“A Century – the term goes back to the days of the high-wheelers – is a bicycle ride of 100 miles, accomplished in 12 hours or less. Riding a Century is a “ride de passage”; forever after your self-image can be that of a hard-bitten randonneur, rather than a putzer.” – Harold Wooster, Pedal Patter, monthly newsletter of Potomac Pedalers Touring Club, September, 1977.
Synopsis of First Journal, Boxwooder 96
IN AUGUST, 1976, my son David and I discovered the world of high quality bicycles and bought new bikes. I was seized with a completely irrational desire to do a century. After many sore muscles and two sore butts, we had ridden one exhausting 62-mile trip when winter set in, and the journal ended in February with us in the grip of a terrible winter and the century a distant dream.
22 February 1976. We have found we can dress warmly and ride with some discomfort at 32° to 35° and quite comfortably above 35. Toes are the problem. In warm gloves, fingers will get cold but will often warm up again. Toes do not. At best they reach an equilibrium icy state.
23 February. Bike tires come in two forms: clinchers with inner tubes and tubulars which are sewn around inner tubes and are glued onto the wheel. The tubulars are lighter and roll with less friction, mainly because of their high pressure. They are quite expensive, at least $20 each, and puncture repair is a painful process. They are also quite vulnerable to puncturing. Shortly before we bought our bikes, very light clinchers capable of holding 90 psi air pressure appeared. They come close to tubulars in performance at a fourth the cost and are much easier to repair. They are a bit delicate, and it doesn’t take much of a cut to make them unsafe at their high pressure. Dave has had to replace two tires, but I’m still using the originals.
24 February. Yesterday was the first warm day in two months; the temperature was 68°. I happened to get home early, 4:45. Hurriedly changed clothes and rode 16.5 miles, averaging 12.9 mph. Almost dark when I got back. Warm again today but raining.
28 February. Abnormally warm on Saturday and Sunday. We rode 30 and 40 miles on these days, respectively.
14 March. Dave and I rode 61 miles to Upper Marlboro and back on Saturday. It was very pleasant with the temperature about 68° with quite a breezy headwind on the outgoing trip, but a fine tailwind coming home. We were both quite tired. First long ride of the season.
28 March. Yesterday was the first really fine Sunday of the spring. Temperature was in the high 60’s with no wind; a gorgeous day. We rode about 40 miles. Bikes were everywhere. Probably met 30 or more.
I had read of bicyclists being deliberately imperiled by motorists but had not quite believed it until the incident that occurred yesterday.
We were riding on a road with paved shoulders, and I was well over on the shoulder, some four feet from the line marking the edge of the road. I was about 50 yards ahead of Dave. A car passed him and then deliberately veered onto the shoulder to pass within 4 or 5 inches of me, accelerating as it passed. Both driver and passenger looked back and laughed at my startled imprecations.
At the next intersection they were caught in a minor traffic jam, and we came within 100 yards of catching up to them. It is well that we did not because I intended to use my tire pump on the car’s windshield.
I was astonished that anyone would do such a thing. And within clear view of an obvious witness. I concluded that anyone stupid enough to do such an act would not have the mental capability to worry about being observed.
5 April. Sunday, Dave and I happened to get up rather early, about 7, and as we had breakfast, noted what a beautiful day it was. The forecast said cloudy and breezy with a high of 70. We decided to ride to Annapolis, hastily packed our remaining gorp, filled our water bottles with Gatorade, and were underway at 7:50. We had never been over the road that we had chosen to get us across the Patuxent River and it turned out the bridge had been gone for years so we made a 6-mile loop that got us nowhere. The wind, a good breeze, was at our backs all morning, and we fairly sailed along, averaging over 13 mph even though deliberately taking it easy for the sake of endurance.
We had lunch in Annapolis and started home against the wind. At 10 miles from home I had to stop and rest for at least 20 minutes, and the remaining miles were pedaled in some discomfort. The hills began to hurt my knees, and all the power seemed to have disappeared from my legs. We arrived home at 3:25 with the odometer reading 73.5 miles, our longest ride. Overall average speed was low, 9.7 mph.
My leg muscles are a little sore today but nothing serious. I did pick up an annoying sunburn on my arms and face.
