Way back when the spring was young, I resolved to make a trial of the Kentucky Century Challenge. That's four 100-mile single-day rides in hilly terrain; complete 'em all, and you get a free jersey. Accordingly, in April, I went down to London, KY, and rode the Redbud Ride. There, I was successful, in what I was told is the most difficult of the four, and I thought the Century Challenge was pretty much in the bag. I found out differently over the Memorial Day weekend, at the Horsey Hundred in Georgetown, where I failed, a leg-cramp casualty 72 miles in. But I learned some lessons there. I learned that just because they claim the ride is supported, and there'll be food and drink at the rest stops, it ain't necessarily so, and the wise cyclist stuffs his jersey pockets with emergency rations and maintains a strict "keep full" policy with respect to his water bottle. After the Horsey, I was bitter and disillusioned about the Challenge, and actually toyed with the notion of skipping the Preservation Pedal, even though I'd already paid the registration. The registration, you see, was only $35 (compared to the larcenous $65 extorted by the Horsey). The Preservation Pedal departs from Winchester, which isn't far from Georgetown, so I figured I could expect the same sort of terrain, and -- truth to tell -- I wasn't all that eager to see more of that. But a few weeks went by, and I thought, well, I've already paid, let's go see if we can complete another one; don't want those Kentuckians thinking that this northeast Indiana flatlander has run away, tail 'twixt legs like a whipped dog.
So I headed down there. And I went nice and early, the day before. My friend Joseph had suggested that I conduct a driving reconnaissance of the course, so I'd at least know what to expect and where. The course wasn't available online (else I could've used Google Earth for the purpose). When I got there for the advertised early packet pickup, when I should've gotten my route map and cue sheet, I discovered that a severe thunderstorm had dismantled the organizers' tent, and the packets were unavailable until event morning. So I went and checked into my lodging, with a familiar sinking feeling: it's a surprise party, and the surprises are usually disagreeable. This time, I had my (lockable) cap installed on my truck, so I required my trusty mount to sleep out in the truck. It did not complain.
So, event morning. The forecast called for rain all day. This required me to make a mirror-related decision right away. My rear-view mirror mounts to glasses (any glasses will do). At the Redbud, on a bright sunny day, I wore my contacts and a pair of sunglasses, and that worked fine. At the Horsey, another clear day, I opted for my prescription glasses, which worked pretty well although I had to rinse dripped sweat off the lenses several times. But, if it rained, I didn't want to wear my glasses, which would be constantly collecting water. So I opted for the contacts, and no mirror, although I didn't feel good about it -- that mirror has come in handy at times. It seemed like the best solution at the time. I slipped into my water-bearing hydration backpack, filled my frame bottle, and stuffed three Special K protein bars and a Milky Way into my jersey pockets, and was about as ready as I could be. It wasn't raining, but the sky was solid-overcast and the relative humidity felt like 99.9%; it was one of those fairly cool but clammy sort of mornings.
We started from the courthouse square (Winchester is the county seat of Clark County). The official start time for the century was the usual 8 am. At 7:40, I was leaning on my bike in front of the courthouse and was fairly shocked at how few cyclists I saw -- few enough for me to make a rough count. There were certainly no more than a hundred of us.
|See all the cyclists? Neither do I. That's because most of them are already on the course.|
A couple of minutes before 8, without announcement or ceremony, people started riding out, so I zeroed my bike computer's mileage, clipped in, and joined the meager pack. Between one thing and another, this seemed like an inauspicious start, and I must admit that my heart really wasn't in it. The event kind of smelled like another fiasco, or at least a hundred miles of drudgery, to me, and part of me was wishing I'd stayed home.
But, you know, exercise is the best antidepressant, and after a few miles I was enjoying the ride. It got hilly right out of town and pretty much stayed that way the whole ride. The first fifty miles or so was very reminiscent of the Horsey, with some big, long, punishing climbs followed by steep, brake-heating descents; after that, it was pretty much rolling hills that are easier to handle (if you can see what's coming up, you feel free to go downhill as fast as you can, carrying some kinetic energy that you can trade for gravitational potential on the following uphill). When I was at the second rest stop, I did hear a witness's account of how one guy crashed out on one of the steep, winding descents only about 7 miles in: he couldn't make a switchback turn, and he and his bike slid under the guardrail, and he left part of his face on the bottom edge of the rail. That's why I get passed a lot on downhills of that sort; if I don't know what's coming, I use my brakes as necessary so I always have a decent chance of dealing with the unexpected. I need to live forever, so as to cost my former employer as much as possible in pension payments, you see.
