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When 75% is Still an Accomplishment: Part 1

by on October 7, 2012

The Goal: 310 miles on 3 back to back rides

The Reality: 235 miles on 2 back to back rides

The Story: Worth telling, and you are welcome to read it.  The ride was long … so is the report.

Seven SPP riders signed up for both the 200k (125 mile) Seagull Salvo and the 127k (82 mile) Seagull’s Revenge with four crazy people planning to do the Seagull Century between the two rides.  Mike B coined this longer ride “The Seagull Circus”.  As the ride started, “circus” was the appropriate name.

Six of us gathered at Ram’s Head in Stevensville for a little dinner before setting out.  We had a 7:00 pm start planned at the Shore Shop.  One always attracts attention wearing biking clothing in a restaurant, and most of us were having trouble walking across the hardwood floor in our biking shoes.  After a meal of black bean soup and part of a burger and the necessary pit stop following, I and the others rode to the Shore Shop where we encountered an entirely wonderful cashier.  She was very interested in our planned trip, especially since her step-son was going to be riding in the Seagull Century the next day.  She told us how to find him and say hello.  We said we would be on the look out for him (among 8,000 other bike riders on 3 different routes).  Meanwhile, we watch 6:30 come and go and Mohammed has not shown up yet at that promised time.  Then, we watch 6:45 come and go.  No Mohammed.  At 6:50 we are getting concerned and wondering whether or not he will make it and if he does, how long will his late arrival delay us.  No Mohammed at 6:55.  At 6:56 a car comes careening into the parking lot with Mohammed behind the wheel.  He asks us where to park.  Team members assemble his bike for him.  He goes in to check in, and it is 7:06 as we push off into the rapidly growing darkness.  This first leg will be completely in the darkness.  Within a few miles, those of us stewing about his late arrival have cooled off and we’ve settled into our rhythms.

One of the realities of riding with a group on a long ride is that you have to trust one another and you have to work together for a successful event.  Communication is key.  Much of it is unspoken … unless spoken communicates better.  How fast do seven riders go?  Just a little faster than the comfort level of the slowest person and slower than the comfort level of the strongest, fastest rider.  Who is slowest and who is fastest often changes hour by hour depending on nutrition, hydration and plenty of other factors, including mental.  Riding mad at someone can cloud the judgment necessary for a safe ride.

The first 10 miles of the ride were challenging.  We are establishing our patterns and that takes time.  The pavement was rough and full of potholes that were hard to see in the growing darkness.  Traffic was heavy.  And then we came to the Highway 50 crossing.  This crossing has always been dangerous.  We cross it at least 4 times a year on our Ocean City Rides, so it is familiar to us on Saturdays and Sundays.  Not so much on a Friday evening with bumper to bumper traffic, many of whom are driving to ride in the Seagull Century.  While we were debating about how we could cross, a vehicle in each lane stopped (rather than move at the 25 mph flow of traffic) and let us go across.  I’m guessing they were cyclists.  It was really the best option.

From there, we were on familiar roads.  Our Ocean City rides and Chip’s Flatbread ride use the same roads.  As we left Centerville, we started looking for the moon, anticipating it’s rise.  The stars were out, but with our headlights and red tail lights, our night vision wasn’t the best for star gazing … oh, and that little thing called riding a bike at 15-20 mph.  It wasn’t long before the course took us onto a highway with wide shoulders and very smooth pavement.  That allowed us to pick the pace up and we had some good fast speeds going in a pretty tight paceline, especially for night time riding.  Traffic was very light.  Our first control was at the Royal Farms in Chestertown, and it was the last place along the route where we knew we could obtain food.  I had discovered earlier that many of the convenience stores on the Eastern Shore close as early as 9:00 pm.  Mohammed had placed water at mile 72, so we knew we had that waiting for us.

The reactions of non-cyclists to seeing seven riders out after dark far from any place that a reasonable person would ride a bike is always interesting to me.  There are the quizzical.  “Where are you going?”  “How far are you riding?” “Why are you riding at night?”  There are the comedians.  “Hey Lance, can I get your autograph?”  There are the *%#*)@^ $%*(@#.  Usually their comments are undecipherable.  Sometimes they are dangerous, blaring a horn long and hard as they approach.  Some will buzz close to us, never mind the law that says you must pass a cyclist no closer than 3 feet.  We had more than our usual share of the latter group.  A slow head shake is sometimes all that can be “said”.  The best reaction, at least the one I like the most, is when some one asks us for directions.  If someone is on a bicycle, they must know the area, right?  The look on their faces when we reply that no, we are not from around here and don’t know where xxxx street or Bobby’s Barbecue is located is precious.  It causes them to question all their assumptions.

In good spirits we set off for the next control, an information control only about 15 miles away.  (A control is a place where you have to accomplish something in order to prove you were there, usually at key point on the course to prevent shortcuts.)  The road was good, but it had us longing for quiet country roads rather than highways.  We got at taste of the country roads as we turned south, and also got our taste of a light headwind that persisted through the rest of the remaining 75 miles.  We got some good practice riding in a pace line to minimize the effort this headwind added.  It was along this stretch that the moon made it’s appearance.  It was a 3/4 moon with a planet (Jupiter?) very close.  It was very pretty.  Every so often, I would declare, “Oh, I know where we are!”  Even though I helped put this course together and drove it to make the cue sheets, traveling through the night with headlights designed only to illuminate the roadway for a bicycle means other landmarks might be missed.

We saw our share of wildlife, especially on the dark country roads.  Two deer, including one that caused our leaders to swerve and brake to avoid hitting it.  That nearly caused a pile up.  We saw a fox.  We smelled 2 or 3 skunks.  Cats were out in towns.  Everything else had seemed to go to sleep.  Homes were buttoned up tight and soon their lights were out.  Towns were rolled through with only a few people out and about in cars.  We even saw a convenience store that was completely shuttered, no glass showing, which is unusual for around here.

As night settled in, the temperature dropped.  We gradually added layers.  For most, the arm warmers came out first.  Then it was the wind vests.  Clint was cold and at one point had arm warmers, knee warmers, skull cap, wind vest, & rain jacket on.  I was content with a wind vest and arm warmers in temperatures that hovered close to 60° F, but usually was just a little warmer than that.  Often we commented that the night was just perfect for the ride.

At mile 72 we found the water and refilled bottles.  At mile 101 we had another information control.  The Garmin was showing an ETA of anywhere between 3:00 & 3:30 most of the night, usually depending on how long we were stopped to take on water or relieve ourselves of water.  We stopped under a street light once to add clothing, and only noticed the man in the car parked in the driveway as we were pulling away.  Odd.

With less than 10 miles to go, we were starting to get anxious to finish.  On this dark country road, is where the only incident happened.  Clint looked up at the stars trying to remember the name of the constellation Orion, when his front wheel crossed and rubbed my rear wheel.  Within moments, unable to recover, he went down hard.  His knee was scraped pretty bad, and we were able to pool enough resources to stem the flow of blood.  His bike was fine.  But this meant that the last 10 miles would be a little harder for him than it needed to be.

We pulled into the WAWA at about 3:45 am, under my predicted 9 hour estimate.  There was some parting of ways as three riders planned a short stop and then were going to head back to Stevensville (82 miles).  Four of us headed to my daughter’s house where we could take a nap and have breakfast before leg 2.

The story of this next leg can be found by clicking here.

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