The mean, green, machine...
I have always wanted to take a stab at riding 100 miles on a bike, but have never really been motivated to actually get out and do it. A few years ago, I spent a considerable amount of money on a nice touring/cross bike that would allow me to go on many such adventures...but I just never fell in love with the bike or the idea of long rides. It was (and still is) an excellent bike (Surly Long Haul Trucker), but I was just never enthusiastic about riding it, or planning adventure rides on it for that matter. I have never been able to put a finger on just why I didn't find much enjoyment out of it, but I think I may have finally pinpointed the source of my cycling apathy: My bike was the wrong size, and had the wrong feel for me. (Certainly, a lot of my apathy may have also come from the fact that I was so stressed and time-consumed with trying to finish my dissertation, that I just didn't want to ride it).
I bought my Surly used at a great price from a local bike shop in State College (with a great reputation). Unfortunately, I never really had myself sized, or even know what the hell I was doing, so just pounced on the first good deal I could find. Because of this I got a bike sized for someone an inch or two taller than me, with a longer inseam. Last year, I permanently "donated" the bike over to my other half, and it fits her remarkably better....and she loves riding it. While it made me happy to see the bike being used, and being enjoyed, I had sort of given up on ever getting into cycling.
But it seems, the cycling power-that-be had other plans for me. Once I got settled in up here in New England, I spent some time with a friend who was in the process of leaving Dartmouth to start a new post-doc. On his way out, he was looking to unload a lot of his "stuff". He had a "commuter" bike he was looking to part with for a very-reasonable price. I figured it might be good to have a bike so that I can ride to work on occasion, and while it was no Surly, it was a pretty decent bike for the price he was asking. So on a rather impulsive whim, I took it off of his hands, not really sure if I'd even end up riding it.
After just a few short trips on it, I realized rather quickly that riding on a bike that fits you properly does make all the difference. Despite this bike being much "cheaper" than my surly, I enjoy riding it exponentially more. I've only had it for a little over a month, and probably already put several hundred miles on it. Quite simply....it's FUN to ride. My friend gave me all the bells/whistles with the bike too, including the rack and bag. Since owning it, I've already picked up an incredible night lamp (and tail light), a newer helmet (after running over my old one with the car - long story), a nicer bike pump, and some tools. I'm a bit bummed that this newfound love has come on so late in the riding season, so it will interesting to see if it fades by next Spring.
At any rate, on to the real story here. This past weekend, on an incredible whim, I hopped on my bike just before lunch, and didn't stop riding until I hit 100 miles----completing my first "century ride" as the cyclists like to call it. Me, I'm content with saying I did a "hundred-miler"...but I suppose that's the ultrarunner in me.
Riding 100 miles was only partially planned. I knew I wanted to try it, but wasn't sure when/where. I debated about whether it would be smarter to do 100 miles over relatively flat terrain, meaning less hills, but more constant pedaling; OR, go over a hilly course that would mean more hard-work on climbs, but a lot more places to "coast" down hill. The answer came to me via some googling.
When I brought up the google map of the area here, and turned on "bicycling" I noticed a very distinct, and rather long line of brown extending from Lebanon, NH all the way down to the town of Boscawen, NH. After a little research, I discovered that this line, is known as the Northern Rail Trail and extends for 57 miles along the old Boston/Maine northern train line. With the weather getting colder up here, and the days shorter, I knew that if I was going to do it this year, it had to be soon. So, upon waking up this past Saturday morning and sipping a coffee on my couch, I figured...what the hell.
Rail Trail on Google Maps
I loaded up my bike and a small pack with warm clothes, food, and a bladder, and strapped it to my car so that I could head over to Lebanon to start at Mile 0 of the trail. I packed an extra tire tube, a repair kit, some tools, chain lube, and a rag for the ride as well.
The plan would be to do a 50 mile out-n-back. I gave myself an "out" however, a fall-back plan, of doing 100K instead (what I informally dubbed a "soft-century"). My plan was to ride out 50K and assess the situation from both a time and stamina perspective. If I was feeling ok, and was still all right on time, I'd ride out the remaining 19 miles to the 50-Mile point, and then turn around for the long 50-mile journey back. Of course with the trail being 57 miles long, I was tempted to try for the full 114 mile ride, but I just couldn't justify doing an extra 14 miles since it was already almost noon, and I had nothing to prove. I set aside my OCD tendencies, and set firm a turnaround point of 50 miles or less.
