Sunday, 14 August 2011

Within My Grasp, Yet Out of Reach: the Evasive Century Ride

Ipswich, MA
Once a cyclist begins to ride longer distances, it is inevitable that they will hear the siren call of the Century - the 100 mile ride. While 100 miles is as arbitrary a number as any, it has an undeniable cachet to it. It is a three digit number, a round number, and impressive number. Put simply, 100 miles is unambiguously "a lot." It is often considered a marker of seriousness when it comes to long-distance cycling.

Ipswich, MA
Although I never set it as a goal for myself to complete a century, to tell the truth I thought that surely I would have done it by now. Distances of 30, 40 and 50 miles were so easy for me almost from the start, that I assumed 100 miles would inevitably follow. However, it is now my 3rd summer of cycling and somehow I still have not managed it - 65 miles being the longest distance I've covered so far in one go. One obstacle has been lack of time. As someone who gets annoyed when others tell me they don't have time to cycle, I can't believe I am using the same excuse. So maybe I should rephrase: My time management skills have been inadequate. I try to set a day aside for a century ride, but something inevitably comes up to make it impossible. Shorter rides are easier in that sense, because they do not require taking an entire day off. The other obstacle has been finding places to ride to. While the countryside outside Boston offers excellent cycling, I am having a hard time mapping out routes that exceed 65 miles and are still within my comfort zone when it comes to car traffic and elevation changes. And doing repeat loops just to cycle 100 miles is not appealing.

Surly, Rivendell, Essex MA
While on Cape Cod last summer, I thought that surely a century would finally be completed. Our plan was to gradually work up to it, but in the end we did it too gradually: Just after the 65 mile ride I got sick, and by the time I felt better it was time to go home. This summer, the inability to reach the 100 mile mark is becoming almost comical. Now that we are on Cape Ann - with both the time to do it and the perfect location - weather and other factors have intervened to foil our plans repeatedly. 50 miles along the coast has been the longest we have managed so far, and with half our stay over and more storms predicted for this week, it's possible that a century is simply not in the cards during this trip either.

Ipswich, MA
It is becoming clear that, while I am accustomed to fitting rides into my life "organically," the century may necessitate a different approach. If I am serious, then I will need more careful planning, stronger determination, and a willingness to do it in poor weather conditions or along a route that I am not entirely comfortable with. But frankly, that just doesn't seem like much fun. When I finally find the time to do a 100 mile ride on my terms, it will be fantastic. But to approach it as a grimly goal-oriented undertaking for the sake of saying that I've done a century would defeat the purpose. As far as endurance goes, I am fairly confident that I can handle the mileage, so it's just a matter of an opportune situation presenting itself. I am sure someday it will.


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