The thrill of being able to cover distances with the energies of one’s own body that most people would consider covering only in a motor vehicle sparks something deep and basic in everyone who has ever done it. While the exact source of the unparalleled excitement of this experience remains an elusive and seductive mystery, most cyclists who have acquired high levels of fitness understand that they’ve touched and expressed parts of themselves which perhaps lie sleeping in everyone and may be as essential and universal as friendship and love.
– John Marino, John Marino’s Bicycling Book, J. P. Tarcher, Inc. 1981.
The first six Journals of a Century were Boxwooders 96, 103, 114, 126, 138, and 150.
9 September 1981. On Labor Day I went on a group ride of some 60 miles. I also rode to the starting point so that made my total about 76 miles. About 25 of us rode to Fernville, MD where our ride leader treated us to a watermelon feast. My day was marred by no less than three flat tires – the first I’ve had on a group ride. One of the flats happened on my solitary ride home from the finishing point and was caused by hitting a rail too hard as I was going over a railroad crossing. The tires are at a pressure of 100 psi, and when one sharply strikes something, no telling how high the pressure momentarily rises. Sometimes, as in this instance, it blows off a patch. Some riders will not use a patched tube except in emergencies, but I have so many punctures that most of my tubes have three to five patches. I keep about six tubes and patch them in batches rather than one at a time. I always carry one good tube and a patch kit with me. Labor Day was the first time I’ve had to use the patch kit while on the road – the first occasion I’ve had more than one flat.
16 September. On 13 September I rode the Potomac Pedalers Century. The monthly newsletter seemed determined to discourage people from this ride. I quote: “The 107 miler is a loop which goes southwest, then north, then southeast back to Nokesville. Parts of this route are hilly. Mile 68 to 82 is continuous hills. Also there are several long grinds up out of the stream valleys. The scenery is exceptional. (You might say it’s breathtaking, if you have any left.) This ride will take the starch out of most bikies.” The description of the hills is discouraging enough without calling us “bikies.”
In spite of the description there must have been 300 people who participated in one ride or another. There was also a half century and a metric century. Harvey Geller who rode with me last year also went with me this time. He is normally a much stronger rider than I, but he had not been riding much this summer so he wanted to take it easy which suited me very well. He set the pace for the first 50 miles or so, and we averaged 13 mph including stop time.
When the hills began at 68 miles, he began having some difficulty. The hills were actually not so bad but they appeared at the worst possible time – after we were already tired and at the hottest time of the day, about 90 degrees. I did well until after out third stop at 82 miles when we hit a hill that looked as if it were straight up. After riding a quarter-mile up the hill, I hopped off and walked most of the rest of the hill. I then rode with ever weakening muscles to the 100-mile point where I stopped for a rest. My time for the 100 miles was 8 hours, 45 minutes which I thought good for the terrain.
The last 7 miles to the finishing point seemed murderous. Even the slightest hill was painful, and I finished the ride about as fatigued as I have ever been at the end of a century. Still, I felt wonderful to have gotten through the tough terrain on such a hot day with no cramps. That had been much on my mind.
28 September. On Saturday, 26 September, I rode the Oxon Hill Fall Century. It was quite cool for the first hour, about 50 degrees, but warmed up quickly and was perhaps the most perfect riding weather in which I’ve ridden a century. In mid-afternoon it was near 80 but still very pleasant. The ride was a good bit easier than the century reported above. For one thing it was 101 miles instead of 107, and you’d be surprised how hard those last miles can be.
In the morning, for the first 50 miles, I rode with a biking acquaintance, Barney Hicks, who lives in northern Virginia. We’ve ridden together several times because we ride at about the same speed. A couple of years ago, I rode the last 25 miles of a century with a young man and introduced myself at the end. He then said, “Oh, you know my father.” His father is, of course, Barney Hicks.