12 April. I have had a fairly bad accident on my bike. It happened on Saturday, 10 April.
Dave and I watched the first televised baseball game of the season, and about 3:45 we decided to take a 20-mile ride. Dave was ahead of me at the intersection leaving our housing development and disappeared up the road before I could find a break in the traffic to turn left onto the road. A half-mile from home, I tried to shift the chain to the big chainwheel and found that my front derailleur did not move. (Now and then dirt gets into them, and they have to be pushed the first time the derailleur is operated.) I tried to shift a couple of times and was looking down intending to nudge the mechanism with my foot.
The next thing I knew someone was saying, “Don’t try to get up.” I promptly got up and said that I was all right. The young men, there were two of them in a van, tried to get me to let them take me to the fire house nearby where an ambulance could take me to the hospital, but I kept saying I was all right so they asked if they could take me home. They loaded my bike in the back and took me home, and I walked in and scared the wits out of my wife, and when I looked in a mirror, scared myself.
I had a sizable gash over my left eye, a cut in the corner of my left eye, severe abrasions on my cheek and chin, and of course, had blood running or oozing everywhere.
About that time Dave returned to see what had happened to me, and Leah and he took me to the hospital where I received treatment in the emergency room. The cuts required stitches, but nothing was serious. I had, and have, a severe pain in my chest that I guess is from a pulled muscle since the x-ray did not reveal any broken ribs. But it still hurts to breathe, and lying down or getting up is excruciating.
My bike was undamaged except the handlebars were bent. Dave replaced them yesterday so the bike is ready to go when I am. But I don’t know when my chest will let me ride.
I do not remember going off the road or falling. Perhaps I was knocked out and have retrograde amnesia which I understand is not uncommon. It is very puzzling because merely leaving the pavement should not have been disastrous. I’ll probably never know what happened. A peculiar thing is that although I did not know who the young men were, I did not ask their names and, in fact, did not actually look at either of them. The only thing I remember seeing after the accident, until I was inside my house, was my house to point out where I lived.
If you need an objective standard, I looked bad enough when I got to the hospital that they took me into the emergency room for examination without waiting to fill out financial responsibility forms.
20 April. I have recovered from my accident except for a very sore rib. The doctor says I must have a very small fracture but since it is improving day by day, albeit slowly, nothing should be done. I’m very anxious to get to riding again. I fear already that I’ll have to suffer weeks of sore legs again. Saturday, Dave loaned my bike to a girl and took her on a 40-mile ride. The message seems to be that I could be replaced.
22 April. Took my first ride yesterday since my accident. Rode about 12 miles with no difficulty. Rib is still quite sore. Met Harvey Geller on the ride. He says the League of American Wheelmen define the century as 100 miles in 12 hours and that in September there’s one every week in this area. What’s good enough for the League of American Wheelmen is surely good enough for me. With any luck at all, I should be ready by September for this century.
25 April. Rode 30 miles on Saturday and 20 on Sunday (threatened rain all day). Yesterday was the first time since my accident that I felt my strength was back and I could get back to my normal speed. Rib is still a bit sore.
2 May. On Saturday, 30 April, Dave and I got up early hoping for a good riding day. It was sunny with a prediction of 68°, but when we left at 7, the temperature was 39°. On a bike it is a nuisance to carry clothing for temperature changes. We wore heavy shirts and gloves and defied the cold. The first hour was frigid, the second much better. Hands warmed up by the second hour, but feet got colder. But the warm sun and the gradual rise in temperature had their effect, and by 20 miles out, we were comfortable and were smugly enjoying the beautiful day.
We rode to Deale, a little town on Chesapeake Bay, and tried unsuccessfully to find a restaurant for lunch so we had to fall back on our gorp. We each ate about a half-pound. This gorp was made with 1 pound each of M & M’s, peanuts, and raisins. It was quite good. After you’ve quickly burned about 2000 calories, you’d be surprised how delicious such food can taste. We had filled our water bottles with Gatorade which we have found to be helpful on long trips.
We had a marvelous day of riding. It never got too hot, and the wind was never strong enough to be bothersome.
