This year, I have decided to make a serious attempt on the Kentucky Century Challenge. (Why not the Indiana Century Challenge, you might ask? Because there isn't one.) In the cycling world, a "century" is a single-day riding tour of one hundred miles. Four such rides are part of the Challenge. Those who successfully complete all four rides get a FREE jersey! Undoubtedly, the most expensive "free" jersey in the history of the world, but ... I want it. I've been told that the first of these centuries, the Redbud Ride, is the most difficult, due to some fairly extreme hilliness to the route. So, to southeast Kentucky I went last Friday, to start my quest for the Holy
This was a return for me, since I had ridden the Thriller Ride last fall. Both rides are produced by the Cumberland Valley Cycling Club; both are substantially run by Mr. Rodney Hendrickson (about whom, more later); and the routes overlap substantially, being composed of the winding, low-traffic back roads of Laurel, Rock Castle, and Jackson Counties. The Thriller was 64 miles, and it was tough, but not prohibitively so. So, I approached the Redbud rather lightheartedly, thinking of it as one-and-a-half Thrillers, plus a few odd additional miles. Besides, I had a new cassette on my rear wheel which offered a 19% lower ratio "granny gear" (32 teeth, replacing 25 on my original cassette). So, I was confident that I could crank my way slowly up any slope I would encounter.
No law against being wrong, I hope.
I lodged at the Microtel on Route 192. I got there about 9 pm on Friday. Somehow, I knew immediately that I was in the right place.
Still, I was askeered to stay by myself in a strange Microtel. So I brought in a close friend to spend the night with me. (In the morning, I saw that others had done likewise, as a whole series of bicycles made their way out the doors of the place.)
Saturday provided absolutely perfect weather: about 60° at the 8 am mass start, with an afternoon high of 77°, clear blue skies, and light winds. The only disappointment was that the Redbud Ride was conspicuously short on (active) redbuds. Spring has come late to southern Kentucky this year. The trees mostly still didn't have leaves. Still, that's some breathtakingly beautiful country. The roads have an understandable tendency to follow either streams (the low places) or ridgelines (the high ones).
Another rider and I take a simultaneous roadside stop. I don't know why he stopped; I stopped to take pictures.
Jackson County is separated from Rock Castle County by a stream; here it is spanned by a plank bridge, where we cyclists were instructed to dismount and walk our bikes across. The reason wasn't immediately obvious to me, as the posted weight limit seems ample and the car you see had just driven (slowly) across. When I began to cross the bridge, all became clear: the spaces between planks were just wide enough to drop a road bike's wheel into. Hmmm, that could've been bad. Note the young women present. There's no reason for me to boast of having completed the century route, when they did too (this particular group was riding about the same pace I was, and we passed back and forth repeatedly all day). But then, they are young women; they don't appear to be completing their 60th year. So, all right, I'll go back to boasting.
Shortly after this, we came to the notorious Tussy Hill. It was not part of the Thriller Ride route, and I'd been hearing people talk about it all day. Here is where Rodney Hendrickson, the ride coordinator, revealed his comic bent, using spray paint. He marked out the routes, and approaching Tussy Hill, we encountered the spray-painted exhortation: GEAR DOWN, BABY, GEAR DOWN! I did, and proceeded to toil my way up a challenging slope, I'd guess maybe 18%. And when that slope shallowed out, I remarked to the guy next to me that we had done it. He directed my attention to the next pavement slogan, which read: LOOK UP. So, I did, only to discover that this was a two-part hill with a near-level "landing" between parts ... and the next part was a lot steeper. My next remark was something like, "Oh HELL no!" But there was nothing to do except soldier on, and I started up that next one. A little way up it, I had an experience that was new to me: I could tell I was going to be falling, but there wasn't anything I could do about it. Just past the next spray-painted slogan (GRUNT! GRUNT!), I hit the point where I could no longer move the bicycle. To stop a bicycle requires you to put a foot on the ground, and I was clipped in. Normally, you unclip with the bike coasting. But I was already at essentially zero speed on a big up-slope, so there was no "coast." All I could do was try to rip my foot instantly out of the clip, which never works, and so I left a little of my hide, and blood, on that Kentucky pavement. I then walked the bike the rest of the way up. My consolation was that the same thing was happening to many other folks right at the same place. Maybe I should get tested for bloodborne disease, having shared a flesh-grater with a bunch of strangers. At the top, we were treated to one more painted slogan: AND THE BABY IS BORN!
Everyone takes a break at the top.
Looking back down the hill:
And looking down my leg, I have a minor little strawberry as my Tussy Hill souvenir.
From the hill to the next rest stop was only about 2.5 miles. During that stretch I noticed that my bike speedometer was showing a speed of zero and not registering miles. This concerned me, as the Century Challenge check-in procedure requires you to show a speedometer or bike computer with 100 miles on it, or be accompanied by another rider who'll tell them you went the whole way. I couldn't be sure I would still be with any of that group I'd been pacing at ride's end, where things are usually pretty chaotic anyway. I got my wheel pickup back into alignment at the stop, but those missing 2.5 miles were "in my head" the rest of the way.
But, the road goes ever on and on ...
... and it is pretty, even when you're feeling about four-fifths dead.
I kept grinding away, following route marks, and eventually found myself back in downtown London, at the Laurel County Farmer's Market where the ride began. I showed my speedometer at the check-in table, and they didn't even want to hear my whole story about dumping the bike -- I guess I looked like somebody who'd ridden the whole thing, and they just checked me off.
I had left at 8 am, and I returned just a few minutes before 5 pm. I estimate that I spent something like one hour, total, at the five rest stops. So my century was nine hours in duration, with about eight hours actually riding; I averaged about 12.5 miles per hour. Eight hours in the saddle of a road bike is a little bit of an issue in itself; for the last hour or so, I was aware that my "junk" was completely numb -- just one more not-so-useful thing to be in your head, wondering just how good an idea this had really been.
So, it's one down, three to go, commencing with the Horsey Hundred late next month. I certainly hope the Redbud was "the hard one," as I've been told. I think that one hundred miles, at least in seriously hilly terrain, is about 30 miles too much to make an enjoyable ride. The last twenty-five were kind of grim, a grind-it-out exercise, and the last ten were a serious death march on wheels. My takeaway lesson: I don't think I ate enough along the way (strange as that sounds, coming from me, one of this world's great gluttons). Next century, I plan to hit the bananas, peanut butter, and orange quarters harder. Bottom line, though: I'm really, really glad I went. I may never go back, but doing it once is a very good thing.