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Still Riding Against the Wind

October 22, 2011

Usually, when I go for a bike ride, my main concern is getting where I need to go while having fun. This past weekend on the Seagull Century, my main concern was surviving and resisting the desire to whine. Thankfully, the ride went far better than I expected, as I was able to keep up with my parents both physically and mentally.

I came up with the idea of doing the Seagull Century while I was on the Climate Ride. As I was then in the process of averaging 60 miles daily on hilly terrain, a mere one day of 65 miles on a flat course sounded positively simple. Lill, one of my fellow riders, said that she had done the full century last year with a minimum of training. As I had done a couple of rides on the Eastern Shore of Maryland before that were quite scenic, it seemed like an excellent idea.

Unfortunately, I didn’t keep up my intense training post-Climate Ride at all. I got in my fair share of pleasant 15 and 20 mile rides, but my longest one-day total was only 35. By the time I got serious, it was too dark to bike back and forth to work, eliminating my main training tactic. And I knew it would be windy, between the proximity to the ocean and the windy weather report for that particular day. Even the 65 mile metric century started to seem awful long.

The fact that I was doing the ride with my parents only added to my hesitation. Although we had cycled as a family when I was a kid, my mom started distance cycling before I did. Since then, she’s gone from the person my dad and I waited for at the stop sign to the one who can leave me in the dust if she so pleases. Most of the time she doesn’t, but as with any mother-daughter friendly competition, the possibility is always there. So keeping up with her was a matter of pride.

The ride started off a little bumpy attitude-wise, after having issues with parking and the start location. So the fact that the wind picked up after only few miles was icing on the Discouragement Cake. Despite the forewarning, it was still frustrating. One minute you’d be rolling along pleasantly; the next you’d be climbing an unpredictable, invisible hill. I couldn’t complain too much though – we passed a couple of families, with kids on single or 10-speed bikes with fat tires. Recalling how hard it was to get anywhere on my little pink bikes when I was a kid, I admired their stamina and mental toughness.

Thankfully, the wind let up around mile 10, raising our speed and spirits. We flew along, expending so little energy that I could actually keep up a conversation. Passing by multiple gabled homes, we decided that they were pre-fab, despite their stately, historical look. (My mom really likes commenting on other people’s houses.) As they were in the middle of huge grain fields and reminded me of the house in the famous Wyeth painting, it was particularly odd.

Our first rest stop was outside a school, although we sadly weren’t allowed to use its restrooms. Porta-potties – never pleasant, especially when struggling with spandex shorts. However, we did find some solace listening to a fabulous musician who was providing entertainment. Alternating between singing and playing a brilliantly silver saxophone, he brought classic soul and rock numbers to life in a rather incongruous setting.

As we continued on, much of our scenery was farmland with a surprising number of industrial chicken farms. They reminded me of the bit about hog farms in Food, Inc. that describes how both the animals and people in such circumstances are treated horribly. The sign on one of the barns we passed said: “Contact us about unique financing options.” As I read it, I shook my head ruefully – those “unique financing options” are usually about as good for the farmer as sub-prime mortgages are for homeowners.

Our second rest stop wasn’t exactly “our” rest stop; it was actually for the people riding one of the two full 100 mile rides. Beyond our metric century, there were two “full” centuries – one that overlapped significantly with our route and another that went down to Assateague Island. I would have liked very much to cycle to Assateague, seeing the ocean and famous ponies, but if 65 miles was challenging, 100 would have been overwhelming. Thankfully, we got to mooch off the logistics of the ride that overlapped ours. Although there was no food at the stop, there was plenty to look at. The rest area was actually in Furnacetown, a living history museum focused around a multi-story brick iron smelting furnace. Sadly, none of the living history actors were out, but we looked at the furnace, the quirky garden, the blacksmith’s shop, and most importantly, the very modern bathrooms. A big fan of living history museums, I would have spent far more time there, but my mom was eager to get back on the road.

