With Cycling, the Toys are Fun, the Fitness is Great, but What Really Make the Pedals Go ‘Round are the Friends
My friend, Chuck, was excited. He was all set to ride his 25th century (100 miles, not kms) for 2020 yesterday. The weather was going to be perfect, too. Sunny, 65 at the start, 75 at the finish (18 to 24 C)… a slight chance of rain. 25 centuries in a year, for a working guy, is a big deal. So I made a big deal about it. I sent out an announcement at the beginning of the week to all of our friends that Saturday was the day, hoping we could get him a little help to make the ride a little easier.
We started out with six. One of our friends drove a full hour to get to my house for the 8 o’clock start. We rolled out in the mild, clear sky morning dead into a 10-mph (16 km/h) headwind. Slow going at first, but the pace picked up nicely. The rotation was fantastic; my wife, Mike, Diane, Mike, Chuck and I – we’ve put in countless miles together – there’s just something spectacular about a group of seasoned, tightly knit cyclists riding together. There’s no wrangling to it, we all know what we’re doing.
Michigan’s natural fireworks show is in full swing and, while it’s sad to think how numbered our outdoor days are, (the boys and girls at Zwift have to be excited the winter membership spike is right around the corner) Saturday was to be the last great day of the year. Being able to start and finish a long ride in shorts and short sleeves in October is rare.
We followed an old favorite route, the Assenmacher 100, because we know it like the back of our hand and there’s a lot of great pavement. Of the 100 miles, less than 5% is of the “is my ass going to fall off because of the horrible road” variety. Most of the roads are out in the middle of nowhere, too, and that makes for a quiet, enjoyable ride.
We also picked up Greg and his son, Eli on the way out. Greg is a cycling yeoman. That’s the most apt description of how one of the classiest guys I know will meet up with us just to hang out with friends and perform some of the best “into the headwind” turns we’ll see all year long.
Yeoman’s work: performed or rendered in a loyal, valiant, useful, or workmanlike manner, especially in situations that involve a great deal of effort or labor
Greg led us out for much of the headwind. Diane dropped off at 28 miles to head home and my wife and Mike dropped at 32, leaving the five of us to duke it out with nature’s equalizer. Greg cranked up the heat. By the time he and Eli dropped off to head home at 42 miles, I was vastly grateful for Greg’s effort, but I was a little glad that none of the three of us could match his intensity. We still had a lot of headwind left, but it would be much less intense slogging into it.
And then there were three of us. Chuck, Mike and I. We each took our lumps in the headwind for miles at a time. We pulled into Laingsburg at 45 miles with a 19.3-mph average (31 km/h). I bought a lemon-lime Gatorade and a Cherry-Vanilla Coke (one of the best flavored Coke’s in the history of Coca-Cola – second only to Orange-Vanilla) and a Twix candy bar. I needed the caffeine and sugar, STAT. We ate and drank and took a minute for a breather before rolling out into the wind that had been steadily picking up. We spent another eight miles duking it out with the wind, before we finally hit tailwind. And it was glorious. Each of us took three to seven-mile long turns up front and kept the speed pegged between 22 & 27-mph.
We stopped at a Subway for lunch in Owosso, the now famous town where a barber stood up to the tyranny of a governor and her bureaucracy to, of all things, cut hair during a forced lockdown… and won. Chuck, to our surprise, bought. He thanked us for riding with him. Sadly, we were eating when it dawned on me why he bought. I let Mike know my hypothesis; Chuck was going to ride us like rented mules all the way home. We had several great laughs, finished our lunch, and rolled out for home.
We had a tailwind for all but seven of the last 27 miles and we made the most of it. We absolutely pounded out the miles, often north of 25-mph raising our average speed from 19-1/2 to 20.4 as we went. With just four miles to go, Chuck ran out of gas. He’d taken the lead, heading south and up a tiny 2% speed bump of a hill, but his legs doth protest too much and he tapped out after only a quarter-mile up front. My Garmin was next. Fortunately, I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my phone to start up a Strava activity on the fly – I still managed to track my last three miles and change.
After we ticked over 100 miles, we sat up to spin home. I was at a 20.4 average when my Garmin died. We congratulated Chuck on his 25th century of the year and split off for the last mile to my house, recapping the ride as we went. I thanked Mike for driving all that way to join us, it would have been a much longer ride without him. And to illustrate just how awesome that tailwind was, we did the final 50 miles in 2h:18m:03s… we didn’t hit tailwind till 53.
I spent the rest of the day grateful for my friends and for being me. Being a member of AA, I’m used to being a part of a brotherhood where we share each other’s burdens for the betterment of the individual and the group. It’s second-nature to me. However, it’s strikingly awesome to have that in a fitness-related hobby as well.
Cycling never gets old.
P.S. The new Bontager Montrose saddle on the Venge was spectacular. Exceedingly comfortable, though I believe there’s some room to dial it in and make it even better…