The alarm was set for 5AM; my brain woke up at 3.
In a few hours, I would find myself pulling out of a suburban middle school parking lot to ride my bike to the beach – 105 miles over the hills and through the woods.
A bird and the slow grey glow of dawn kept me company before the alarm went off. I had spent the week traveling for work and my mind was swimming with everything but the day’s task of riding a century.
I don’t quite remember how it happened, but we were compelled to register for the American Lung Association’s Reach the Beach charity ride and raised some serious money for the cause. We even did some training. And though Bill and I regularly bicycle in almost every conceivable fashion (mountain, road, touring, mountain touring, commuting, utility), we’ve never ridden a century. Never.
I gave in and got up at 4:30. Unlike most mornings, I paused and thoughtfully considered my outfit for the day. It was 43 degrees at the house. The forecast said partly cloudy, a high of 71. I would have to be strategic about my layering system: warm enough at the start to keep from freezing; non-bulky layers for storing in my jersey pockets when it warmed up 105 miles later.
(If there is anything more unflattering on a woman than knee warmers, it’s having a jersey pocket stuffed with knee warmers.)
It had warmed to 47 degrees when we arrived at the start, almost tropical by comparison. Bill shed his heavy duty puffy to unload the bikes while I surreptitiously observed other people’s bikes and clothing choices, both envious and pleased. We met up with the SERA Velo group shortly before 7AM and rode west together under clear, cold skies, never to fully reunite until the end.
The first 13 miles rolled by quickly, breaking out of the suburbs and into a patchwork of farms, fields and orchards. I was feeling sluggish and unfit until I passed some dudes on fancy bikes in fancy outfits on a small hill – and wondered how they were possibly going to make it 105 miles with all that heavy breathing and groaning.
The first real climb started at mile 15, a graceful sweep of asphalt under dense tree canopy to the top of a ridge that overlooked the Chehalm Valley. It was a beautiful road to climb and we soon found ourself blasting 39 mph down the backside of it into Newburg for our second rest stop. Hundreds of people milled about, drinking coffee and snacking on bananas, dancing in the port-a-loo line to keep warm. This was the start of the 80-mile ride to the coast. Admirable, but no 105 miles.
The ride was a blur between mile 22 and 50. The roads flattened to pancake elevation and we cruised along at 18 mph, riding at right angles along farm plats, past winery entrances, and through small odorous hamlets in Yamhill County. The flowering clover turned acres of hillsides deep red and perfumed the air with its sweetness; everything was electric green and bursting with new growth. Despite my lethargy, this was turning into one really fine ride.
I was really happy to see pudding cups at the lunch stop, but I didn’t have much of an appetite so it was with a heavy heart that I passed them by. We had arrived before the bell curve of the pack, and were able to grab our lunch quickly and picnic in the sunshine in the parking lot of the Amity High School. I nursed a cup of coffee to boost my energy level and relubed my chamois, which is one of those things that makes cyclists really, really different from other people.
A few miles from lunch, one the ubiquitous all-male pacelines whooshed past us and I, probably breaching some unspoken cyclist code, sped up to tag onto back of it. Sucked into their speedy vortex, I found myself effortlessly pedaling along at 20 mph, the miles ticking by at an alarming rate. I did my pulls and before I knew it, I was at the next rest stop and Bill was no where to be seen. Somewhere along the way, I had dropped him for six strange men. I kind of felt like a bad wife at that point.
I waited for him at that rest stop for a while but he never showed up. I saw one of the SERA Velo riders pass by and knew that he couldn’t have been behind him, so I got back on my bike and hoped to catch up.
My six new friends were starting back into the ride, too, so I joined up with them again for a fast and furious ride to the Grand Ronde rest stop at mile 77. When I turned into the stop, I immediately saw Bill and cheered a little cheer. There was no way to lose him on this ride, but I didn’t like being separated – especially coming into the finish. I wanted to do this century together.
I ate what felt like my 50th peanut butter and jelly sandwich and prepared myself for the final climb over the Coast Range and down to the beach. I was riding strongly but had felt like I was in a fog all day. As if to reinforce my metaphor, the coastal clouds parted just then to reveal sunny blue skies. We hopped back on our bikes and started the gentle climb up to the pass.
The road had been recently repaved so it was in exceptional condition. The forest was lush and green and the sun felt magnificent, and I felt stronger and stronger as I climbed to the top. The only drawback was that I was now carrying almost all of my layers in my jersey pocket, which looks really, really ridiculous.
We crested the pass and gently rolled down to sea level along the Nestucca River. About ten miles from Pacific City, we hit the flats. A brisk headwind constantly pushed against us, so we tucked into small groups and hunkered towards the finish line. I watched my odometer click past 100 and into the 100+ zone, amazed that we felt so good, so strong, so happy. It’s a remarkable feeling to see that many miles in one ride. A remarkable feeling that we’re likely to pursue again very soon.
I would like to thank everyone who donated to the American Lung Association on our behalf. My family, friends, neighbors and associates are incredibly generous and I’m proud to have contributed to this organization, who continue do good work for those who struggle to breathe. Events like these always remind me that I’m extremely fortunate to be able to do the things I do without any issues, even if I am the type of wife who drops her husband for a speedy paceline.