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Monday, March 10, 2014

My first long-distance bike ride at the FedEx Rock-n-Roll MS-150 had a lifelong and lifechanging impact

My first long-distance bike ride at the FedEx Rock-n-Roll MS-150 had a lifelong and life-changing impact
By:  Michael Lander

One of the most difficult challenges during the FedEx Rock-n-Roll
MS-150 is trying to ascend "The Wall," located on Prichard Rd in
Coldwater, Miss on the second day of this event.  This photo is
from the 2013 ride on Sunday, September 8, 2013.

Anyone who has ever done a long-distance cycling event never forgets that first time.  For me, that first big ride of my life happened on the weekend of September 15-16, 2007. 

I was riding in my first FedExRock-n-Roll MS-150 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS).   I was on the FedEx team with my brother-in-law.  He was the one who had gotten me interested in cycling and in doing the MS-150 bike ride. 

On the morning of this two-day, 150-mile event, I was extremely excited and eager about getting started, but I was also a little nervous and anxious about it as well.  I remember wondering to myself if I was really ready for it or not and if I could even actually do it. 

In spite of any reservations that I might have had, I knew that there was nothing that would stop me so long as my legs could move.

Just six months prior the ride, I had purchased a Trek hybrid bike and then, a couple of months later, I bought a Mercier Serpens road bike from a friend.  I thought that the road bike would be a much better bike for any long-distance rides. 

The hybrid then became my workout bike and I managed to put in about 800 miles on it prior to my first MS-150 ride in September.

Even though I had a lot of optimism about being able to complete this 150 mile ride, I wasn't exactly the image of someone that most people would ever think could successfully accomplish this feat. 

I was slightly overweight with extra insulation around my middle and I was barely able to run the mandatory mile and a half for my military physical fitness exam that I was required to do each year.  If that wasn't bad enough, until March of 2007, I had not even been on a bicycle in over 27 years and I knew almost nothing about bikes or about doing long distances bike rides.

Regardless of all that, however, I was inexplicably drawn to the MS-150 bike ride.  If anything, I think that I was initially interested in doing the FedEx Rock-n-Roll ride because of the mere challenge of it.  I just wanted to see if I could actually do it. 

Shortly after registering, though, a friend of my wife and I announced to our church family that her daughter, Ellen, had just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).  For me, that changed everything.  The ride was no longer about me and what I could do, but the focus was on this friend's daughter and about riding for her and all of those afflicted with MS.

The ride, unfortunately for me, began with an inauspicious start.  I had taken my bike to get air put in the tires and about 10 to 15 minutes before the ride was set to begin, I found that the rear tire had gone flat. 

As I anxiously waited in line for help with this, the ride started and the majority of the 700 - 800 cyclists headed out from where the MS-150 began at the visitor's center at Graceland.  By the time that it was fixed, I ended up being one of the last cyclists to leave.  The anxiety level intensified and I was more nervous than ever. 

On the upside of this, however, it made me even more determined than ever to make up for lost time and to try to catch up with at least a few other slow riders.  I eventually did this by riding as fast as I could and skipping a few of the rest stops along the way.

Just before I came up to the second rest stop, I happened on to the scene of an accident in which a cyclist had been struck by a car.  If I hadn't given any thought to the possible dangers of doing this type of ride beforehand, this served as a wake-up call for me. 

Even though I did not know the specific circumstances of what happened, the cyclist did appear to have suffered some injuries but was otherwise alright.  His bike, however, was not so lucky and was a mangled mess.

I was able to finish the ride on the first day in a little less than six hours and averaged about 12 mph.  I was really tired as I rode that last few miles to the finish line, which was at the Grand Hotel and Casino in Tunica, Miss

I probably looked like I had been run over myself and the driver of a SAG (Support and Gear) vehicle likely thought the same thing when he passed by me.  He slowed down, but the casino was in sight and there was no way I was going to quit at that point.

As it is for most beginners, the next day of the ride back to Graceland was a little tougher than the first day.  You are sore and tired, but you know that every mile gets you closer to the finish line and that gave me the motivation that I needed to go on.  The weather was perfect for me with temperatures both days in the mid-eighties, which is about as good as you can hope for in the Memphis area.

Even a thunderstorm is not enough to stop everyone
from trying to finish the Pedal-to-the-Point MS-150 in
Ohio on August 14, 2011.  (Photo Credit:  Kim Morris)

About 30 miles into the ride on Day 2, I began to see the steep hill and bluff that is appropriately named "The Wall."  It was a lot more fun riding down a similar one the day before, but I knew it was going to be extremely tough to climb. 

In a cruel and unusual sort of way, you can see "The Wall" four or five miles away, which gives you plenty of time to contemplate the torture that is about to be inflicted upon you. 

After seeing it, I deliberated the whole way trying to decide whether I would attempt the climb or just get off my bike and walk up this incredible monstrosity. 

When I finally got to it, I just made up my mind that I might as well try it and with the encouragement and cheering of the wonderful volunteers there, I gave it everything that I had and made it to the top.  After the ride, I actually was more proud of conquering "The Wall," than doing the 150 mile ride.

After that, my legs really felt like Jell-o and the fatigue factor started kicking in, but I kept pressing on.  I was going slow, but I knew it wasn't a race and just finishing the ride was all that mattered to me. 

The only mishap that I had came at one of the rest stops.  I slowly pulled in and tried to unclip my shoe from the peddle and, almost in slow motion, I fell on to the gravel like a large sequoia or redwood falling in the forest.  Nothing was hurt but my pride and I appreciated the fact that none of the volunteers laughed, at least while I was still around them.  

After that, I began having some saddle soreness that was so bad that I wanted to holler, but I rode through it and it eventually eased up and I started having other aches and pains that made me forget all about it. 

When I crossed the finish line hours later, I felt a tremendous sense of relief and accomplishment that I had rarely ever felt before in my life.  I was never an athlete growing up, and so having the volunteers cheering for me and the other cyclists at the rest stops and at the finish line was an experience that I will never forget.

For me, this entire experience left an indelible impression and changed the course of my life.  It inspired me to start down the road for a healthier lifestyle, in helping others, and eventually in creating a cycling blog and a cycling website

Even though I have ridden for other causes now over the years, the MS-150 rides have always been especially meaningful for me.  I have done a total of 13 of them now, (with four in Ohio and nine thus far in Memphis).  Many of us who do this ride do it for friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances or neighbors who have been stricken with MS.

It is really for them that I do this ride and it is the best way that I know to help raise money and awareness about MS.

For me, my participation in this event is the least that I can do to assist those who are living with MS every day of their lives and to help in the efforts that may eventually help to prevent others from ever learning what it means to live with this disease. 

Any pain or discomfort that I experienced on these rides is nothing compared to a lifetime of pain and suffering that someone with MS must endure every day of their life. 

When it comes to this and other charitable rides that I do, I always like to paraphrase a quote from Mahatma Gandhi that "We must be the positive change we wish to see in the world." 

It is my hope that others will join me in the crusade to make this world a better place for others, and I hope that I will be able to use my passion for cycling in order to do just that.


  1. Amazing article Michael. Thank you for doing these rides for me, as well for the others that suffer from M.S. God Bless You.

    1. Thank you so much, Lynda! I feel blessed to have friends like you in my life and I want to do what I can to help raise money and awareness so that you and others will see a day, hopefully soon, when you will no longer suffer from the effects of MS.