually passed a farmer carrying a bucket of slop across the road to a feeding trough for his pigs. At other points it felt as though we were biking through a corn tunnel. (Never has endless corn looked so wonderful as when it buffeted us from the mild headwinds during the last twenty miles.)

We crossed the finish line a little after 3:00, so we didn’t set any records for speed. (Nor did we beat most of the century riders.) But the feeling of accomplishment and the peculiar pleasure that comes from exhausting physical exertion were all we felt when we pulled back into Oxford (West Spring Street like our Champs-Élysées) to the perfect ending: a cheering section.

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On the road deux

A slightly less safe bike selfie from the Sunday route.

Riding with people we have the honor of calling friends was incredibly special to me (Erin). All of us got to have quality time with each other while, you know, doing some of the hardest exercise of our lives. (The phrase “We can do hard things” seemed a constant ticker tape scrolling in my mind.) I cherished the one-on-one conversations I had on the road–it struck me how much more enjoyable it was to be doing something hard and to be catching up with one another, talking about things utterly ordinary and extremely profound. Those I didn’t get to talk to on the road, I relaxed with after the ride over a beer and the surprisingly pleasing combination of potato chips dipped into coleslaw. (Seriously. Try it.)

I’m a chronic replayer of time, and this weekend proved no different. Even still, I keep playing the “two weeks ago, we’d be checking into the dorm” or “eating lunch at the 28 mile marker” or “doing a spontaneous yoga pose in front of Hooterville” or “hanging out at the tattoo parlor.” And then wish it was two weeks ago.

I am so proud of my team. I am also very grateful that they were part of the audience when I briefly told my story in front of the 551 riders Saturday night. The MS Society asked me earlier in the week if I’d consider, and it didn’t take me long to say yes. But it’s one thing to agree to something and another thing to stand nervously in front of hundreds of people. I talked about when and how I was diagnosed with MS, what the last year and a half has been like, and why I ride. I emphasized how the need for fundraising clicked with me this year since my first medicine wasn’t working but my new one is. Without fundraising and research, which led to my new medicine, my future seems something I don’t want to imagine.

I left the stage unsure about what I’d said — if it made sense, if it was what the MS Society wanted, if it was right at all. Ben and my teammates all reassured me. The rest of the weekend, so many people came to give me a hug or a word of encouragement, and moved me to my core.

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Biking the Covered Bridges of Butler County. 

As of Saturday night, when Steve Niemann, the Teams Development Manager at the Ohio Valley Chapter, announced the top ten fundraising teams (fundraising continues through September 25th), we were in tenth place out of over fifty teams, even though many teams had significantly more members than we did. At one point, Erin was in the top five of fundraisers overall. This is a testament to the extreme generosity of our friends and family, as well as the fundraising efforts of our teammates. We cannot say enough how humbled we are by everyone’s generosity toward us.

Battling MS can be such an amorphous thing — how do you attack something that doesn’t have a cure, that seems to move invisibly, that appears to lie dormant for long stretches of time before flaring up in spectacular and terrifying fashion? What we love about Bike MS is that it gives us something tangible to do: Ride a bicycle! For a long time! Until our butt hurts like nobody’s business! That’s easy, compared to the larger battle at hand. As Erin put it in her speech, “I hate having MS, but I love riding with MS.” We appreciate everyone who is on this journey with us.

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