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Feature: Bike Around the Bay


By Elizabeth Rasich     11/1/17 5:31am

What do pickle juice shots, hail and sheltering in a porta-potty have in common? All three happened at this year's Bike Around the Bay, a two-day fundraising endurance ride from Baytown to Galveston and back. Fifteen members of the Rice University Cycling and Triathlon team participated in the approximately 177-mile ride this past weekend. No one was able to complete the full 177 miles this year, but not for lack of trying. Instead of pedaling across the finish line on Oct. 22 they returned via Uber due to a storm that waylaid them on the second day of the ride.

Bike Around the Bay is not a race; the challenge is endurance. On Day 1, cyclists ride about 100 miles, and on Day 2 about 77 miles.

Rice’s Assistant Director for Enrollment Management Operations John Michael Cuccia has been road biking for three years and often participates in distance rides like BATB.

“For me the hardest part of rides like these is usually the mental stamina,” Cuccia (Sid Rich ’09) said. “I hit about 75 miles and start to tank – even though I can physically do it.”

The ride was fully supported, meaning volunteers arranged rest stops along the route.

“We took pickle juice shots at one [rest stop], played banana phone at another, and were approached for photos by fans of Rice,” Mary Natoli, a bioengineering graduate student and RUCT president, said. Cyclists drink pickle juice for its high concentration of electrolytes.

After they finish the first part of the ride and electrolytes are no longer necessary, they turn to beer, according to Cuccia.

”At the finish line on day one, you ride straight through and they put a cold Saint Arnold beer in your hand,” Cuccia said. “Beer is never colder or tastes better than that precise moment.”

About a third of the way through the second day’s ride, a fierce storm hit.

“We hit a point where the temperature dropped instantly, like I’ve never felt before,” Cuccia said.

The wind pushed cyclists so hard at its peak that they had difficulty staying in the bike lane, and many were forced to get off their bikes and walk. Road bikes are designed to be aerodynamic, and the highest quality bikes have carbon fiber frames that weigh almost nothing. Heavy wind can be dangerous in addition to slowing riders down as it is easier to lose balance.

Ecology and evolutionary biology graduate student Shannon Carter hit the weather front while biking over an exposed dyke along the bay.

“Even standing was challenging in the wind,” she said. It started to rain, and the rain soon turned to hail. For shelter, she crouched behind a metal sign along with approximately 20 other cyclists.

“We were all icicles at [that] point and had to wait another hour until one of the [support and gear] vans were available to let us pile in,” Carter said. “It was pretty stressful and miserable, but in the end it was a fun bonding moment with the other cyclists and more memorable than another day of riding.”

Another Rice cyclist, Satya Rao, had to shelter in a porta potty.

“Thankfully it wasn’t stinky,” Rao, a bioengineering graduate student, said.

Natoli recalled talking to Rao during the storm.

“[Rao] was as cheerful as ever, and told us he was fine, but didn’t specify where he was,” Natoli said. “From his positive mood, we assumed he was somewhere comfortable. It wasn’t until later that we learned he had been sheltering in a porta potty the whole time, near other porta potties that had blown over from the wind.”

Natoli arranged Ubers for the team to return to Baytown once it was clear that the weather would prevent them from continuing.

“I’m really proud of the way the team handled the ride,” Natoli said. “About half the members of our team had never done a long-distance ride, and trained hard in order to finish the 100-mile ride on Day 1. When faced with crazy Gulf Coast weather and being cold and wet for hours on Day 2, everyone stayed safe and positive.”

This is the fourth year RUCT has been participating in BATB. RUCT is a mix of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff. Some have years of cycling experience; others are new to the scene. They train together by going on rides every week as well as running and swimming practices.

Cuccia appreciates the social aspect as well as the fitness benefit of being part of the team.

“The time you spend together as a team off the bike is just as important,” Cuccia said. “You make a lot of connections there – the usual team bonding. This kind of stuff is a high – you disconnect from whatever problems, issues or other work you have in your life.”

For Natoli, cycling gives her an opportunity to see the world in a different light.

“Cycling forces you to experience every contour of the road, take in every sight and smell along the way, and be fully present in the moment,” Natoli said. “There are so many things that you miss when you are driving.”

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