The chill wind is from the Northeast and in our faces. This is the middle of May; it should be warmer. The green hills of piedmont Virginia are all around us, tops hidden in the mist and fog. It is chilly and there's a light drizzle. The wet green grass is tall in the pastures and even the cows look wet. My feet are wet and my glasses need wipers. This is going to be a long day; we have many miles to go. Up ahead, the black road rises up and is lost in green foliage and gray fog. I'm not sure if not knowing how long this uphill grind will be is better or worse than being able to see it and know the awful truth. I'm paying the price for only doing about half the training I'd planned to do for this 60-mile slog through the hills. I wasn't sure I was up to it after the first few miles, but I've got my second wind now. Legs slightly sore but not stiff. Grind away. I can taste and smell the flavor of cold wet air you get when you are working hard. Just like when I was a kid pulling my sled up the hill. Don't think ahead about all those miles; just go up this hill. Try a lower gear.
This bike ride has become a
tradition for us. It's a charity event. Riders cajole others to sponsor
them and raise money for MS research. It's a one or two day event at the
riderís option. The two-day event adds up to 150 kilometers, thus
the MS150. There are always five or six of us who register as a team, USNA
63. We have become proud of the fact that we are always the
team with the oldest average age, 63 this year. Each year we set a new
record as the team with the oldest average age. Everyone is here except
This photo of me, Dave, Hank, Pete, and Bob was taken before the start.
We don't know where Brev is and his absence will not be easily excused. We wait quite a while for Brev at the start hoping he will show for the team picture. When he doesn't, we discuss asking a female rider to take his place in the picture and putting his name in her place in the caption. Later on, I spot an attractive redhead with slightly angular features who would have been perfect for the part. Too late, but it doesn't matter because we probably wouldn't have done it anyway; we were just making jokes for ourselves. Brev will face endless teasing if his explanation is not ironclad. I considered not showing up myself when I could see what the weather would be. Deep down, I knew I didn't have a choice. I had signed up; among us, your word is your bond. It's just as true as it was in 1959 when we started plebe year. Better to face the hills than the disapproval of your classmates. You don't have to ride, but if you say you will, that's it; your decision is made. It would be so much simpler and easier to just make a donation.
We do this for Terry. He has MS. He came to the Academy from an Indiana farm and graduated 17th in a class of 850 very bright and competitive young men. Within a few years his health began to fail. He's in a nursing home and can't eat a meal without help. He has lived a productive and useful life anyway. He and Sue have four beautiful, intelligent and accomplished daughters; all won scholarships, racked up honors and began careers and families. Terry worked at least part time until twenty years ago. When he could no longer work, he devoted his time to a foundation put together by my classmates. Our foundation has funneled money and counseling to the kids of deceased classmates for many years.
These were mostly kids whose dads were lost in Vietnam or in operational accidents since the war. Crashed planes, sunken subs; whatever. There are all kinds of circumstances. My friend Jimmy Lynne was killed doing missionary work in New Guinea after surviving Vietnam and the other hazards of being a Navy carrier pilot. He was part of flight jumped by MIG-17s during Vietnam. He was flying an A-1. That was an obsolete prop driven plane that had been kept in service only because of the huge bomb load it could carry and it's tremendous endurance. It was enormously useful in supporting our ground troops. But it was slow. It shouldn't have had a chance against a MIG-17. Jimmy's flight kept their heads, hung together and actually outmaneuvered the migs and shot one down without losing anyone. We were able to help his family after he was gone.
Jim Ring served as the President of the foundation for almost thirty years and he was the one who first suggested that we ride in the MS 150 to help raise money for MS research. Terry organized the finances of the foundation. Twelve years ago, our foundation trustees launched a campaign to raise enough money to permanently fund the foundation. Terry did the actuarial research to tell us how much money we would need to fund the foundation through to college graduation of the youngest child our class would likely produce. This involved a lot of complex demographic, financial, and actuarial work. Terry did it all from a wheel chair. The class put up the money without taking any outside donations.
In spite of his personal tragedy, there hasn't been much we could do for Terry except be his classmates. We try to make sure a few of us visit him each week. Mostly we do lunch with Terry at the home. We order in pizza. We tell old sea stories and pass current rumors about each other. If you were there, you could watch a bunch of old sea dogs feed Terry lunch as tenderly and unselfconsciously as any mother does for an infant. Some of us ride the MS150 each year to raise money for MS research. Terry gets a kick out of that.
All kinds of people make this
ride. The hard-core riders are here. They are mostly tall lanky types.
They wear full body spandex outfits; red, yellow and orange in various
gaudy designs are the norm. With their streamlined helmets they look like
waspish insects as they whiz by. They are the minority. Most of us grind
out the miles hill by hill.
There are lots of women. They aren't all pretty, but they look great; no make up, messy hair, rosy cheeks, and lots of smiles. People are in a good mood in spite of the weather. It's always that way. The weather is always bad: pouring rain, sweltering heat, or cold windy drizzle. Even those who have bitten off a little more than they want to chew are in good spirits. There are plenty of them; they share adversity with a grin. It's a good crowd; I've never heard an inconsiderate word.
Some of my classmates are good at this. They ride in other events. No classmate is ever left behind. Nothing is said, but someone always finds an excuse to pull off the ride until the last classmate has passed. No matter how slow you are you always have a classmate ahead and a classmate behind. There is no disapproval of any performance; we just keep plugging. We aren't going to win anything; we just hang together. We are a team.
The end of the ride is the best. I feel as if I've accomplished something even though I haven't. I've been on a bike ride and that's all. I feel both tired and exhilarated. A hot shower, a good meal and a drink are not far away. They will be better than they usually are. I am still alive and have done the same thing as much younger people. That's pretty good too. It's over; I don't have to do it ever again. No more hills, no more rain, no more wind. We shake hands and resolve to meet again soon. By now I am cold; my clothes are damp; the chill began seeping in as soon as the effort of riding stopped. I'm eager to get home. It's warm in the car and that makes it look even colder and wetter outside. I can get a hot coffee at a gas station about a mile down the road. It has been a long day, but a good one. I will sleep well tonight.
I shall ride again next year.
Mike Cronin USNA'63