Wednesday’s weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Sunny, 70 degrees, in November? I’ll take it! I couldn’t have asked for a better day to ride for 8 hours. We set off on the tandem to ride 100 miles. When we mapped it at the end, apparently it was only 97 miles, but we also did a lot of backtracking and some bushwacking on our way home when we decided to take the “fun route” through the Game Lands, which weren’t accounted for on my map. So, it was probably just about 100 miles after all, and either way, I’m still counting it as my first century ever.
I rode about 35 miles farther than I’ve ever ridden on a bike before. That was pretty cool.
We got started around 10:30am. I bartended the night before and didn’t get home til 1, so I allowed myself to get a decent amount of sleep. We loaded up the bike with snacks, necessary tools and little spare parts and then we were off.
I couldn’t believe how nice it was outside—absolutely clear, sunny, and warm. I wore shorts and a t-shirt, in November.
In addition to the weather, everything else seemed to be working out nicely too. A dog ran away from us instead of chasing us. Unheard of! Then a conscientious owner held his dogs as we passed to prevent them from going after us (what is it about dogs and cyclists anyway?). It was like the world was tilting on its axis, or aligning just for us.
As we made our way towards Alexandria, I pulled apple slices out of my frame bag to alleviate the oncoming feelings of hunger. I had seen the apple sitting on the counter before we left and decided to bring it along. Evan and I agree that it’s a new favorite ride snack.
Once on the Rail Trail, it was easy pedaling for a while. We passed several older couples out enjoying the day while everyone else was at work. I’m sure we looked pretty funny whizzing by them on our frame-bag-clad tandem. We stopped for a quick snack and map check in Williamsburg, and then it was time for another relatively-flat stretch of road before eventually climbing over the mountain near Martinsburg.
Or so we thought.
Clover Creek Road was actually a lot more hilly than I remembered, and we were riding it in the uphill direction. It was here, around mile 35, as we struggled against a headwind and the gradual-but-unexpected climb, that the first doubts crossed my mind. It wasn’t that I thought I couldn’t do the ride. I knew I could make it. I wasn’t questioning myself as an individual, but rather as a part of our two-person team. Was I pedaling hard enough? I was working my ass off, doing the best I could, but was it enough? I didn’t want to leave the majority of work to Evan. The thing with the tandem is that it’s hard to tell how much your individual output is actually propelling the bike forward. For me it is, anyway. Maybe it’s easier for the captain to gauge these things. So, for a while, as we hammered away against the headwind, I found myself spiraling into self-doubt about whether or not I was doing well enough, if I was doing enough, if I was pulling my weight, even though I was working as hard as I could. I began to feel like maybe I was letting the team down. Which, in hindsight, was a pretty dumb thought considering I was still pedaling, and we were still trucking along just fine. But that’s the way it goes with doubts. They aren’t always rational.
Luckily, they also went away. We stopped for pizza at OIP in Saxton, gobbling down a couple slices of pie and a root beer as our waitress marveled at the idea that we rode our bikes here from all the way north of Huntingdon. And then, when we got back on the bikes, I got a second wind. I talked to Evan about my feelings (communication is good!), and he assured me that I was doing just fine. As long as I was putting forth the best effort I could, there was no way I’d let the team down. I’ll always be way harder on myself than he ever is on me. I could tell that after we talked, he made more of an effort to vocalize encouragement and let me know that I was indeed still doing great.
I was feeling so much better as we cruised up Little Valley Road and back down, across the 994 bridge over the lake, and up and over Fouse’s Crossing. There were no cars in the Game Lands parking lot (meaning no hunters) so we decided to jump on the grassy doubletrack of the old railroad grade. We’d ridden this a couple times in the past, when we did our around-the-lake rides, but there are a few areas where it gets pretty confusing and promising paths only lead to dead ends. We backtracked and bushwacked a little, but finally made it to where we needed to go. It was smooth sailing to Huntingdon, and the beer that awaited at Boxers.
The beer was good motivation to get to town, but in the end, it might have not been the best idea. Though we weren’t stopped for that long, beer and sitting at the bar subconsciously put me into the “I’m done” mindset. Getting back on the bike and riding those last 14 miles home was the most painful part of the ride.
While on Murray Run Road, we were chased by a dog briefly, which really snapped those tired legs into gear. I guess I did still have some energy left. Evan later joked that anytime he wanted me to pedal harder, he’d just need to play the sound of a dog barking. I’m pretty scared of dogs while on my bike. Back to the dogs and cyclists thing…
As we were coasting down the back side of Murray Run a deer jumped out in front of us. I’ve often almost hit deer on my bike on this section of road. You get going fast coming down the hill, and this seems to be where they like to cross. Luckily, we avoided an unpleasant end to a very pleasant day.
We arrived home at 7pm, which was earlier than I expected. I learned that on long, fast(ish) rides, it’s best to just keep moving. Stops to stretch, eat, and refuel are certainly necessary, but the shorter, the better (unless you’re stopping for a few hours or so to really rest). I think if we hadn’t stopped for a beer towards the end, I would have felt a lot stronger til the finish. Part of that was mental though—I prematurely let myself think that we were basically done when we were in Huntingdon. While normally the ride from town to our house isn’t a big deal, after you’ve already ridden all day, and after you’ve already ridden farther than you ever have before, it can be tough. But we made it, and while I was exhausted, I definitely could have gone quite a bit further if I needed to. Which is good, because in less than three weeks, we’ll be doubling the miles.
And in other good news, I encountered no major comfort issues during the course of our ride, which says a lot because I’ve been struggling with comfort on the tandem since we got it. I’ve experimented with bars, positioning, and quite a few different saddles, and it seems we’ve finally got it right! No saddle sores or back pain is definitely a good thing. My legs can keep going a lot longer than I often think they can, but if things hurt (aside from muscle pain due to exertion), it’s a lot harder to continue. I had encountered some knee pain midway through the ride (my right knee bothers me sometimes, but I’ve found that plenty of stretching works wonders and keeps it from being an issue), but it disappeared by the end. Also good, as if it continued to get worse, then we might have a problem.
Last but not least, we had no mechanicals, not even a flat! Which also says a lot, considering it seems we’ve really been on a streak of breaking things on the tandem.
All in all, everything was really great! I’m jonesing for some more long miles.