As I’ve mentioned a few times, I spent my spring break bike touring the Natchez Trace Parkway in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. This was a course offered through my University, so I actually received one credit hour for camping and biking over spring break. A pretty sweet deal if you ask me!
When we first arrived in Tennessee I was full of nerves. I knew the next day I’d ride my bike over pretty hilly roads and the weather forecast did not look good. That first day was a 50ish mile day as well, and while I’ve been training for a triathlon I hadn’t ridden more than maybe 13 miles in one ride at that point. I also remember all the awful things that happened on my first bike tour and sincerely hoped nothing awful and embarrassing happened in front of a bunch of people I barely knew.
That first day was pretty rough. I broke a spoke, it rain most of the time, and we approached some not so friendly hills (although I must say I didn’t climb anything worse than I face every day in Iowa City). But I also felt I was in my element. I was riding at a good pace and felt very little soreness.
Tuesday through Thursday went by in a flash, I rode 60 miles, 40 miles, 30 miles, got a new wheel and experienced fantastic weather. I kept getting faster and faster as the roads flattened out. Jason was even having a hard time keeping up with me and I felt invincible. I wasn’t sore at all and felt like I could ride forever.
In the back of my mind though was the conversation Jason and I had before we left. We should try a century on Friday we said. Our instructor had (as a joke, I think) put on the syllabus that the last day we could ride as much as we wanted. Do 20 miles, 40 miles, 60, or even do a century he said. Obviously he did not know who he was dealing with. Around Wednesday I said something about it in front of our fellow cyclists and they all just laughed. Most of them were planning to do 40 or 50 miles on Friday. I kept saying, “Well Jason got a day off from cycling when he went to get my wheel, so I don’t know if I’ll be up for it.”
On Thursday night we had to tell our instructors how far we planned to go. Jason and I said we were planning on getting up early and leaving before everyone else because we wanted to do at least 80 miles that day, but we might try for a century. We both knew in our hearts that it was the century or nothing else.
That night I slept fitfully. I couldn’t believe we were actually going to try this. We were actually just going to hop on our bikes and ride 100 miles. The first 40 flew by. We stopped twice and were feeling good. But miles 40-50 were just terrible. The road was tar and gravel, and we found out later was completely uphill. Our bikes shook so much on those roads and we were going painfully slow. I was so thrilled to get to the halfway point before we turned around, but I was not looking forward to riding over the bumpy road again.
Luckily the road was almost completely downhill for that next ten miles and even though it was uncomfortable and bumpy I knew it’d be over soon. We stopped at sixty miles to have some lunch. We were both feeling a little sore at this point, but mostly from the road and not necessarily from physical fatigue.
We rode another ten miles and stopped for a few minutes to talk to our classmates, rode another ten miles and took a water break. Those miles were incredibly fast, twenty miles and hour or so. I was so excited, every time we stopped I was smiling more because I knew we were going to finish.
We got through the last twenty miles and rode around the parking lot a few times just to make sure we were at 100 miles.
Those last ten miles were the worst for me I think. I was sore, we were going slightly uphill, and I was just ready to be done. I kept thinking, “I could just stop right here. Jason could go get the van and come get me. I could be done.”
But I did not stop.
Jason and I talked about how glad we were to do this together. He said he’d always heard about centuries but never knew if he’d have the endurance to finish one. I counted down every mile in my head as I listened to him talk. Once we were three miles from the end I picked up the pace a little. I just wanted to get there.
At the finish our instructor was there waiting for us with water. I was beaming. I was also frazzled. It took us 6 and a half hours on the bike and maybe 8 hours overall. But we did it. In March. With barely any training. And it was amazing. 100 miles is a lot, as my dad said it would be like me hopping on my bike in Iowa City and deciding to ride to my parents house in Altoona. That’s long for a drive, let alone a bike ride. But I did it.