I can now cross Century Ride off my bucket list (although I have a feeling it won’t be the only one I do.)
Saturday morning I packed up my car and put my bike on the rack in the predawn darkness.
The sun was just starting to come up when I stopped for coffee.
I picked up Andi and an hour later, we were in Culpeper.
We had about 15 minutes to use the port-a-john, pick up our packets, put air in our tires, pin numbers to our shirts and pack up everything we thought we’d need for the day.
We missed the start by about 6 minutes. We weren’t the only ones. About a dozen late-comers were straggling out of town with us.
The course was marked with arrows painted on the road (different colors for each of the distances). We followed the orange ones. We also had cue sheets, but really only needed them to figure out distances between rest stops.
I was a little concerned about my left calf. It felt tight and tingly. Nothing major at the moment, but we had a long way to go!
It had rained the night before, but the sky was clearing and the humidity was lifting. There was a bit of fall color on the trees and every once in a while the wind sent down a shower of leaves. It was turning out to be a beautiful day.
The first rest stop was at the Rapidan Volunteer Fire Department (mile 15.3). Quite a few people were milling about. We used the (indoor!) restrooms. I stretched my calf, ate a banana, and we were on our way.
The second rest stop was at the Brightwood General Store (mile 28.6).
Again, there were quite a few other cyclists. We grabbed some more food. I went for the freeze-dried pears and Fig Newtons this time.
The 65 mile course and 100 mile course split off from each other after this rest stop. We were on our own. Everyone who had been at the stop with us must have been doing the 65 miler.
We didn’t see another cyclist for the 11.8 miles between this rest stop and the next. The hills got bigger, but the views were worth it.
Strangely, the longer we rode, the better my calf started to feel.
By the time we pulled into the third rest stop (at the Hebron Valley Lutheran Church), the wind had picked up. All of the volunteers were bundled up and freezing. Only two other cyclists were there.
The food spread at this stop was by far the most impressive we’d seen. I had a mini Clif Bar and a baggie of trail mix and filled one of my water bottles with some lemonade flavored coconut water.
There were cut-off times for all of the rest stops. We pulled out of the third stop with 50 minutes to spare.
We had 17.8 more miles to go before lunch.
We saw one other cyclist on this stretch. He was off on the side of the road working on his bike.
When we arrived at the lunch stop, the same two guys we’d seen at the previous stop were still eating and there was a couple on a tandem bike. The cyclist we’d passed working on his bike rolled in shortly after we did.
Lunch was boxed lunches from Tropical Smoothie Cafe. I wasn’t expecting to be impressed, but my hummus wrap was quite tasty.
This was our longest break, but it didn’t feel like we lingered all that long.
The sun had been behind the clouds for a while. By the time we left, we were getting cold.
The 14.2 mile stretch between lunch and the next rest stop (at the Mt. Zion Church) included our last big climb of the day (not pictured.)We passed the couple who were riding the tandem bike on the climb. They were walking their bike. I figured they were probably doing the 65 miler (the two courses had merged again for a while at the lunch stop) but it felt good to know that (at least for a little while) we weren’t the last ones out there.
At the Mt. Zion Church rest stop I talked to one of the church volunteers, who told me that he was never going to do what any doctor tells him to do. According to him, the average doctor only lives to be 56 years old. Since he was already 74 and had been eating a pint of ice cream every night for as long as he could remember, he was just going to continue doing so.
I wasn’t sure of his facts, but couldn’t argue with his logic.
The SAG vehicle driver checked in with us. He made us take his number, and told us that several people had cramped up in the final stretch.
I hadn’t looked at the time since we left the third rest stop at about noon. I had no idea what time it was, and I don’t think Andi did either.
It was 20.2 miles between this rest stop and the Graffiti house (the last rest stop at mile 92.65.)
We set off before the two guys (two of the three 100 milers we’d seen all day). About a half hour later, they came flying by us.
