I’m at a loss for what to write about this. I got lost, bit by a dog and rode further than ever before. It wasn’t very hard, I just pedaled along until I was done.
I had a lot of worries the night before this ride. I haven’t ridden this far, alone, since the last week of July in 2016. That ride was hard and left me broken and confused.
Mapping the route and planning the ride I felt frayed around the edges. Lots of thoughts dropped into my mind as I scanned country roads and pieced together the segments to get the distance and climbing I was looking for.
It takes a high level of trust in yourself and your equipment to invest the time, money and energy into something like this. Especially when it’s still new for that year and routine hasn’t been developed. I think a lot of my anxiety was of the general unknown. I’ve seen and experienced hardships on these sorts of rides and the ghosts of the past were coming back to guide my path. The kind of worry that feels bad but doesn’t stop me from doing what I need to do. Preparedness is the weapon here and I wield that blade with practiced skill developed in the summer fires of years passed.
So I packed more food, more water, tools and spare parts. Enough to get me home with any normal failure. Enough to eat and drink that I could make it between towns with hours to spare. My shoes are walkable, even if I can no longer ride I can walk. The animal that moves can survive.
I was still worrying on the drive to my starting point in Rome, Georgia.
Should I drink this canned Starbucks coffee drink? Is this too much caffeine too early? Is this going to make me crash later? But if I don’t drink it will I be ok?
I drive through the sleeping downtown and park in the dark lot next to Barron Stadium and the Rome-Floyd Tennis Center. Quickly change and get my bike set-up. Anxious to be away from my car and the potentially suspicious eyes of the prowling Rome police force.
From the first pedal stroke my worries depart and I am free. My legs feel strong and supple, the night air is still and I head north at a fast pace. Passing projects, the signs for pay day loans and liquor stores. Rome is a post industrial city and much of the residential blocks feature small, tired houses. In the soft yellow-tinted sodium lighting shadows are long and everything seems old and outdated. Berry College passes by bright and new, a hint of fog rolling off the Oostanaula river.
The modern consumer economy has moved north of Rome, as I leave Berry College behind I see the modern mall and retail parcels. The same across the entire southeast from Oklahoma to North Carolina – McDonald’s, Chik-Fil-A, Belk, Party City and so forth. Squat ugly buildings with gaudy colors flow by as the air takes a heavy greasy flavor. Fast food row is firing breakfast and the shiny silver hood vents belch heavy blue smoke lazily into the morning air.
My route takes me off the main highway and quickly I am onto narrow suburban streets. Small houses and big lawns flow by, yards dark with the occasional rattling of a dog’s chain or sleepy bark motivating me to keep the speed up.
Suddenly I am back onto 27 and the road is now a divided highway, 55mph with a narrow shoulder filled with rumble strips. I am moving fast and traffic is light so I keep going worried I have missed a turn miles ago and will be stuck riding back on the more heavily traffic southbound lanes. A few miles and I see my turn, relieved I get off the highway and am back into the narrow, formerly wagon-track, roadway. Here there is nothing but forest with the occasional clear cut field. The trees butt right against the road and in places form a tight canopy the keeps out the purple morning light.
Some minor climbing but mostly flat, sparely populated roads carry me through Silver Hill and the southeastern-most portion of the Johns Mountain Wildlife Preserve. I am back onto numbered roads with Georgia 100 and quickly make it to Summerville. A serendipitous bathroom break and I head through town, stopping for some pictures and a water at a church. Summerville is flat and doesn’t feature much to look at.
Another moderate climb and I’m heading north again. My heart breaks into a million pieces as I see a tiny, shaking creature in the middle of the opposite lane. I stop and see it is a tiny white kitten. Both eyes crusted shut and looking scared and sick. I pick it up, it’s body so tiny and warm and move it off the road into the grass. It lets out a feeble high-pitched mew as it gingerly takes a step in the grass. I can’t do anything to help and feel awful. Quickly I speed away, not looking back and pounding the pedals to get some distance from this.
Still north I am speeding along. It feels good to be back on 700c wheels and tires. They are significantly faster than 650b on smooth roads and I shocked when I see that I have covered the first 50 miles in a little more than 2 and a half hours. The main climb today takes me over a ridge, I can see this jutting from the earth into the sky for miles following to the west. It seems intimidating and much higher than expected.
Eventually my routing has taken me to a dead-end private road so I do a little mapping and find the correct route. This is the big climb of the day and I clench my teeth, suck in a deep breath and attack.
The climb is like every climb ever. Impossibly hard at the time, heart pounding skin ablaze bargaining to make it stop but once it’s over it seemed so short and fast. I enjoy the climb and feel strong at the top. Typical of Georgia, there is nothing to see on the climb but forest, I catch glimpses to the south of Summerville and the surroundings but no photo opportunities exist as the trees crowd the road and do not allow any clear views.
