Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Solo Century Ride in the Clouds

On Saturday I did my own personal 100-mile (aka "century") ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I'd never done that distance (or really anything close) but it was just something that I had really wanted to do for a while. I sought the perspective it would offer and I wanted confirmation that I could do it. It was important to me that I ride it alone, on my terms, my way.

I mentioned my idea to Coach Jim at our meeting a few weeks and he was supportive and said something about "training for it." My response was essentially "oh, no, I don't want to actually TRAIN for it, I just want to DO it." I think he knows to pick his battles because my mind was made up on this one.

As an Olympic/Sprint distance athlete, I don't need the uber-long rides and my busy family/work/life situation doesn't really support them. My longest ride to date was 71 miles last November, when I had the last "long ride itch." It seems to be a yearly thing.

I wanted my solo century ride to take place on the Blue Ridge Parkway because there is no navigating involved. You get on, you go north or south. Simple. Can't get lost. The road surface is pretty nice too. And one can never see too many cows or barns or hills.

I picked Saturday because I wanted to go while I still had some fitness left from the half iron and because the forecast called for 60 degrees, 0% precipitation, and partly sunny! PERFECT!

Well the joke was on me. What I got was THICK FOG/CLOUDS and almost NO sun (see top picture). There was a good break in the fog mid-ride, but the first and last third were predominantly fog, broken up by periods of intermittent fog, followed by more fog. At that elevation I was probably literally riding through clouds. I had water dripping from my helmet and my socks were wet. It was scary at times to be riding a bike on a narrow road when visibility was maybe 50' in mid-afternoon. I had a blinky light and bright clothes and helmet but I still felt vulnerable. Luckily traffic was light because the motorists were smarter than I and stayed home. Had I known what I was in for, I'd have rescheduled, but I kept thinking the fog would lift.

mid-afternoon: much of the ride was like this

 the fog relented for one of my favorite rhododendron-lined stretches!

As I usually do on long rides or runs, I spent a lot of time doing the math - percentage complete, percentage of the south section, north section, estimated time to the turnaround, matching equivalent distances completed/remaining to my usual ride routes. With 16 miles to go, it was only two "Luster's Gate loops" left, and at 3 miles, that's just a 5k! [It was nice to recently discover that I am not alone in my endurance math, nor am I an extreme example. See Andrew Jenner's post on his 50-mile Mountain Masochist Trail Run in which he shares all the crazy math he does!]

I finished with 101.6 miles and 8400 feet of elevation gain. It was not fast, but I finished, and finished feeling pretty good, not trashed. Even today I feel just fine, so I guess that's a good sign!

The ride gave me perspective on the accomplishments of others. I thought of my friend Kristen's recent 50-miler race (trail run), ultra runner friends Shannon, Carla, and Michaela, and Marshall Ulrich's run across the US averaging 70 miles a day! There are similar amazing feats in swimming and cycling. We are each capable of tremendous things and enduring for long periods if we choose to commit, train, and remain tough.

Bucket lists things don't have to involve a finisher's medal, spectators, or other people. Some of my most memorable swim/bike/runs have been done in solitude, and this century ride is among them.