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Lessons learned from my first two centuries

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

I very much enjoyed my first two century rides … and I’m learning a lot from them.  Here are a few key points.

General

  • My long ride mantra has become keep pedaling. It sounds obvious, but when you really start to think about it, all the major obstacles can be addressed with this simple phrase.
    “How do you handle the hills?” Keep pedaling.
    “How do you deal with the heat?” Keep pedaling.
    “How can you ride that far?” Keep pedaling.

    It’s also an easy way to encourage yourself, when you’re struggling. Just keep pedaling.

  • Organized centuries are a great way to start out. You don’t have to worry about planning a route, or trying to find water/food/bathroom stops. And because you don’t have to plan the route yourself,  you can comfortably ride outside of your usual riding area.
  • It’s important to pace yourself. Try to settle into an easy but steady pace.

A few things specific to me

  • I am lucky to have two bicycles that both work well for centuries: the Long Haul Trucker, and the Bianchi. They are quite different, but I have ridden one century on each now, and both worked well.
  • I thought I would have problems with the plastic saddle on the Bianchi, and was going to get a leather one to replace it. But I had no problems with it during the century I rode on it, so I’m going to stick with the saddle I have, at least for now. It’s a Selle Italia X2 Trans Am.
  • I had a killer headache the day after the hilly, 90-degree century ride. I hate to admit it, but I think I need something to help manage electrolytes. I really like eating normal food, so something like Endurolytes might help. More salty snacks would probably help as well.
  • I only really had one one major comfort issue, and that was with the Bianchi. My little fingers went numb around mile 85, especially the one on my right hand. I chalk this up to the compact handlebars. I made some adjustments to the bar angle and brake lever setup, and those changes helped a little, but by now it’s becoming clear that the compact bars are not for me. I will likely replace them with Nitto Noodle bars, like I have on the Trucker.

Siberian Summer Century: hot and hilly

Monday, June 7th, 2010

After my first century ride with Bill Lambert on May 15, Bill said to me, “I guess you’ve caught the century bug now, huh?” I laughed it off and said I wasn’t sure.

But I guess Bill was right, because on Saturday, less than a month after my first century, I rode my second century, the Siberian Summer Bicycle Tour out of Tell City, IN, in the far southern tip of Indiana. This time, I rode with David Crowell, who I also rode with in Bloomington the weekend before. This ride was a lot hillier, and the day was a lot hotter, so my second century was much more difficult than the first. Here is David’s account of the ride. And, here’s a map of the ride.

We met at the ride starting point at around 7:00 am. We registered and got ready to ride. For David, getting ready meant pulling his bike out of his truck. It took me considerably longer to get ready. Still, we were rolling by 7:30.

We rolled out by way of a short bike path, and then some roads which quickly took us away from town. Despite a few hills, the first 11 miles or so went by rather quickly, with some nice rural scenery and a couple of downhill sections that seemed generous given the small amount of climbing we’d done so far. It wasn’t too hot yet, so we enjoyed the moderate temperatures while we could. Early on, we decided to go slowly and stop as often as necessary, so we could pace ourselves, and take plenty of photos.

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I’m pretty sure this other guy was a rock star:

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Around mile 11 was the first SAG stop. Plenty of food was available and the volunteers were very friendly and helpful. When we left this stop, we accidentally went the wrong way. One of the volunteers tracked us down in a truck and pointed us in the right direction. Fortunately we only went about a mile out of our way.

When we rode back by the SAG stop, we picked up another rider, Eric, from Columbus, IN. He rode with us for a bit, but at one point we stopped to take some photos and tried to let him know, but he didn’t hear us and rode on ahead. We didn’t see him again for a while.

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We had some more excellent 2+ mile descents, and the requisite climbs. The hills were generally long, but not excessively steep, for the most part. At least one of the downhills went on for around 3 miles. Pretty impressive!

The scenery was varied, with hills and flatlands, farm land and big fields covered in long grass, and a small town or two.

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One town looked particularly ramshackle …

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We took a small detour on a gravel road so we could called this a “mixed-terrain” century. Not that we’re officially calling it that. The Bianchi did fine on this short section of gravel, by the way.