We rode a total of 89.6 miles for a one-day record for both of us. We were 9 hours on the road, including all rest stops. Note that we had 3 hours remaining to complete 11 miles to do a 12-hour century. We were both quite exhausted, but there’s no question but that we could have ridden 11 more miles.
The situation now is that I feel almost no fatigue for 35 to 40 miles; at 50, I’m noticeably tired; and from then on, rest stops do me progressively less good. The last strength goes out of my legs at 60 or so, and then gradually pain begins. The last 10 miles I usually perk up a bit because I can sense the stable.
Right now I could do 100 miles in 12 hours but not without a bit of pain, that’s for sure.
31 May. Yesterday Dave and I rode more than 100 miles. Our time was just under 10 hours for 103.6 miles. We have therefore informally fulfilled the requirements of two centuries, the 12- and the 10-hour centuries. Evidently we can now ride in a club-sponsored century and expect to complete it.
We rode to Fort Washington which is just across the Potomac from Mount Vernon. By main roads it’s probably 25 miles from Greenbelt, but, of course, we try to keep on minor roads and take roundabout routes to achieve this.
It was cool, 60°, and cloudy all day, an ideal day for riding. The books say to stop every hour or so and eat a little and drink some water to keep from getting tired. But, yesterday, we were going so well that we rode 50 miles before stopping. We then ate gorp, drank Gatorade, rested about 15 minutes, and started back. We stopped about 10 miles later for a hamburger and coffee; then stopped about 25 miles after that for a 15-minute rest and Gatorade and then rode on home.
I was not tired until about 70 miles and, in fact, was not too tired at the end of the ride, but my legs had lost most of their hill-climbing power, and my calf muscles felt as if they were about to develop cramps. Today I feel a bit of soreness in my leg muscles, but it’s minor. After a long ride, my legs remain weak for two or three days. Age, I guess.
25 May. We are riding a 13-mile circuit almost every afternoon just before or after dinner. Most Saturdays we ride about 20 miles and most Sundays about 30.
I bought a Bell helmet in early May, and though it felt heavy for a few days, I have become accustomed to wearing it. My accident clearly demonstrated to me that there is enough danger to warrant wearing a helmet.
13 June. Dave and I participated yesterday in our first organized ride. The Maryland Parks and Planning Commission celebrated its 50th anniversary by sponsoring a 50-mile ride. The starting time was 8:30 from the Community College at Largo, some 15 miles from Greenbelt. So Dave and I got up early and rode our bikes to Largo, arriving at 8:10. We registered and left with the first group at about 8:20. I immediately got caught by a traffic light and lost sight of the group. Since there was no one just behind me, I rode on alone. At the second turn of the route, I discovered the road had no name sign, and I suddenly knew it was going to be a confusing day. Several bikers, having missed the turn, came back down the road, and I rode on with them.
They had given us a map with a heavy line to mark the loop, but the reproduction was so poor that the road names could not be read. The sheet also contained written instructions that I could follow because this was my usual riding area but that were nearly useless to strangers to the area.
By 10:00 we were in Greenbelt (where I’d started) at the swimming pool, designated as a lunch-break location. “Food stand, water, and bathrooms available at the swimming pool,” said the instructions, but I guess the MP&PC forgot to mention this to the operators of the swimming pool for it was closed and everything was inaccessible. Not trusting such arrangements, I had enough gorp with me to see me through the day. After some milling about, one rider and I went on together.
Ten miles farther on, the sag wagon caught up to us and gave us some oranges. While we were eating them, three more riders arrived and we continued together.
A bit later we met a couple of riders coming back. They said a truck driver had told them the railroad crossing ahead was closed and impassable. Knowing that it was a grade crossing with unfenced track, I persuaded them to try it anyway. When we got to the crossing, it was being repaired and was impassable for cars, but we simply carried our bicycles across the tracks and rode on.
The next designated rest stop was a 7-11 store; it was open, and I had some ice cream and a can of Gatorade. The last 15 miles were finished without trouble, and I arrived at Largo to find Dave, whom I had not glimpsed since the beginning of the ride, waiting for me.
He said that he had finished an hour and a half ago, having ridden the circuit at an average speed of 14.6 mph. He had been able to keep up with all but two of the cyclists, one of whom is reputed to average 25 mph on an all-day run. He can ride 200 miles in 8 hours!
