I originally signed up for this ride because I’d heard it was the premiere ride in the area, an amazing experience, something every cyclist in the area should do at least once. For many it’s their annual Big Ride. When my company sent out an email saying they were picking up the registration fee, it became a no-brainer and I signed up for the company team.
No one else at the office is a Crazy Bicycle Lady like myself – many of my fellow bicycle-loving denizens live in the city and commute 2-3 mile on a single-speed to the office – so despite my best efforts to get someone else I know to ride with me at work, no one took me up on it. A big part of that was also the $300 minimum fundraising requirement. Not everyone enjoys fundraising – myself included. I don’t personally know anyone with MS – but I do have friends with loved ones who have been diagnosed. I figured it’s a small part I can do for the benefit of a fully-supported ride across New Jersey.
My commuter friend did take me up and rode with a woman from the Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sports together on a tandem. My commuter friend is seriously a miles machine and a great person all around – he inspires me every day. And the woman he has ridden the last couple times with has a hilarious quick wit about her. Together they are one fast tandem team! And yes, they did the full century route too. Props!
We got on the road to the start point about 5am for what should have been a 45min drive – plenty of time to make the team meeting at 6am, team photo at 6:15, and hit the road at 6:30am. I think we spent 40 minutes on the off-ramp waiting to park! My commuter friend was supposed to roll-out at 6:15 – totally missed that. We got parked around 6:35am – he went his way to catch up with the tandem teams and I got my stuff together and checked in at the team tent. The line for the port-a-potties was incredible but I decided it was better to start a little later than spend the next 20 miles wishing I had.
The weather was perfect cycling weather – partly cloudy, high rose to the upper-60s. I had light arm warmers on all day.
I didn’t realize exactly how many people do this ride until I got there. We are talking thousands of folks. The mass-start-in-waves was suboptimal for individuals but once you got out on the road, you quickly understood why. There was no way to ride single-file – we took the whole lane and stretched for miles. Like Critical Mass only sanctioned. Police were stationed at lights and intersections to allow us to flow through – so very little stopping outside of the rest/aid stations.
People of all cycling abilities were there – on the shorter 25mile route, I saw a woman in her 70s cruising along on her old-school mixte-style bike. Kids with their parents. Friends on their hybrids. A few people on their recumbent bikes. The only time I found myself alone on a road was on the back end of the century loop – and even then, I’d pass at least one person in each mile.
Each rest stop was a party – the DJs were blaring upbeat music, massive food tents, plenty of port-a-potties (but always a line), friendly folks wandering around with jugs of water and Gatorade to fill your bottles away from the crowds at the food tent. The end of the route party had a live band, food, raffles, and access to the Ocean City boardwalk. Which boggled my mind as I was riding the last few streets, the beach just on the other side of the berm. I really wanted to get a picture on the beach with my bike.
The roads were very well marked (no cue sheet needed). Volunteers, families, and those affected by MS lined the streets and manned the corners, yelling “Thanks for riding!” Signs were posted with messages from those affected by MS lined the streets as well – very powerful to realize exactly what this ride means to them.
All in all, this really is the premiere ride in the area. Very well organized, supported, and marked.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE: This was the first ride event I’ve done truly by myself – I didn’t know anyone other than my commuter friend, a handful of people on the company team that I met once on a training ride and I didn’t see any of them along the route or at rest stops. I didn’t get on the road until 7:45am. I found three other guys in my company team jersey and we chatted briefly at the start before they quickly zoomed off.
100 miles is a long time to spend in your head and has benefits and pitfalls. This is definitely an event that begs to be done with friends and it would have been more fun to hang out with someone on our bikes all day. But I also wasn’t constrained by having another person with me – moderating pace, chatting while riding, lingering at rest stops. As it was, my rest stops were kept to a minimum: bathroom, food, water refills, and back on the road. And I cranked hard – easy pedaling was 16-17 mph, pushing was 20-23 mph … spent most of my time rolling 18-20mph.