Next comes an unexpected gravel section. 7.8 miles to my turn, I deflate slightly before steeling my resolve and attacking the gravel section too. My bike handles it well, the narrower 35mm tires bounce and buck a little more than I prefer but they are fast and I make great time.
Eventually I reach the paved section and although parts are broken and unmaintained it is nice to be on a relatively smooth roadway. I’m on top of the ridge now and see a small lake filled with Kayakers, lots of corn and smooth winding roads.
I head south along the ridge, 157 lasts for miles with only the occasional car. The road is flat and occasionally a dog or two will speed after me, eager to marshal me along out of their jurisdiction.
The big descent comes as I hit 48, I scream down the winding mountain road, thankful I did not choose to climb the other side as the shoulder is narrow and the traffic seems higher than expected. I stop for water and a selfie in Menlo, a one stop sign town with a family dollar.
Fortified with a good supply of water I keep south and pass through more country residential areas. Bigger houses with bigger lawns, construction here is newer and things seem more upbeat. Lyerly goes by in a blur, not much to see here. Somewhere in here I noticed my rear tire is bouncy and find out I have had a slow leak. I pull over and change out the tube, the puncture appears to be a small abrasion from a piece of sand. Oh well, I am back on the road shortly, the change going smoothly. Later I stop and do a quick bit of navigation to cut my time on 100 down as I expect traffic to be heavier than earlier in the morning. I wind through parallel side roads and feel good that I am close to finishing.
My navigation adds a few miles but I don’t notice at the time. I ride for a bit on the Simms Mountain trail, it’s rocky and dirty but very fun, more testing for my tires I suppose.
Before long I am on the outskirts of West Rome. My route takes me on the busy highway 20 so I do some more navigation and take a nice relaxing side road back to my car. I am happy to see it has not been towed and it is still the only car in the lot. Rome is sleepy on most Saturdays it seems.
Did I eat enough?
Did I eat too much?
Did I eat the wrong thing?
Am I going to be able to eat enough on the ride?
Is it ok to park at the Rome-Floyd tennis center at 4:45am?
Is my car going to get towed while I’m out riding?
Am I going to have a tire failure and have to wait for a ride?
Is the tire failure going to happen where there’s no cell service and I’ll have to walk?
Am I going to get lost?
Have I ridden enough the past month to handle this amount of riding time?
Have I ridden too much this past week for this amount of riding time?
Are my legs going to cramp?
Did I get enough sleep?
Am I going to miss my 3:30am alarm?
Is 3:30am too early?
What if I’m tired?
Am I going to get stuck in excessively long traffic on the way home?
Is my phone going to go into a reset loop and wipe out my ride?
Are there going to be missing road signs that make it hard to navigate?
Is my patch kit cement dried out and useless?
Am I going to need money to buy food or water?
Am I going to run out of water?
What if I have to go to the bathroom cause I had coffee on the drive up?
What if I find water but it makes me sick?
What if I don’t have fun?
It’s been three weeks since I’ve ridden a road bike. My time has been spent in the woods.
Watching the leaves, relearning to corner and how to pick a line. Seeing the sunset every night amidst a sea of color.
Going faster and smoother than ever before. It’s been three weeks of a smile every day. T-shirts and cutoffs – no hats, just caps.
But today it was time to go back to the road. Faster and further than I could go on the leafy trails of Cochran Shoals. I head north, under the shadow of a hundred million dollar stadium.
Past million dollar cargo jets – touch and go all evening. I make it to Marietta, Kennesaw mountain and climb. All ride my legs have felt strong, like I could pedal forever.
Riding Sope Creek every day has made me strong. I wish I felt like this all the time.
If you want to start cycling long distances there are a multitude of educational resources. What to eat, how to plan your route, how to build endurance, how to rest, hundreds of webpages and thousands of articles help answer any question you might have as you prepare to ride for 100+ miles.
If you enjoy yourself on such adventures you may find yourself doing them with regularity. Maybe you’ll start a randonneuring series or a decide to do a 200k every weekend or if you’re really having fun you’ll devote your weekends to as much riding as you can physically stand. 9 hours on the bike both days with the wind in your hair and a smile on your face.
You might even knock out a 100+ mile ride every weekend for months on end. It just becomes part of your routine. The work week flows by and as Thursday and Friday roll around you’re spending hours on ridewithgps planning a good route maybe try for 150 miles this weekend? You’ve been at this since June, 4-5 hours during the week just to keep from getting bored and then blow out on Saturday all day on the bike. The summer flys by and you have dozens of adventures in far off places you’ve cycled to. You’ll be out on the road, burnt to a crisp from the summer sun, far from home and someone will ask where you came from. Your answer will leave them confused, they’ll smile a little confused smile and mumble something with a slight nod before walking off.
