Century Day – Preparation and Strategy

Get the most from your upcoming cycling event.

I recently had a careful look at my cycling clothes. It’s been a while since I replaced any of my bike shorts, and as it happens, I needed replace a couple of them. I ordered replacements. I’ve been collecting these items for years, and it got me thinking about all the things that I take for granted as I prepare for events, because what you wear is a part of the process. That process starts with training, but it also includes what to do just before you go and how to manage your ride once you get started.

With friends at a rest stop on a local century ride. I’ve ridden a lot of them, and I’ve learned a lot about preparation over the years.

I’ve ridden events held from May to October, but for me, the best time for event rides is in the autumn, and this year I’m riding centuries in both September and October. These are warm months where I live, but not usually hot. Ideal conditions for a long bike ride. 2020 locked riders out of events, and a lot of people have been looking for events to return to in 2021. Some haven’t ridden a century before and want to test themselves. Some riders may be enjoying their “pandemic bike” and want to see what an event is like. There are a lot of things to think about apart from training. Preparation and strategy can make your event a success. Lack of them can cost you. Here are a few tips that may be the difference between a great event and a difficult one.

The first thing to prepare for is the expected weather. What you wear can make or break your ride. The key is to bring the right clothing to keep you comfortable. The events I’m riding this year come in places where the daytime high during the event will be in the upper 60’s to upper 70’s, though early in the morning, when these centuries start, the temperature can be in the 50’s. That can create some problems. Know what weather to expect.

  • Dress for mile 5, not for mile 0. I have seen people who wore a warm jacket at the start of a century, only to find it too hot once they warmed up. Then they found themselves carrying it with them for over 90 miles. That initial comfort was offset by the need to carry the jacket. Be prudent about what you take with you.
  • Arm and leg warmers are great accessories, and they pack small for your pockets. They’re great for that extra bit of comfort as you set out. If you can get away with taking less, you’ll be more comfortable in the long run if the weather will warm up during the ride. Centuries take hours, so take the temperature changes into account.
  • Century day is no time to break in new clothing. You should know what your shorts and jersey and shoes are like before you set out on a century ride. It’s a good idea to break them in beforehand so you know you won’t be uncomfortable or chafe.
  • Speaking of chafing, chamois cream is a good idea. 100 miles is a long painful distance if your shorts are chafing you!
  • Think about post-ride. Can you change out of your cycling clothes? Bring a bag to put your cycling gear in. I like to use 2.5 gallon size plastic storage bags to put my cycling laundry in when the ride is done.

Another thing to think about is your bike. Before the event, here are a few things to consider. Remember that you may have to get your bike into the shop a few weeks before the event.

  • Make sure your bike is tuned up. It should shift smoothly and run quietly without squeaking or rubbing anywhere. Nothing can ruin a ride quite like a bike that needs maintenance.
  • Wheels should be trued. Wheels that aren’t true can cause brake rubbing and wear your tires quickly.
  • Lubricate your chain. It seems obvious, but a clean and well lubricated chain is easier on your gears.
  • Check your tires. Replace them if they’re worn out. Nothing will interrupt a good ride like a flat tire. Anything you can do to prevent one will pay off on event day.
  • Charge all your electronics. Computers, lights and if you have electronic shifting, charge that.

Some preparation for your ride begins the week before ride day. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Last minute training will only wear you down. Ride easy the week before your event and come in fresh. Your training should be complete a week before the event. Harder rides just before the event won’t help you. Rest will.
  • Most people aren’t fully hydrated day to day. The week before your event, drink an extra glass or two of water per day. Also, be careful with alcohol. I’m not saying abstain, but be careful to moderate! Going in well hydrated means you’ll get a good start. Those two extra glasses of water every day can help, particularly if your event is on a hot day.
  • Try and get good sleep. This makes sense, but often the best night to get good sleep is the night prior to the night before your event. Sometimes you can be too excited or worried the night before to sleep well, and good sleep leading up to your event can mitigate that somewhat.
  • Make a complete list of things to take, and check them all off before you leave! Even things you may think are trivial. Forgetting an item you need can be a nightmare on event day. It may seem paranoid, but better safe than sorry. Worry is best handled well in advance.

Finally, what can you do on Event day to make your ride a success?