FUELING: I packed a lot of my own fuel and I’m glad I did – the rest stops had a lot of Clif bars which is fine, but not what I wanted in the moment. The first rest stop was 20 miles in – grabbed part of a banana to supplement my goo. Mile 30 rest stop meant grabbing a PB&J on white and Sport Beans. Mile 45 was another part of a banana and another goo. Mile 55 I realized I needed more – when I got into the bathroom line I was hit by a wave of nausea. Nibbled on my Honey Stinger peanut butter bar until my blood-sugar levels stabilized. Took a bit longer at this stop to make sure I wouldn’t bonk later. Switched my beverage from Skratch Labs (hydration, sodium) to Propel Zero (B vitamins and electrolytes) and noticed an improvement in my overall disposition. Miles 65 and 75 were another goo break each. Mile 87 I grabbed some fig newtons with my goo. The closer we got to the ocean, the higher the winds.
TIMING: Started at 7:45am. I made it to the century loop turn-off with only 10 minutes until it closed at 11am. At mile 55, I’d been pushing 20-23mph over the last five miles into a headwind. My average was 16.9 mph. I did a fair amount of passing, but was also passed a lot. Saw the aftermath of a couple accidents. The last 8 miles were slow because everyone converged and had to get up over two bridges (NJ 152 bridge and then the Ocean Drive bridge) across the Egg Harbor Inlet. Definitely impacted the overall speed average – I was at 16.2mph average going into the final 8 miles but ended with a 15.6 mph average. Finished the ride at 3pm.
SOCIAL: I can’t say I enjoyed being alone all day. It seemed that everyone had at least one other person they were there with and I’m very much a social person. I tried to re-fame the day as a way to be friendly with others so I said “hello!” or “Good morning!” as I passed. One older guy hooked on to me and we chatted for a bit at one of the few stop lights where we had to stop. He was telling me about his RAGBRAI trip and how I should totally go do it. One guy complimented me on my bike. Three guys rode up – all on Felts – and said “Lookin’ good!” (That was pretty sweet – there were a lot of Felt bicycles on this ride) – I latched on to their group for a bit just based on our chosen brand of bicycles. I complimented a guy in the new Fat Cyclist kit on his choice of attire. Another guy yelled at me as I passed …
“You make this look easy!”
The hardest part socially was seeing all the families and friends lining the streets to the finish line, clanging cow bells, cheering and shouting. I really wished I had someone to share the end of a long day with me. I found my commuter friend, who had been at the finish for an hour at that point, so his group was off to get showers and dinner. I opted to head home on the bus – got my shirt and finisher’s medal (although I must have dropped it somewhere because I don’t have it any more). The three guys I’d seen at the start got in line behind me for the bus ride back to the start so we chatted for a while.
As I’m thinking about how I felt all day, it occurs to me that this is what it feels like to be diagnosed with something that is not currently curable, only manageable. You feel alone in a sea of thousands. This is what we were riding for – to help find a cure and break down the feelings of isolation and loneliness by connecting with others. It’s such a powerful message.
INTERESTING METRICS (to me at least):
I achieved a new high mileage total for September even though I didn’t ride for two weeks (354 miles for the month – 99mi for transportation, 254 for sport).
New personal best on 100km (62miles) 3:57:35.
The odometer on my bike indicates I’ve ridden 1,016 miles on my bike. I started riding her in April this year.
Overall an amazing experience. A touch stiff today, but nothing an Advil and plenty of fluids won’t handle. This is my second century ride within a month and I can honestly say now that conquering 100 miles is all in your head. If you can do 75, you can do 100. Obviously terrain played a huge part in yesterday’s final stats (final ride time was 6:24:30 as opposed to my earlier ride of 7:40:24) – the hillier the route, the longer it takes because you can’t just hammer through it. Yesterday’s route was a gentle downhill to sea level and my time clearly shows that terrain advantage.
October is heating up for fall riding and I’m looking forward to my next few rides to see fall foliage from a two-wheeled vantage point.
See you on the road!