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The MS 150 Coastal Challenge
November, 2023 - Issue #225

Seven guys. Six months of training. 5am departure. Four weeks of wondering. Three nights of camping. Two days of riding. One flat tire.
Those are the stats from my experience at the MS 150 Coastal Challenge, a fundraising bike ride for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in which my goal was to ride 150 miles in two days.
"On the days I COULDN'T STAND UP STRAIGHT, I wondered how I could ever be ready for the event looming on the calendar."
Day One, Saturday, covered more than 100 miles from Santa Monica to Ventura, with 6,000 feet of climbing courtesy of a circuitous route over Malibu Canyon Road, Mulholland Drive and Kanan Road. Sunday began in Ventura, traversed the Casitas Pass and added more elevation gain in Ojai to clock 4,000 feet of climbing before ending in Ventura.
Our team, Ride for the Hills, included seven riders. Mike, a multiple MS Ride finisher, was the ringleader, first convincing us to join him for the 2020 installment. But we all know what happened to plans made that year. Fast-forward to 2023. The band was back together and everyone was registered for the full ride.
That's where the six months of training came in. Aware that I'm usually the slowest rider of the group, and that it would take serious effort to log 150 miles in two days, I hired a coach to develop an early-morning training plan. Beginning in January, I slowly built up mileage and time in the saddle week by week, riding a regular route three mornings a week and adding longer rides on the weekends.
We left our campground in Ventura at 5am on Day One to reach Santa Monica before the 7am start. It was early, but the consistent training conditioned me to pre-dawn wake-up calls.
The four weeks of wondering started when my back went out. Not during training, but in the Home Depot parking lot loading mulch in the car. Recovery was frustrating.
On the days I couldn't stand up straight, I wondered how I could ever be ready for the event looming on the calendar.
Because the ride was centered in Ventura, it made sense to stay nearby. The three nights of camping at Emma Wood State Beach with shared dinners, beers and bike stories were the reasons that make trips like this so much fun.
The two days of riding delivered both the exhilaration and the exhaustion familiar to long-distance riding. On Sunday, I tucked into a line of bikes and used the power of drafting to fly north on Pacific Coast Highway at speeds I'd never reach on my own.
The rush was made even sweeter by knowing what I'd overcome the day before: the long grind up Kanan Road. There was no shoulder, let alone a bike lane, as cars rushed past at 60-plus miles per hour. And two dark tunnels added to the fear factor. My heart rate spiked with the effort, forcing me to dismount and rest. But after recovering, I continued on.
The biggest challenge, however, came from one of biking's most mundane challenges - a flat tire. Changing tubes was easy. But the CO2 cartridge that was supposed to reinflate the tire sprayed everywhere but where it was supposed to.
After calling rider support, I was underway again, with around 30 miles to go. But within a half hour, my back let me know it was time to be done. To my surprise, I found the support truck parked on the side of the road. It was like a lifeline and I took it. I coasted to a stop, loaded my bike and officially ended my day.
It wasn't the ending I had envisioned. But stopping when I did left me with enough energy to tackle most of Day Two, including the long climb over the Casitas Pass.
My total mileage didn't equal 150 when I rolled across the finish line in Ventura, but it added up to an unforgettable adventure.
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic.
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