About 1,200 cyclists are to pedal to Key Largo Saturday, March 1, from Miami’s Florida International University (FIU) campus, letting their legs and two wheels power them through city intersections, neighborhood roads, Homestead’s rural farmlands and onto Card Sound Road in pursuit of a cure for multiple sclerosis. The cyclists may choose routes from 50 to 100 miles a day, with several rest stops providing fuel in the form of protein bars, fruit, sandwiches, ice and beverages along the way. This complex event could not be done without the dedication of volunteers and the contributions of sponsors.
The Bike MS: Breakaway to Key Largo moved from April to March 1-2 this year. The Breakaway event kicks off Bike MS events nationwide, which continue through the fall. Last year, the early bird riders got the sunshine while more relaxed, slower riders encountered storms foul enough to have to be shuttled from Homestead to the finish line on the bike ride’s opening day.
Many riders stay overnight at the host properties, Holiday Inn, the Courtyard by Marriott and Marina del Mar, at mile marker 99.7 oceanside, owned by Key Largo Resorts. A party-like atmosphere surrounds the finish line and lunch, dinner and a poolside bash follow Saturday’s ride. Many teams provide shady tents for their particular riders which offer camaraderie, additional food and beverages, and pampering such as massages.
MS is a debilitating disease. There is no known cure, but there is hope, and the riders raise funds for research and to bring attention to the quest for a cure. In 2013, the South Florida bike ride raised nearly $1 million dollars to help fund research, and make provide programs and services possible for the 7,500 South Floridians living with the effects of multiple sclerosis. This year’s goal for the South Florida Chapter is $1.1 million.
Finding the cause of multiple sclerosis will be an important step in stopping and ending the disease. Several factors suggest that an infectious agent or agents may be involved in triggering MS in susceptible people. Researchers in New York believe they may have found a link between MS and a toxin produced by the Clostridium Perfringens bacteria.
A festive atmosphere also is created at FIU stadium with big orange air balloons, food tents and coffee presented by various sponsors and vendors before riders line up at the start line. Riders must be a minimum of 18 years old to participate in the Breakaway to Key Largo. Teams such as Mack Cycle, Bacardi, StormRiders and Alexandra’s Angels set off in waves beginning at 7 a.m., clipping into bike pedals and embarking on the 50-, 75- or 100-mile treks. Police officers posted at intersections ensure riders’ safety, and “sag” wagons and medical staff ensure health and support, offering solutions to dehydration, muscle spasms and more.
A co-founder of the Bacardi team, Claudette Halluk of Miami, will have raised more than $50,000 over the past 11 years for MS research after this year's fundraising effort. Most riders meet the $350 fundraising minimum to have the pleasure of riding. As of Feb. 15, the Bacardi team had raised $49,003, according to www.nationalmssociety.org, while Halluk’s personal goal for this year is $6,000.
Homestead’s thriving agricultural district with some huge homes behind ornate gates is a sight to behold. Migrant workers drive multi-cart trains carrying plants; field hands pick tomatoes or other crops ready for the taking, and big semi-trucks bring more plants on flat beds and other agricultural material to the farms and fields.
Homestead Airport and the legendary Robert Is Here fruit stand may be on the route this year, but riders won’t know until just before the event. The route is kept secret to prevent interlopers from hopping in and enjoying the benefits without having raised funds for the cause.
Turning onto Card Sound Road where officers give cyclists preference to vehicles for a short time, alligators may be spied in the roadside canals where freshwater meets brackish.
Riding bikes over Card Sound Bridge with the 360-degree water view is a treat, and not just a challenge for South Florida flat-road riders. A scenic rest stop after the bridge offers a water view of Card Sound as well as sustenance. Happy cheering and an overhead banner will welcome finishers several more miles down the Overseas Highway. Since multiple sclerosis stops people from moving due to central nervous system damage, achieving a personal goal of finishing the ride is indeed cause for celebration.
This bike tour is among approximately 100 Bike MS rides each year. The "biggest" rides in terms of number of riders are the Bike MS: BP MS150 in Houston, with more than 14,000 registered riders and the Bike MS: City to Shore in Philadelphia, with more than 8,000 riders. The "oldest continuous” ride is the Bike MS: CH Robinson Worldwide MS 150 Ride in Duluth, Minn., which began in 1980.
To see my stories about last year's MS Ride, click links below. To donate to the cause, click here: https://secure3.convio.net/nmss/site/Donation2?idb=1447370579&df_id=45277&45277.donation=form1&FR_ID=22411&PROXY_ID=11877319&PROXY_TYPE=20