The Spirit of the Century

My grandmother lived more than a century.  Last weekend, I lived a century, though of a quite different sort!

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Every year, thousands of cyclists participate in “century” rides.  These can be “metric” centuries or  so-called “English” centuries.  The former are rides of 100 KM, roughly 65 miles.  The latter, rides of 100 miles.

A month or so ago, I reported on my metric century.  This past weekend I did an English century (the Tour de Cure, raising funds for research into diabetes).  It was my longest ride of the past seven or eight years, and by far one of the hardest I’ve ever done.

We started out of Durham, Connecticut, and rode a figure-8 pattern around the area, enjoying such beautiful descents as Parmelee Hill Road, and the path down into Deep River.  Alas, little did we realize that we would be riding the same roads going the other direction!  Well, I kind of figured that Deep River would require it (the name has a reason; rivers tend to run in the lowest parts of a terrain, which means—yep—higher parts all around).  And what goes down at 41 MPH will go back up at 8-10 MPH.

It had rained heavily the week before, but Sunday was, fortunately, a very beautiful day.  It started with some mist (the ride kicked off at around 6:30 AM) so I was glad to have my lights—as well as later, when we passed through some very well-shaded forest roads.

My fenders were helpful, as in many places, due to the rain, there was standing or even flowing water across the road.  Wide (28mm) tires made the ride comfortable.  I was glad to have a large handlebar bag—there’s something about being able to reach in and grab an apple for a snack at 27 MPH—and I was especially pleased to have replaced my brake pads with salmon Kool-Stop units.  All of this equipment tends to make the bike a little heavy, but I was far happier to have it than to have a machine ten pounds lighter!

There was lots of lovely scenery, most of which I didn’t photograph, save for the beautiful stones along one side of a narrow road that ran along a reservoir:

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The light dappling the stones and greenery was a special bonus—it felt incredibly peaceful (this was only about 27 miles into the ride, near Tri-Mountain Road).  There were also the occasional interesting signs.  I especially liked this one:

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Honestly, I don’t think it’s the skunks that are miserable.

But a century is about more than the scenery—it’s kind of about being bloody-minded.  Which is to say that about 60 miles in—which means, in a metric, you only have about five left to do—you hit a wall.  On an English century, like the Tour, this is the point at which a lot of people abandon.  Almost fifteen years ago, when I rode my first, I hit 60 and just shut down.  I was fully prepared for the broom wagon to come and take me away.  Fortuitously, I found a salty, fatty hot dog was what it took to revive me that day.

I know of at least two riders who dropped out at this point on Sunday, and it very easily could have been me.  There were no places in sight to get a hot dog!

I hit 60, and I just wanted to rest.  But I knew that if I did, I would never get back on the bike.  I note that for people who are really fit, and who treat a century like a race, finishing in 4-6 hours, this may not be an issue.  But for people like me, who consider a ten-hour century not unreasonable, when you hit sixty miles, and you’ve slowed down from your starting pace to around 10 or 12 MPH, and there’s a big hill staring at you, you really face two choices.

1.  You can stop and rest.  If you do this, the bike looks less and less attractive, like a punisher.  You will bail, I can almost guarantee it.

2.  You can just keep going.  It’s frustrating, because cyclists on shorter routes, or those out for a fun afternoon of a few miles, will be passing you like bullet past a sloth. 

But if you choose option two, you will finish the ride.  You have to remember to eat and drink, because just because you’re moving slowly it doesn’t mean you’re not using a lot of energy.  You have to remember to shift, and to take advantage of the down hill sections you find, tucking in and winding up for the next climb. You have to stay alert.

You also have to swear.  When I saw the last climb before the finish—the climb up to Rose Hill Road—I said two words, the first of which began with “F” and the second of which was “you.”  It was at this point that my custom cassette came in handy.

When I stumbled to the finish line, I had 8.5 hours actually in the saddle, and I was so exhausted and depleted that I couldn’t take a decent bike photo to save my life (that is the well-known Y2K Bug in the background):

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Everyone had pretty much gone home, and I was the next-to-last to cross the finish line, but I had done it.  Am I going to do it again?

HELL NO!

Well, maybe.  I have some metric centuries coming up, and I may do another English this summer, so perhaps…

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