Saturday was my first century of the year. It definitely won't be my last, but it will stick in my memory for quite some time and probably help me make it through other long rides. My morning started off with a jolt about 3:30 AM waking up thinking I'd overslept. I took a peak at the clock and realized I had another hour before the alarm would actually have to get me up. Around 4:40 I rolled out of bed and was thankful I'd spent an hour prepping all my gear the night before so everything was in it's prescribed place and ready to roll.
A quick text from Squirrel acknowledged we were indeed on for the ride. I was bummed about missing the first installment of his gravel centuries, but soon I'd be making up for that. I was excited and more than a bit nervous, but I figured I should do all right in making it through the ride. I had no bail out plan as the wife was working and I volunteered to drive Dennis and Squirrel to the start. I picked up the boys around 5:20 and we headed off for breakfast at Hy-Vee. We were a bit early, so we sat and enjoyed a pretty leisurely breakfast. A little too leisurely on my part as I needed to transfer my backpack gear over to a borrowed seat post rack and mount my handlebar covers. I was about 5 minutes slower than the rest of the group getting ready to roll. Hmmm, an omen of things to come for the day?
We rolled out about 7:15 into some damn chilly temps hovering near the single digit mark. I was pretty thankful for my handlebar covers, but my choice of lightweight gloves to start with left my fingers a bit numb until the blood got flowing about 20 minutes later. I felt great for about the first 30 miles and rode pretty much with Dennis who was riding fixed gear in a pretty damn tall gear to boot! Once we hit 30 miles I started noting little things to fix at the lunch break- seat post height and saddle position were the biggies. I hadn't ridden this bike over 30 miles and only had it for 6 weeks or so, so this was it's first real test.
Lunch found me rolling slowly off the back of the pack and keeping company with Sumpter on his 26'r fixie. At least I wasn't alone, yet.... We hit the lunch stop with a shade over 40 miles in. I still felt pretty good at this point, though my IT band was starting to ache. I was reasonably confident I'd be good for the rest of the ride. An hour or so later, we rolled out of the sports bar with our stomachs full on tacos, chocolate milk, and whatever else we could scarf down.
As soon as we cleared the edge of town I knew I was in deep shit. I was leading the rollout south out of town with the others lined up behind and the headwind showed up. We only had a mile or less on the paved road before we turned back west and found the roads had started to thaw during our luxurious lunch break. I figured my best bet was slow and steady so I geared down, pushed easy and focused on keeping my heart rate manageable. Of course this led to my first way off the back experience of the ride and definitely made me start questioning whether or not the full 110 was a wise decision. Too late now!
At the first south turn on X avenue, the group was patiently waiting for me. I rolled up and they announced a pace line which was for my benefit I'm sure. Unfortunately for me, I didn't have enough gas left in my legs to even keep up to the tail of the line. Fuller and I slowly worked off the back again and I fell even further back. I geared clear down to my granny gear up front and put the rear cassette near the middle. The ground was mostly flat, but the combination of soft roads and headwind near 15 miles per hour kept my pace somewhere around 6-7 mph.
I began to formulate my drop plan on this stretch of road. Hopefully, I'd catch up with the rest of the boys somewhere (I knew they'd be waiting somewhere along the route), I'd hand off my keys to Squirrel or Dennis, and hunker down for a long ass haul to make it back. I remember joking as Squirrel pointed out my granny gear that X Avenue should be renamed to XXX avenue because it sure screwed me like no other. Little did I know that Squirrel was pretty serious when he said no one gets dropped on these rides.
The guys took off again and I kept plodding along until they were no longer in site. Somewhere in this stretch I stopped to stretch on the side of the road, snagged part of a bar, and took off the handlebar covers. The temps had warmed to the low 30's and even with lightweight gloves, it was too hot to keep my hands from sweating. I was treated to some more sludge on this route, but finally caught site of the guys waiting for me at a quaint little church in the middle of nowhere. A brief photo op of me smiling through the pain and we were off again headed to Perry.
This stretch treated us to the worst of the roads yet. I saw my first spot where Dennis had to hike a bike and cleared the top of the hill around 3 mph myself. Definitely not having much fun at this point, but I didn't have many other choices. I started thinking about the route sheet and how it noted a shortcut that knocked off about 7 miles by bypassing the stop in Perry. I really was considering it until I rode back up on Sumpter who either was waiting for me or not fairing any better than I at that point. My opportunity was lost as we took the road on in to Perry.
As we hit the edge of town, I was never happier to see blacktop or any other form of paving for that matter. My mood instantly picked up as my speed did. We found the rest of the boys hiding at a local watering hole. Some time was spent here evaluating the remaining 40 miles considering it was now 4 PM and we had to ride back through some of the same slog we'd just come from. Fuller called it a day and bummed a ride home from his wife. He offered me one as well, but something told me to trudge on even if I didn't make it for the full ride.
As we headed out of Perry the boys stopped for some chow at the Casey's. I was chided a bit for not joining in the grease fest of pizza and whatever else was available. Smart move on my part, but I'd later succumb and suffer for it. The only real redeeming quality for the next 20 miles was that we had a decent amount of north riding and east riding. We finally rolled into Woodward around 6 PM as dusk was really settling in. Another stop at the Casey's for lights, blinkies, gear change, and for me two slices of pizza. Note to self that I won't suffer that mistake again! As good as they tasted sliding on down, I suffered the next hour as they churned their way through my stomach. Uggh!
The roads were now pretty firm and our speeds were back into the double digits. I was even keeping up with the group or they slowed down as to not drop me again. I'm not sure which was the true case, but I was excited for the company and to be making a better pace. My knee was still hurting and I'd been chugging ibuprofen like Pez at every stop. It was now starting to get cold enough that my joints were getting some relief. Somewhere along the route I saw two deer fly across the road about 20 yards in front of me.
One final stop in Granger left us with 10 scant miles to home. I did a little victory dance in my head as we rolled 100 miles just after leaving town. For some reason I had it in my head that we'd have to transverse the single level B road again in the dark. The road itself wasn't bad, but it had icy drifts on it that made me a little nervous in daylight as I slipped around a bit even then. I was pretty sure I'd be going down if we had to do it at night. As luck would have it, we'd long since passed that stretch of road as it wasn't on the return route. This section would have the only near crash of the day as Sumpter went on a wild hop, skip, and jump after crossing up in some frozen ruts. The road definitely sucked in that respect.
Finally, we hit street lights, pavement, and the edge of civilization. My legs picked up some much needed energy from being so close to home. Of course this leg also led us to the only assholes of the ride who honked and made a comment or two. I guess most Iowans just don't expect a bunch of cyclists out on the roads at night in the middle of February, who knew?! At least we were all well lit (and we had lights on too).... We finally hit the Hy-Vee around 8:15 and tossed our bikes back in the truck. After hobbling around in the warmth of the store for a few minutes we emerged with our spoils of victory for the day- protein drinks, ice cream, brownies, and my own little treat of a lemon parfait.
Great day, great ride, and a lot of learning done. Time for more gravel goodness is definitely in the cards for this year so stay tuned.