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Eventually, we stopped by Saddle Lake. David was wearing sandals and was very tempted to wade in. Instead, we pressed on.

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My memory is a little hazy but by this time, it must have been getting really hot. We went through lots of water and tried to eat as much as possible at the SAG stops. We had another stop to rescue a good-sized turtle.

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We spent a little time on State Road 37. In this area, 37 is a two-lane highway, but it has wide, clean, smooth shoulders and moderate hills most of the way.

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It wasn’t as pleasant as the back roads, but it did offer nice views in parts.

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Once we exited the highway we were on quiet back roads once again, and things got hillier again as well. It was fairly windy most of the day and while I usually don’t like wind, it gave us some respite from the heat.

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We enjoyed a SAG stop at a winery on top of a hill, with a great view.

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Soon we were rolling again, and things got flatter for a bit. This was a welcome change from the climbing, but there was very little shade.

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It was good to see the corn growth coming along.

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By some small town (which basically consisted of an intersection of two roads) we found Possum Junction. Sadly, it was closed.

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We reached the small town of Siberia, for which the ride is named, faster than I expected.

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The sign reads: Welcome To Siberia. Cold in name, warm in heart.

Soon, we reached State Road 62, a small highway with almost no traffic. 62 reminded me a lot of State Road 43 near Bloomington, mostly flat but with a few hills, and views of hills in every direction.

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We saw some weird, small oil pumps.

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As we approached the town of Saint Meinrad, we saw a church looming on a hill.

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We turned onto State Road 545, another low-traffic road, but this one had nearly-constant smaller, rolling hills. By this point we were really baking in the sun. We just kept pedaling.

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Soon we turned onto what was probably the highlight of the day, Huffman Mill Road. This road had it all: great ups and downs, shady valleys, open fields, a creek with a covered bridge, and even a long, flowing, twisty descent with banked turns. In fact, I was having so much fun that I didn’t take many photos.

Another SAG stop was by the covered bridge I mentioned above.

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The guy manning the stop was Bob (I believe) a 77-year old man who I’m told is still quite a rider. While we ate, stretched, and filled our water bottles, he told tales of the bridge being built before the civil war, but not dedicated until afterwards, and then the dedication consisted of a week-long celebration. Bob sure tells a great story. The way he recounted all of this history, you’d think he had been there himself.

We rolled along some more great roads, mostly with smaller hills, for a while.

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It was incredibly hot, and one road had been recently repaved. It must have been at least five degrees hotter than the other roads, due to the dark asphalt.

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Despite the heat, I was feeling pretty good about how well we were riding. That was all about to change, when we hit French Ridge Road. 80 miles into the ride, at 90+ degrees, we hit a 3/4 mile, rather steep, constant climb. No shade was to be found, and the sun beat down on us while we climbed. My eyes filled with sweat, stinging and burning. I stood to climb and it was a struggled just to keep the pedals turning. I decided a hard effort would get me to the top quickly and hopefully let me find some shade. As I started to ride harder, I felt lightheaded and dizzy. But I was almost there. Finally I reached the top and made a beeline for a shady spot I saw on the other side of the road. And none too soon, this was the closest I’d come to bonking in quite some time.

Mostly due to our different bike setups, David and I had quite different climbing techniques. The lowest gear on the Bianchi isn’t that low and it climbs well, so sometimes it is easiest to stand and climb out of the saddle. David’s Long Haul Trucker is heavier and doesn’t climb as well, but it has much lower gears, so he can put it in a very low gear and gradually spin up (this is how I climb on my Trucker as well).  This meant at times I was way ahead of him on the climbs. You can sort of see him in the distance on French Ridge hill on the photo below. He kept at it and also made it to the top.

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This hill would have been difficult on a normal day, but this late in a long ride, it was brutal. I wasn’t sure I would be able to recover, but thankfully, I recovered better than I expected.

From this point, most of the way back was on 37 and Old 37. These road were not as noteworthy as many of the back roads, but were still mostly pleasant, and at this point we were ready to put our heads down and work on finishing the ride.

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After a while, the sky got cloudier, the temperature dropped at least a few degrees, and it looked like rain. It never rained more than a few drops, and I think we were just a little disappointed. The rain would have had a wonderful cooling effect.