  • Go in with a plan. Think about packet (number) pickup, where you’ll park, when you’ll start, and have an idea of when you’ll finish. Know where your keys, phone and ID are.
  • Remember to ride at the pace you’re trained for. Too many riders get excited and draft faster riders on event day. That means you’re burning too much energy. You don’t want to burn out in the second half of your event. If you want to stay out of the wind a little, find riders who are riding at your training pace and ride with them.
  • If you can, use the buddy system! Riding with a friend is social. It helps to share the experience. You’ll have a partner to draft with, and the company can come in handy in many ways. Riding partners motivate each other.
  • Eat when you can. Over 100 miles, you’ll need extra calories to get you through. If you have rest stops that offer food, take advantage. Don’t gorge, just eat when food is available. Take an energy gel or two with you in your pockets. Take one if you’re feeling drained. I have a friend who describes gels as “instant will to go on”. It’s good to have one for yourself or a friend in need.
  • As a guideline, you should drink one bottle of water or electrolytes per hour. I like to take a drink every time I see someone else drink. Remind yourself often. I like to keep electrolytes in the bottle on my down tube and water in the bottle on the seat tube. If you’re hot, the bottle of water can also be used to spray your head and neck to cool down on a hot day. Many events use powdered drink mix to create their electrolyte drinks. That commonly means they’re mixed “strong”. Often I find them too sweet, so I fill the electrolyte bottle half full and then dilute it by filling up the rest of the bottle with water. You can’t get the benefit if you’re not willing to drink! Drink smart on event day.
  • A typical century will have 4 rest stops. They may vary in the distance between them, but when you’re out on the course, it can help to think of a century as 5 separate 20 mile rides strung together. Breaking the ride into segments helps make a very long ride manageable.

After many years and a lot of experience with riding centuries and other events, I’ve come to see the points above as second nature. Still, you have to start somewhere, and even if you’re experienced, you can still learn more. I know that I’m still learning myself. I hope that reading this will prove useful for your next cycling challenge.

A Fitness and Confidence Test

Am I making progress toward the fitness I need to ride centuries again?

Tony, Ron and I halfway through the Delaware Double Cross. It was an eventful ride but I needed it!

Over the past 16 years I’ve ridden most of the cycling events that are held within driving distance of the Washington DC area. After Covid 19 struck in early 2020 all of them were cancelled for that year. There are relatively few events that have returned for 2021. However, there are two centuries that I am signed up to ride this year. The problem is that my training has changed. In past years, I would train indoors over the winter, and start riding with friends in the early spring. I would even ride a century in May. It was difficult, but group rides were plentiful, and base miles were easy to maintain. Once I had an event or two done, I never questioned my fitness. Covid has interrupted my training cycle and taken away the group rides and events I have always used to measure my progress.

My longest ride of 2020 was 42 miles. I was in a training funk after all the events I’d wanted to ride were cancelled. I rode a lot last year, but they were many short rides. 2021 is different. I’ve started riding longer distances, mostly alone. I’ve gone over 45 miles a few times, and I’m riding over 100 miles a week. I think I have enough base miles to do what I want. What I need is to regain confidence in my training. I remember being worried before my first century. I was ready, but not sure what was ahead of me. Now, after 2020, I feel that way again. Before taking on my first century of 2021 in September, I want to regain the kind of confidence in my training that I had in 2019. What I needed was an event to test myself on. I found one that was ideal for me.

The Delaware Double Cross is a little longer than the metric century distance at 67 miles, and as the name suggests, it crosses the width of the state of Delaware twice. It also crosses into Maryland for many miles. I’ve ridden it many times. The White Clay Bicycle Club from Delaware holds it, and they do a very good job of running an event. It would be the perfect test of my training. I admit I was worried. This event would be my longest ride of the year. How would I feel?

I rode with two good friends, Ron and Tony. We started at 7:30 in the morning on a grey day from the high school in Smyrna, Delaware. After getting warmed up in the first 5 miles, I went to the front and started setting the pace. 18 miles into the ride we stopped at the fire station in Leipsic, DE. I had pulled at the front for that entire time, at a good pace. As we had a snack and refilled water bottles, we talked about taking it easier. My doubts were getting quieter.

About 20-25 miles in, it started to rain. Most cyclists aren’t fond of rain. I’m philosophical about it. If rain is possible, I seal my ID and my phone in plastic bags just to be ready for the worst. If it rains, I get wet. I won’t melt. I don’t like to start a ride when it’s raining though. That’s just inviting misery. However, the three of us soldiered on, and by the time we got back to the school at the halfway point, the rain had stopped and the sun came out. We dried off a little, got some snacks and water, and headed west for the second half of the ride.

Ron’s knee brace had slipped, and he was feeling his injuries. We slowed a little, but we were still moving well, and I started to feel hopeful. This was the way that events were supposed to feel. I had energy to go faster if I wanted to. When we reached the 50 mile mark and the rest stop at the Fire Station in Millington, Maryland my doubts were draining away. A big thunderstorm cell was passing to the east, and as we looked out at it, we thought it might stay ahead of us and with a little luck we could get back safe and dry. We were wrong. 55 miles in, the skies opened up. It was a mighty downpour, and we were soaked to the skin. It started to ease up after we had gone a few more miles. It stopped before we got to the finish, and the roads were starting to dry up before we got back to the school. We still felt good, and we were happy that it wasn’t raining while we were trying to get our bikes on the cars.

Celebrating our wet and wild Double Cross at the Crab Deck afterward.