We rather tiredly rode home for a total distance of 81 miles, our third longest to date. I think riding in large groups would be fun though this ride provided little experience. Although more than 30 riders participated, they were so strung out that there was little evidence of a group. Dave and I have been considering joining a bike club to try some group riding.
27 June. We rode 81.6 miles yesterday. We started out to investigate what the riding would be like from Dave’s Laurel apartment where he is to move in a couple of weeks, and it was so pleasant that we decided to ride through Fort Meade to Annapolis. There, after some uncertainty, we found on Route 50 the pancake house I had noted one time when driving that way, and we stopped at about 11:30 and stoked up on pancakes and coffee. We came back to Greenbelt by Riva Road and Governor’s Bridge Road, both of which are ideal for biking. They are well paved and have, at least yesterday, very little traffic.
Dave is having some trouble with a knee that he somehow strained about a month ago, and he was quite exhausted at the finish. He still felt tired this morning.
I was tired when we got home at 4:00, but then spent 4 hours at the printing press and feel fine today. My endurance is improving steadily; my speed, if anything, seems to be dropping.
28 June. My original tires wore out after about 2000 miles. I replaced them with Schwinn Super Record tires, that are also the small, high-pressure (90 psi) tires. They are even smaller than the originals. I have put about 500 miles on them, and the rear one is just showing signs of wear. They roll well; seem to be fine tires.
26 July. Dave moved to his apartment on 16 July, so I’ve been riding alone on my daily rides. I rode a 30-mile loop on Saturday, and later Dave called wanting to ride on Sunday. We rode to Upper Marlboro, 55 miles in all. Dave had not ridden in two or three weeks because of his move, work schedule, and weather, and he had difficulty toward the end. He keeps having pain in his knee after riding 40 miles or so. I got quite tired also but soon recovered. Strangely, any long ride, 50 miles or more, seems about as fatiguing as any other, independent of length.
The easiest long ride we’ve made was our longest, the 103-mile one. Strange business. I think the weather was just right, and we both felt good that day.
28 July. Bought toe clips for my daughter Helen to use on her bike. It is difficult to bring yourself to using toe clips on the pedals, but once you have learned to use them, you would never want to ride without them. They do require some getting used to. The toe clips, when you are about to mount your bike, cause both pedals to be turned upside down. The procedure is to step over the bar with your left leg and with a flip of the foot turn the left pedal and insert your foot in the toe clip, then you start off by pressing down on the left pedal setting the bike in motion while raising yourself to the saddle and with a flip of the right pedal, turn it over and insert your right foot into the clip. Then as you roll, you reach down and with a yank tighten each toe clip strap.
At first, inserting your foot into a toe clip seems to be an impossible task. Keeping the pedal turned upright with the same foot you are trying to get into the clip is hard enough even with the left foot while standing still with the right foot firmly on the ground. But much worse is trying to insert your right foot while in motion. The first few times it makes you feel as if you were in a slapstick comedy.
Like so many things, once learned it is done without effort or conscious thought.
Toe clips are absolutely necessary for two reasons: They keep the right part of your foot, the ball, on the pedal, and they allow you to pull upward as well as push downward on the pedals.
22 August. On Saturday, 20 August, I met Harvey Geller as I was starting out, and we rode together. I’ve not really tried to ride with him, despite his invitations, because he’s too fast for me. We rode 38 miles at an average of 12 mph. He was keeping his speed down so I could keep up, and that was as fast as I could manage. I could not hold that pace for a much longer distance.
23 August. Suddenly I realized I’ve had my bike just over a year. I reckon I’ve ridden about 4000 miles on it. The end of a bike year is a good time for an annual report. What is the cost of bike riding?
Price of Bicycle… $301
Smaller Chainwheel… 12
Emergency Room… 120
New Handlebars… 12
Car Carrier… 30
At 4000 miles this comes to 14.7 cents per mile. That’s about what the government allows as expenses when I use my car on business. Nor does this count the cost of gorp, at $2 per pound, consumed on long trips, nor the countless extra waffles wolfed down at home after morning rides.
