(This is the fourth and final penultimate installation of “All The Things I Should Have Been Blogging”. If you’d like to go back in time, here are the prior entries:
After this, I’ll try to get back on a more regular update schedule, instead of letting months go by with nary a word.)
The day of the century dawned … early. Oh, so very early. The alarm went off before 4am, and we headed out in the wee (and dark) hours for the hour drive to Cherry Hill, NJ. I’d been repeatedly warned to get to the start location as early as possible to avoid traffic backups getting into the parking lot — and I’m glad we took heed of those warnings! Other friends thought they would be there early enough, and ended up sitting in traffic for so long that they were late getting out on the course, and missed the cut-off time to stay on the century course.
Once we arrived, we headed across the lots of the PATCO Woodcrest station to locate my team. We had a tent set up, and had been told our packets would be at the tent — but mine wasn’t. I knew I had missed the cut-off date to have my packet mailed to my home, but my team didn’t know where my information was. They sent me to the VIP tent (for all riders who raised over $1,000) and they didn’t have my packet, either — but quickly assigned me a new rider number, gave me a VIP pass, bib and a commemorative jersey.
One thing I learned this summer is that I get pre-ride jitters. And the longer or more challenging the ride is, the earlier I get jitters. For the Odell ride, I had jitters starting a full week ahead of the ride. For the MS Ride, my jitters were more easily dismissed: there were so many other riders! There was so much more road support! But my nerves kicked in full-force when my team didn’t have my packet, and I was still jumpy even after I got everything I needed.
One downside to getting there so early was that we didn’t have much to do but stand around and wait. All I could think about was the massive amount of people gathering, which would lead to one of my least favorite things: the mass start. While I gained much better handling skills and confidence over the course of the summer, being bunched up in masses still makes me nervous; there’s a point at which your own control of the bike becomes moot, and you’re dependent upon those around you to also be in control. Shifting your balance wrong at exactly the wrong moment, brushing too close too close to someone who then over-corrects in an attempt to avoid you — it doesn’t take much for one rider to take out another (or several others). All that was running through my mind as I waited and tried, distractedly, to make conversation with those around me.
Eventually, however, it was time. We gathered for a team photo, then filed into loosely organized corrals to get ready to roll out. I’m not sure how many people started out from this location — but there were somewhere in the range of 6,000-8,000 people registered, and many of them were registered for the two longer routes (75 and 100 miles) that started at this location. We went out in waves, and it was amazing. There were definitely some slightly nervous moments — someone would slow down too much, someone would put a foot down, people would yell back, “Slowing!” or “Stopping!” to prevent a pile-up — but, for the most part, it was just … jaw-dropping. Winding through pre-dawn streets, headlights blazing and tail-lights blinking as far as the eye could see, both ahead of me and behind me. A seemingly endless flow of riders, calling out to each other and cheering with pent-up excitement.
The morning started out rather cool; as an admitted temperature wimp, I had layered up on my upper half: a jersey, arm-warmers, and a lightweight jacket. I learned pretty early on in the Spring that my legs really aren’t bothered by the cold when I’m pedaling. By the time I was about 15 miles into the ride, I was warm enough to strip off the jacket, roll it up and tuck it into the straps on my Camelbak. Several other riders pulled over at the same time to do the same thing, and I lost count of how many passing riders called out to make sure we were okay.
The weather was simply perfect for the entire day; clear skies, mild breezes, low humidity. Cyclists dream of this sort of weather for long rides — I couldn’t have been luckier. I passed the first rest stop at about 20 miles in; it was already a mob scene, and I didn’t need anything. I quickly started questioning that decision — having never ridden 100 miles before, I felt like I should be taking short stretch breaks whenever possible to prevent soreness and excessive tiredness later on in the ride. After passing the 20-mile rest stop, I decided I’d stop at each rest stop, whether I needed anything specific or not. Even if all I did was take a two-minute break to stand, walk and stretch, I was sure it would be worth it later in the ride.
I’m glad I stopped at future rest stops. The spirit and energy of the volunteers was amazing. At one stop, I thought I was hearing a drum line before I got there; when I came around the corner, it was a double line of people holding plastic gallon jugs partially filled with gravel, and shaking them in rhythm as they cheered for incoming riders. At every rest stop, there were people serving out food, running to fill water bottles, checking on riders, sending them for mechanical assistance — the amount of support provided was really impressive. I’ve done plenty of supported rides, and several charity rides, but I’ve never seen as many SAG vehicles and mechanics as I did throughout this ride.
The first 50 miles went by fast — faster than I had expected. I was posting a brief update to my Facebook feed at each rest stop — I had one friend who said she’d be near the 55-mile rest stop, and FB updates were a quick way to let her and other friends know how I was progressing. I wasn’t really looking at time until I saw that she had posted a reply to my “30 miles in” update, and was rushing to make it out to her planned spot on the course. That’s when I looked at the time and realized I was going faster than I had originally expected — but I felt amazing. I had predicted my times based on my average speeds for prior long rides, and most of my long rides had more elevation gain than this ride would.
It seemed like I was at the halfway point before I knew it. I actually didn’t even really mark the actual halfway point — I stopped at the rest stop at 45 miles, and then suddenly I was at 52-ish miles, and there was a black SUV parked on the side of the road, and there was a sign with my name on it, and my friend and her kids waving. She had come out loaded for a potentially exhausted rider: she brought water, Gatorade, and a variety of snacks (raisins, Cliff Bloks, Honeystinger waffles) and I was surprised at how little I needed. I had made myself eat a few bites at each rest stop, but was well ahead of my appetite, and I was well hydrated — the only thing I was missing was the bottle of Gatorade I’d forgotten in the fridge when we left the house at our ridiculously early hour. I stood and stretched, chatted with her and the kids, and eventually took the bottle of Gatorade (it fit in my bottle cage!) and pushed on.
The next official rest stop — at mile 55 — was only a few short miles later, and this is where one of my friends was volunteering. Surprisingly, it was also where my boyfriend was able to stop — after dropping me off, he had waited for riders to clear out of the start zone and then hit the road himself. I thought there would be way too many riders on the road for him to be able to catch me at a specific rest stop, but I found both him and Paula (of Keep Smiling, Keep Moving) within seconds of pulling into the rest stop. I was excited to see both of them, and still couldn’t get over how good I felt.
… and I think I’ll pick up the second half of the ride in my entry, as this one is getting lengthy.