Around this time last summer, I decided I needed a new bicycling goal. It had been over a year since I surpassed my goal of biking to work every day for a year. For the past few summers I’ve aimed to (and reached or exceeded) ride 100 miles a week in July. And while there are certain hills I look forward to incorporating into my routes each season, and particular roads I enjoy returning to, without a goal it sometimes feels as though I’m merely going around in circles.
While I do accumulate many miles each year, I am not fast and have no desire to race. As I see it, this leaves me with repetition and distance. Cue Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams and the voice saying, “Go the distance.”
Each summer I manage to do at least one 50-miler. Occasionally I have done a 60 mile ride. I’m fairly certain that at some point I said I would never do a century, but it was starting to feel right. A century for cyclists is about what a marathon is for runners. I’ve been at this for a while; it seemed to be time.
I had certain parameters, though. There are many supported century rides to select from, but they don’t have rain dates. While I’m willing to ride less than three miles to work in the rain, I have no desire to pay for a ride and then be in wet spandex for dozens of miles. Many of those rides also have a fundraising component, and that is not for me. Did I want to invite someone to ride with me? Sure, it would have been nice to have someone along to chat with, to help change a flat tire if necessary. However, I didn’t want anyone struggling to keep up with me, nor did I want to struggle to keep up with anyone else. More importantly, the date chosen for the ride needed to be a date when my body, with its various and sundry limitations, was ready. I wanted to reach my goal without hurting myself in the process. I concluded it was best to ride alone.
Where did I want to ride? I could start at home (another advantage to riding alone) and ride round trip to the Connecticut shore, or do a loop in the central part of the state. At some point I decided I wanted something more adventuresome than repeating the roads I’ve been riding for two decades. I wanted to make it an event; to start at home and go in one direction or another for 100 miles.
Sitting in a coffee shop one winter day, I shared these thoughts with a good friend. How we got from my “I want to ride 100 miles in one direction” to her “my family’s house is 100 miles from here,” I no longer remember. But between then and now I spent copious hours on mapping websites, calculating any number of possible routes between Chez CyclingArchivist and the Homestead of the Family W (century routes – one, two, three – and 50 mile routes for the area where I’d be riding are publicly available).
The goal was set.
I found a training plan that would be a good model for me. When spring arrived, I started pedaling. As spring became summer we started discussing dates. The chosen date made its appearance in the 10-day forecast, sunny at first, then progressively rainier. At the 11th hour we postponed from Tuesday to Thursday.
Thursday morning arrived and the weather was perfect. The ride itself was better than I had imagined. The Connecticut portion was quite familiar. I had tried out the segment between Lake Congamond and Northampton, MA once before. The rest was entirely new. The Connecticut River Valley in Hadley was green with ripening corn, with equally colored, tree-covered hills in the distance. Move over Filet Mignon, the first protein bar I ate, at almost 39 miles in, was the most delicious food I’d ever encountered. I’m pretty sure that was situational. An employee of the Sunderland Corner Store generously let me use the sink to refill a water bottle. The one portion of trail I wasn’t sure actually existed, was in fact in place, and was followed by one of the more unusual buildings I’ve seen in a while.
Back along the river, Turners Falls provided a scenic snack break, my second of three.
I sent a selfie to my co-workers when I crossed the Vermont state line.
At that point I still had over 20 miles (uphill!) left to ride, but it was an accomplishment nonetheless. My penultimate stop was a photo-op with the West Dummerston Covered Bridge.
A few more miles of climbing, and I was there.
My bike computer was set to display the number of miles left to ride. I tried not to read it too often, but it surprised me how the numbers seemed to melt away. 89! 49! 34, I can do that after a full day of work! 17! 2.9, that’s my commute to work; think how quickly you get down Park Street!
I arrived with a smile on my face. I didn’t get lost, or have any mechanical issues. Perhaps I should have had more water, but I wasn’t parched. Mentally, the last seven miles were toughest. But I made it.
Total mileage: 102.11 Moving time: 7:11:38 Elapsed time: 8:15:37
My friend had driven up just to meet me and bring me back home. When I first discussed this with her, I’d envisioned meeting her there at the end of one of her stays. I never expected she would travel all that way for me. After I got cleaned up, we enjoyed some time on the porch and walked around the property (the house is amazing, and there’s some manuscript material I’d love to see some day). We had burgers at a local restaurant, then drove back home.
Two days later I remain elated. My training had been effective. I accomplished another goal, on a beautiful day with a spectacular route. And I enjoyed the absolute best of friendship.