After changing out of wet cycling clothes and having a beer to celebrate our ride, I had no more doubts. We had a late lunch at the Crab Deck on Kent Island, and despite the rain we all agreed that it was a good time. I may be aging and I may have lost my events in 2020, but I’m back. I felt good, and I could have gone faster than I did. When I got home I checked over, cleaned and lubricated my bike, because riding in the rain demands maintenance, and I need to keep it running smoothly. I have a lot to look forward to. If I keep up my rides, I’m going to be ready for centuries in September.

Birthdays, adapting to change, and finding small joys

Facing the challenges of an uncertain future.

The second half of 2021 looks hopeful. I’ve been riding regularly, but I have not returned to the kind of riding I’ve done in past years. 2020 was an awful year, and it’s had an affect on my cycling. I’m finding that the few events I can participate in this year are becoming a lifeline of sorts. My personal landscape in cycling has changed from what it’s been for the last decade or so. I’m used to riding with a team of friends whom I could count on, and I have fond memories of those years. Over the last year, much has changed. My friends are retiring, and some are not riding the same events that we once got excited about. What has been a kind of comfortable certainty for over a decade has changed, seemingly forever.

From the Patuxent Rural Legacy ride in 2016. As I turn 60, I often think of how cycling has created so many of the small joys that I live for.

My life is a series of challenges. As I take them on, I look for small joys that can be had along the way. I collect small joys. I don ‘t think happiness is a goal, or something big that you earn all at once to enjoy as you see fit. Happiness is a series of small joys that come along with the trials of life. A life well lived will have many small joys to sustain it. They must be enjoyed as you encounter them, and saved as fond memories to see you through times of change and challenge. This month I turn 60 years old. It seems like a daunting number, but I still feel strong and healthy. I realize that I have been road cycling seriously for the past 16 years. When I started in 2005, I was dealing with a lot of life changes and I needed something to keep me going. When I decided to pursue cycling, I started a life changing habit. As long as I keep riding, I have access to those small joys. As I plan for events in the fall, I’ve come to see that I’ll have to accept more changes and ride for myself. I think that what I’ll gain is new perspective, and many more small joys to add to my life.

Despite the need for change, I can’t help but get excited about the rides I’ve signed up for this fall. Perhaps I will get some inspiration and find new ways to enjoy these familiar events. I recently signed up for the Seagull Century. I have a low rider number – which for veterans of this event is a symbol. Before online registration those who had ridden the year before were mailed registration forms before they became available to new riders. Therefore a low number meant you were a veteran. Though this no longer holds true, something about riding with a low number at Seagull makes you feel like a veteran. In my case I am a veteran. At one time I had friends who would register as soon as possible, then email their numbers around to compare them with each other’s. It was a small joy. I don’t have that pleasure any more, but I still feel the thrill when registration opens and I commit to a ride that I’ve completed every time it’s been held since I rode it as my very first century ride in 2006. It has a lot of personal tradition attached to it.

I’m riding only a few events in 2021. Many of the events I’ve enjoyed in the past aren’t being held this year because their planning was interrupted due to the lingering uncertainties of Covid-19. From last to first, they are the Seagull, the Maine Lighthouse ride, which is perhaps the most beautiful ride I’ve ever done, the Covered Bridges Classic, which is a hot ride held in Lancaster PA in August, and the Delaware Double Cross, which is held in late June, and it will make a nice step in training for the longer rides. I’ll be with a co-worker at Covered Bridges, and with an old friend for Double Cross, but otherwise I can’t say who I might ride with. In many ways, that is exciting.

Now that I have my schedule, it’s time to stretch out my training. Now that Covid restrictions are being eased, I can start looking for club rides and getting fit for the challenges I’ve signed up for. I’ll have to approach things in a new way, but change is one of the only constants in life, and I’m ready for it. 60 years of age doesn’t bother me much, not when I consider the health and activity levels of the average man my age. I will continue to chase small joys on my bicycle, and I’m certain that I’ll have no trouble catching them!

Coming out of Hibernation

I’m transitioning to Spring Riding and a more promising 2021.

The Trainer: a torture device used to keep your legs moving during the winter months.

Like many people, I found the year 2020 to be difficult. Most people don’t cope well with change, and I’m no exception. I had some bright spots during that time, and I did my civic duty of working from home and obeying the Covid rules, but now that we have reached the one year anniversary of “Let’s shut down the economy for two weeks to flatten the curve” of Covid-19 infections, I’m starting to see signs that an end may be in sight. It couldn’t have come too soon.

I’m beginning to see buds on the trees outside my window. Vaccine distribution seems to be moving along, and 2021 is just beginning to look like a year worth looking forward to. I like to look at the bright side and hope for good things. As Spring approaches and the last days of winter begin to lose their bite, I have begun to come out of hibernation.

I have spent many weeks spinning in place on my trainer. Trainers are something I see as a kind of beneficial torture device. Last weekend, I got outside for a ride with friends. While those nightly trainer sessions left me with good leg strength, I found that my lungs have to catch up. I’ll need to suffer through a few more outdoor rides before my breathing isn’t so ragged and my lungs feel strong and clear. The good news is that it feels like that every Spring. It often takes longer to train the lungs than to train the legs. I’ll be fine. Daylight savings time has opened up the opportunity to ride outside after work. I’m very happy about that!

