After the 'agony of defeat' I experienced on the Seattle to Portland ride, I decided to re-evaluate my riding goals.
Last summer I had set a goal of riding a century - 100 miles - and trained pretty hard for it. I signed up for the Portland Century ride and completed the 80 mile option. I felt confident and in good shape for the Harvest Century in September, but Mother Nature had other plans and sent a ride-canceling storm. I was half tempted to do the ride on my own anyway - but so much debris had been blown into the streets that it would have been impossible. I was incredibly disappointed.
My training this year has not been nearly as intense, and I've hit more obstacles. The "Worst Day of the Year" ride in February was canceled and I got a flat tire the night before the Bridge Pedal. And I've already written extensively about my fore-shortened StP ride. So I saw this year's Portland Century as a last-ditch effort to actually reach my year-old goal of riding a 100 miles in one go. I needed a win!
I got up at 0'dark thirty and rode 5 miles up to the University of Portland for the start of the ride.
|Waiting in line to register for the ride|
Fortunately I had picked up my packet early, so I didn't need to wait in line - just ran in to grab a bit of breakfast before heading out.
Mile 0 - Feeling pretty good. It's chilly, so I've got an extra shirt on. But the ride starts out flat in familiar territory.
Mile 10 - going along Marine Drive past the airport. Did you know that PDX uses air-cannons to scare away birds? Boom! Boom! Boom!! It's a bit of an unnerving sound as you ride past.
|Don't much like the look of those clouds hanging over Vancouver.|
|Looking back at Portland it's nothing but clear skies!|
Mile 14 - After a harrowing climb up the I-205 bike path with cars zooming past on either side, we reach the first stop of the day. It's nice to get a breather after that hill, especially knowing that we've got a bit more climbing to do within the next 10 or so miles.
Mile 20 - I ride right past the cut-off for the folks doing the 45 mile option. Feeling pretty good.
|Climb baby climb.|
A few people ask me "So are you doing the 100?" and I'm always hesitant to say "yes", so I reply "Well, that's what I signed up for." because when you aim to do something you've never done before - how do you know if you're going to make it or not? Day 2 of StP was haunting me. I kept telling myself that I'd just see how I felt and take the 80 mile option if I needed to.
|Hill climbs = excellent views|
Mile 30 - Second stop of the day at Lacamas Lake. Despite the clouds it's really quite pretty out. And this stop has bagels with lox. I can't describe how motivating that is to this Jersey girl.
Mile 35 - There's a bit more climbing but I take it slow and steady. I've decided to take a relaxed approach to this ride - and even stop a few times to take pictures or when ripe blackberries tempt me off the path. "They were off my path so I never had dared... " I find myself singing the Into the Woods soundtrack as I ride along tree-lined roads.
Mile 40 - Immediately after the next rest stop we come to the big decision point - 80 mile option or 100? I'm hardly the fastest rider, and the hills - although modest - do put my legs to the test. But despite the chill, I'm feeling pretty darn good.
|This is what I came here to do!|
Mile 50 - We've had a quite a few rollers, and I have to say my legs definitely feel it. But it warmed up and the views are impressive. This is why I ride - to see beautiful places, to spend the day outside in the fresh air, and to get the exercise that I don't get in my day-job.
|Getting close to La Center Washington.|
Mile 60 - We're past the half-way point, and about to turn south to head back to Portland. This stop was in a lovely park.
|La Center rest stop|
|Stop and smell the flowers.|
|There were lots of statues and carvings.|
In a somewhat unpopular move, the organizers put the food down a hilly path. After the hill climbing we'd just done - no one was particularly happy about the stairs.
It was interesting to chat with people and to overhear snippets of conversation from exhausted riders - "Those hills were killing me" "The thing is - these folks ride all the time, we just do weekends...." - because I was feeling ok. Tired and a bit sore, sure... but not wiped out. Most everyone on this ride looked the part of a serious cyclist in spandex with clip-in shoes. But in the end a pretty jersey is no substitute for training.
Mile 65 - Back on the road. We pass lots of farms, goats, cows, horses, pigs, chickens and lots of apple orchards. It's quite a scenic ride.
Mile 68 - I hear a rider say "This is the farthest I've ever gone!" and several of us congratulate him. This is the first century for a lot of us and the more experienced riders give us words of encouragement. The recreational cycling community is incredibly supportive.
|Gotta love an old red barn|
Mile 70 - More rollers. There's no one giant hill to conquer on this ride like there was on StP, but there's a total of about 3,000 feet of elevation change, so I'm getting quite a workout. Fortunately there haven't been any stop lights at the bottom of the hills so I've been able to carry the momentum half way up the next hill. It's still a challenge though - to maintain control as you're barreling down the hill at 30+ mph, and then rapidly down-shifting to be able to climb the rest of the next hill.
At one point my chain just refuses to get into first gear and I'm screaming at it to just GO GO GO GO COME ON!!! I try up-shifting and then trying to down-shift again, it finally clicks in. Pedaling in the wrong gear sapped every bit of strength I had in my legs. OMG - PAINFUL!!