My right quad was starting to talk to me a little. I figured it was because I had been favoring my left leg in the early miles. It wasn’t a big deal, but the SAG guy had me worried about cramping up.
We were mostly on country roads with very little traffic. Andi and I were talking more than we had all day, which made the miles go by faster. My Garmin had died at the last rest stop and it was kind of nice not to have constant feedback about distance and pace. I looked around more, and just enjoyed the beautiful day. I almost forgot about my quad and the pinch in my shoulder.
About two miles before we reached the last rest stop, the SAG driver pulled up beside us and asked how our legs were holding up. We told him they were fine. He said, “It’s 5:00″. We were surprised. He told us again, “It’s 5:00. The Graffiti House rest stop is closed.” I wondered why he kept telling us the time, and why they had closed the rest stop early if they knew we were still out here (even though he’d just told us the time, I was still thinking that he was telling us that they closed the rest stop early.)
He offered us food and water. We told him we were fine. I looked down at my water bottle. It was nearly empty, but we only had ten miles to go. I probably wouldn’t even drink what I had. I’d been looking forward to a few more Fig Newtons, though.
He looked a little pained, like he didn’t know what he should do, then said “Well, I guess the safest thing for you to do is to just follow the course to the finish.”
And then it dawned on me what was happening. He was very politely trying to tell us that the event was over. He had come back to pick us up in the SAG wagon.
I would have been so upset if we hadn’t been allowed to finish. As it was, my heart sank for a minute. Wait, does not finishing before the end of the event mean we didn’t do the Century?
Hell, no! That’s just silliness. All I cared about was covering the distance, and we were going to do that.
That’s when the whole thing became incredibly funny. Andi and I were both feeling fine. Everybody had been telling us how strong we looked. All the volunteers had seen surprised by how much energy we still had. It was true. We could have ridden faster, we just had no idea that we needed to. We had obviously made the cut off at the last rest stop. The terrain had gotten easier. We hadn’t slowed down. How had this happened?
Andi said their cut-off times must be skewed.
At the next street crossing, a different SAG vehicle pulled out behind us. I was embarrassed and I felt bad making the poor guy stay late just because we hadn’t paid attention to the time. But there was no way we were not going to finish now! We pulled over in the empty spot where the last rest stop would have been and he stopped next to us.
He offered us food and water. I apologized profusely for making him stay late. He told us that it happens every year. Some years he’d been out until seven, eight at night. We took some snacks from him and he told us about the Graffiti house. I was still trying to process the whole situation and am ashamed to say I didn’t really listen. I do remember hearing Andi say “Oh, so that’s why they call it Graffiti house.”
Andi with Jim (I hope I got his name right. He was so nice and helpful. I really wanted to remember it!), the Sag wagon driver (and our own private escort for the last eight miles.) In silhouette, because I’m such an awesome photographer.
Jim drove in front of us and kept pulling over to let us catch up. I was relieved that he didn’t follow along behind. While that would have added to the comedic factor, it would have made me incredibly uncomfortable.
The final stretch was mostly flat. The temperature was dropping quickly. I was very happy when we pulled into the empty parking lot at the finish.
One hundred and one miles, done!!
Everything and everyone was gone. Even the port-o-johns!!
Jim took our picture and gave us some recommendations for dinner.
If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change a thing! It was an awesome ride on a beautiful day, and now we’ll always have a story to tell about the time we were almost picked up by the SAG wagon.
I would, however, like to do another century and finish before the event has ended and everybody has gone home.
Oh, and Andi was right about the cut-off times being skewed. The Mt. Zion Church stop closed at 4:00, but the Graffiti House closed at 4:30. That meant we’d have only 30 minutes to ride 20 miles. It would also mean that we would have had to ride the last 28 miles in an hour just to make it to the finish before the end of the event (to put that in perspective, we usually cover 14-15 miles an hour on hilly terrain.)