Barney was doing a metric century this day so we parted at the 50-mile point, and I rode alone for the next 25 miles. Then I caught up with another riding acquaintance, Gerry Fitzgerald, and we rode the last 26 miles together. Once again the miles I rode alone demonstrated that company is a great help on a century. The miles and hours really get long when one rides alone. My time for the 100 miles was 8 hours, 30 minutes.
5 October. Yesterday I rode my fifth century of the season, the first time I’ve done more than four. The route was two loops from Greenbelt Park. The first went northeast to the Brighton Dam area. The first long ride that Dave and I took, some five years ago, was a 50-mile trip to Brighton Dam. Yesterday, however, when I got back home, I still had the southern loop to ride. The weather was just great for riding, it never got over 65 degrees. For some reason, though, it was a very tiring century. Perhaps the terrible hills around Brighton Dam took all the energy out of my leg muscles. If these hills had been in the last 50 miles rather than the first, I could never have climbed them.
Twelve people started the ride, and I rode the last 75 miles with two men who were the only ones who rode at my slow pace. The fewer people who show up for a ride, the stronger the riders are. At 90 miles we caught up with the ride leader and one other rider and rode about 5 miles with them. Then I had a flat. The men I’d been riding with came back to help, but I just about had the new tube in by the time they got back to me, and we rode the last miles together without further trouble.
10 November. The weather is still fine for bike riding. I have not yet had to use any real cold weather gear though I have installed toe muffs on my bike pedals. Washington is well known for its terrible weather, but there are times when no better weather could be found anywhere. This is usually in the autumn, and it may vary from a few days to weeks.
This year has been literally months of beautiful weather. From mid-September it has been cool, mostly sunny, and invigorating. A local TV weatherman, still fairly new to this area, said of one day,”This has been the type of day that you can count on the fingers of one hand through a whole year.” But actually we have had day after day of such weather this fall.
23 November. Yesterday was the first really cold day of the autumn. The temperature was in the mid-30s when I left on my ride. I wore most of my winter gear but not the long johns. There was a strong wind and riding before it was a wonderful sensation. Not so good when the time came to buck the wind, but bikers never think of unpleasant things like that when going downwind.
I did ride with one pessimist last summer who complained every time we came to a downslope because he said it foretold an upslope soon. Most bike riders are like the proverbial grasshopper and think only about the present conditions with no thought for the unpleasant future. I always prefer to think that I’m going down a hill that I’ve already climbed somewhere back there, and that this never seems to be true does not alter my hope and expectation that it will be so on the next downhill run.
30 November. Although the daily temperature has dropped by several degrees, the fine weather is still holding and riding has been excellent. Most days I now wear full winter attire except that I have not yet had to wear long johns. That could happen any day however.
Yesterday on my ride I found two pint cans of beer and managed to squeeze one into my saddlebag but had to put the other one in my jacket pocket where it rested precariously until I was about a mile from home where it jostled out and sprung a pin-hole leak. I had to open the can and drink it. One day recently I found 7 cans of beer at my rest stop. I hid them and went back in the car to pick them up.
14 December. This month brought the cold weather I had rather been dreading. Most days now the temperature is between 30 and 38 when it’s time for my ride. At those temperatures, once I get out I am very comfortable riding with my cold weather attire. Sometimes it’s a little hard to convince myself that I should go out, but when I do I’m usually glad of it.
30 December. Rode 6589 miles this calendar year, but I rode less this month, 253 miles, than any month this year.
The Potomac Pedalers newsletter carried the information that a former neighbor, Hosea White, was killed in October while commuting to work on his bike. He was struck from behind by a driver whose windshield was nearly covered with frost. I had known him about 25 years and met him now and then on my daily rides.
10 January 1982. Weather has been very bad for riding, not so cold but rainy at just the time for starting. Have ridden only four days. Today, however, the cold weather took over. The thermometer was a hair below zero when I arose today and has not changed noticeably since then. I think it has been to zero only a few times in the 30 years that I have lived in this area.
31 January. The snow is slowly melting in a rain. I rode only four days this month and not at all since 8 January. It’s the least I’ve ridden in a month since I started daily riding.
