The Amazing Race

The autumn sun was just beginning to make progress as we mounted our bikes and rode towards the starting line. Tents and booths had been erected and although morning had not yet broke, there was a buzz beneath the hills in the tiny beachside town. This would be my third year riding the MS ride, building awareness and raising money to battle this disease. With an ocean of blackness to our right, we rode like silhouettes through the brisk morning air.

To the others on my team, sixty-five was just a number, a distance, they did not have the knowledge of what lay in store. To me, sixty-five stood as a true test ahead, a day, a battle, between yourself and the road. In 2008 and 2009, Katherine and I had rode thirty and sixty mile courses respectively. This was to be our longest distance. I remembered the previous pain as I once again prepared with nervous excitement. What the hell I was doing? Phil Keoghan, host of one of our favorite shows The Amazing Race, is the master of ceremonies. Katherine and I have contemplated going after the million dollars, the prize of the show, ourselves and have actually filled out The Amazing Race application, but we have always worried about the pressure our relationship would feel in some of those situations. I am a pretty competitive guy and would probably end up looking like the worlds biggest a-hole on national television. For now though, my race lied in the hills that surrounded us and we began to get ready to ride.

Our Team before the ride

My mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis back in the early 80’s. Many doctors met us with the doom and gloom, as they themselves really didn’t know the full cause and effects of the disease. My dad, shortly after hearing of my mom’s diagnosis, left her with a five, a three and a ten-month old, along with her own mother who was dying of Alzheimer’s disease. That guy’s a real peach, let me tell you. I could only imagine the fear my mom felt as she sat alone in the kitchen at night, medical bills piling up, kids growing, hungry, angry. These are some of the thoughts that ran through my mind as we began our day, a biker gang of over 900 people, riding together for my mom, and other people with MS.

Me sis and me mom

The cool morning air was a welcome relief as we began to ascend the mountains. Our team started each leg together, traveled a distance, then met at the next rest stop. Allen and Eric were both having a lot of fun with it—the course being less competitive and even trending toward happiness, charity and completion. We found ourselves out on the course, whether on a long stretch passing farms or in the middle of a huge hill with knats swarming our faces, we were forced to be with ourselves, our thoughts, like castaways. It gets strange out there at times, the heat, the soft buzz of nature, the pulse of the race. We spent the whole day drenched in sweat, cursing the teammate that suggested this distance. In this case, this was me. Eric drank four gallons of water that day, literally. Hell, I barely weigh four gallons. We pushed on, up and over Casitas Pass, which is pretty much like Mt. Kilamanjaro in Ventura, men and women of all shapes and sizes cheering each other on, cursing the damn road, the damn hills, the damn disease.

By lunchtime, my team hated me. I could feel their eyes hitting my sweaty neck like daggers as they thought of strangling me. Trying to avoid mutiny on the high seas, or in this case, the high hills, I would calm them by telling them the hills were over. This would work each time to diffuse the anger but as we began to ride again and encountered more hills, their hate only increased at each rest stop we reached.

Alone, riding on a shaded hill with my thoughts, I picked up a conversation behind me. Two riders, a man and a woman had started a conversation and the lady asked the man why he was riding or for whom. With emotions swelling, he told her that his wife had recently been diagnosed with MS. My heart broke. I looked at this man who was no older than 45, twelve years older than me, and I felt for him. He went onto to say his wife of 15 years had been diagnosed last year and had quickly dissipated. The disease had a hold of his girl, and little tears welled up in my eyes for him, for my mom, for us, humanity as a whole and our short feeble existence. He was trying everything he could to help her, their oldest daughter transferred colleges to be closer to home and help out. I just kept thinking about Katherine and how I wanted to protect her from everything and my mom, who although has had to battle for many years, has really stood her ground against this disease. This man’s story reminded me how real this ride was.

I felt alive. From the beginning when some of those suffering with the disease sent us off, those affected personally, or throughout when someone riding stayed with us, pushing us, not giving in. For those few hours we fight back. We raise money, we raise spirits, we scream out for all of those who can’t anymore. On this ride, we saw the world from the ground level, the dust and dirt, sweat and steam of humanity. We begin to forget the hills and remember the race. I thought about my mom in the 80’s, young with a heavy burden. I thought about this man and his wife, their daughter and her college years. I thought about Katherine and our future, the highs and lows rolling along like the hills I now traversed. I thought about the Amazing Race and realized it was life. We keep riding, good or bad it won’t stop for us, and we must compete.

The team met up to ride across the finish line together. The sun now sat over the ocean to our right. Perched in its mid-afternoon position it gazed on us as a defeated opponent. We laughed with drained adrenaline as our aching bodies rode those final meters. Drunkenly trying to high-five, we looked exhausted. I was tired and grouchy and happy to see my beautiful wife. Her and her father did the thirty- mile route this year and had finished a while before us. Like Tonto I petted my bike as I parked her and headed towards the food. We all sat around and laughed, tired and proud. We had done it. We had shouted from the tops of the surrounding mountains for those that could not shout anymore. We had ridden for a cause, fighting against an opponent that has been known to me since I was two. A small battle won. I called my mom later that day to tell her we had finished and how much money the race had raised, over one million dollars. She said she had been wearing the MS shirt I sent her all day, and maybe next year she’ll come out and show me how to take those hills.

Ready for a shower

Early morning swim, the day after


2 Responses to “The Amazing Race”

  1. 1 Moscow
    October 14, 2011 at 11:59 am

    Great writing Mike…really hit home and touched my heart!

  2. October 19, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Beautiful:) You really are an amazing person mike, an amazing writer of course, but truely an amazing person….love ya:)

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