I am starting to get information from my cycling club, (Potomac Pedalers in the Washington DC area) about rides, and I’ve gotten emails with sign up information from event rides I’ve enjoyed in the past. Hope may arrive with the Spring. I’m feeling excited about riding in a way that I couldn’t in 2020. Things won’t be exactly the same as they were before Covid. I think I can live with the changes though. The next 6 weeks before my first event of 2021 will be marked with joy. A very long hibernation is nearing it’s end.

Getting Started in Cycling

You have a bike – this will help you form good habits to make the most of it.

Bicycle sales in 2020 were so strong that manufacturers couldn’t keep up with demand. Most of those bikes were intended to be ridden for fitness during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. The bikes selling the best were inexpensive models designed to get you riding comfortably. The shops were sold out. As I write this, 2020 is nearing an end. It looks like there may be a Covid vaccine ready by spring. Now it’s time to take that new bike you bought in 2020 and make the resolution to ride it in 2021. How do you start? Everybody knows that there is nothing more crowded than a gym in January, when the resolutions are fresh in people’s minds and their resolve to do something is still strong. You have the bike. You have the motivation. What you need now is a plan, and you need to start forming good riding habits. Here are a few tips to help you get the most from that new bike and keep your resolutions.

Before you get on the bike, stretch your legs. Learn a few simple stretches to loosen up a little. This is a habit that I have to develop. I may be one of the least flexible people on the planet – at least it feels that way. It always feels good when I stretch though. A little stretching warms up the muscles and helps prevent injuries. You don’t have to do more than you’re comfortable with. Just a few simple stretches will help. When you stretch, don’t bounce your muscles. Slow, sustained stretches are best. You’re not looking for a pain point, just enough to feel the muscle stretching. The more you do it, the more flexible you’ll become, so don’t worry if you’re not flexible now. Just do what you can. Hold each stretch for a minute and balance your stretches for both legs. You can find useful stretches for all of your leg muscle groups and advice for stretching safely online. Stretching is an excellent habit to get into before you ride your new bike.

How much time do you have to ride? Most of us have busy lives and riding seems like a big commitment. Don’t make it one. When you get started, don’t think about how far you’re going or how fast. Just use the time you have. In the summer, you might have an hour after dinner before sunset. Use that hour. Ride for 50 minutes, 25 out and 25 back. If you need to stop and rest, stop and rest. Build a little rest into your riding time. If you don’t need it, fine. If you do, take a break. If you have half an hour to ride, ride out for 12 minutes, then turn around and come back. Ride finished. Ride whenever you get the chance. As you get started, consistency is more important than how far you go or how fast. Those things may become important to you later, but until you’re in the habit of riding, they don’t mean much. It’s nice to have a computer so you can know how far or fast you’re riding, but they’re taskmasters. They focus you on speed and distance, when the most important thing to start with is just to keep moving. Most people start by fitting rides into their lives. After you get used to them, you’ll be able to schedule more time for them. When you get started, turning the cranks is the important thing, If you push yourself too much, it might start feeling too much like work.

Keep pedaling. Don’t coast too much. Part of riding is knowing how to apply pedal power efficiently. Learn your gears and when to change from the big chainring to the small chainring, what gear to be in for riding along on a flat road and what gear is better for climbing. If you’re starting with clipless pedals, practice using them and expect to fall at least once. Everyone does! If you’re using flat pedals, upgrade when you feel comfortable on your bike. Clipless pedals are efficient, and if you enjoy your cycling they make a great first upgrade. In the meantime, get used to pedaling consistently.

Use the buddy system. Do you have a spouse or friend or neighbor who has a bike? Invite them to ride with you. Make your ride social. If someone else is riding with you, you’re less likely to skip a ride. There is also safety in numbers. Riding alone is great, but for most of us, a riding buddy is incentive to ride more so you can get the most out of your bicycle. If you don’t have one, look for a local cycling club. Most clubs welcome beginners and they’re a great source of information you’ll want.

Look up. Be aware of your surroundings. This is important for safety on the roads and trails you’re riding. Situational awareness is the key to being safe. It also helps you to look at the world you’re moving through. You’re out in the fresh air, why not take the opportunity to enjoy the scenery? Explore new areas by bicycle. Don’t go the same route day after day. Look for new places to see, even if they’re close to home. Mind and body work together. Keep them both engaged and you’ll get more from your rides.

Learn basic maintenance. Know how to fix a flat tire and make simple adjustments. Your local bike shop can help you there. Learn how often to lubricate your bike’s chain and get your bike serviced every year. A dependable bicycle is a terrific companion and you’ll enjoy your adventures more when your bike is in tune.

