Yesterday, the Louisville Bicycle Club ran their Good First Century ride, which usually goes off a couple of times a year. I wasn't 100 percent sure that I was up to the challenge, since I'm just getting back into the swing of things, but I figured I'd give it a go anyway.
103 of us showed up for the ride. To see so many bikes and cyclists in one place was one of the coolest experiences of my entire life — if a bit intimidating at first. I turned to PT Guy at one point and said, "This is like seventh grade all over again. I'm all, 'OMG, what if I'm the only one here with toe clips?!'" (For the record, AFAIK, I was the only one with toe clips. I did see one guy riding platforms with no clips attached in Converse All-Stars, though. Mad props!)
We rolled out around 8:15 from the Yellow Lot at Waterfront Park (my life more or less revolves around the Yellow Lot, at this point), stretched out mostly single-file in a line that commanded the entire block down to Witherspoon Ave. I found myself somewhere in the middle, and would stay there until I dropped out.
As we snaked our way to the Second Street bridge, stoplights subdivided the ride into smaller groups. We rolled over to the Indiana side, then headed northeast through Jeffersonville and out along Utica Pike through beautiful rolling river-bottom country. A few short climbs and descents dotted the landscape, but none worth worrying about. The thing that surprised me here was the sudden drop in temperature as soon as we rolled into less-urban territory — even early in the day, while it was still relatively cool, there was a noticeable difference (probably around five or ten degrees Farenheit!).
Utica, it turns out, is a pretty little village with some nice Federal-era houses. I wouldn't mind living there, though I'm not sure it has a grocery store. I had hooked up with a couple of other riders (and tried not to be a wheelsucker), and together we made the first wrong turn of the day — a little extra loop near the Utica turnaround.
The next bit of the Indiana leg took us back along the same route and out to Falls of the Ohio. I had bridged to a faster group, got passed by two — yes, two! — recumbent trikes, lost my group over the course of several stop signs, and was riding more or less solo when I hit the lot. There, I caught up with another rider, and we burned through the corners like we were riding a crit. We sailed back to the rest area and pulled in as one of the first groups was pulling out.
PT Guy met me there with ice and cold water: PT Guy is made from awesomeness. Turns out I was the only rider with my own soigneur, LOL. He checked in with me and made sure I was okay (I was — in fact, I was feeling great right about then). I tried to eat some Fig Newtons, but couldn't swallow them. This should have been a sign of things to come, but I didn't see it at the time. Then I just hung out for a bit, stretched, and waited for another group to leave (I didn't feel terribly confident that I could actually follow my cue sheet, so I didn't want to ride alone).
The group that I followed missed a turn (missing turns would become a bit of a theme), then looped back and got en route just as another group was coming by. We headed back over the bridge at a good clip; a few stoplights later, I found myself riding with a smaller group. This group, it would turn out, would comprise my companions for the day.
If they should happen across my little corner of the internet, here's a shoutout to Kim, Teresa, Kevin, Kevin, and Brian: you were great ride partners, and I hope I wasn't too much of an anchor the last ten miles or so!
The next stretch of the ride took us out to Portland, then to Farnsley-Moremen landing. We lost a couple of riders on the way — one had to bail out because of cramps, and the other ran into someone else he knew and dropped back to ride with him. The rest of us continued together along parts of the Levee Trail that I hadn't seen before.
We were making good time, but found ourselves fighting a strong headwind as we drew closer to the lunch stop, and decided to leave the trail. Oops! The wind was barely lighter on the road, and the route we took turned out to be longer. Because I'd been basically sitting on everyone's wheel the whole time, I decided to stick my nose out into the wind and pull for a while — this turned out to be a less-than-great idea, since we had underestimated the remaining distance to the turnaround, and I kept optimistically thinking, "We'll be there any second now!" as we churned along into the wind.
Um, oops. Lesson learned: don't sit on the front of the paceline too long. And don't burn all your matches just because you're about to stop for lunch.
At Farnsley-Moremen landing, we all paused for a minute to stretch, then regrouped, remounted, and rode the two miles or so back to the lunch stop with the wind at our backs (if only it had stayed at our backs!).
At the lunch stop, I once again found I couldn't eat. The physical act of trying to swallow food was nauseating. PT Guy was waiting for me once again — he ran back and forth, bringing me ice and water, and checked to make sure I wanted to continue. He had brought a banana for me, and I managed to eat half of that and about two bites of a Payday bar (you know it's bad if I can't eat a Payday bar). At that point, I was still feeling pretty good, but looking back it's pretty clear that the lack of food was starting to take a toll. It was, however, pretty darn cool to be sitting at a gas station on the far edge of town with about forty other cyclists.