The wind picked up again between the second and third rest stops, unrelenting for a good, solid mile. Our speed dropped by nearly 10 miles an hour. A couple of large groups passed us, but even they had trouble maintaining power. The “peloton” might have been much faster than us, but even their speed was nowhere near “fast.” I kept considering the fact that there were supposed to be wind gusts of over 30 miles an hour, and if I was going 15 miles per hour, that would mean the wind was pushing me backwards at 15 miles an hour. I know perfectly well that’s not how the physics work, but it certainly felt that way.

Eventually, we made a turn that put the wind at our back and sides. I had to work hard to keep myself from being pushed over the curb, but it was still a substantial improvement. My dad led the way on part of this leg, which was refreshing. While both my mom and I will go our own pace and not care terribly much about the people behind us (unless leading a group ride, of course), my dad will moderate his pace to stay very close to whoever is following him. I noticed him looking in his mirror a lot to see where I was. Even though I’m an adult, having my dad look out for me is still very reassuring.

Our final rest stop was at a golf course, which I was very glad to see despite my dislike of golf. Although I was disappointed that there was no real “lunch,” there were two very important foodstuffs present: pie and ice cream. I chose apple pie, which came standard with vanilla ice cream. Both were good, but the ice cream was weird – it was in a bag. I remembered milk in a bag from elementary school, but never ice cream. Here, you opened up the bag, plopped the scoop of ice cream on your plate and threw out the bag. Less messy, but somewhat wasteful. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our pie and ice cream in the sunshine, gazing out onto the river.

We saw some interesting bikes during the trip, but we spotted by far the most baffling and startling one on the way out. It was a tandem recumbent bike, where the two rider were facing opposite directions! Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo because we were passing in the opposite direction. Thankfully, they actually have one on the Seagull Century website! I suspect, like this one, it’s also homemade. My mom commented that it reminded her of Doctor Doolittle’s Pushmi-Pullyu creature. We also saw another recumbent with wheels the size of a regular bike. The person was balancing himself so far off of the ground that it looked impossible to dismount.

The final leg of the ride was long – 23 miles – but also fast. The wind returned to push us along, for which I was terribly grateful. Memories of training for the Climate Ride, when I would go for days with my legs continuously sore, started to haunt me. My butt hurt terribly, with its muscles unhappy at the level of work expected of them.

We were less than a mile away when Dad and I got stopped at a red light – Mom made it through while it was still green. Seeing a clock on the bank that said “3:53,” I commented to Dad, “No wonder Mom is sprinting – she’s only got four minutes left.” (She had set an arbitrary goal of 4 PM, and I realized right after I said it that it was seven minutes rather than four.) In response, a man next to us said, in a mostly serious tone, “Do they stop serving beer in four minutes?!” I laughed and reassured him.

We rolled into the finish line by coming through a tunnel and into a crowd of cheering people. None of them knew us, of course, but that didn’t matter. We felt like champions. Tired champions.

Then, we ate dinner and headed back. Unlike the “rider dinner” with the other cyclists we thought we’d be having, our $12 just paid for our entrance into the university cafeteria where the ride ended. And the vegan bar was closed. C’est la vie. At least we’ll know for next time.

We returned to the house we rented with Lill and two of her friends, with her and her friend Eric showing up a few hours later. As they had ridden the entire century, they were even more tired than we were. Jenny, our other housemate, drove home right after the race, but we had talked to her quite a bit the night before. It was nice hanging out with all three of them. I’m an only child, so I’m used to being by myself with my parents, but it was good to have other people in the conversation. There was a definite rider camaraderie, not all that different from the feeling I had on the Climate Ride.

Overall, it was a good weekend of biking and being outdoors. With the fall thoroughly underway, I’m finding I have to beg, borrow and steal time to ride before winter makes its descent. It will be soon now, but the Seagull Century was a lovely last long ride to the season.

Note: I actually took a bunch of photos on the Ride, but due to an unexpected iPhone dysfunction, they’re stuck in Backup Hell. I’m hoping to retrieve and post them soon.

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