July 13, 2015
Centuries—rides that cover at least 100 miles in a day —are a kind of rite of passage for cyclists. Sitting in a saddle, pedaling, for that many hours takes conditioning and perseverance even under the best conditions.
Today, we were looking at a 105-mile journey from Glendive to Wolf Point in eastern Montana. Winds were expected to reach 20-25 mph, and temperatures to reach in the low 90s.
Three of us who typically break camp early anyway—Brian Oliver, Chelsea Scudder, and I—got up at 3 am and were on the road by 3:50 in an attempt to get as far as possible before the wind and sun reached their peak.
We rode the first half of the century straight into a headwind. In the first 10-15 miles, Brian and I were setting too fast a pace and dropped Chelsea twice before we realized this wasn’t going to work for 100 miles. We slowed the pace and put Chelsea between us, trading the lead every five miles to conserve everyone’s energy.
After a breakfast break at the halfway point in the town of Circle, the road turned from west to north, and much of the wind was coming from the side—easier to manage. Also, the terrain changes from flat to rolling hills, which gave us some respite from the wind and also provided several downhills that require less energy while increasing our speed.
But I ran into a problem. My back had started tightening up around the 35-mile mark. We were carrying extra food and water because there were very limited services along the 100-mile route. That extra weight changed the balance in my pack and seat bag, which I think was the cause of my back tightening. The result was that in the second half of the ride, I had to stop every 3-5 miles to stretch. The discomfort, along with the wind, took their toll on my energy.
Brian and Chelsea showed the same kind of teamwork we had developed with our paceline in the first half. Because I was having to stop so frequently, they would ride ahead and wait at 10 or 15 mile checkpoints to make sure I was okay, and that we all had sufficient food and water. That waiting slowed the individuals down, but got our team to Wolf Point safely by 2-3:00 this afternoon.
We didn’t set any speed records, but all three of us accomplished something considerable. Brian, who’s carrying all his gear (tent, sleeping bag, etc.) on his bike proved beyond question his strength and leadership (he also ran four miles when he got to Wolf Point). Chelsea completed her first century under very challenging conditions and did it impressively. I encountered my first ride on this trip where I was seriously challenged physically and, with the physical and moral support of my teammates, was able to persevere and endure to the finish.
Ninety percent of my riding I do alone, which is fine and enjoyable in its own way. But today I was also reminded of the strength we draw from each other when we work together.
There are some journeys we only take alone, some places of knowledge and experience we only arrive at in solitude. But there are also journeys that we can only complete in community, and some learning that we only achieve with the help and presence of companions. If we’re lucky, we get to experience both.
Today I was able to do that.