There is the matter of that century I signed up for… the 400 Century. The first 3 miles are on a large limited access divided highway. That’s what even the 9 milers are signed up for, to get to go faster down that stretch of concrete on their bikes than they do in their cars. Those who finish the whole ride will also do 97 miles of local roads that I choose not to ride on under any other circumstances, after having made a few exceptions over the last 30 years. If getting chased by the Great Dane was the worst of it, I might ride these roads normally. It’s more the near misses and the times I got yelled at because drivers don’t want to share the road (and you know the kind of profane ugliness that comes with the road rage of the frustrated American driver). I only signed up for the century because it was the last time there would be a ride on 400 due to construction and it’s on that pesky bucket list of mine. It’s so hard to watch a bucket list item go away and do nothing.
In truth, conditions have improved with the advocacy of groups like the ABC, Bike Cobb, Bike Alpharetta, Bike Roswell, and others, but it hasn’t been too long since I went to a town meeting where a planning official was being abusively berated at length by an angry driver that didn’t want bike lanes. We still have far to go. Rage is a dangerous thing, more dangerous when you’re not the one in a 3000 lb vehicle. I’ll be safer in a large group activity with support, but riding these roads is not my comfort zone.
To prep for this discomfort that I not only willingly signed up for, but also dragged Russ into, I decided that on days when I don’t ride (the trail), I should go out and practice “the sisters”, those challenging hills on the century that are right out my back door. So, I went over to Big Sister. Usually when I’m on that hill, I’m walking and it’s easy to forget how long the hill stretches out. I ride flat rail trails and stream beds. I deal with hills by building momentum. But, you lose momentum at the stop sign, and even if there wasn’t one, momentum doesn’t last through a long slow grade.
After walking up Big Sister with my bike, I came home to check published elevations to see if I was initially wrong when I guessed the Big Sister was not a higher climb than Trash Mountain (The biggest elevation change on the Silver Comet, graced by the scent of the adjacent landfill. It’s built in a place where railway right-of-way wasn’t available during construction, so it’s the “real hill” on the Silver Comet). The Big Sister and Trash Mountain are comparable in elevation gain, the whole difference (to me) is in the distance the incline is spread across on Big Sister.
I noticed something else while I had the elevations up. The Sisters didn’t really stand out so much on the graph. There are a lot of hills on the ride. It’s just that the sisters come nearer the end when riders are tired.
When I first started to write this piece, I was talking about needing to train a lot and maybe even completing the whole century. I haven’t really done that level of training. I kept riding through the family trip and the musical bike repairs pretty well, but it turned out to be maintenance, not century training. In most ways, this century is irrelevant to the video project. The timing and requirements are different, but I thought throwing it into the mix would make me a stronger rider. Now, I’m looking at the ride being next weekend, and it’s taken a lot of effort just to ride at all. On top of that, there’s time of year. If you look at a temperature graph of Atlanta, the highs peak right about when the ride is scheduled, stay high through July and start to break around the first week in August. Heat is not my comfort zone either.
Of course, I knew this, and was remembering this, when I signed up. Awareness doesn’t keep it from being a pretty big deal though. I can’t just ignore it. My biggest limitation in riding is heat tolerance. When I get overheated, I get a migraine (unless it’s actually heat stroke, IKR?). I have a tell. When my face looks red, I’m still fine, but when it feels red, when I feel intense heat on my face, that’s when I need to quit and take aspirin, or suffer. I got right up on the edge during a ride a few weeks ago. I stopped when I needed to. It happened to be at the end of my ride. I didn’t take the aspirin though. My face had just started to feel red. I didn’t feel like the terrible symptoms were coming. They didn’t. That made me feel pretty good. I hope it was because I’m more fit (or maybe I just stopped at the right time).
Regardless, I’ve been pushing my heat tolerance all month because the century will be hot. That push is beginning to wear on me. Some days I’ve been tired enough not to do anything very physical except my ride. It’s time to go back to riding in the cooler temps and quit pushing the heat limits. This century will be cool at 7AM when it starts and will heat up later when I’m tired. I’m going to have to treat this as a fun diversion and make sure I don’t stress my body on a level that will cost me in the end. It would have been nice to make this last (and my first) 400 Century Ride a full century for me, but as I look at it from a week out, I’m having to face that for this ride on this day, that’s not going to be the smart choice. That’s ok. It will still be a glorious day.