Monday, August 15, 2011

A century!

Today I had a BIG adventure and took a daunting step toward making my cross-state ride a doable reality. I'm still daunted, but also have a measure of confidence and sense of what's ahead now. I biked 100 miles (well, 103.8 miles!) for the first time. This is called a "century."
My route through Durham, Chatham, Wake, Harnett, Alamance and Orange counties

Today was partly cloudy and not stinking hot - a pretty good day to be on a bike. I left our house, near Southpoint mall in Durham, before nine a.m., pedaling at a very conservative pace, coasting the downhills, making sure I'd have the stamina to finish 100 miles. I started on Highway 751 and rode down around Jordan Lake, dipping into Chattham County, and then Wake County near Holly Springs and the Sharron Harris nuclear plant. The land around the nuclear plant is otherworldly - so, so empty. You see logged forests, huge quarries for chemical waste, and then the belching cooling towers of the plant far away. I dipped into Harnett County, too, through beautiful countryside. It's kind of a good feeling - though not when on a bicycle on a hot day - that you can go 15 or 20 miles without seeing even a little country store.

Anyway, I looped back into Chattham County for a huge climb up to Pittsboro, and stopped for lunch at the General Store Cafe. I was almost 60 miles in by that point and a little dizzy, so chilling out over iced tea and a small serving of rice and beans did the trick. Then there was MORE up, lots of zooming down and then climbing back out of small river valleys on the way into Alamance County. I threaded through the tiny community of Eli Whitney - which was very welcome by this point, another 15 mile stretch of no amenities - and Saxapahaw. Then a sprint back east into Carrboro on Old Greensboro Road. This was my favorite road of the trip. Only a few short climbs where I really maxed out my bike gears and was suffering. A lot of downhill and gentle undulations, a few rivers and lots of farms to look at, and a freshly paved road that made for butter smooth riding. From Carrboro, I wound into Chapel Hill, across the UNC campus, and through backroads to Southpoint mall. My heroic husband picked me and my bike up. One chocolate milkshake and a Panera sandwich later, and I was home safe, soaking slightly sore knees in a tub of ice. Brrrr. What a day!

A few highlights/misadventures/lessons:

  • Between Harnett and Wake County, I ran into a 1.5 mile stretch of a gravel road - deep, chunky gravel that a skinny-tired road bike just can't handle. The other roads around also turned gravel, I would have had to backtrack by miles to avoid it. So I hobbled along in my cycling cleats, which even with covers on are very hard to walk normally in. My feet kept sinking in and I kicked my own ankles a few times with the hard cleats. Lost maybe 30 or 45 minutes of time dealing with the whole situation and pushing my bike at a snail's pace. Google Maps does NOT show gravel except on satellite.  This was a quiet road, but a fairly major connecting road. Now I know to check for this!
  •  I got chased by two huge black dogs in Alamance County. My legs were trembling at the end of a big hill and these two animals barreled out from a yard, barking, snarling, snapping their teeth. They were strong and fast, at least for a few seconds. I saw teeth pretty close to my legs and pedaled like a mad woman. Adrenalin is pretty amazing. Maybe need to think about something to carry as dog deterrent. I grew up in the country and know dogs - these guys were trained to do serious damage.
  • A ride like this is completely mental. There were a few climbs that had me so frustrated I had a little meltdown and got teary eyed. And the last 30 miles, when I should have been DEAD, I knew I was going to be able to finish the 100 and felt THRILLED and like I was flying.
  • There are tricks to finishing one of these rides - at least when you are doing it as a fairly new cyclist, and one who is built more like someone who loves cookies than an elite athlete. 1) Pacing. I cycle anywhere from 12 to 16 miles per hour depending on distance, heat, and hills. The half hour walking/crawling slowed me down a lot today. Including it, I took over nine hours to go the 104 miles, or 11.3 mph average pace. That's a crawl for most cyclists, but it left me strong at the finish. And walking normally when I got off my bike! My knees are tender, but I feel good.
  • The other trick is fuel. Fluid, to start, and electrolytes, so Gatorade or something is good. But also, actual calories. I burned over 5,000 on this ride today. A lot of that goes into weight loss, and that's great. But you also need to keep a small, steady supply of carbs going into your system, with a little protein to sustain your muscles and help them recover. I stopped for lunch, and ate a few energy bars (Clif, Lara). Also, over nine hours of riding, you just need to replace normal meals as much as anything. Every time I was suffering a bit, it was when I was due for refueling with a few bites. And the miles once my lunch kicked in went great. It's nice you can find most of what you need at any country convenience store. People do all different things to keep their bodies going. This is what worked for me.
  • And finally: We have some serious hills here in the Triangle!!!! A few shallow hills are ideal for cycling - flat gets monotonous, both for the mind and the muscles. But I had several miles of almost uninterrupted climbing at some points. The downhills, when you fly clinging to the bike with the wind in your face, almost terrified of the 30 mph or more speed, revitalize you. But the climbs do take their toll.
    Elevation chart from the ride
Can I do this for five days straight in just six weeks for BIKE NC? I think it will hurt. But I think I can do it. Because this IS a mental game, I have an advantage: knowing that people are behind me, have invested in this ride and its cause, and that I'm pedaling all these miles because I believe that if people come together, they can make public education better for every child. And the people supporting the ride believe it too, and they're counting on me. I think that can get me 500 miles.


  1. Amanda, you're amazing! What an incredible ride--for you as cyclist and me as reader! Great cause.


  2. Thanks! It's an adventure and I'm glad you are following along!