Bags of Bran

Neighborhood Century
July 27, 2016, 11:43 am
Filed under: Bike, Biography

Until July 25, 2016, I had never ridden a century on my road bike before.

I know!

This has largely been a matter of oversight on my part: I seldom ever thought about it, and when did think about it, I thought to myself “Who has that kind of time?!” Then there was the elephant in the room: I enjoy enjoying bike rides. Six hours (or whatever) on my bike would make being on my bike (as well as many other activities) unpleasant or miserable. Who wants to be miserable? Furthermore, I don’t think that God gives us recreation to destroy ourselves but to re-create things.

In the past I’ve done a half dozen metric centuries on my mountain bike (those are harder, BTW), as well as some solo road rides in the 70-80 mile range. These days I tend to ride for two hours or less, sometimes vigorously. Anything more than that and I have to start making unwise tradeoffs with real responsibilities in life. Never a hundred.

I live on the margin of two worlds: one world, consisting of fellow cyclists, would be shocked that I made it to forty years old without ever having ridden a century. The other world could not conceive an otherwise stable human being would set out to do such a thing except as a cry for help. Five and a half hours on a bicycle, depending on who you ask, is either de rigeur behavior or something that could only be justified by the self-congratulatory wearing of a commemorative t-shirt.

On Friday, I mused with the Mrs. about perhaps riding a century on Monday. She grimaced. “Why?” she asked. “Because I’ve never done it before,” I said. She sagely agreed that that was sufficient reason, and at that point I was honor-bound to do it. I began planning. I figured out a route where I could do multiple laps near home rather than wander off to some savage land away where the natives bore ill will toward outsiders, such as St. Croix County. I settled on a loop of just over twenty miles on familiar roads, one of which, importantly, went right past our house, which, as is typical of houses, contains a refrigerator.


The advantage of this route is that I could stop at the house on every lap for snacks and cold water bottles, as well as hugs from my daughter. That turned out to be a wise move because not only was it hot and humid, it was also psychologically wearying to step into an air-conditioned house and open up a refrigerator, then step back out into the corn sauna and ride the shadeless roads. The hugs were like whatever it was that the angels fed Elijah that he was able to go for forty days.

Was five laps of the same roads monotonous? Not really. I like these roads, and I like having landmarks to navigate by. For example, the big hill on the route was about five miles from home. We call it Mount Despairagus because there is a little farmstead at the bottom where they sell despairagus and other joyless produce. Mount Despairagus hits you in three waves: the first wave is about fifty feet tall; round a corner to the second, a hundred and fifty at about 13% grade; and the third is another fifty, but into the searing ridge-top winds filled with the smells of whatever it is that the cows happened to be doing at the time.

But after that, it’s almost all downhill for four and a half miles.

Additionally, there were dogs. I was chased by four different dogs. Thankfully, their earnestness was inversely proportional to their size: the only one that got anywhere near me was comparable in layout to a ferocious loaf of bread. I had to admire his technique as he burst efficiently from the tall grass along the road, teeth bared and snapping, with a baleful snarl venting his considerable malice. The larger dogs seemed more interested in what I was doing and whether I might have food than in ripping out my throat. In fact, I think I came to a positive understanding with one black lab that engaged me every lap. By the final pass he was simply coming up to the edge of the grass to show his solidarity and bid me safe travels down the hill upon which he served as sentry.

I won’t lie: the last lap felt gratuitous. About five miles in, I started having cramps and feeling weak, with flickers of nausea. My hands hurt. I was starting to curl my toes when riding uphill and stiffen my arms on the flat sections. The long, merciless stretch of sun-blasted incline on County O still loomed ahead, not to mention the cruel slope of Mount Despairagus. “All downhill from there,” I told myself, trying to down another gulp of unsavory electrolyte potion.

I made it. I felt like it was a good compromise between milestone achievement and not abandoning my family on my day off.

I don’t think I need a commemorative t-shirt. If I forget what it was like, I’ll just do it again.


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