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I am happy to report that I conquered the coast, on bicycle, that is.

On Saturday morning, I joined more than 1,400 other eager riders at Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi for the ninth annual Conquer the Coast ride. Some were doing the 25-mile ride while others, like myself, were tackling the 65-mile route all the way around the bay and back to Whataburger Field.

One interesting thing I notice on these rides is that bicycling brings out all kinds of folks: the old and the young, the thin and the overweight, men and women, boys and girls.

We 65-milers were sent on our way at 7:45 a.m. and immediately faced our first obstacle - pedaling the 139-foot climb up Harbor Bridge. The right two lanes of traffic were blocked off for our use. Upon reaching the top, a spectacular sight awaited us: shrimp boats sailing into the sunrise. Several of us stopped to take pictures.

Coasting down the bridge, we were directed onto the service road and then on the causeway. At the first rest stop, in Portland, we were greeted by Gregory-Portland High School cheerleaders offering us water, Gatorade, fruit, cookies and smiles. After a short break, it was back on the service road where area law enforcement officers waved us through the intersections, much to the annoyment of morning motorists, no doubt.

While on the ride, I met up with some San Antonio riders wearing their matching Hill Country Touring Club jerseys. Many of them said they planned to end their ride at the ferry where friends would pick them up in vehicles. I unsuccessfully urged them to do the whole 65-mile route.

After taking breaks at rest stops in Ingleside and Aransas Pass manned by Texas A&M Corpus Christi athlete volunteers, I boarded a ferry for the short trip to Port Aransas and Mustang Island. At that point, I was about 27 miles into the ride.

Continuing south on Hwy. 361, I knew I had 18 miles to pedal before I could leave this island. After stopping at a rest stop at the halfway mark, I pedalled on for a mile or two when my rear tire went flat. Took the tire off and replaced it with a spare but then discovered the spare was also flat. Fortunately, a ride patrol vehicle arrived and the two guys in the pickup had a spare inner tube and bicycle pump. I put the spare on, assured them I was physically able to continue then I was back on the road.

Crossed the bridge onto Padre Island and then approached the JFK Causeway. Signs warned motorists that the right lane was closed but few paid any attention to that until they suddenly saw me in my bright yellow jersey, huffing and puffing up the bridge.

After passing through Flour Bluff and another causeway, a pickup driven by an attractive young woman pulled up beside me. She smiled at me and asked me a question (this is probably the only occasion where this would happen to me). She was part of the ride patrol and asked if I was OK. I assured her I was but then realized that I was probably the last bicyclist in this ride. I met up with her again a few miles later at the final rest stop at the Stripes convenience store on Ocean Drive. She followed me for a few miles on Ocean Drive then left to get gas. Another ride patrol volunteer drove up next to me, informing me the course was closed and that I was on my own. It was only about five miles to the finish line and I knew I could make it.

Finally reached downtown and then onto Whataburger Field where I pedaled a lap around the baseball diamond to the applause of the few volunteers who were taking down tents and packing up to go home.

The volunteers presented me with a 65-mile medallion and a cold Dos Equis beer. I enjoyed the cold beer more than the medallion.

Although I was the final rider and it took me eight hours to complete the course, I felt like a winner because I could still ride 65 miles.

Next ride is the Missions Tour de Goliad in Goliad on Saturday, Oct. 20. They have routes of 10, 30, 50 and 85 miles. I think I'll take it easy and do the 30-mile ride. Anybody wanna come with?

Eric