Before we headed back out, I introduced PT Guy to Teresa and Kim (I wasn't sure where Kevin was at that particular moment). He was happy that I had a group to ride with, I think, but also looked a bit worried about me. I'm sure he was trying not to show it, though :) I think the fact that I couldn't eat was, quite rightly, troubling him.
After a half an hour or so resting in the shade, my little group headed back out (we immediately ran into a driver on a cell phone making some kind of bizarre K-turn in the middle of the road). We had a tailwind for a little while, then the wind shifted and we were riding into the wind again.
The group was sustaining a good clip — about 14 MPH or so — and I was doing fine until we left the path. Out of the shade, I began to really feel the heat — and I mean that literally. Around one o'clock, the temperature seemed to jump. I began dropping off the tail of the group and catching them on downhills, at stop signs, and at lights. I began to suspect that I might not actually make it — I was beginning to feel nauseated, and my legs were giving out.
At first, I decided I would tough it out to the final rest stop, which was in Iroquois Park, only a mile or so from home and some thirty miles from the lunch stop — but one last wrong turn sealed the deal before I made it there. We found ourselves away from the shady roads, riding through the heat of the city, well out of sight of the rest of the group. We were riding roughly the same distance, but doing a lot of extra work because we kept hitting stop lights. I was finding it difficult to get my feet out of my toe clips whenever we rolled to a stop.
At around mile 65, Murphy — one of the RCs — caught up with us. He gave me a chocolate GU: I realized I can actually ingest those while ridiculously overheated. Good to know; next time, I'll bring a dozen of those just in case. I was glad he showed up, because at that point I'd realized I wasn't going to make it to the next rest stop — I was still able to turn the cranks, but I was fading fast. He stayed with us as long as I rode and continued with the remainder of the group when they wheeled away.
It turned out that Mile 70, as we were riding, was right near my office. I bailed out there, rode my bike up the wheelchair ramp, took advantage of the wheelchair-accessible door-opening devices, and prayed that the elevator was working, because there was absolutely no chance that my legs were going to get me up four flights of stairs, and I didn't want to leave Quicksilver in the lobby (even though you have to badge into the building on weekends). Turns out I had good timing — the elevator was working yesterday afternoon, but was back out of service this morning.
My cell phone has been missing for a week, so I made my way up to my desk. There, I parked my bike (in the office! For the first and probably the last time!) and sat down for a few minutes. Then I got up, grabbed some ice and water, returned, collapsed in my chair again, and called PT Guy. He asked if I was okay, and said he'd be by to pick me up in a few minutes.
I hung up and went back down to the street to wait: it was there that I realized I just had nothing left. I could walk — slowly — while leaning on the bike, but standing was not an option. I literally could not stand. I parked Quicksilver in the shade and sat down on the sidewalk with my back against the wall of a raised concrete planter. I was, as they say, cooked.
A little while later, PT Guy arrived. He had assembled two giant coolers full of ice water for anyone who might want it at the next rest stop just before I called him, and we had talked about possibly driving out to the last rest stop — but once I was bundled into the truck, he decided (rightly) that I probably needed to just get home and lie down. On the way, we saw a big group coming back from Iroquois Park — I waved to them, but I don't think they saw me.
On the way home, we talked about the ride: I said I a lot less disappointed than I would have expected to be, and actually pretty proud of myself both for riding 70 miles and for being able to call it quits rather than pushing myself to continue when I had nothing left. PT Guy found that comforting, as well — he knows me well enough to know that I have a history of being stupid and ignoring my limits, and he was really glad I didn't push it on this ride. He said he had been worried about me because I wasn't eating at the lunch break, and I think his concern was justified.
In the end, I rode a pretty fast 70 miles (total time, after subtracting time for breaks, was a little less than 5 hours — a sustained pace of 14 MPH) with some great people, had a really good time, and learned some lessons I'll apply to my next century attempt. I also discovered that I've finally learned how to bow out gracefully when I've reached my limit.
All told, I have to call that a pretty good day.
So, that being said, here's what I learned on my Good First (Almost) Century:
- Toe clips are actually kind of annoying; next time, I'm going clipless.
- It's really fun to ride a long way with a good group.
- It's awe-inspiring to watch 103 bikes roll out together early on a Sunday morning.
- I can't eat solid food when I'm overheated.
- However hot you think it's going to be, add ten degrees Farenheit or five degrees Celsius.
- When you start making stupid mistakes (forgetting to call 'Car Back,' failing to brake early enough, etc), it's time to consider taking another break or bailing out.
- There is no shame in bailing out if you have to. Like Murphy said, while I was bailing out at mile 70, there were millions of people sitting at home who would never even imagine riding that far.