7 February. Had a flat today – the first one in all these miles that I’ve had in cold weather. It was about 30 degrees but the sun was warm, and I had no discomfort in changing the tube. I still wonder how I’ll manage on a really cold day. Found 91 cents in a little pile of nickels, dimes, and pennies on the side of the road.
13 February. Each year I submit my mileage chart to Potomac Pedalers in order to get a Centurion patch (3 centuries) and the Annual Challenge patch (ride as many miles as A.D.). This year in the newsletter they listed mileages for the top 20 riders, and I was fifth on the list. My mileage did not include December which would have placed me fourth, assuming that the other charts were complete. The highest mileage submitted was by John Hermann, 10326. [Added later: I was finally ninth in the list.]
27 February. Finally had a flat on a cold day, and with a vengeance. At my customary rest stop, some 10 miles from finish, I have a habit of examining my tires (Yes, it would make more sense to do this at home before I start out.) and yesterday I found a rather bad cut in the rear tire, and even worse, peeking through the cut fabric was a small black spot that looked suspiciously like the innertube. One mile later the suspicion was confirmed by the hiss of high pressure air. Since the tire was ruined and I could see no way of repairing it so that the tube would not rupture again, I just rode the last nine miles on a flat rear tire. That really takes some effort. I finally made it home and replaced both front and rear tires with new ones.
1 March. Today the temperature was just below freezing, and as I was riding I saw a strange sight. Connected to a fireplug was a large hose that ran out of sight into a building. The hose had a small leak that was sending a spray of water ten feet into the air. The spray was being intercepted by a leafless bush, and built up around the bush was a marvelous, back-lit, free-form ice sculpture that stood at least five feet high. I sat and looked at it for a few minutes and wished I had a camera.
19 March. The weather has suddenly turned warm and wonderful. However there are showers nearly every day to inhibit riding. I believe my mileage must be way below average so far this year.
30 March. Yesterday I found a 12-pack of cans of Blatz beer that had evidently been thrown from a speeding car. Cans were all over the roadside, and six of them were still sound though very battered. This is the second time I have found so much beer that I had to go back in my car to pick it up. I also found a set of keys at another location. Since there was no identification on them, I simply left them beside the road in a very visible spot so if the loser came looking for them, he might see them.
11 April. Winter returned after the first few days of fine weather in April, and we’ve had cold, rain, and even a little snow. It’s always discouraging to go back to the cold-weather gear after discarding it. The wet weather of the winter and spring have put a considerable dent in mileage accumulation.
27 April. Recently acquired an Entex Bike Computer. This is a digital odometer and speedometer with many other functions such as average speed, elapsed time, etc. If one sets the mileage and the time for a trip, the computer provides, in a section of its face, a ghost rider who travels at the planned speed and a symbol that travels at the achieved speed so that the rider can see how he is doing.
The major difficulty is that the updating for this feature is done at intervals of 1/10 the trip so it is seldom usefully current. In fact my objection to the whole computer is that outputs are not fine enough or fast enough. The speed is updated only about every 2.5 seconds and is given in whole miles/hour. Even the average speed is presented in whole units. Only the odometer reads tenths of a mile. Anyway so much information is made available that one can ride along in a virtual cloud of numbers.
One of the joys of bike riding is that everything is simple and one can zip along thinking of computer programming or of essays to be written or just looking around and enjoying nature. So the bike computer gives us two extremes, but of course the beauty of it is that one does not have to choose permanently one or the other. The options are always open.
10 May. On 8 May I rode the spring century of the Oxon Hill bike club. It started at Largo, only about 15 miles from me, and I was able to get started at 6:45 on my ride. At about two miles out there came a sudden drenching rain that lasted about 30 minutes. I was instantly soaked, and since I was wearing heavy cotton sport socks, my feet stayed wet throughout the day.
My “weatherproof” bike computer quit instantly. I will have to send it in for repair. Fortunately it’s still under guarantee since the company states that if a computer is returned to them out of guarantee that on their option they will repair or replace it for $74. That is $4 more than I paid for it new.