Treat yourself. On Saturday morning, ride to the coffee shop. Sit down to a coffee and a croissant. Then ride home. Bring your riding buddy. Take the long route to get there when you have the time. Cafe stops are great motivation. Make your rides part of something else you look forward to. Eventually the rides themselves may be the important things, but even then, the Cafe stop is part of the experience. It doesn’t matter how far you’ve gone. That can be adjusted. If you treat yourself, the bike isn’t just a workout, it becomes part of the experience.

Set a goal. If you have something to look forward to, you will get more from your bicycle. I ride a lot of local cycling events. While you might see them as too much for you, many events have courses that are less than 30 miles long. I have seen some events with family style rides as short as 5 or 10 miles. Sign up for one. Search for Century Rides near you. Most local cycling clubs hold events. The important thing to remember about cycling events is that they’re not races unless they specifically SAY they are. Lots of people who ride events look like racers, but it’s surprising how many people at events don’t look like racers or even athletes. You don’t need special equipment. Ride the bike you have. Racing bikes aren’t required. Bring your riding buddy to share the experience. If you don’t like bike shorts, wear whatever you want to wear. The way you look doesn’t matter. Ride the way you train. How fast you go doesn’t matter. Pin on a number. Go out and push your limits a little bit. Get a T-shirt to commemorate your ride. If you like it, go back the next year with new goals. Goals motivate you. Once you get experience, you can do more and know what kinds of changes you want to make.

All these things will help you get out on the roads to use that “pandemic bike”. Maybe you’ll be inspired to do more with cycling. The important thing to remember is that your bike can be so much more than a garage ornament. It has the capability of changing you. Take small steps at the beginning. That bike can take you farther than you ever imagined.

Looking Back, and Planning Ahead.

It’s mid-October and at this time of year I usually look back on my year and think about all the events that I’ve ridden. Not this year. I have ridden fewer miles than usual this year. All of the events I might have ridden if the pandemic had not cancelled them have past, and I’ve come to accept 2020 without events. Without something to train for, I changed my habits. While I enjoyed my rides, they felt different. I spent more time riding alone. I rode fewer miles, but my rides were more intense. I will need to adapt again. I have used Century events to plan out my year for well over a decade. This year was no gradual change – it was a shock. What do I do now? I thought I’d look back on my cycling history, and set some goals for 2021.

A rest stop at the Patuxent Rural Legacy Ride. Not a century, but a ride I love and don’t want to miss.

I’ll start with a little personal history. I began road cycling with my local club in 2005, after returning to Maryland from the Seattle area. I have ridden over 100 Century events since my first in 2006. For years I rode 10-12 centuries per year, most of them within a day’s drive of the Washington DC area. Rides like the Seagull Century, Indian Head 100, Backroads Century, Maine Lighthouse Ride, Bay to Bay, 6 Pillars Century and more have been part of my riding plans for years. I’ve written about all of them here in the past.

I have ridden over 11,000 miles in Century events alone. That doesn’t even consider other events that were less than 100 miles that I’ve ridden. I’ve spent a lot of money on entry fees, and a slice of that has gone to charities. Events have been good for my health. They have been good for my social life, and they have even done some good for others. I’m proud of that. I estimate that I have ridden over 36,000 miles since I took up road cycling in 2005. That’s 15 years of commitment to something that I look on as a hobby, which became a lifestyle and a passion. Cycling events have become part of my identity.

As a century rider I’m not unique. The fastest I’ve ever ridden 100 miles was just under 5 hours, averaging just over 20 miles per hour. I’ve only done that once, and while it felt good, I don’t think I will ride another 5 hour century. While I like to ride fast, I’m not a fast rider. I may be a strong rider, but I’m nothing special. Given my conditioning over the past 15 years, I’d say I’m a good rider for my age and size, but I’ll never be a racer. I climb well for a big man, and I enjoy rolling rides and climbs. I’ve ridden events from tabletop flat to mountainous. The average speed of my first century was 15.6 mph at the Seagull Century in 2006, a flat course. Last year I rode the Seagull averaging 17.4 mph – 13 years after the first one. The fastest I’ve ridden the Seagull was an 18.6 mph average speed. I was riding my fastest about 8-10 years ago. The speeds I’ve ridden have varied, but not wildly. I had to look up the speeds from my old training journals. As I get older, I expect my speed to go down. It’s a fact of life. I can’t compete with past efforts.

Whether you finish a century ride in 5 hours or 9 hours, you get the same prize – the satisfaction of having completed your ride. Centuries are challenges, not races. Another challenge I’ve done is riding two centuries back to back in a single weekend, Saturday and Sunday. I’ve done that 4 times. It will definitely make you feel run down the following Monday! I don’t need to do that again. Like the 5 hour century, It’s enough that I’ve done it at all. 2020 saw my club cancel group rides, and that was a problem for my motivation too. Club rides are excellent training and preparation. Assuming that club rides come back, 2021 may provide new friends and new groups to ride with. I’m definitely going back to club rides.