At one of the remaining stops, one of the volunteers took some photos of us. I actually thought I would look pretty miserable here, as I was pretty beat, but as you can see, we were still having fun.

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The sky got more interesting as we hit the home stretch.

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The ride ended on the Greenway, just as it had begun.

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We were the last ones to finish the ride. We were just thrilled to finish! It was a great ride, very well-run, and they have another ride in the fall. It was a pleasure riding with David again, and seeing a new area by bicycle. I’m strongly considering going back in the fall.

Bike 101 Lakes

Monday, May 17th, 2010

On Saturday, I rode the 106-mile route in the Bike 101 Lakes ride with Bill Lambert of the Bike Oak Bikes blog. Here is his writeup.

The was the longest ride I’ve ever done, and it also happened to go through parts of Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.  So, I managed to knock out a couple of my goals for the year in one ride: riding a century, and riding in some new states. Here’s a map of the ride.

The ride started in the small town of Angola, IN, at the Fun Spot Park, a small amusement park, which sadly has been closed last year and this year due to the poor economy. It was an interesting starting location for a ride, with some vacant roller coasters in view. There was a mass start in several groups based on ride distance, and for the first time in any ride I’ve ever done, I was in the first group of riders to start. Not that it matters in any real way, but it was a good feeling to be one of the relatively few crazy guys going for the whole shebang. There were probably a couple hundred riders total, and about 30 doing the full 106 miles, at least at the start. I’m not sure how many of those actually rode the whole distance.

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The ride started promptly at 9:00 am, as scheduled. Policemen had closed part of a state highway so that we could start our ride more safely. There were a couple of hills on curvy roads during the first couple of miles that made things rather exciting. And within minutes, we saw the first of many lakes of the day.

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In fact, the first few miles set the tone for the rest of the ride. Flat-to-rolling fields, barns, lakes, and sandhill cranes were the main features.

Bill and I quickly settled into a comfortable pace: steady, but not pushing it.

Soon, we came to the first rest stop of the day. A few minutes later some other riders rolled in, and one of them informed me that I had dropped my wallet back near the start. He gave it to the event organizers, who would hold onto it for me. I was very lucky that he saw me drop it, and did the right thing! The wallet had fallen out of my saddle bag, which I had forgotten to zip. It looked like everything else was still there.

We headed west for a while, then turned north toward the Indiana/Michigan border. Along the way, Bill pointed out some Big Bud tractors of some significance, I don’t quite recall the story behind them, but he talks about it in his blog post.

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I was hoping for a nice “Welcome to Michigan” sign or something of that nature, but since we were on back roads, the sign that was there wasn’t very impressive. Still, I was glad there was a sign at all, and had to get a shot of it.

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Soon we turned to the east and headed that way for over 20 miles. This was fun, easy riding, though there were a few rough surfaces. The area was characterized by the same kind of gently rolling terrain as before. For me, this kind of terrain made for a very enjoyable ride. The hills were a lot easier than what I’m used to in southern Indiana, but at the same time, hilly enough to keep things interesting. I’ve ridden in some pancake-flat areas before, and it gets a little boring sometimes. This wasn’t like that at all. I saw plenty of interesting-looking gravel roads in the area, which would be interesting to explore if I make a return trip sometime.

We saw some interesting vehicles, including Amish buggies, huge tractors, and a group of four small airplanes.

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The scenery was constantly gorgeous, and I enjoyed having more wide-open views than the heavily wooded/hilly terrain I’m used to in the Bloomington area.

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We continued to see a lot of lakes … many of which Bill knew something about. I was glad I could absorb some knowledge of the area from a local.

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Soon, we reached the second SAG stop. This one was vacant when we arrived, aside from the wonderful volunteers. Food and beverages were provided, and real restrooms! Most rides I’ve done of this type have had port-a-potties, which are all right, but real restrooms feel luxurious by comparison.

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Bill happened to know a couple of the volunteers, so while he chatted with them, I took the opportunity to eat everything in sight.  10-15 minutes after we arrived at this stop, several guys rolled up on carbon fiber uberbikes … now, I’m not in this to race, and I really don’t care about average speeds or finishing time, but being ahead of them on my heavy, steel, fat-tired Long Haul Trucker complete with fenders, rack, platform pedals, and luggage made me feel pretty good. I should’ve gotten a photo of my bike near theirs; the difference was quite comical.

