You know the old saying, “Two’s company, five’s a crowd.”
– Groucho Marx
The first Ryde ‘Til You Dye, mentioned in a previous post, was 28 miles long. Over the years, I would continue to bike this same route, improving on that first trip made with D and our friend Rev (The Reverend, mentioned later on) but eventually felt the need to graduate from the bunny hill to some serious downhill, powder all up in your face action.
But being us, rather than satiate our need for new challenges by casually stepping up the mileage, we launched head-long into a 2-year plan to bike from Rochester, NY, where D was now attending pharmacy school at St. John Fisher, back home to Falconer, NY. This trip would be 175 miles long.
A trip like this requires a certain level of training. You can find numerous books that give training plans, nutrition guides, and even equipment suggestions for attempting century and double century rides. I spent many hours (before that ride and still today) Googling, getting as much information as possible and reading the book The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling. I am not going to rehash what the experts say. Instead, I will humbly state all of the ways at which I failed doing what the experts say.
I am not sure what a semi-active person could do miles-wise in a single day, but I would guess that anything over 40 is pushing the limits. So, I needed to get myself much closer to 200 miles as a limit instead of 40 miles.
To train for this, I only ever attempted one century ride…and never made it the full distance. That ride attempt resulted in a flat tire that knocked me out at 72 miles. Another training trip on July 4, 2012 was memorable not for the 52 miles but for the 104 degree heat index that would result in a 36-hour long headache and potential heat exhaustion. In April of that year, D and another brave soul, The Reverend (not an actual reverend, unfortunately but closer than most), came down to Kent, OH, where I was pursuing my Doctorate, and completed the first PupFest ‘012 (pronounced Oh Twelve) ride, a trip to Valleyview, OH, and back, totaling over 50 miles.
All of these training rides were examples of ineptitude and naivety. So many mistakes, so many unknowns, and so much luck. So, without ever having gone over 75 miles in my goal to reach 200 miles comfortably before this trip, I made the drive to Rochester from Kent to get 4 hours of sleep with 4 other dudes packed into one apartment.
At 5 in the morning, we got up and ate more food than was prudent, all with the idea of “fueling up” properly before the ride (remember when I said we were inept and naive?). I packed way too much for the ride, strapping a 50-pound duffel bag filled to the brim with Gatorade and water, fruit and Zebra Cakes. Everyone else was strapped down with a stuffed backpack.
We took the Erie Canal Trail and that flat trek instilled a sense of confidence that we could actually do this. It’s not a trail I would take again with my road bike, as most of the path is crushed gravel. But we cruised on it easily with our hybrids at a 13mph average clip, stopping every twenty miles or so to eat and drink.
For me, different segments of a long ride have such different feels. Most of the time, you remember every single one of the miles you’ve gone, the miles you have left, what time it is. I run calculations in my head over and over again: If I keep going at this speed for the next 70 miles, I’ll make it there by X time. On this trip, the canal path was that, a constant checking of our speed, wondering if we could maintain the 13 mph average we were on.
One interesting thing about biking long distances is how my memories for certain things on the trip are crystal clear, burned in, inscribed upon my brain parts indelibly. Other sections of the trip go by in a blur. I remember almost nothing about the Erie Canal in terms of conversations that were had, even though we spent six hours side by side talking and laughing.
After reaching Lancaster, NY, a couple riders wanted to leave early because they were falling behind and holding up the group. Something happened and people got lost. I remember looking at my watch and freaking out about the amount of time we were losing trying to get everything organized. I tend to be overly concerned about time and on a ride of this magnitude, I was worried and felt like every second counted.
When you’re in jail, a good friend will be trying to bail you out. A best friend will be in the cell next to you saying, “Damn, that was fun.”
– Groucho Marx
When we rode into Buffalo, NY, the mentality among those who remained was not if we could do it but that we would finish the ride.
By the time we got to the city, I lost track of all of my calculations and the concept of time as we rode trails and roads trying to get to Route 5. I remember stopping by the freeway and drinking a disgusting protein version of a Gatorade (#no offense) and starting to feel a sense of elation.
