Tag Archives: Road Cycling

Returning to the Seagull Century in 2021

The Seagull is a familiar event with many happy memories. But was I ready?

At the Seagull Century rest stop on Assateague Island, 10/9/2021. My bike got a lot of compliments!

I had been looking forward to riding the Seagull Century again since 2019, because the 2020 event was cancelled due to Covid-19. Since Covid remains a consideration, changes were promised for 2021 to make the event safer. For me, no virtual substitute could stand in for actually going there and riding with all the other riders. I have ridden the event for so many years that I wanted to ride it in person again regardless of the changes. There were quite a few differences, both obvious and subtle, not the least of which was a registration limit of 4000 riders. None of the changes concerned me, and even if it wasn’t exactly the same as I remembered, I felt good about riding it again. I was worried about how I would do. I was not sure that my training was good enough. I decided that my goal would be to ride faster than my slowest Seagull – which I thought would be easy enough.

The ride itself was very familiar. While Seagull is a flat century, and a very busy century, the Delmarva peninsula autumn scenery is part of the charm, as is going to Assateague Island. I started at a good pace, using a steady cadence and fighting against the wind as I headed east. Every familiar turn made me smile. I wasn’t sure that I could hold my pace this year – my training wasn’t as good as previous years, and the wind was challenging. However, I got to the first rest stop without feeling too tired. After fueling up and refilling my bottles I set out again, hoping that the winds wouldn’t wear me out too quickly, but they were pushing against me. When I got to the water stop in Newark, I immediately found a good spot to park my bike, and I did my best to make the stop as brief and effective as I could. The next leg to Assateague was very windy, and I had to power through stretches of it, but the familiar landmarks kept me focused, and my legs were still holding that strong cadence.

My anticipation grew as I approached the island. Over halfway done! Finally the bridge to Assateague came into view – and the only real climbing that day started. I had relatively little reason to shift gears before the bridge, but that climb was welcome! Over 60 miles done! Despite the mob scene at the stop, I did my best to get food and water quickly. I was satisfied with my pace. I was going much faster than I’d hoped. This stop is always a highlight on the Seagull Century. I did my best to savor the moment, and then I started back.

Now the wind was helping me, or at least not hindering me, and I got into a rhythm and started passing other riders. I wanted to finish strong and hold the pace I’d optimistically set at the start of the ride. I passed a lot of riders. I got through the town of Berlin at 70 miles hoping that I wouldn’t have to slow down too much. Every familiar turn raised my spirits and called up memories, and when I got to the final rest stop it wasn’t crowded. I took some time to rest and eat, thinking about the final leg. With less than 20 miles to go, I set out for Salisbury determined to finish strong. The day was getting brighter, and so was my mood. This old man was still riding strong! I didn’t let up until I reached the tunnel at the campus. I emerged to the wonderful sound of cheering from spectators and friends. I had ridden slightly faster than I had in 2019, averaging 17.5 mph. The beer garden was fabulous. Beer and friendship flowed as we cheered for the incoming riders. It felt wonderful, just as it had when I finished my first century at the Seagull in 2006. I haven’t missed a Seagull since.

A few final notes to share here: if I had a dollar for everyone who complimented my bike, it would have paid for the entire trip! It was nice to hear praise for my lugged steel bike. After the ride, the hotel hot tub felt like a little piece of heaven. Maybe I still have another Seagull or two left in me!

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!

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!