I’ve met a lot of people through cycling. Some are very close friends. Some have come and gone, some still hover at the edges of my cycling experiences, some will join me occasionally, and a few I won’t see again, and that makes me sad, but I’m proud to have known them. I’ve lost acquaintances and friends and drinking buddies whom I’ve ridden with over the years. That is the sad part of doing a group activity. The groups change. When a riding group stays constant, as mine had for several years, it becomes so familiar that you become a team. Unfortunately for me, the group I once enjoyed is breaking up and going in different directions. Nothing is forever.

Years ago I had a big team to ride with. That has changed. This picture was taken at the start of the Seagull Century in 2014.

As I look to 2021, I see that over the years I have built rituals around some Century rides that make riding them memorable. Some can be reduced in distance to a metric century, or 62 miles. The difference in the distance is significant, but a metric is enjoyable in a different way. It makes fewer demands of you, and lets you enjoy the scenery more. Yet it still feels good to complete one. Looking back makes me realize that I have nothing more to prove. Over the last 15 years I’ve done so much cycling that I’ve exceeded any expectations I might have started with.

My reason for riding all these events has changed over time. At first I just wanted to ride a century. Then I wanted to experience new century rides. Everything changed when a friend challenged me to ride 10 in a year with him. 10-12 a year became normal for 7 years. I scaled that back somewhat in 2017, but not much. I need to change my goals again. I’ll still ride my favorite events, but I will support other riders or maybe try new events, perhaps some multi-day tours. I’ll plan to ride 2 to 4 centuries per year. That’s still a lot. I may ride a metric century option at other familiar events. If a friend wants to ride one that I haven’t planned for, I can still join in. I’ll stay in shape, but I won’t do it in quite the same way. What I want to get from century rides now are small joys. These joys are found in the people, the scenery, the fatigue, the post ride celebration, the satisfaction of finishing and good memories. I will still use century rides as goals, but backing away from the frequency will keep things fresh and hopefully give me a new perspective. I’ll still make cycling a journey of the spirit though. Given all the time I’ve spent cycling, and my health, there’s no reason to stop, but less may be more in 2021.

Cycling the Tunnel of Trees

I’ve been feeling acute cabin fever after working from home for months, and I miss my usual outlets. I didn’t know how much it was all getting me down until I got away for a week. Nothing will pull you out of a funk like some vacation time. This year I decided to accept an invitation to visit my now retired friend Ron in Mackinaw City Michigan. It was my first trip to the Great Lakes, and I was keen about getting out and seeing some of the things that had been described to me over the years. One of the most intriguing things that I have heard about was a road known as the Tunnel of Trees.

In Cross Village at the North End of the Tunnel of Trees, just before setting out on the ride..

The Tunnel of Trees refers to Michigan route M-119 between the towns of Harbor Springs in the south and Cross Village in the north. The ride itself is short, about 20 miles long in either direction, but very scenic. As the name says, it is shaded by trees and it runs along the top of a bluff with Lake Michigan to the west. It’s a single lane road, not divided by a center line, with only fog lines at the sides. Cars can pass each other in opposite directions with care, though without a center line traffic tends to keep to the middle and riders should exercise caution and ride in line rather than side by side. The reason that I’d heard about the Tunnel of Trees was that it has been a part of the local event rides, and at least 3 of my friends had ridden it. It was one of the things that I wanted on this vacation – to finally ride it. In fact, two days before we rode the tunnel, we had the chance to drive it, and we had a scenic drive and stroll through Harbor Springs in addition to driving the tunnel. While the tunnel seemed better by bicycle, knowing what was there helped my mental preparation a great deal.

The ride isn’t flat by any means. There is only one steep climb from the North. From the south that same climb has a warning to trucks at the top about a 7% grade, but riding north to south it’s a long climb that feels just a bit steeper than that. In general, the road isn’t flat but has only a couple of climbs that could be called notable and they’re on the south end toward Harbor Springs. The rest was gently rolling. As I’ve often said, that’s why your road bike has a small chainring! The road runs mostly downhill when ridden from south to north, the way the local events take it. I rode it in both directions, starting at the north end from Cross Village. The interesting thing to note is that as many times as Ron has ridden the tunnel of trees, he had not ridden it in the North to South direction before.

Late September in Northern Michigan is a beautiful season for cycling. We rode the tunnel on a Wednesday in late morning and early afternoon, and while it was hazy, it was bright enough to show the building fall colors. The temperature rose from the high 60’s into the low 70’s while we rode. Perfect conditions. When Lake Michigan came into sight the haze prevented a long view, but the lake was visible and the sight of it was part of the ride’s charm. We set out at a steady pace, riding strong and enjoying the views all around us. Seven miles from Cross Village we arrived at the general store in Good Hart. It’s a great stopping place, particularly when riding north, and it’s a great place to get water or a bite to eat. (Note – the very tame family dogs at the general store are part of the charm.) After another 4 or 5 miles we reached the climb of the day and I got into a steady climbing rhythm, finding the top of the climb bathed in sunshine. The tunnel winds along the bluff, and despite the occasional inconvenient driver, all the little curves and very short climbs and descents were accents to the character of that beautiful tree-lined road in autumn, with occasional views of the lake as a bonus. Unlike Cross Village, which is a very small community on the North End of the Tunnel, Harbor Springs is a bigger town with enormous old houses and a large Marina for weekend boaters. It is worth exploring. We turned around just before riding down into town though, and headed back north. At this point, I learned why events ride the tunnel from south to north – while just as scenic, the northward direction is more downhill, and despite enjoying the big climb on the way out, I found the return to be a little faster and easier to ride. We took a quick break at the General Store in Good Hart and had a smooth ride back to the finish. It was an outstanding ride, and I was very pleased to finally experience riding the Tunnel of Trees.

