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Justin and I just after completing the Capital City Century!

 

My muscles were cold and tight in the first couple of miles. They always are on an early morning ride. This time though, the tightness in my quads was nothing compared to tightness in my nervous stomach. One hundred miles of road sat ahead of me for the Capital City Century ride, and though I’d spent the whole summer working up to this kind of distance, 100 miles seemed completely out of reach standing at the start line.

 

The week prior to the event was a gut-check to my cycling confidence. After a successful Metric Century (100 kilometers, 62.3 miles) ride at the beginning of August, I’d purchased my dream bike. The dream was short-lived though, and since I’d started riding my new Trek Madone — and particularly since I began using clipless pedals — I felt like a beginner again. The SPD style pedals on my new bike attach to cleats on the bottom of special shoes. The idea is that with your feet attached to the pedals, you can both push and pull through your pedal stroke. This can add as much as 30 percent more power to your peddling. The trick is you’ve got to know how to disengage the cleats when you want to stop or if you need to catch yourself, or you’re going to just fall over with your feet still attached to the bike.

Well, fall-over is exactly what I did …  several times. Once I fell in my driveway. Once I fell on State Street with a dozen cars of people at the stoplight to watch it happen. Once I fell on a hill in Keokuk, prompting a passing police officer to laugh and say through the window of his squad car, “Are you alright ma’m? Gotta love those clipless pedals.”  And my worst fall was on Labor Day, when, not even out of the parking lot that we were starting the Bridge-to-Bridge ride from, I stuck my tire stuck in a groove, couldn’t get my foot out in time, fell over hard, heard my tire go flat, and then heard the rider behind me fall over top of me. It’s one thing to fall in my driveway, but it’s a whole other thing to fall in front of 30 experienced cyclists. It bruised my backside and bruised my confidence equally.

Victory!! With the Green Machine!

All of my falls plus three flat tires in five days made for some major butterflies for the beginning of my Century ride. I tried to shake it off. My husband was riding with me, and he’s always full of encouragement, and a good friend who was up really early tried to reassure me via text message that there was no need to be nervous. I smiled weakly for a photo by my car and decided there was nothing for it but to try.  I know he gets tired of me saying this — but I thought of my friend Ultra-Runner Jared Busen’s words when I was leaving the parking lot, “It’s about not quitting; it’s about continual forward progress.”

Three short miles down the road though, my attitude changed dramatically. We rounded the corner in a group of 50 or more cyclists, and we cruised down a small hill onto a country road. For there being so many people, there wasn’t much talking, and at the bottom of the hill was the kind of pastoral early morning scene that brings to mind a Copeland symphony. The dawn sunlight was filtered through trees and scattered by the mist in the morning air and off to the left sat a huge flock of Canadian Geese in a freshly harvested corn field. The pack of bikers was so fluid rolling past that the geese didn’t even get up from the spots they’d settled down in the night before. The serenity of the moment washed over me, and I physically felt my tension melt. It was going to be a good ride.

It’s funny, despite the entire run up being riddled with doubt; the miles of the ride seemed to tick away almost effortlessly. After I’d calmed down, I never thought of quitting. As a matter of fact, I didn’t think of much of anything at all. I think that’s the beauty of distance cycling. It’s a stolen afternoon of quiet. My mind stills and the cadence of the pedal stroke, the regularity of my breathing and the sound of the wheels on the pavement all bring me to a place that’s simple and peaceful and far too rare in my very busy life.

There were so many inspiring moments on the ride. Out on the farm roads of rural Illinois, we passed picture-perfect-scenes of combines harvesting in the fields, red barns with rickety hay lofts, and old farm dogs lying lazily in the sun. One of my favorite moments happened as we rode past a horse farm. Rather than being spooked by our bikes, the horses tossed their manes then ran alongside us before wheeling back and happily escorting the next group of riders along the stretch of fence that they occupied. Each of the five 20-mile loops fell beneath our tires in a cascade of classic Midwestern images that you think must only exist in your imagination.

My first Full Century Certificate

Justin and I completed the 102.65 mile ride in 7 hours and 14 minutes with an average speed of 14.1 miles per hour. In the week after the ride, I’ve had some time to reflect, and the story of my first Century isn’t just the story of 100 miles in a day.  It’s the story of a thousand miles of summer spent learning from friends, developing skill and putting in hard work towards a big goal. It’s also just the first entry in what I hope will be a long book of cycling tales. When I started biking this spring, I really just wanted a topic to write about for my blog. I never expected to develop such a passion for the sport. It just goes to show that you never know what kind of life-changing adventure you might find when you follow your Adventure Foot!

Special congratulations to some other Quincy riders who completed their first Century on 9/11/11: Justin Sievert, Charlotte Goldinger, Colleen Fantz and Cathy Whitley. Also, congratulations to Ryan Hilldebrand, who rode his first Century here in Quincy this weekend as well.

The 39th annual Capital City Century had a record 861 riders from seven states that ranged in age from 4 to 84 years old. The event had routes ranging from 10 miles to 100. For more information, visitwww.spfldcycling.org/ccc/

Originally posted September 19, 2011

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