Have you ever wanted to be part of something bigger than yourself?

I started bicycle riding seriously about three years ago. Last fall, I bought a new Cannondale road bike. One day when I was in the shop, one of the employees told me about the Bike MS ride that takes place every year. It's 150 miles over two days and this year would be running from Bok Tower Gardens to the Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando.

Intrigued but not really knowing much about Multiple Sclerosis, I went home and did some research. It is a debilitating disease. No one is sure what causes it, there is no cure, and over 70,000 in central Florida are afflicted with it. The Bike MS rides, which take place all over the country, raise money for research for a cure and for assisting those who have the disease. Definitely a worthy cause.

After several inquires, the bike shop declined to field a team this year. I also contacted the Public Affairs department at my office but they declined, as well. So I contacted Nickita Barker, the leader of the central Florida chapter of the National MS Society and asked her about local teams. She said there was really only one team to consider and that was the Heart of Florida Hospital's team, lead by Belinda Rieger. She was right.

The team grew to 45 members over the next few months. Each was as welcoming and supportive as all of the others. Every week for three months, we met for training rides... and along the way many of us became friends who will end up riding together after the event.

Over the span of several weeks, I learned many things about myself, my capabilities, my new friends, riding long distances, and about some of the people we were riding for who are afflicted with the disease.

Finally, the day of the big ride was here. Bike MS 2010. We were ready! We were excited!

Pre-ride staging.

Pre-ride staging.

Pre-ride staging.

Pre-ride staging.

And then the call came over the PA system for all those that were planning to ride the century, the 100 mile route, to report to the starting line.

Hundreds of riders getting ready to start the Century or 100 mile ride.

The announcer counted down over the PA system... and then we were off. My first century. I won't bore you with the details of grinding out mile after mile. We did it. We kept going. We wouldn't give up. It was too worthy of a cause.

Hitting the road. The first mile of 150.

Chugging along, heading toward lunch.

I will say that the hundreds of volunteers, that seemed to be everywhere, made the entire event possible. They staffed the rest stops, they manned the support vehicles, several of the shops provided mechanics and repair trucks, EMTs were on hand for any injuries (and there were a few), and food and beverages were provided at the rest stops and at lunch.

An over-the-shoulder shot of part of the team on Saturday.

Along the way, I learned a couple of more things. First of all, those padded gloves that cyclists wear can, and really should, be washed once in a while. Seriously. Whew! Those puppies were ripe! I also learned that when you run out of Gatorade in your water bottle and you refill with plain water and drop in one of those electrolyte tablets to enhance the water, you really need to leave the cap of the bottle open to allow the effervescence a way to escape. 'Cause if you don't, the next time to go to take a drink while you're cranking along at 20 mph, you're going to spray yourself in the face like it's champagne on New Year's Eve!

The Sheriff's departments were on hand to block or direct traffic at all of the major intersections, which allowed our groups to continue through safely. We made sure to thank each of the deputies for being out there. Our team broke up into a fast group and not-quite-so-fast group (mine). When our group made the final turn onto State Highway 535, a Sheriff's motorcycle fell in beside us and shunted traffic to the next lane over in order to protect us.

Then we turned the corner and crossed the finish line - 102.3 miles, DONE!

Part of the Heart of Florida team arriving at the finish line after riding 102.3 miles.

Lots of fanfare, lots of cheers, balloons.. and there was my wife, who had spent the day helping set up the team tent area, grinning and snapping photos. Surprise, my parents-in-law were there, too! They had driven over to show their support, as well. I felt surprisingly good.

Me, tired but happy after completing my first century ride!

Inside the tent area, we had food, fresh water, beer, terrific decorations in an Olympia theme, ice-cold towels... and chairs! Lovely, beautiful chairs! And beer. Did I mention the beer?

Our team tent during setup. Sara worked hard helping others to get everything ready for our riders. The hard work paid off because it won as the best team area.

Team tent area

Team tent area

Team tent area

Team tent area

Team tent area

Team tent area

Team tent area

After showers, we went down to dinner and met up with the gang. Lots of laughs during the meal. Afterward, there was a great speech by a former women's USA bike team member who has, and has found ways to live with, MS partly due to the research that is funded by the Bike MS events like this one. It was a very moving and encouraging speech.

After the speech, several prizes were raffled off and it was announced that the terrific job done on the decorations of our team area had won first place! Sweet!

Eight inch long glow sticks, the type you bend to break the vials inside and then they glow for hours, were at every place setting. The evening's MC, who it turns out is also living with MS, had the room lights lowered and then began to read off reasons why people were riding in this event. For example, if someone in your family has MS, you were to activate your light stick, stand up, and hold it high. One by one, he read off different reasons why people rode these events. In a couple of minutes, thousands of people were standing in the conference hall and waving or swinging glow sticks. It was an incredible site!

Sunday morning came early. Everyone had warned me that Sunday morning your butt was going to be sore when you sat back down on that bike seat. As it turns out, my tushy was fine. My knees, on the other hand, weren't too happy at the thought of cranking out another 50 miles.

Soon enough, tires were pumped up, equipment was adjusted, the sun was up, and we were off! The wind was a little stronger on Sunday but pretty soon we had stopped at the second rest stop and had already done nearly half of the ride so it seemed like it was going pretty good. The next leg was tough. Long, steep hills into the wind. The miles, the hills, the wind, the heat, and the humidity were beginning to take their tolls on many of us. We encouraged each other, we coached each other, we took turns leading so others could ride in our draft to conserve energy... and then we turned into the entrance for Bok Tower Gardens. Our group had become spread out so we pulled off to the side and waited for others to catch up.

All good things must come to an end. We regrouped into two lines, determined to finish the last mile and a half together as a team. It wasn't really planned or discussed... it just happened that way... Steve Leker and I ended up in the front of the two lines. No big deal. A mile and a half to the finish line on a private road. We filled the entire lane and no one tried to pass us.

Final approach coming in to Bok Tower Gardens. That's the tower in the distance. 150 miles... DONE!

I heard later that the announcer had called out over the PA speaker that we were the largest group he had seen come in together. But we weren't just riding in together, we were chanting, "Heart of Florida! Heart of Florida!" Sirens were going off and the people waiting for us at the finish line were screaming and going nuts.

Team Heart of Florida bringing it home. Crossing the finish line to cheers, applause, and sirens. We were the largest group to ride in together.

Volunteers were everywhere. Handing us water bottles, serving up Bubba Burgers, and generally taking care of anything we needed. The food was great and there were smiles everywhere. We had done it: 150 miles in two days. I was thankful to be wearing sunglasses because it was a bit overwhelming.

Have you ever wanted to be part of something bigger than yourself? Well, this is what you can expect:  You're gonna be tired, you're gonna be sore... and you're going to feel freakin' awesome!!!

Doing something to help is an incredible feeling.