After getting back to the car in Cross Village, we gave a push start to a gentleman who was driving an old Austin Healy Sprite – while we were wearing bike shoes! People driving convertibles and other sports cars or motorcycles down the tunnel is a common sight though, and helping him out was the right thing to do. We can all do with a little good karma! Riding the Tunnel of Trees made up in some small way for the cycling times and special events that I’ve missed out on this year. Given another chance, I will certainly enjoy it again.

Outside a bicycle shop in Harbor Springs. No, that isn’t the type of bike to use when riding the Tunnel of Trees!

Motivation: Push vs. Pull

Motivation is a tricky business. Getting yourself started when there are other priorities or when doing those things isn’t an attractive or easy notion can be the hardest part of getting something done. What has helped me when I wanted to motivate myself are the concepts of “Pull” and “Push”. The concepts transfer well to many situations and define a style of leadership as well as a personal motivational tool. Push is a command. Pull is an incentive. Between the two, I prefer “pull”.  There is nothing you can do that doesn’t include a little bit of both, but the style of pull is a style with positive connotations. The more you use “pull” the less demanding you are.

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A reward for reaching your goal is both a good feeling and incentive to keep going!

In many ways, Push is easier. We are all self contained individuals and since we are all at the center of our own awareness and direct our own actions, it can be very easy to make demands of ourselves and others. That isn’t to say it’s always wrong to push. There are times when it is the only option. The mistake that so many people make is that they leap to it as their FIRST option.  Given any kind of authority, a measure of push is implied, but the drawback of push is that eventually there is resistance to push that can overwhelm you. In short, the more push you use, the more push you need to use.

Pull is a far more interesting concept. Pull is an incentive to act – a reward that feeds back on the person who is “pulled”.  This is a positive experience. It takes more planning, more trust in yourself and others, and more commitment to the goal when you use a “pull” style.  It doesn’t always work, but it does make achieving a goal different by emphasizing the reward. For pull to work, the reward has to be realistic. A goal that moves is not achievable, no matter what the incentives are.

Part of pull is creating good habits. Those include good management of time and a good attention to detail. If you have a good plan and follow it, the goal can pull you along. If you fail to keep to your plan, often the only way to get back on track is to push. Flexibility in planning and reaching a goal is important. The better the plan, the less push is required to reach your goal.

Commitment is important. Pull isn’t possible without it. Keep the goal in focus. Constant pushing can lead to avoidance, which is self defeating. If you’re constantly nagging yourself to do something, that task will take on a very negative connotation, and nobody likes to be pushed constantly or can consistently push themselves. There are times when you have to build a rest or a change into your plans. That is part of pull.

Push and pull are evident in how we interact with other people.  Everyone has a personal style that they’ve learned over their lifetime.  Part of that is the language and tone you choose when you talk to others. Good leaders pull. They share positives. They welcome input and ideas. That’s pull. Bad leaders push. They are not open to new ideas, and they lean on procedures. It’s said that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses.   I think much of that has to do with the overuse of push!

Sometimes you need to push, but in my opinion, the best way to move yourself forward is to employ incentives and goals and pull yourself along.  Often the good feelings you generate by achieving goals will feed back and make continuing that good behavior easier!

Slaying Dragons

Great narratives require obstacles and challenges.  We are all the heroes of our personal stories, and our lives are journeys that present us with problems and choices. I find myself thinking about choices, and the metaphor that occurs to me when I think of obstacles or goals is the dragon. As a metaphor, the dragon we picture from legend and story is  a powerful and dangerous thing. Dragons represent all kinds of things that have to be overcome as a part of the larger story that each of us are living through. Dragons are fearsome creatures. They embody raw power, and they inspire great fear. As the hero of your personal narrative, you have to overcome dragons to advance your story. When thinking about problems and goals, there are parallels to be drawn with these legendary monsters and real life problems. Metaphorical dragons can be found all around you. Choosing to confront a dragon is how a hero grows. Some dragons we must face in life, and some we choose to face, but dragons exist to challenge you. No matter what kind of dragon confronts you, there are things about dragons (and problems or challenges) that you must remember.

