Today’s ride: The 6 Pillars Century in Cambridge MD. This is usually the first event on my cycling calendar. Held on the first Saturday in May, 6 Pillars runs from Cambridge on the Choptank River south through the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge to Hoopers Island, then doubles back up the river and circles east, passing through the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge again. The ride itself is tabletop flat, which can take it’s toll on all of a rider’s contact points with the bicycle. This ride is very scenic, taking riders through tidal flats, small towns and open farmland. A rider can expect to see all kinds of birds and other wildlife including Ospreys, Herons, and Red-winged Blackbirds. This year a Bald Eagle made an appearance. This ride is a feast for the eyes. It shows Maryland’s historic eastern shore at it’s best.
The Experience: This year’s edition of 6 Pillars started with a question for my riding friends and I – How much to wear? We tend to start a ride early, and as we gathered at our usual meeting place, the temperature was hovering in the mid 40 degree range. However, with sunshine in the forecast, and a high temperature forecast for 70 degrees, it was going to get warm by the end of the ride. Anything you start with that you don’t want later becomes dead weight to carry. Everyone had their own answer of course, but I chose to wear a base layer beneath my cycling jersey and arm warmers which I could remove later and put into my pockets. This sacrificed warmth at the start for comfort later; however as I started to warm up on the ride and the sun rose higher, I wasn’t cold for very long.
This year the winds were light at the start. We rode south quickly. My group included Ron Tripp, Deb Reynolds, Eric Sanne, Tony Lehr, Carmen Legato, Carol Linden and John Koehnlein. Some were planning to ride shorter distances due to differences in training or other commitments, but the entire group would be able to stay together until a decision point at approximately 62 miles, so we formed up and rode out, knowing that we would be together for the majority of the ride. I rode near the front of our pack for much of the ride, since I was feeling good. We weren’t moving quite as fast as I’ve ridden in previous years; for many of us, this was our first event and our training wasn’t the best. My own training lacked longer distance rides, though I’d ridden often enough in the spring to have plenty of miles under my wheels. I prepared myself to fight through the full century distance, and the easier pace suited me. The first 40 miles were joyful, with the morning chill leaving me before 10 miles had passed. We arrived at the rest stop at the South end of Hooper’s Island to a surprise: the ride pushed on over another bridge to South Hooper’s Island and turned there. Normally we ride over the bridge anyway, out of a desire to say we rode to South Hoopers, and to enjoy the experience even more, but this time the organizers encouraged riders to cross the bridge to a turnaround point, to ensure that they could get a full 100 miles on their odometers and perhaps to feel the sensation of climbing, which this ride doesn’t readily provide. The turnaround point was painted on the road, but a roadside sign might have served them better. We passed the turn and rode on for a while, partly to see what was there and partly because we thought the turn point would be better marked. Quite a few riders went past it. In any case, we weren’t upset; the day was warming up, and we were moving well. Sand fouled my cleats at the rest stop. I had problems clipping into my pedals, and we stopped so I could clean them. I really don’t like to stop a group to do such things, it’s embarrassing, but we all understand the need, so it was okay. As we returned to the wildlife refuge, we were overtaken by a large group of motorcycles and police vehicles, no doubt part of an organized ride of their own, which prevented us from passing any slower riders while we they passed. By this time the wind was building, so when we were free to speed up a crosswind was working on us until we turned east and it became a tailwind. Other than the issue of a confusing set of arrows on the road which puzzled us briefly, we soldiered on to the next stop, where we had a decision to make.
Carol had a commitment, so she had to take the shorter distance, and Deb was also sure she wanted to take the shorter route. The rest of us were either decided on the full century or leaning that way. The body can do amazing things if the mind will allow it, and the remainder of us all made that decision (easy for some, harder for others) to get the full 100 miles in.
I’ve often said that you can split a century into two equal halves – the first 80 miles, and the last 20. This may not be accurate for everyone, but somewhere between the stops at 62 and 80 miles we all found our focus turning inward somewhat. There is a wall to push past, a place where you need to free yourself mentally and physically to carry on to the end. We all kept up a steady pedaling cadence, pushed on by each other, or perhaps pulled by the prospect of a rest well earned at the end of the ride, and a post ride beer to share with friends. We rolled back to Cambridge in good form, and celebrated together after that first event of the season. It was a glorious day, made much better by the friends who shared it!
Selections from my mental iPod during the ride: “Industrial Disease” by Dire Straits, “Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer, and “The Ghost in You” by the Psychedelic Furs.
Stats: 103.61 Miles ridden. A beautiful day, and a ride best described as steady and consistent. A perfect start to the 2015 cycling season.
The first rest stop – still dressed to stay warm!
Second Rest stop – looking out over the marshes.
Resting at Hooper’s Island – sadly, standing in sand that fouled my cleats!
Tired riders, swapping stories and enjoying the sun post-ride.