I was a little worried about trail-tread. This would not be on paved roads and the rail trail would mean 100 miles of crushed gravel. While my bike is more-than-capable of handling such surfaces, It is not a mountain bike, and I had no idea how consistent the gravel would be. There might be parts where the rocks could potentially damage or puncture my narrower cross-tires. Plus, all the bumping and vibration of riding over 100 miles on crushed gravel was sure to make my ass sore, especially considering my longest ride to date was only about 25 miles. Lastly, I was worried about my new bike light, and whether it provide adequate lighting and for enough time. I have used it on short rides on roads and it was fine, but this would effectively be on a dark trail at night, with no outside lighting, in the middle of rural NH. I had read that on low the light would provide 6 hours of constant 200 lumen power, but on medium, only 4. I told myself I HAD to turn around by 5 pm at the absolute latest, as it gets dark enough for a light by 7 PM. I gave myself a conservative cycling estimate of 9 hours, and factored in about an hour for breaks. This meant I was planning on a 10 hour day total.
I arrived at the Lebanon Trail Head (Mile 0 - or milepost 139), unloaded my bike, and started my timers. The clock read 11:48 AM. It was definitely a late start, but I wasn't worried. Worst case scenario is that I'd turn around at 50K, or get two flats somewhere and have to do a lot of walking in the dark. Thankfully my light had a "walk mode" which puts out only 30 lumens and gives 12+ hours of lighting. I had enough food, water, and warm clothing to get me through the night if I needed it.
At exactly 11:50, my wheels hit the start of the path with a sign indicating 57 miles to Boscawen. I had determined a spot on the map that was ~50 miles south. I also had my Garmin watch on and would be able tell when it had approximated 50 miles as well. Hopefully the two places would be the same.
Pre-ride Pic: At the start just before hitting the trail
The ride started in the sun and it couldn't have been a lovelier day. People were out walking dogs, riding bikes, and running. Lebanon is a fairly good sized town, so there were a lot of people within the first 5 miles of the start. Upon quick glance at my map, I soon realized that I had very discrete points along the trail to help break up the miles. Some of those points were lakes, or old train stops, while others were legitimate little towns where I could stop at gas stations for food. This adventure was starting feel a little like a vol state on wheels (without the extreme heat of course).
Over the first 15 miles, I passed over many old bridges, saw many beautiful streams, and stopped to marvel at the changing leaves. It was a perfect-temperature day, and everything was progressing nicely. The path was very-fine crushed gravel, and was no problem at all for my bike or my butt.
Mascoma lake near Enfield was simply stunning and I couldn't help but stop for a good 10 minutes to just enjoy the scenery there. Miles ticked away rather quickly and at mile 16 or so I passed through the town of Canaan (the trailhead sign mileage is wrong btw). As I rode through the town, I hopped out on to the road to pedal for a few miles on smooth highway, but realized very quickly that this was a bad idea both because there was essentially no shoulder, but also because it was incredibly hilly. The joy of a rail trail, is it's never more than 1% gradient.
One of many creeks I crossed
One of many bridges I crossed
Nice break bench along the path
The trail passed through several of the large outcrop "rock tunnels".
Waterfall over dam near Enfield.
Beautiful fall colors
Canaan town center
A TARDIS in the middle of the woods??
Suprise! Random library!
Another remote lake along the path
Old train car at the historic Potter Place train stop (near Andover)
Potter place train stop near Andover
Very old gravestones....one for a famous ventriloquist.
Many covered bridges along the ride.
Things progressed rather smoothly along the ride and I slowly began ticking off miles. At mile 24, I stopped at the service station in Grafton, and got an ice cream and sandwich. It was nice to "top off" and felt very much like a vol state resupply. I chatted a bit with some locals and then headed out farther down the trail. Clouds had rolled in and while it didn't look like rain, the temps notably dropped. I donned my wind shell and carried on. The legs still felt great and at mile 31 (50K), I made the command decision to push on towards 100. After Grafton (mile 25), the path became much less bumpy. For a stretch of about 7-8 miles between 17 and 24, the trail became littered with bigger/sharper rocks. I was starting to get worried that I wouldn't be able to go to the 50 mile mark, but after Grafton, it was superbly crushed gravel, and smooth sailing the whole way. I noticed after Grafton, that the trail became very lonely. From mile 25 all the way to 50, I only saw one other person on a bike and only passed a few locals. The trail felt very remote, and what I came to realize is that remote New Hampshire, really is remote. I never had cell signal for the entire ride except for in Lebanon, and right at the very end as I neared Boscawen.