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Dragons should not be ignored.
It’s out there. You can feel it. It might make you nervous or tense or anxious or even fearful. You recognize that something is waiting for you. It may even be a small or trivial thing, but it is a dragon. Once you know that a dragon is lurking, you have to recognize the dragon. They have a way of growing larger and more powerful if you ignore them. They consume resources. That dragon occupies your metaphorical space. If you ignore it, fear of the dragon can cause you to freeze or stagnate. There are many problems that only grow more complicated if you ignore them, or if you delay the journey to face them. As they grow, dragons only become harder to defeat. Problems have a way of growing if you don’t face them, and challenges ignored may become harder to face and overcome if you don’t recognize their nature.

Dragons test your resolve.
You know the dragon is there, and now you have to cope with it. Dragons are fearsome things. They have great claws and teeth. They fly and they breathe fire. Will you be able to overcome the dragon? There comes a point when you must make a decision. Dragons are stubborn and malicious. Confronting a dragon is a test. It can occur on many levels, because dragons come in all sizes. Dragons are things you don’t want to face, because facing them requires focus and effort and the character to accept the task of slaying them. Dragons test your resolve. Whether small or large, that dragon is a problem that won’t go away until you face it. The decision to face the dragon is a tipping point. Resolving to face the problem and fight the dragon is important. It may be a matter of responsibility, a matter of pride, or a matter of choice. Once you resolve to fight a dragon, a journey begins. That could be an exotic journey of discovery or a well known and well worn path, but you have to commit to traveling on it.

Dragons require a plan to face.
Dragons are formidable. Once you have committed to facing the dragon, you need the strength and skill to overcome the dragon. Facing a dragon unprepared is unwise. You need tools to defeat them, your metaphorical armor, shield and sword. You must learn how to use these tools. You need to know how to approach the dragon’s lair, and you must learn the weakness of the dragon. Every dragon of legend has a weak spot. As the hero you can overcome the dragon by your strength, your skill, your planning, and your knowledge. A journey is often required to gain the strength, skill and knowledge needed to slay the dragon. Heroes must learn and grow. The price of gaining knowledge is facing the dragon at the end of the journey.

Dragons hoard treasure.
There is a reward for slaying dragons. When the dragon is slain the dragon’s treasure belongs to you. Each dragon you face, big or small, guards a treasure proportionate to its size and power. As you face ever larger and more powerful dragons, you gain confidence and experience. You become more competent. The treasures you gain may be in the form of joy, relief, satisfaction or contentment, and sometimes even material gains. The dragon’s treasure makes the quest to slay the dragon worthwhile. You can’t receive the treasure without facing the difficult task of confronting a dragon. No treasure worth having is unguarded. You need to slay the dragon to appreciate the treasure you receive. Something you get for free is far less valuable than something you had to work for and overcome a dragon to possess.

Dragons in this context are metaphors for all kinds of tasks and goals. Your life is a narrative, and you are the hero of your own tale. The meaning of your life is bound up in the obstacles you have to overcome. Great narratives require obstacles and challenges. These are the dragons we must slay.  You get to choose the dragons you challenge. Part of that requires knowing yourself. What do you really want? That is a difficult question that will identify the dragon you choose to face.

In praise of Campagnolo

It’s time to admit it. I didn’t expect it, but where cycling is concerned, I have become a big fan of Campagnolo. I don’t know exactly when it happened. It wasn’t instantly. It overcame me so slowly that I didn’t notice it coming, but there is no denying it now. Some things are so beautiful that you have to appreciate them. I have begun to appreciate and enjoy the functionality and beauty of all things Campagnolo. It isn’t uncommon for people to wear company logos. NIKE sells lots of logo merchandise, so do many other brands. Campagnolo is a relatively small and specialized  company, but I have their logo on a coffee cup and a shirt. This is a very telling sign. Maybe it’s because it’s not so common any more. Maybe it’s history. I can’t say exactly, but I’ve become a fan.

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The winged wheel with quick release badge of Campagnolo on my coffee mug.

15 years ago I came back to the Washington DC Area where I attended college, and essentially started over after a failed marriage. I needed something to keep me from depression, and I had a bicycle. I sought out an old friend who was a road rider and the rest is history.  I got a road bike. That was the beginning of this cycling obsession. For the most part, I’ve ridden Shimano equipped bicycles. They make wonderful and precise gearing systems.  Yet I’ve never felt compelled to wear a “Shimano” shirt. They’re the industry leader, but they don’t inspire the kind of loyalty that Campagnolo does. It makes no sense. Maybe it has to do with tradition. I can’t really say. All I can say is that after riding with Campagnolo for over a year, I’m a fan. Great ergonomics. It all feels right. I rode Shimano Ultegra and 105 for years, and I think they’re outstanding, but I like the Campagnolo levers better and it all works beautifully for me. I’ve had rides with  SRAM equipment, and I’m not impressed. I have friends who have had bad experiences with their equipment. I won’t use their gear while Campagnolo and Shimano both exist.  I would buy another Shimano bike without hesitation, but I have become a Campagnolo guy. Maybe I should take another sip of coffee from my Campagnolo mug and just taste the acceptance.