The Raven Rock Ramble

One of my 2010 cycling goals is to ride at least one century in each month. I rode three in April on the way to 1000 miles in a month, a personal record for me, an average total for many long distance riders. Last weekend I participated in the Tarwheel Century in Elizabeth City. I rode with a triathlon club from Norfolk and managed to complete 100 miles in less than five hours. That was fun.

Yesterday I rode the 10th edition of the Raven Rock Ramble yesterday. Held annually on the first Sunday in May.

Most nights I’m able to get to sleep in time to get seven to eight hours of rest. For some reason I had a hard time nodding off Saturday evening. It could have been pre-event excitement, but I suspect it was the caffeine I took earlier in the day for Saturday’s club ride. Going by the suggestions in training books, I shouldn’t have ridden hard the day before a century. I don’t seem to have an issue doing this usually, so I rode. I’d rather have a good time with the club than shave 30 minutes off a recreational ride the next day. I do this for fun, not profit.

I caught a ride to the start point with a guy from the club. It was a 45-minute drive and a nice way to start the day. We left a little after 6:00 AM. Because we carpooled, we were able to park right next to the registration point rather than a quarter mile away with the folks who traveled by themselves. I ran into a guy in the parking lot I met last year at a ride. He recognized me and told me he’s been riding a century a month since I’d told him that was one of my goals.

500 riders registered and I think all of them showed up. It was one of those nerve wracking mass starts made even more exciting by beginning on a hill on a park road with intermittent speed bumps. The first 10 miles were tense. We were faced with a steady incline for five miles. It did little to separate the riders. The first guy to hit the deck did so in the first 10 minutes, luckily falling on the grass at the side of the road instead of on pavement in the path of hundreds of other cyclists.

The first rest stop came after only 12 miles so that the folks riding the 30-mile route would have at least one break. The century riders left the stop on a different course and we were able to get out of the chaos. My buddy told me his heart rate had been pegged since we’d started but it started to go down at the rest stop. We started off at a reasonable pace and continued through the countryside encountering a few rollers and another mile long small chain ring incline.

We rode through the town where I work and onto the road where I take my lunch rides. It was here that my friend started to fade. Uh-oh. We were only 30 miles into our century. An IED severely injured my buddy in Iraq a couple of years ago. He’s had multiple surgeries on his arms and legs. These things tend to interrupt your training. He also neglected to tell me he was attempting his very first century.

We normally ride on the flat coastal plain of North Carolina. This ride took place in the piedmont, rolling hills that never stop. The temperature, and I am not exaggerating, ended up being the hottest ever recorded for May 2nd . The winds were a steady 13-15mph with frequent gusts in the low 20s. What I’m trying to say is that it was a tough ride.

I felt pretty good though. I cut my normal weekly miles by 100 to give myself fresh legs. I have a good nutrition plan. I ate Clif gels and drank NUUN. I cadged a half of a PB&J at each rest stop but abstained from the more exotic offerings.

At mile 55, my partner decided to head for the shortcut route and told me to take off. I jumped. For the next 15 miles I rode by myself. It felt good to ride my own pace. I had a tailwind for part of the ride. Finally! That felt good. I climbed the infamous hills of Broadway (NC). I encountered a couple of friends from Southern Pines at the next rest stop and joined them for the rest of the day – 35 miles.

We made pretty good time. For the first time all day I got to ride on another rider’s wheel. I needed it too. There is no gentle way to explain it. The benefits of the chamois cream I applied at 5:30 am had worn off. My ass was sore, not miserable sore but sore, the kind that makes you stand up every couple of minutes.

The heat was intense. I wore a black cycling cap under my helmet. It’s time to get a white one. We were still having fun. I’m in pretty good shape and that feels good. Of all the hilly rides I’ve done, this was the easiest. My altimeter showed over 3600 feet of vertical gain. That’s a lot for this area.

The three of us said perfunctionary goodbyes at the parking lot, tired and sunburned. As usual, the metric riders had scarfed down most of the food. I grabbed a cold Coke and a couple of hot dogs, stuff I normally avoid.

I loaded up my bike, climbed into the passenger seat of an air conditioned truck and we headed home. Already planning to do it again a year from now.