We were going to do this.
We rode that wave all along Lakeview Road that took us into Silver Creek. That was by far our fastest section of the trip. I remember the sun going down over the lake and D taking a picture of his odometer going over a thousand miles for the summer.
Then we hit Silver Creek in full darkness and the entire ride changed. We knew from our past that once we made it to Fredonia, we were as good as there; I didn’t know of a more familiar 27 mile stretch than the roads from Fredonia to Falconer.
I remember the sense of despair that set on us all when we saw a sign saying the sacred Fredonia was still 14 miles away.
By the time we rolled into a Country Fair gas station in Fredonia, I was shivering from the cold (I reiterate: inept and naive). My bum was so sore as skin was literally starting to chafe off.
Quick aside: Putting Anti-Monkey Butt Powder on an already ripped apart area of skin is not smart in the slightest. End quick aside.
We stayed in that Country Fair for what felt like close to an hour, fueling up for the home stretch. At this point, it was fairly certain that we would make it…except I felt terrible. Really very not good and so forth.
Doubt crept in as we departed and I had to talk to myself to keep myself distracted. I remember at one point I turned my phone on to play music through the speaker and I was just yell singing to keep myself focused on something other than the pain and exhaustion I was feeling (people who know me will aptly point out here that yell singing and regular singing are not all that distinct for me).
I’m not sure if the other two had as sore of bums as I did, but we all fell into the same rhythm–pedal pedal pedal coast–all while standing on the bike.
That sense of time was lost again. This 27 mile stretch would take us almost 4 hours to complete even though I was used to doing the ride in under 2 hours normally. And even the largest hill on the trip went by without much recognition. Just dark and cold and a constant mantra to keep going.
I was burping constantly, my stomach churning, feeling quite nauseated. D, the pharmacist in training, provided this all-important piece of advice: “Try not to throw up if you can, you will really mess up your nutrient and electrolyte balance if you throw up (sic).”
We made it to the halfway point of the 27 miles and stopped for a break because I thought I was done. At two in the morning, after 20 hours of pedaling, I lay on the ground telling D that I was pretty sure I was done. He was close to yelling–as close as he ever gets, which is to say he wasn’t really yelling at all–when he responded saying, “Well you pretty much have to finish because if you don’t, I’ll have to listen to you complain about it for the rest of our lives and I don’t want to deal with that so get up and let’s go.”
So I did what any right-minded person in that situation would do: I took a dump behind a school entrance sign and got back on the bike (all of that unpreparedness did not prevent us from bringing toilet paper).
I remember going down the last stretch of road and a cyclist past us on the other side, waving. D would later say that was what made him realize how early it was (or late in our case).
I started to pull away from the other two as we rode into Falconer because I just needed to get there. I remember not feeling any sense of elation when I pulled into D’s driveway. I remember looking at the time and realizing that we had arrived exactly 22 hours after we had left.
As soon as the other two pulled up behind me, we loaded into the car and D drove us to McDonald’s: A breakfast of champions.
They got some smorgasbord of sausage burritos and such, but I still couldn’t really eat anything with my stomach all sorts of screwed up. I think I choked down a berry yogurt.
Here, we would reach the pinnacle issue with doing this kind of biking, which is that very few people believe you. My friend D does not have a body type that suggests cyclist so he has even had some reactions where people actually seem upset or angry at him about it. The cashier at McDonald’s didn’t believe us and instead insisted we were high on something. Even now, the reactions I get to stories about previous trips or upcoming trips waver between disbelief and near annoyance that I would even have attempted or plan to attempt such things. I will try to quell their ‘concerns’ by highlighting much more prominent, physically gifted, amazing cyclists to put into perspective what my puny attempts at long distance biking actually amount to, but I am not sure that has the desired effect.
One last memory: the following day, my friend and I went to Erie, PA (in a car this time), and tried to outdo the feat we had just accomplished. D ordered, received, and finished, a 32oz prime rib from Texas Roadhouse, the largest cut they offer. As we sat there in the glory of such an accomplishment, D was left wondering which feat in the last two days was more impressive.