My First Century

I was 14 years old the first time that I rode a bike 100 miles in one day. Carrying saddlebags. In Vermont – The Green Mountain State.

The Stouts were family friends and they had invited me along on their annual family bike tour. Jack was the middle child and a class below me at school. We played sports together and were quite compatible on our bikes. On the fifth day, we decided to challenge ourselves with the unreachable, holy Century. The daily ride was scheduled for 55 miles. Hovering over the map, we located two convenient flare-outs that should get us just past the 100-mile mark, 103, I believe. This was day 5 and we had been riding strong all week. Our legs were fit from junior high sports and our youth spurred our confidence.

We set our alarms and started out just as the sun rose. It was cold and misty, and we were right in the middle of the state. It was a perfect morning and just when it started warming up, we were meeting the family for breakfast, with 30 miles already under our belts. We were kings of the world. THAT was 1/3 of the day? That was so easy. This Century is going to be a piece of cake. We enjoyed a lovely ride with the family. Nobody was in a rush and we regularly stopped to regroup. Somewhere around the 50-mile mark, it is time for the centurions to veer off and complete their task. We joke that we would race them to the finish, and we headed off on our merry way. It was merry for maybe a mile or two, Jack teaching me the lyrics to “30,000 ponds of bananas”. And then we met the mountains.

We knew about the mountains; we had been skiing them for years. We had just never had to climb them before. It was pure evil. At one point, it took us 3 hours to cover 9 miles. We probably rode closer to 20 miles, in those 9 miles, due to our constant road-weaving in a desperate attempt to reduce the pitch. Were there contour lines on that map? Maybe, but we didn’t see them. Or more likely, we didn’t care. “So there are some hills. It’s only 25 miles.” Suffice to say, we were no longer singing when we eventually limped into camp, well after dark. I think we each drank 5 cokes when we got there. But we had done it. We had ridden a century. 3 months later, Mr. Stout surprised us with “Century Rider” patches from the Century Rider Association, of which we were then proud members.

I have been organizing bicycle rides professionally for over 20 years. Yet, those 9 miles in Vermont are what stick in my head whenever I plan a new route.

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