Also if one assumes a 10-mph average, it comes to $1.47 per hour of riding. About the same as a movie or a book.
It is true that the capital investment items; bike, helmet, tools, carrier, etc., are still available for use and thus the per-mile cost will presumably fall, and I surely hope that the emergency-room treatment is a one-time cost.
1 September. I joined the Potomac Pedalers Touring Club so I would get the news on group rides and especially on club centuries so I can make my try at one.
To my dismay, the PPTC annual century is scheduled for 10 September, the fall-meeting date of the Virginia Amateur Printer’s Association. If it rains, the century will be on 11 September, and I will then try it.
The PPTC has five classes of group rides as follows:
Class AX: For racing oriented riders. Any distance or terrain at a pace of 18 mph or better.
Class A: For strong riders. From 45 to 100 miles at a 14 to 17-mph average while moving.
Class B: For competent cyclists. From 25 to 75 miles at an 11 to 14 mph moving average.
Class C: For average riders. From 15 to 35 miles at an average moving pace of 7 to 11 mph.
Class D: For new riders. From 5 to 15 miles at an average speed of 5 mph.
I fit these categories very poorly. I ride slower than the B group but much farther than the C group. I can do 15 to 35 miles any day on solo rides. Harvey Geller says he does not fit well either. He rides faster than the B group but has difficulty keeping up with the A group if the route includes hilly terrain.
2 September. The Potomac Pedalers bulletin lists a Class B, 102-mile ride from Arlington, Virginia for which a century patch is awarded. (I should explain that when one rides an official, club-sponsored century, one is given a patch to sew on his jacket to show one and all that the wearer has that distinction.) The ride starts at 6:45 which would require me to get up about 5:00. If I thought I could keep up with the pace, I would surely try it, but that Class B, 11 to 14 mph, is awfully fast for me, so I’m undecided.
6 September. I HAVE DONE IT. I have ridden an official, club century, and I have a patch to prove it.
Dave and I looked over the schedule of club centuries and found only two for which we had no conflict in schedule, one on 4 September and one on 9 October. What with the vagaries of weather, we decided to try the 4-September one, otherwise it might take us another year to qualify.
It was against my better judgment because it was a group ride, the wrong kind of century from my viewpoint. The usual century is simply over a marked route with checkpoints at 25, 50, and 75 miles; and everyone rides at his own pace; the sole requirement being to finish within 12 hours. This group ride was for a nominal 102 miles, scheduled for 9¼ hours – a much harder undertaking. We decided to try it without too much hope of being able to finish.
About 30 riders left Arlington at 6:50 am. From the beginning the pace was astonishing. Our first stop was at Potomac, Maryland about 20 miles away, and we were off again in minutes. At 3 hours we had gone 37 miles, and I was beginning to fall behind; the speed was taking its toll of me. After a rest stop in Poolesville, at about 40 miles, I found myself feeling exhausted and was unable to maintain contact with the group. I rode alone to Sugar Loaf Mountain and found, resting in the park there, a few riders who did not wish to pedal up the mountain.
I was ready to give up, and if I could have called an ambulance or a helicopter or something to have taken me home, I would gladly have quit. The attempt to keep up the pace of the group had made my ride a nightmare. But when you are 50 miles from your car, it’s not so easy to quit. The options are quite limited. In fact I guess that’s what makes long bike rides possible. At some point in most trips, one would like to quit.
Anyway when Dave came down from the mountain with the main group, I told him to go on with them and I would set my own pace and get back sometime, say 6:30 or 7:00.
After that I revived a bit and on the return trip rode now and then with other stragglers and caught up with a few others, momentarily, at the rest stops. Ten miles from Arlington I caught up with four or five people who had stopped for some mechanical trouble and finished with them at 4:30. Dave had been waiting there for 40 minutes. But with all my difficulties, I rode the century in 9 hours 40 minutes, well within the 12-hour requirement. Huzza!
Hand set in Deepdene; display type is Glamour Medium. Text paper is Ivory Exact Matte, Subs. 50. Edited and published by Jake Warner, hard bitten randonneur and ex-putzer, and 500 copies printed by him on a 10×15 C&P at the Boxwood Press. Greenbelt. Maryland 20770.