Soon we rolled out, and shortly thereafter, we turned south, re-entered Indiana, then were back in Michigan, and finally, made our way into Ohio. I didn’t see any state line signs at all, this time.

The next 18 miles or so were the best ones of the entire ride. We rolled effortlessly across probably dozens of small, moderate rolling hills, trending downward, while the wind helped push us along. The scenery was much the same, only we passed through a few small towns and through some more Amish areas.

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Eventually, we turned back to the west, and now we had a bit of a headwind to deal with. But, it wasn’t bad. We hadn’t seen any other riders for some time … I guess when you have 30 riders spread out over a 106-mile course, people get pretty spread out. We started to encounter a few larger hills.

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As we approached Hamilton, we saw yet another lake, and some more hills.

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And then, we came across a rider who was really struggling. At this point, we were about 70 miles into the ride. We saw a rider stopped by the road, and as we pulled up, he said, “Man, am I glad to see you guys!” He seemed unsure if he was on the right track … we were almost to a rest are.  Luke was riding alone and one of his aero bars was coming loose. I loaned him my multi-tool to fix it, and we took a break together. He was running out of steam.

I was doing OK, but starting to feel it. Mostly, my butt was getting sore. Fortunately I had brought an extra pair of shorts, so I changed into them, and for a little while at least, I felt a lot better. I was VERY glad to have the extra shorts.

So, we rode on, now a group of three, instead of two. At this point we started riding in a paceline, and Bill and I took turns pulling Luke along. We slowed down a little bit at this point, but it turned out to be a good thing. I think that dropping the pace at that point helped us later.

We encountered a few bigger hills, and I have to say … from about mile 75 on, I was feeling pretty beat. I was glad that the hills weren’t too big, or I would have really been hurting. From this point on the ride involved more drafting and focused riding to get to the finish, rather than the earlier riding which was more side-by-side, conversational, and conducive to taking photos.

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We stopped at the last SAG stop, got more food and drinks. I was hoping I would feel a burst of energy, knowing we were on the home stretch.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, I started dragging more than before. We all seemed to be going the same slow pace, so at least I wasn’t holding anyone up. Or at least, I hope not.

I checked my GPS periodically to see how far we’d gone. At one point, I felt, “we must be getting close now!”

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“Crap! 10 more miles!”

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A few miles later, it seemed like even the 10ths of a mile were barely ticking by. I switched to a different view, so I wouldn’t watch my GPS screen the whole way.

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Sometime near the end was a bigger hill than most or all we had encountered before it. It took a lot more out of me than it should, simply due to the fact that we’d already ridden around 100 miles.

The last few miles went by very slowly at the time, but now they’re just a blur in my mind. Once we got close, we hit some very smooth new pavement and one of us commented, “It’s like they’ve rolled out the red carpet for us!”

And that is how it felt.

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Eventually, we reached the end. My GPS read 106 miles. Wow!

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The parking lot only had a few cards in it when we got back. There were definitely a few other riders still out there, but most people were already gone.

I retrieved my wallet from the event staff, who were just wonderful, asked us how everything was, and pointed us to more food and water.

Finishing the ride felt great. During the ride, I never doubted I could do it, but I had had some doubts leading up to the ride. I’m glad I was able to ride with Bill, we seem to gravitate toward a similar pace, and it’s great to glean some local knowledge. Luke was a pleasure to ride with as well. I’m glad we were able to help pull him back.

This was probably the best-run organized ride I’ve done (not that I’ve done a lot of them). The course was well-marked, the volunteers were all friendly and incredibly helpful and there were many of them in random places along the course. They did everything they could to make sure everyone made it as safely and comfortably as possible. The one thing I might wish for is a bigger variety of food at the SAG stops. There was no shortage of food, but more options would have been welcome. I did find a new kind of ride food that worked very well: Sweet & Salty Chex Mix. I loved that stuff!

This ride left me wanting to do more organized rides. Riding over 100 miles without having to worry about food, beverages, or restrooms was quite a luxury. I’ll have to find some more rides like this that I can do … I have a few ideas already.

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