Author: Jessica McWhirt
If you asked me a year ago, “Hey, Jess, want to participate in a century ride?” I would have said two things: “What the hell is a century ride?” and upon finding out that it’s a 100-mile bike ride, my second remark would have been a no-hesitation-needed, “Hell no.”
I didn’t even own a bike one year ago. Somehow, some way, my friend, Jared, got me riding. I borrowed my cousin’s mountain bike for a few months and I couldn’t stand it anymore. Jared kept nudging at a road bike. I told him I’d peruse for bikes. And like needlework (threadwork? woodwork? bikework?), I found my Giant Avail. I bought it in January and I think Jared had convinced (forced) me to register for the Elephant Rock by March. I only had a few months to train for a 100-mile bike ride and I was going to be in Ireland two weeks out of that span. Let’s just say I was a bit nervous (among many other adjectives). I felt like I was trying to accomplish the impossible. From biking to twenty miles to 100 in a few months’ time seemed like a pretty lofty goal. Jared wanted a cycling partner and I needed a challenge, so we created our schedule and commenced training. Essentially, the plan was adding 10 miles to the ride each weekend and spending every (other) day on the trainer or stationary bike for an hour or more.
All the weekends spent training led up to The Elephant Rock. I really didn’t know what to expect for an organized ride. My only frame of reference had been mine and Jared’s rides, which included running out of water, flat tires, snakes, getting lost, and cars nearly running us off the shoulder and coming inches away from our bodies. Jared said I would feel spoiled on the century ride and he was right.
I was up at 4:30 a.m. (first time ever to ride my bike this early) and ready for Jared to pick me up at 5:15 a.m. The sun was still working its way over the horizon as we drove down the highway, listening to Blink 182. The closer we got to the Douglas County Fairgrounds, the more bikes and jerseys we saw. And I was a little nervous. All these self-doubts peppered my mind as we waited in the line of cars to park: What if I get a flat? What if I fall? What if I can’t make it and have to be driven back? I had to stop and rationalize with myself: Look, Jessica, you’ve already had a flat before and you’ve already fallen. You didn’t quit then, so why would you quit now? I also paid $70 to ride the Elephant Rock, so of course I’d continue. No doubt about it. I’m way too cheap to give up, I concluded.
TIME TO RIDE
Anyone could start riding at 5:30 a.m. Jared and I were at the start line around 6:30 a.m. and there wasn’t a shotgun or “on your marks-get set-go!” There was some announcer guy and ladies handing out free samples of Cliff bars, otherwise, it was a mess of people hanging around getting ready to start. We took a quick “selfie” and pedaled off.
I don’t know if it was from training beforehand on this exact route, but the first 25 miles seemed pretty easy. I was like, “Oh, I totally got this.” We had skipped the first aid station, but decided we’d stop at the second as to not wear ourselves out too quickly. I wish I would have checked my bike then…
A mile or two after that aid station, I noticed something weird. I looked down and had a flat. This has been occurring damn near every time we have rode over the past few weekends. I had to scream to Jared to stop so we could change the tire. He asked if I had the CO2 canisters he gave me last weekend… “Uh… I forgot to put them in my sack…”
Jared’s a very patient person. He just laughed and grabbed his own. Because we have had to change my tube so many times, we have actually set a pretty good rhythm. We lost maybe ten minutes on the ride due to the flat. We were back on and decided the next aid station we came across, we’d utilize the mechanics. Doubt started settling back in…
He was in coveralls, wearing a floppy hat to shield his face from the sun. I explained to him, “My rear tire keeps going flat. I’m not sure what’s the matter. Can you please take a look?” He asked if we still had the tube, so we handed it to him. He found the puncture. He measured it up with the tire and boom, we found a chunk of rock/quartz/glass wedged deep inside the tire. Only a person with a trained eye would have found it. I swear I had taken my finger to the tire many a times, but I’m definitely no bike mechanic. He handed me the culprit and I threw it to the ground in a tiny fit of rage. He guessed that was causing the flats, but he said unless he really looked further, he couldn’t tell me much else. Guess it’s time to take the bike to the shop.
We were only 43 miles in and I was nervous I’d get another flat. I kept trying to focus on pedaling, but every couple of minutes, I’d glance down to check my tire. We came around a corner and there was a man holding out a popsicle! I think this was the highlight of the ride. I was not expecting to ride past a man holding a popsicle for me to grab. Normally, I would give a polite, “No thanks,” but how do you say no to that?!
I couldn’t enjoy the popsicle for very long – the road became steeper and I had to focus on getting up the incline. There were quite a number of hills and then it appeared we would enjoy some relief. Nope. Not at all. I looked ahead and it looked straight up, like even if I dropped to the lowest gear I’d be baby crawling up this thing.
RIDE, RIDE, RIDE
I kept swearing to myself. I knocked my bike to the lowest gear and just kept thinking strong thoughts. Then I started passing people on my right; one woman was walking her bike up the hill. As I pedaled around her, a car drove by (really close to me, might I add) and shouted, “you’re supposed to be in single file!” I’m sorry, but when there are signs everywhere there is a bike event going on, that I was currently passing someone, and on the right side of the road, I think it very unnecessary for him to do that. The car was clearly outnumbered by all of us cyclists. I wanted to give him the Finger, but decided to focus on making it up the rest of the way.
There was an aid station conveniently located at the top of the hill, but Jared and I felt too good to stop, so we continued. The remainder of the ride wasn’t any easier: plenty of steep hills with little relief. We took about a half hour break at the last aid station. There was plenty to eat and drink (bagels, cookies, bananas, trail mix, grapes, etc…). I drank an entire bottle of water, refilled, used the porter potty, and then off we went to finish the last 20 miles or so.
I noticed, as a woman, I was outnumbered; most of the time I was surrounded by males. At one point, these two men were really taken it slow down a hill and I love speed, so I pedaled around them. I think they felt the need to compete because they both sped around Jared and I, only to return to their turtle pace once in front of us. Naturally, the competitor in me had to get around them, so we shot by them and left them in the dust. I guess a little competition never hurt anyone.
There was one final aid station, but we were on a roll (call us ‘butter’), so we skipped it. I glanced down at my speedometer and the miles were barely moving. Several times I was told I was crazy to be cycling with “sneakers” and that I needed to invest in some “cleats.” Well, I had gotten that far without them, so obviously, I’m doing something right. There was another hill, one I remembered from training with Jared about a month or two prior to the Elephant Rock. It must have been all the training we did because, while it was tough, it wasn’t unbearable as it was the first time I conquered it.
Towards the end of the ride, there were a couple of cyclists trying to draft off us. The woman finally yelled out, “You guys are really strong! We had a hard time trying to catch up to you!” Of course we’re strong! We’ve been training for this sucker for a couple months now.
We arrived at the finish line, sweaty, crusty, and drained. There were no bells, whistles, or a crowd cheering as we rode in, but there was my mom and sister shouting out my name and taking pictures as we rode by. I felt kind of like a celebrity.
Jessica is a writer for Cyclizing a website dedicated to sharing cycling stories from Colorado