Switching to the metric system would really help close the distance on these century rides…
An Imperial Century is a milestone for cycling, for a couple of reasons.
First off, it’s a very human accomplishment. If you’re reading this blog, you’re likely capable of riding a century right now. It’s a mental challenge more than a physical one.
Secondly, there’s the nice, round ‘100’. Those two sensual zeroes, the triple digits, the implications of “100%.” Yes, this is a number ingrained into the human psyche as a good thing. The ultimate test in cycling uses the same metric as your last calculus exam.
While Kelley could have easily killed a century a year ago in the shape she was in, she instead chose the masochistic path of completing her first 100-miler at a pace set by seasoned cyclists. She wasn’t alone; two other riders from Team Effie were also on their first centuries, and the ride was my own first century three years ago. The cool morning air loaned a certain apprehension to the ride before we had even set off… even the regulars had pre-race jitters, wondering if their training plans would bear fruit for another PMC.
The Pan-Mass Challenge is a yearly fundraising ride held across the state of Massachusetts. Paradoxically, the Pan-Mass doesn’t actually Pan Mass. The glaring omission of 100 miles of Western Massachusetts seems to capitulate the wall Easterners and Westerners have built for themselves, a break typical of almost any state with a major city in the U.S. To amend that and boost the opportunity for earned bragging rights, about a hundred riders out of the 6,000 yearly attendees have an unofficial “Zero Day” ride from Stockbridge, MA to Sturbridge, MA, which completes the Pan-Mass by starting it at the New York State border.
We had a big group this year. The “Regular” crowd of Paul, Ken, Linda, and John welcomed me back for my third Zero-Day and were delighted to have Kelley along too, on Linda’s 15,000-miles-old Lemond frame. We played hopscotch with Team Effie; Adam rode with us last year, and his two roomates made it a crew. Well, with those Tigger jerseys, more of a bike gang.
Any good race needs a good support system. Lyle was gracious enough to drive our S.A.G. (Support and Gear) wagon for the zero day for the second time this year, and his reassuring “Watch For Bicycles” bumper sticker appeared before us, mirage-like, whenever our bottles got low.
Linda was our only flat tire this year, and Lyle was there with a floor pump before we even got the bead off. Ken’s deep hatred for tire levers made the flat replacement a little effort-heavy, but the sidewall was definitely at lower risk. Someday I’ll have the grown-man grip strength.
We put down 59 miles before lunch, and before any of us started feeling the toll. I finally kept Linda’s pace up the “big hill” of the ride, and that felt good. She’s twice my age, and if I’m lucky, I’ll finally be as fast as she is when I reach hers and she’s pushing 80. Our lunch stop was Amherst, MA at Atkin’s Farm, which is only a mile from our apartment. Despite the temptation of a warm bed with a cat, Kelley was unwavered by her first morning as a club rider, and pressed on for Sturbridge.
The miles drag out after Amherst. Quiet country roads and thrilling descents turn into the urban jungles of Palmer and Brimfield. Strip malls, gas stations, narrow roads, and leftover sand from last winter comingled with a frat house worth of broken glass bottles. Not the ideal riding conditions, but no path in life is pristine. Kelley kept the group pace until Mile 80, where we broke off to slow things down on the last few climbs before Sturbridge. I counted down the miles for her, starting at twelve, eleven, ten. She had on her pain face. My brother texted me from Sturbridge, and part of me wanted to make the call and spare this woman any further distress, but no! — the ride was more important! Kelley’s determination to kill the century became the only option for either of us. Traffic picked up, and we shifted our focus from the physicality of the last ten miles to the challenge of not dying to a merging semi.
And then, quickly as it began, it was over!
The elation felt on completion seemed to erase any memory of the hardship that afternoon, and we were all smiles as we rejoined with our riding buddies, holding out ice-cold water bottles and clapping us on the back. What a ride! What perfect weather for such a cool event.
Next year, we’ll have to get our fundraising hats on to complete the full 280 miles of the Pan-Mass Challenge, a feat I’ve only done once and in an unofficial context. Cape Cod has a beckoning shape to it, after all.
If you’ve never done a century, I highly recommend planning one. If you’re feeling adventurous, go with a few veterans and let your body and mind experience your limits as a human being. Let yourself figure out what you’re actually capable of. I’m still figuring that out every day.
There’s only one secret to getting it done: Keep Riding!