This week I’m working to re-establish my routine. It’s been a couple of weeks since I last had a full work week – my last two weekends included century rides that I had to travel to. Usually those events require me to take a day off to travel. Between those vacation days and the Columbus Day federal holiday, I’ve been away from the office a lot. It all comes back, though. The memories of these events make work a little easier, too. It’s easier to be in a good mood after a century ride or two.
The nice part about cycling events is that they’re approachable. I don’t want to give the impression that they’re easy. Centuries are tough and must be taken seriously. You have to train for one. A century isn’t nearly as difficult to do as running a marathon is though. A century is a good challenge, but mere mortals can train well enough in 3-6 months to complete a century, and if you ride regularly in the warm months leading up to September and October when these events are usually held, you can enjoy a century ride every weekend for weeks on end without burning out. Recovery from a century ride doesn’t usually take more than a day or two. I’ve done back-to-back centuries several times (two in the same weekend, one on a Saturday, and the other on Sunday), and that is much more difficult if you want to challenge yourself, but it takes planning. I can be talked into doing back-to-back centuries again, but for now I don’t feel the need to challenge myself in that way. For 2018, I’m out of centuries. I’ve passed the tests I’ve set for myself. Now is the time to ride for the soul, until the winter chases me indoors. With that in mind, I want to look back over the last two weekends and remember the experience.
The Twin Lights century is held at the New Jersey shore. It doesn’t have much in the way of climbs, but most of the climbing it offers happens near the end of the ride. It leaves from a park by a ferry terminal near Sandy Hook and heads south along the shore through communities that include mansions built as getaway homes for rich residents of New York City. Then it heads inland through parkland at the edge of an area called the pine barrens. It goes north into some low hills before dropping down to the start again. There is a climb at mile 99 that challenged a lot of riders. It’s a cruel place to put a climb, but it was part of the ride’s charm. Twin Lights is a scenic ride that was well marked and had good support.
I chose to ride Twin Lights with my nephew. He has gotten into racing criteriums over the last two years, and he wanted to ride an event with me. Since he doesn’t live too far from the ride, it seemed ideal. The weather was excellent that day, and we were both excited to get started. As we arrived, they started the ride – they didn’t have a “show and go” start. That meant I didn’t find a que sheet before we got started. The good news was that we didn’t need a que sheet. The route was well marked with large magenta arrows affixed to utility poles, trees and road signs along the route. Even when there weren’t other riders to follow, I found the signs easy to find and I never felt worried that I was off course.
This ride showed me the difference between recreational riders like myself, and racers like my nephew. He’s a very strong rider, but he hadn’t been training too much in the weeks before Twin Lights, and that meant he felt fresh while not necessarily being at his best. Every event ride includes some strong riders who have goals related to how fast they’ll ride. Griff was excited at the start, and we fell in with some fast riders. He got in with them because he loves to compete and he’s fast. I was there because I wanted to keep him in sight. That meant the first 35-40 miles went by at a pace that worried me. I won’t say I wasn’t enjoying myself. (I was.) I just didn’t think I could keep up that kind of pace for very long, and by the second rest stop I was worried that I’d burn out by the end of the ride. I explained my fears to my nephew and I think he understood. After all, I’m middle aged, to use a friendly euphemism. However, about 5 miles from the second rest stop, Griff started to cramp up. Two things came into play here. The first is that the average Criterium doesn’t go for more than an hour. His longest ride to date was 72 miles, and while his best efforts are very fast, riding for speed and riding for endurance are two very different things. The second thing was that by his own admission he hadn’t been on the bike much recently. Going out too fast was something that I expected. Starting to slow down was also something that I expected. I just expected that the one slowing down would be me. I went immediately into caring uncle mode. I wanted to make sure he got the rest and water and food needed to avoid the dreaded “bonk”, where your body shuts down on you. We continued at a more sensible century pace, and while the climbs were hard on him, Griff was tough as nails.
There is no such thing as an “easy” century. I found that Twin Lights presented its bill for having me flying along roads near the beach with a tailwind by making us climb more in the final third of the ride. Some of the faster riders were also riding shorter routes, and Twin Lights offered rides of 75, 50, 30 and even a 15 mile option in addition to the century. Griff and I stayed together. At the 77 mile rest stop, they had pie. I like pie. It helped make Twin Lights memorable. The climb at mile 99 found me passing a lot of other riders (I think the pie energized me), and in a burst of adrenaline, Griff found my wheel by the top. We cruised to the finish of his first century. It was a special thing. I was proud to ride with my nephew on his first century.
The Seagull Century
My first century ride was the Seagull Century in 2006. I remember it well. Even though century rides have become almost routine for me, that first century means something. I ride the Seagull every year. It’s normally my last event of the year, and it’s always memorable. I like the day before, going to the campus for packet pick-up and shopping at the vendors in the gym. I like going to dinner with friends the night before. I like hanging out in their beer garden after the ride, and of course, I like the century. It’s one of the biggest cycling events in the country. This year over 5000 riders were there. In the past, there have been as many as 8000 riders. That means you have a lot of other riders to watch out for, but it also makes the ride interesting for the sheer volume of riders spinning along with you.
We had a small group this year. John, Carol, Tom and I. Tom R wasn’t going to ride the entire century, but he grew up on Maryland’s eastern shore, so the Seagull is his home event. He hadn’t done much riding this year, but he wanted to get out on the course and enjoy it.
As always, the crowd was difficult to navigate at the start, and the difference in speed and approach between fast riders, slow riders and beginners made it important to pay attention and ride smart. It was damp this year. The air was heavy, and in places it was a heavy drizzle, but by the time we reached the water stop at 40 miles, the rain was done with us. There were a lot of flat tires. Carol had two flats on the ride. There was a bad crash that John had seen; I rode past it because there were plenty of people there to help. John pulled out to join me. For a while on the first half of the ride I was with John, but for much of the ride I was on my own.
I rode consistently, and my average speed kept going up throughout the ride. At the end, there was pie and ice cream as a reward, and as always there was the beer garden, where you can reconnect with your friends, drink a well-deserved brew, and watch other riders come in while you discuss the experience.
By the time I was done the weather had improved, and all the smiles on all the riders felt like another reward for a great ride and another great season.
Now it’s time to ride for the soul. It’s the time of year when you start your rides a little later, and don’t go quite as far. It’s cooler, but your fitness is still good. The season is changing and there isn’t any pressure of upcoming events to plan for and train for. This is the time of the year when the scenery matters the most to you. The company you keep as you ride sustains you. It isn’t a matter of pushing yourself. It’s a matter of letting the simple joy of cycling carry you along. This “soul riding” is the way I remind myself that riding my bike has been a lifelong source of joy and peace. It is a reward at the end of a season of cycling that sustains me over the winter until I can comfortably get back on the roads and renew my love of cycling once again.