Anyway in spite for starting out soaking wet, it was a very good century, chiefly I’m sure because the temperature never got over about 70 and it remained cloudy all day. I rode the first 28 miles with a man who said that he rode every day, rain, snow, or shine and always rode more than 12,000 miles per year. We arrived at the first food stop at about 9 o’clock.
I got to the 50-mile stop at 11 and to the 75-mile stop at 1:00. I finished the century at 2:55 for a time of 8 hours and 10 minutes – as well as I have ever done. It is tempting to think that I might have finished in 8 hours if I hadn’t had to fix a flat at 74 miles, but then one can always find a reason for not finishing in 8 hours. For the first time in several centuries I finished still feeling moderately strong. At the low point of the century, at about 65 miles, I wondered if I could possibly finish by 3:30. Actually by that time I was sitting at home with a tall glass of iced tea.
The fear of many events is worse than the event itself. I used to dread the thought that I might have a flat tire on a century ride. Actually I have now had a flat on each of my last two. Both flats occurred late in the ride, and though I was annoyed at first, I found that fixing the flat allowed me a few minute’s rest that I probably otherwise would not have taken. The delay, after all, was only about 10 minutes.
13 May. I sent the bike computer back to Spiegel on the basis that if it is so delicate as to fail in a shower, it is not suitable for its purpose. Either I’ll get my money back or I will have made a $70-mistake. I’ve done worse than either of these alternatives. [Spiegel did refund the money.]
20 June. Yesterday I rode the Potomac Pedalers Summer Solstice Century. This century, starting at Nokesville, Virginia, is one of the more popular centuries of this area, and as last year, it attracted many riders. Dan Gustafson rode with me again. Now fifteen, he is, of course, even stronger and faster than he was last year. He is a B-class racer, he tells me.
The weather forecast was for afternoon thunderstorms, but that did not happen, and the heat (88 to 90 degrees) became somewhat of a problem. By 60 miles I felt as if I’d ridden 100, and I became concerned about the possibility of leg cramps, but it did not happen. I was, however, quite exhausted at the finish, and when I tried to put my bike on top of the car, I had to sit down for a few minutes before I could do it. It took us 8 hours, 45 minutes to finish.
Dan thinks he could ride a century in five hours, and I certainly have no reason to disbelieve him. I believe this makes four times that I have ridden this same route, and I have ridden variations of it at least two other times so I am getting quite familiar with a large section of Prince William and Fauquier counties. I’m still tired today – this century was much tougher on me than the one in May. This route is the only century I know that has no really mean hills yet I am always worn out at the end. I think it is because I’ve never ridden it except at fairly high temperatures.
13 July. Broke a strap on my seat bag today and broke my water-bottle holder yesterday. All at once everything seems to be coming apart. At the moment the water bottle and the seat bag are wired on, but I’ll have to break down and buy new ones soon.
15 August. End of the fiscal year for my biking. Odometer reads 36834 at the end of six years.
Expenses for the year:
4 tires – 31.45
8 tubes – 22.20
3 patch kits – 3.75
helmet pads – 2.00
rim tape – 1.58
3 brake cables – 4.35
chain – 5.20
17-tooth sprocket – 1.80
rear derailleur – 10.90
front derailleur – 8.50
water-bottle cage – 3.80
seat bag (for tools) – 11.90
handlebar padding – 3.95
money found on road – (1.16)
Total – $110.22
Expenses for the previous five years have been $872 so the total for six years is $982. The cost per mile now stands at 2.67 cents. The hourly cost is about 29 cents if one estimates an average speed of 11 miles per hour.
Handset in Goudy’s Deepdene. Display type is Glamour Medium. Inks are Van Son 4094 Black and Red Pepper. Edited and published by Jake Warner who printed 450 copies; the text on an SP-15 Vandercook and the cover on a 10×15 C&P. Done at
The Boxwood Press
Greenbelt, MD 20770