The first rest stop was 17 miles in. I was, of course, vitally interested in the food situation, and what I discovered wasn't promising: trail mix was the only food on offer. I wasn't hungry yet, but you have to eat proactively, so I threw down a bag of trail mix, and added a second bag to my jersey-pocket pantry. Tanked up on water, and off I went.
|Toward the left, it seems that my phone/camera might have been wet. It was, along with everything else. A clammy morning.|
I grabbed a few pictures between the first and second stops:
|A bottom-land creek. Muddy, probably because of the previous day's rain. May've been dry before that.|
|And some higher terrain. Still lots of water in the air. Pretty state, Kentucky is.|
32 miles in, the second stop was hosted by the Allansville Baptist Church. Initially, I had that "here-we-go-again" feeling, as the only food on offer was more trail mix and mini-pretzels. At least, water and reconstituted Gatorade were plentiful. I used liberal amounts of water to wash down a little bag of mini-pretzels. But, just as I was about to mount up and go, reinforcement food arrived. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (PBJS)! PB-and-honey sandwiches! Bananas! Orange quarters! Cookies! All that heart could desire. So I did a PBJS, a banana, a couple of orange quarters, and a cookie, topped off with water, and set off down the road (Muddy Creek Road, in fact) with a little more cheer. Things were looking up.
Between stops two and three, the weather started to break:
|The sun ... I knew it had to be there, somewhere.|
The third stop was at 50 miles, at Bethlehem Church. It was lavishly provisioned. I ate and drank there in the same way, and in the same quantities, as the previous one. I didn't feel hungry, and initially felt a little over-full when I was leaving, but I have learned one lesson very well: if it's a century, and you're at a stop, eat! I was encouraged by words I overheard at that stop from a guy who'd ridden the route before: the "big climbs" were pretty much over, although we could expect "rollers" constantly for the rest of the way. This turned out to be correct.
One other lesson I've learned: take the "1 pm" warnings with a grain, or several grains, of salt. On the Preservation Pedal cue sheet, as at the Horsey, there was a stop designated as a bailout point: we were instructed, if we reached the Sewell Shop stop at mile 57 at 1 pm or later, to make a 10-mile direct return to Winchester on a couple of designated roads. When I got there, it was five minutes past one. I wasn't about to punch out: there were a bunch of people behind me, I was going to finish that ride, and they could just close the roads and arrest me or whatever they wanted, but I was going on. So I did. And, for the record, I finished at about 4:50 pm. Looking back, I cannot explain their thinking behind that, unless it was simply to provide an excuse to people who were exhausted and despairing of completion anyway. I did, however, skip the stop at Sewell Shop; it was only seven miles past the previous one, I was full of food, and my water was still full as well. It worked out fine. Sometimes, you just have to keep your own counsel.
On my way to the North Middletown Christian Church stop, I encountered a couple of groups of Horsican-Americans who were near the road and seemed agreeable to the idea of my photographing them.
|These horses seemed to find a low, muddy area of their pasture agreeable.|
|One of this group came right up to the fence. I'm guessing that he or she was thinking, "Just let that goofball stick his hand through the fence; see what a hell of a bite I'll deliver." I didn't.|
|Look at those horses. Look at that sky. Now tell me that northern Kentucky doesn't lavishly repay the effort involved in a hundred-mile ride.|
At mile 83, there was a stop at the Clintonville Church. As with all the stops all the way to the end, it was generously provisioned. There, my bicycle shared a leaning post with a recumbent that I'd been sharing a pace with for most of the ride. A few of us were talking to its owner. I asked him how long it had taken to become comfortable riding it. His answer: "About 1500 miles." I think that must be a pretty different skill set.
|Yes, the owner says there's a lengthy learning curve. He also says there's no butt soreness involved: he has a "seat," not a "saddle." He's got a point there. I bet he goes through more Phil's Tenacious Oil than I do, at chain-service time.|
An odd thing: after that stop at mile 83, although I was conscious of feeling tired, I felt no tiniest bit of "bonk," nor any ghost of a leg cramp. I realized along about then that I'd been riding scared: afraid my legs would cramp, I'd been gearing down more, granny-gearing up every hill that seemed significant, not pushing. But now I had growing confidence that they wouldn't cramp, and I started pushing myself. My pace picked up substantially, and I began to lead my local "pack" of riders, more often than not. And, as it turned out, I had nothing to fear. Going back into Winchester, on near-level roads, I was cranking out 20 mph and feeling much the same as I normally do on a 25-mile training loop near my home. And, in due course, I rolled up to the courthouse once again, and checked in at the Century Challenge table.
|The official cue-sheet distance was 101.6 miles. I'm fairly sure the cue sheet is correct. Looks like I have a ~1.6% calibration issue.|
I still have a decision to make. I can no longer get a "free" Century Challenge jersey, having whiffed on the Horsey. But here's the deal: ride all four, free jersey; ride three of the four, get one at "cost" ($30); ride less than three, can't get one at all. I'm thinking that, if I end up riding 3.72 out of four, which will be the situation if I complete the Hub City Tour in September, I could wear that jersey with a sense of honor, especially since that Horsey 0.72 of a century was partly their fault. So, I may ride the Hub City after all. I have a while to think it over, before I must decide.