18 April 2009

We Tried! BP MS150 2009 Day One Cancelled

Here are some photos from our attempted BP MS150 2009 Saint Arnold Team volunteer set-up day, April 17, 2009.

The eight of us got together late in the morning, loaded up the food, supplies, and the riders' luggage for both La Grange and Austin. We ended up with five vehicles, three of them pulling trailers. The Saint Arnold MS150 team has over 350 riders, so we need a lot of stuff to take care of them properly! While we were loading and getting everything together, we watched the weather forecast. It hadn't started raining in Houston yet, but we knew a bad storm was on the way. The clouds were threatening and we heard a bit of thunder.

We stopped in Sealy for a quick lunch. The rain started coming down pretty hard while we were eating.

We drove through on and off rain and moderate traffic along I-10 to Columbus, where we turned north onto Hwy 71.

Then the rain really started coming down. We think we saw hail for a moment, but then it just settled into heavy rain and strong easterly winds. We drove through the severe weather, with occasionally awesome lightning until about Ellinger.

As we drove to La Grange, the major rivers, the Brazos and Colorado, were very full - up to and over some of the trees on its banks. I've seen the rivers that high before, usually once or twice per year when we have lots of rain. Even though I'm used to it, the power and size of the rushing water is still humbling to me.

What was surprising is the amount of flooding along Hwy 71. All of the fields and pastures had several inches of water on them, and they were draining into creeks and streams that are dry most of the time. In fact, I didn't know there were that many stream beds viewable from the highway because I had never seen water in them. All of these creeks had flood-stage rushing water, flowing into the drainage ditches along the highway.

At one point, we saw the most amazing thing. A huge flooded pasture was draining towards a highway ditch. Everything was covered in water, so it looked like a small lake. Close to the highway, there must be a large drain hole because we saw a huge mass of dried rushes/cattails/cornstalks, at least 6 feet across, just spinning around and around in a powerful whirlpool. The vortex wasn't pulling the stalks down, just spinning them in a very cool, and kinda scary way. We drove by too fast and I was too surprised to take a picture, but everyone else we talked to who saw it was amazed also. One guy did say he took a picture of it and I hope to see it.

We arrived at the Fayette County fairgrounds in La Grange at 4pm. Right before we arrived, we had gotten a call from one of the team riders, saying he had been told the MS150 ride had been canceled. We pulled up and saw a lot of water in the fairground ditches, and some vehicles being turned away from the fairground entrance. The team captain, Ann, talked to the MS150 officials to find out the verdict.

For the first time ever, the MS150 organizers had to cancel the first day of this two-day ride. From what we saw at the fairgrounds (flooded tents, very soft ground, reports of fallen tents) and what we saw along the way, I agree that was the right call.

The ride is along some back highways and state roads, some of which have low spots that had to be flooded. It would be too dangerous to ask not only 13,000 bicyclists, but also the thousands of volunteers to travel on these roads.

Also, the ground was so soft at the fairgrounds, the large trucks and volunteer vehicles would get stuck. There are dozens or maybe hundreds of large circus-size tents in the fairgrounds, and if the stakes cut loose from the ground, large heavy poles would fall, causing another hazard. Finally, all of the generators for lights and sound systems presented a major electrical shock hazard.

As I sit in my warm office in Houston and listen to the rain pour down from the dark sky, I wish I was pouring beer in the rain for tired, wet, and thankful cyclists in La Grange. All of us volunteers were ready to suffer through a bit of rain to support these wonderful people, willing to raise money and ride 180 miles in two days for such a good cause. But we understand that safety has to come first.

Day Two of the BP MS150 is being held tomorrow (Sunday, April 19). It starts in La Grange and goes 80 miles to Austin, where team and ride volunteers will cheer and support the riders able to make the second day. I wish everyone a safe and fun ride!