I watched as the marked mile posts slowly count down as the hours counted up. I definitely began feeling some fatigue in my legs around mile 45 but easily pushed on to my turn-around point. When I hit my 50-mile gate, I checked my watch mileage and it said 49.68. Good enough I figured.
I sat down, unpacked and settled in for a very nice 35 minute rest break. I gave my legs some time to loosen up, while I scarfed down several hundred calories.
50 Mile turn around
Screen shot of where I turned around......
Same screen shot, but shown with respect to my start point.
A peak down-trail at what will have to wait until the next ride...
At just before 5 PM, I got up, fully rested, and began the long 50 mile journey back to my car. I knew it would be a late night, so I had no intention of rushing. Very quickly I started having some issues with my legs. Strange cramping and unhappiness from my quads had me going very slowly for a few miles. I took an unplanned break at ~58 or so, and it really helped ease my legs up. I think I just started too fast after mid big break at 50.
Break spot at mile 58
View at 58
I headed out after my 2nd break and the legs felt better. At about 6:30 pm the sun set and I was still 35 miles from the my car. I knew it would be at least 2-3 hours in the dark. I made a new goal of hitting the Grafton gas station again before it closed so that I could fuel up and get some hot coffee in me.....as well as some advil. I hunkered down (hat and gloves now on), and went into steady-state mode. I pedaled very-evenly and consistently so that I could maintain a constant speed. Miles began to drag on a bit, but at at 7 pm, I finally had to turn on the ol' bike light. I was nervous that it would severely hinder my speed/progress, but I was very happily proven wrong. The new light (which I had just purchased two weeks ago), was absolutely fantastic. The 200 lumens was more than sufficient, and the beam width easily covered the trail, even in the darkest places. I was able to maintain a constant 12 mph speed without any fear of hitting something unexpected.
At 7:50, I came into a clearing and realized I had made it back to Grafton (24) and the service station. I had 10 minutes to get what I needed before they closed, so the timing was perfect. It was another very vol-state type experience. I took 2 advil that I bought in the store and drank a coffee, and it made all the difference. In just a few minutes my leg fatigue and soreness lessened, and I was ready to finish off my century ride.
Being only 24 miles from the car now, my mind was slowly easing. I knew, pending some major disaster, that I'd likely make it back to the car in just another couple of hours. I left the store in a good mood and pedaled on. Miles ticked away very quickly now. My only real concern at this point was the longevity of my light. But it never faltered, wavered, or dimmed. Worked perfectly and got me home. When I made it to Enfield at about mile 6, I considered myself on the homestretch. Each mile had me smiling even more. I was going to complete 100 miles this day on my bike...something I'd always wanted to try....and with no real major blowouts or physical issues. At mile 99, I slowed my pace and enjoyed myself as the last bit of trail rolled by under my tires. At this point I didn't care if I had a flat or blown light. I was going to make it. Eventually, the trail opened and I was back at my car right where I left it some 9 hours and 50 minutes earlier. It was a good day. With breaks the ride took me almost 10 hours, with about 9 hours of actual movement (50 minutes of breaks/rest).
I took a short and slow victory lap around the town center of Lebanon (probably tacking on another mile or so), to let my legs ease down slowly, but was back at my car in just a few minutes.
I mounted my bike up on the carrier, and was very quickly overcome with fatigue. I made the 10 mile drive home and fell asleep within minutes. Sunday morning I woke up with a little leg soreness, but otherwise completely fine. It was almost as though it never happened.
All in all, I would say my first stab at a century ride was a great success. No major issues with myself or my bike, lovely scenery, and a great workout to boot. Good times.
A very tired me, with 100 miles completed! (Tire rims lit up by camera flash)
As far as the bike, it really is nothing special. It's a very old model "commuter" bike from REI (probably like 2007), but I like it, and it fits me right. I'd prefer the drop bar handlebars, but I can get those put on later.
The light....is a NiteRider 350. It even came with a packaged red tail light as well. I highly recommend as they are also both rechargeable with built-in lithium batteries (recharge using usb cable).
Hike (and bike) on my friends,
I started riding when I was unable to run due to injuries. I didn't enjoy it all that much in the beginning but now I'm a huge fan. Still not as much fun as running, just a different kind of fun. Congrats on your first of many centuries! Oh, and welcome to New England. Check out some of the TARC races in the area. They are a blast. BTW, the Ghost Train 100 is less than three weeks away and held in NH. Just sayin'
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