“Son you didn’t just say you rode here from Dunwoody, that’s gotta be damn near 70 miles away”
They won’t understand but that’s ok, the road is there and you’re on an adventure. At some point your work life, your relationships or even just burnout will slow you down. You’ll miss a weekend, maybe go out for a token 1-2 hours Saturday before laying around all day not doing much. Just enjoying a rest you tell yourself as you pop another truffle and fire up your favorite streaming service. There will be a nagging feeling in the back of your mind but you can ignore it. You got from 15 hours a week to 5 and that 5 is a hard, boring 5 as you stick to safe flat routes around your house. Just riding enough so you can eat junk food when you get home. Never seeing much and just feeling aggravated all the time. You get slow and heavy, your legs swell and you’re constantly sweating. Eventually you just stop riding for a few days. You’re exhausted all the time, work sucks and you can just imagine getting on the bike and the feeling of heavy legs and it takes so long to get anywhere and it’s so boring sometimes.
No one really talks about the come down. Riding a bike for 6,7,8 hours and more does things to your body. It gets you high and it lasts. You can get through huge chunks of time just riding an endorphin wave from weekend to weekend. Truly I’ve spent years doing just that. It comes so easy and no one ever mentions the cost that when it hits, it hits hard.
There is the danger, the withdrawal comes slowly. Masked by the happiness that too much good food brings and the release from a few days of rest. Eventually your work evens out and everything seems fine and *SMACK* there it is sitting in the corner showing you it’s teeth. You sleep too much and argue with your girlfriend, jut say you’re sick and people will leave you alone. You’ll open Strava and look back at your last long ride. A solid 8 hours a month ago. There’s a longing but also the heavy weight of depression crushing your motivation.
A few days of restless nights and overfull stomachs and you decide you’ve had enough of this. You force yourself on the bike and get in a good two hours. You think you’re ok but this is just the false flat before the last climb. Everything will crash down once more before you’re ok. It’s hard to be ready but just try to roll with it. You’ll prep for a good long ride, maybe even a ride you drive 2 hours to, but you’ll get there and either turn around without even cracking the door for reasons you can’t understand. Or you’ll determinedly suit up and start pedaling until you convince yourself you’re injured or tired or sick or blessings of the gods you have a mechanical and have to head back. You learn nothing and feel embarrassed coming home so early.
This is it, this is rock bottom. You’re not riding, you’re just wasting time. Driving for no reason, endlessly refreshing bikesforums or instagram or watching tv all the time. All expectations are done, you can rebuild in comfort. It’s going to be hard but this is the easiest time to do it. You start slow, just getting in a routine of riding every day. Fighting the small voices that tell you it’s going to be boring or hard and just getting on the bike. Set no goals, just ride and remember how much you love it. Sometimes you’ll feel so strong, sometimes you’ll feel bad but as long as you keep going you’ll ride back into the light and everything will be fine. Eventually thursday or friday will roll around you’ll see the bookmark for ridewithgps just sitting there on your browser’s tool bar. Maybe just a click to look for that route you were thinking of the other day. Then the floodgates open and it just happens so naturally you’ll wonder what took so long. Knock out 7 hours like it was nothing and have an adventure!
Sometimes the veil crushes you in the endless sunshine of summer days and sometimes it blows in on the back of harsh winter nights. Whenever it happens it’s important to realize as long as you work and as long as you fight it’s temporary and you will be back stronger and faster.
Sometimes you end a ride feeling great. You’ve been sweating and working and just blasting those pedals for hours. Pull into the parking lot and smoothly dismount, slide off your helmet and slick back your shiny, windblown mane.
Other times you barely make it back alive. Drag into the parking lot, almost hit your car trying to stop before tilting over and unclipping just in time. The earth seems to shift and you almost fall as you attempt stand on two painful legs for the first time in what feels like an eternity. Try to remove your helmet, sunglasses fall to the ground. You hair is dry, frizzy and blown out like you stuck your finger into an electrical outlet. Your skin is hot and scaly, the ability to sweat left you hours ago.
This ride was the latter. It started out ok but turned into a death march almost exactly at the halfway point. I’ve never come closer to calling for a ride home. Standing on the side of the road at the start of the Burnt Mountain climb, crying inside as I frantically swipe around on my phone looking for a shortcut to avoid the climb. I find nothing and the choice is laid bare. I can choose life and climb the mountain, legs, lungs and heart burning and exhausted but still moving. Or I can choose death and sit on the side of the road for two hours waiting to be picked up by a disappointed partner. I imagine the look on her face as the opens the door. Rice-cake smile, trying not to be obvious with the judgement. Thoughts on how to deal with failure quick behind her lips.
I clench my jaw, shift into the largest cog I have and crawl up the mountain. Every atom screaming to stop. Let the flame extinguish, there is no shame in giving up. Failure is a growth method. But I can’t so I keep riding. I summit the mountain and howl down the descent. The rest of the ride is a blur. It’s hot, I’m always running out of water, stomach churning and refusing food. Legs barely working. Head spinning from the exertion.