Date: April 5 and 6
Mileage: 76.2 and 39.1
April mileage: 214.9
Temperature upon departure: 36 and 37
We’ve had a fairly rainy weekend in Juneau, just in time to coincide with my efforts to log more hours on the bike. Right now I want to log miles for the sake of logging miles, to spend that time with my butt in the saddle and heavy weight hanging off my back so I can become reacquainted with the pressure and flow. When it rains the whole time, like it did on Sunday, the ride becomes one of those “put your head down and pedal” kind of rides. Or, as I like to think of it, “five hours of looking at wet pavement.”
One would think that such a ride would be unbearably dull, maddening even, but I never feel that way. The whirring wheel and fountains of rainwater put me in a meditative place, a place where I truly feel like I have room to think ... think openly, that is, not necessarily deeply. Between a high heart rate, focus on cadence and hours worth of fatigue, I’m certainly not composing any sonnets in my head. What I do most often is replay random memories from the past, often events or conversations I haven’t thought of in years. It’s like watching vaguely familiar television reruns through a haze of insomnia. Amid the sleepiness and indifference, the most mundane moments shine through with startling clarity.
I watched the crank spin on my creaky old touring bike and thought back to the day we first met. "Roadie" showed up in a box from Georgia. I left him in there until the night before our first ride. I attached the stock pedals and stock seat, tightened the headset and mounted the front wheel. Early the next morning, I wheeled him outside for the first time and teetered a bit down B Street en route to the start of the Salt Lake Century.
I was about 22 miles into the ride when a stranger pulled up behind me.
“Mind if I ride with you for a bit?” the man asked. I couldn't see him but he sounded non-creepy enough.
“Sure,” I said.
“You lose your group?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “I’m alone.”
“You’re not riding with anyone?”
“Nope. All alone.”
“You know these things are easier if you ride with people.”
“I don’t really care,” I said. “I’m not looking to set an Olympic record.”
“Well, I already got dropped,” he said. “I had to cut back but I’m going to try to catch up to them at the next station.”
We rode in silence for a few minutes, and then he said, “What’s with the big backpack?”
“That’s all my food and water,” I said. “I didn’t realize there’d be rest stops every 15 miles.”
“Have you ever ridden a century before?”
“Not in one shot,” I said.
“So have you been training pretty hard?”
I thought about my old bike, which for the past several weeks had been piled in pieces in Geoff’s basement. Then there was the mountain bike I was still mostly afraid ride. Truth was, since I returned from my cross-country bike tour a half year before, I hadn’t ridden more than a couple dozen times here and there. “Not really,” I said.
“So what made you decide to ride a century?”
“Cycling Utah covered my entry fee,” I said. “They want me to write an article.”
“How much do they pay you?”
“Oh, about 50 bucks an article.”
“You’re riding 100 miles for 50 bucks?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Sweet deal, huh?”
“Well, it’s more than I’m getting,” he said. “It was my brother’s plan do this. We’ve been training all spring. He has one of those training plans.”
“How’s that working out for you?”
He laughed. “I feel like crap. How are you doing?”
“Not so bad,” I said. “This is kind of relaxing, out here by the lake. But ask me that question again at mile 80.”
He moved ahead to pull for a while. He coasted beside me a few moments, checking out my bike.
“Nice bike,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said. “It’s brand new.”
“I just opened it yesterday.”
“It came in a box.”
“And you just decided the Salt Lake Century would be good inaugural ride?”
“I needed a bike,” I said. “My editor told me I’d be nuts to try this on my mountain bike.”
“I think you’re nuts to try it on a bike you’ve never ridden.”
“It’s pretty comfortable,” I said. “I like this bike.”
“What’s with the flat bar?”
“Oh,” I said. “It’s a touring bike.” I sat up straight and grinned. “Built for all-day comfort. I’d rather ride far than fast.”
He laughed. “I’d rather do both.”
Not long after, he stopped at the next aid station to look for his friends. I already had a backpack full of food and water, so I just kept going. By mile 75, my gut had seized up with cramps, but I doubled over and kept going. Sweat gushed down my neck as streaks of red light shot through my blurring line of vision. My butt and hands throbbed and my legs felt like they were slowly being crushed beneath a blunt object. Through it all, Roadie kept on rolling along, carrying me farther than I ever thought I'd really be able to ride in a single push. And by mile 92, all the pain seemed to break free. A wave of peace washed over me. The final miles limped by in a happy haze.
"This is what it feels like to ride far," I thought. It occurred to me that my "Fast and Far" riding companion never passed me again. "Far and kinda fast," I smiled.
The Salt Lake Century opened up a new way of thinking for me. My cross-country bike tour showed me all the ways riding a bicycle can stretch out the distance between two points to an appealingly infinite space. The Century taught me the ways cycling can bring truly far-away spaces together, bridging a void that becomes even more meaningful en route.
Today, Roadie and I rode hard, seeking short dives into the pain cave and hints of sucker hole sunlight. I've been hedging on the same decision for so long that I think I should just go ahead and mentally commit to another big adventure. Open that brand new bike box and set out, so to speak. More on this tomorrow.