Mile 75 - Much needed rest stop at NW Organic Farms. The farm provides organic heirloom tomatoes in a simple salad with olive oil and salt. It is absolute perfection on this hot summer day.
Mile 77 - Because this is not a race and people start whenever they want, and take as long as they need at the rest stops, the riders get quite spread out. This is nice because it means you're not just staring at someone's butt the entire time, and you don't constantly need to maneuver around other riders to pass or be passed.
But we ran into a bit of trouble here - they were paving the road, and traffic was being held up to take turns going around it. While we were stopped, at least 50 other riders all caught up and when we were eventually allowed to go - there was quite a crowd.
Mile 78 - I'm still surrounded by several other riders and overhear one saying "We're at mile 78... last hill at mile 80." And sure enough, a few minutes later we hit a down-hill section and I start building up quite a bit of speed.
It sounds weird to say, but I feel like I have bit of an advantage on the down-hill. My daily commute involves going down a long steep hill - rain or shine, wind or gravel - I go. I'm also a heavy girl on a heavy bike, so momentum is in my favor. So when I see that I've got a down & up in front of me - I embrace the slightly out-of-control feeling of zooming down the hill. I was able to overtake a few riders on down hills earlier in the day - one lady calling out "you're awesome" as I passed her.
But I can't here - there are too many other riders. Slow or fast - they're each just taking whatever clear lane they can find - 3 or 4 wide in the road. I hold on and barely touch on my brakes to keep me from running into the person directly in front of me while still keeping as much speed as I can - and GAH! There's a huge pothole in my path! Rider to my left, rider to my right, and more behind - no place to go. Ka-thunk! Snowflake takes it like a champ. I know on a lighter bike - on thinner tires - I'd have been toast. But nope... my girl is solid.
But then we still have to get back up the hill in front of us - again, too many riders around. It's hard to stay out of each others way. I'm trying to get into gear and it's taking too long. I didn't get nearly enough momentum from the down-hill and my legs are wiped. What kind of sadist puts a hill climb at mile 80 of a century??
A few riders are stopping and walking - I vow to at least catch up to one of the walkers before I stop. But my legs are screaming. I'm in my lowest gear and that's all I've got. 50 yards from the top, I get off and walk. Dang! I wanted to take it. But I'm hardly the only one walking at this point. The hill won that battle.
Mile 85 - Our last rest stop is at a winery. Sweaty cyclists nibbling on cheese and crackers and enjoying a wine tasting - yup, this is the Portland Century.
Mile 88 - we cross the Columbia again and as we pass Jantzen Beach there's a woman sitting under a tree ringing her cowbell! First cowbell of the day. There's a van with bikes on the roof driving back up to Washington - they honk and cheer at us. Yay! This little burst of encouragement perks me up for the last push.
Mile 90 - The last 10 miles of the ride are flat and uneventful. I'm back in familiar territory and could reach the school even without the road markings. I take one last blackberry break before the end of the ride.
Mile 100 - Done! My first official century completed. In fact, I think the final mile-count for the ride is 101.9 miles, plus the 5 miles that I rode to and from home puts me at 111 for the day. w00t! I did it.
|I take it on faith that the ice sculpture was prettier earlier in the day.|
|Music, food, and lots of smelly people - what more could you want?|
Despite the fact that I'd covered more miles and about the same elevation changes - I felt so much better than I had after the first day of StP. What was the difference?
1. Gear - I'm on the same bike, but after getting two flats in a week I decided to splash out and buy new tires. They're nothing fancy - about the same as my old ones. But as soon as the new tires were on, I immediately noticed an increase in my average speed. Good gear makes a difference!
|My Special Snowflake, taking a well earned break herself.|
2. Training - I still haven't done as much training as I did last summer, but I managed to get in a few 20-50 mile rides and a good hill climb practice in the month after StP. And, well, of course doing StP definitely counts as training for this ride.
3. Support - I had actually planned to ride with a friend but didn't meet up until the end. We did text each other from the route though which was nice.
At the first rest stop, I saw a gal who I'd done a few group rides with last year. I was too shy to approach her until I ran into her again at the second stop. We chatted and encouraged each other. She was a bit ahead of me all day, but I'd catch up to her at the stops and chat. It was definitely nice to see a familiar face.
(I was however, sorely disappointed by the overall lack of cowbell on this ride!)
4. Weather. I was quite cold for the first half of the ride, but that was probably a good thing. It ended up being a hot day, but nowhere near 100 degrees like it had been for StP. That kind of heat can really sap your energy on an endurance event like this. Cooler weather made a difference.
5. Home court advantage. The first 15 and last 15 miles of the ride were easy peasy. No major hills, no surprises, all places I'd ridden before. You can study the route map all you want, but there's no substitute for knowing the roads yourself.
So that's it! My first century... and probably my last... on Snowflake at least. She's a great bike, but if I want to get serious about distance rides, I need to invest in a road bike. That's just not going to happen this year. I've achieved my goal, and I'll feel good about only signing up for shorter rides for the next year or so. Lord knows I've got plenty of other goals (cough cough - grad school - cough cough) in my life right now!
|Post race party with a co-worker!|