No need for suspense: I tried, and failed, to ride my first century earlier this month. “Century” — that’s cyclist’s parlance for riding 100 miles. I learned that this summer. But at 86 miles, I laid on a bench in Wegerzyn Gardens and called my wife for a ride home.
I know. I’m not happy about it either. But that’s the way it ended. And the ride was beautiful.
I started north from my home near Carillon Park to downtown. It was cold, in the 40s, but the forecast said it would climb to 80 degrees. That meant layers. I set off with some snacks and Gatorade in my panniers, as well as some lighter shirts to change into once it got warm.
Mistake #1: Failed to lubricate my moving parts before I left. Duh.
My tires were pumped, but I hadn’t had a chance to lubricate my wheels and gears. Honestly, I’d been pretty busy for several days and had decided at the last minute to try the century. The warm season was waning, it was the first weekend in October, and I thought if I didn’t do it that day, I’d have to wait until next year.
I also never seriously considered the possibility I wouldn’t make it. After all, earlier this year, I’d ridden 88 miles from home to Sawyer Point in Cincinnati back in June and felt good when I arrived.
Mistake #2: Had no idea I was getting sick.
Truth be told, I wasn’t feeling great that morning. Sluggish. Lacking energy. I thought I was just tired from my busy days, that if I started riding I’d get my energy. What I didn’t understand was that I was actually getting sick, that I’d have a fever and all sorts of digestive problems for the next few days.
- North from my house downtown on the Great Miami River Recreation Trail.
- Pick up the Stillwater Recreation Trail at Triangle Park and ride it to Taylorsville Metropark.
- From Taylorsville Metropark, keep going north — through Tipp City, Troy, Piqua and finally Sidney. It would take me off and on new (to me) northern sections of the Great Miami River Recreation Trail.
- In Sidney, where I’d hit 50 miles, I’d turn around and ride downstream home.
The farthest north I’d been before was the “Welcome to Tadmor” sign north of Taylorsville Dam, so riding further to Kyle Park in Tipp City was new territory. I had to cut over on a road for about 2.5 miles because the trail doesn’t connect, though on the east side of the road it looked like someone might be doing some work to build one. Fingers crossed that’s so. If you’re looking for directions, the trail ends at Old Springfield Road. Take that right then a very quick left onto Old Canal Road, which takes you into Kyle Park.
Kyle Park is big and open. The morning I was there, the soccer fields were full of kids playing games, their parents in lawn chairs cheering on the sidelines. Very idyllic if you go for that sort of thing. (I do.)
The trail wrapped around the fields and continued north. One treat was watching a biplane take off from a small airport.
North of Troy, I had to hop on more roads before picking up another section of trail. A friend had scribbled directions for me, and they were flawless.
Here’s what I did: The bike trail made a dead end at a cemetery. I turned left (north) onto Troy-Sidney Road (County Highway 14) and rode on that road up to a five-way stop. Yes, five-way. There, I turned left onto Piqua-Troy Road (County Highway 15). After 2.5 miles, I crossed over I-75 and turned left onto Peterson.
Before I continue, let me pause to say what a pleasure these roads were. Gentle rolling hills. Beautiful farms. Ridiculously courteous drivers. One must’ve ridden behind me half a mile because the twists, turns and hills made it hard to see ahead and pass safely without risking having to cut into me.
Back to the directions, and here’s where they get weird. My direction-giving friend had told me that on Peterson, just before you go over a bridge, there’s a gravel trail to your right. Get off your bike and walk it into the woods, she said. You’ll be sure you’re going the wrong way, but the trail picks back up about 50 yards inside the woods.
I bet this is where she lures all her victims, I thought.
But she was exactly right. And this stretch of trail was just gorgeous. Absolutely beautiful. It was early October, and the trees were in full glory. Everything was lush and crisp, and I spent miles listening to nothing more than the crunch of leaves under my tires.
Then I arrived in Piqua. If you have a boy under the age of 15 or so, you might hear “Piqua” and think “underwear.” Maybe you don’t know why. Piqua, you see, is the setting for the hilarious Captain Underpants children’s books. I have no idea whether the city is proud of that, but I was tickled to finally see the place. As I rode along the river, I even stopped under Piqua’s water tower to take a picture for my 10-year-old, a big Capt. UP fan.
Little did I know, Piqua would be my undoing.
Mistake #3: Didn’t know my whole route.
So, I mentioned this friend who gave directions. The farthest north she’d gone? Piqua. As I rode, I somehow got it into my head that I could stay on the trail all of the way to Sidney. My directions ran out. There must be only trail ahead.
A fact about Piqua’s bike trails: If you ride them right, they make a giant loop.
A fact about me: I have no sense of cardinal directions. Some people know when they’re going north or east or south. I just know if I’m going forward or backward, left or right.
I rode forward in Piqua, ever forward, until at one point I saw a flag and a Cracker Barrel sign ahead on a hill. Geez, I thought, that looks just like ones I passed a little bit ago. Then I rounded the bend and saw the Piqua water tower again, the one I’d stopped to photograph.
I did what I’ll call the Piqua loop. Somehow I’d made a huge circle. And since I didn’t know where I’d gone wrong, I wasn’t sure how to get off it. I did know there was a small park and some benches ahead. I rode up and pulled over. My odometer read 49 miles, and, it should be said, I felt very drained. I changed into a lighter shirt and watched a river laze by as I ate an apple and considered my options.
Since the point was a century, not Sidney, I decided to turn around to try to figure out how to get off the loop. That turned out not to be hard. As I rode south along the river (the loop around Piqua, it should be said, was lovely, especially a stretch along what looked to be a canal), I found my mistake and rode back over an old train bridge I’d taken on the way in.
Then I went south back the way I came with a math problem to solve. I knew that since I’d turned around rather than retaken the loop, I wouldn’t double my miles on the way back. My problem was that I didn’t know how far off I’d be. My plan was to ride all the way to Triangle Park and, rather than continue downtown, take a right and add a few miles by riding to Wegerzyn before going home.
I had another problem: I was feeling very, very drained at this point. That’s two “verys.” For me, that’s a lot.
Mistake #4: Brought too much Gatorade, too little water.
At 10 p.m. or so the night before, I had run out to the grocery store to get a few things to hold me over during the ride. Looking over drinks, I decided to get some Gatorade. Gatorade, I reasoned, was water plus. Plus flavor. Plus nutrients. Plus electrolytes.
Admission: I have no idea what electrolytes are. I think elves might make them.
What I do know is that the more Gatorade I drank, the more I craved water. And I couldn’t find any along the route. I kept drinking Gatorade and counting the miles, feeling completely parched. I struggled to go 10 miles between breaks.
I finally found some water in a shelter in Kyle Park in Tipp City, but it tasted really disgusting. Maybe my taste buds were just off at this point, but I couldn’t make myself drink it. I sat in the shelter and did more math in my head. If memory serves, I was around the 70-mile mark. I felt like I might come up as many as 13 miles short if I kept riding home. Diverting my route to Wegerzyn might add three or four at most. I started contemplating other ways to divert my route. Nothing bearable came to mind.
I hopped back on and continued riding, and somewhere between Kyle Park and Taylorsville Metropark, I started for the first time to contemplate seriously the possibility that I might not make it. That I might quit. It was depressing.
I won’t drag it out. I decided that I’d ride to Wegerzyn and see where I was at. My body felt terrible, and I was miserable. I wasn’t having any fun.
On the other hand, I kept telling myself, if you can ride 80-something miles, you can tough through to 100. You’re close. Don’t quit. If you don’t finish now, you won’t have another chance until spring. You’ll think about it all winter.
By the time I rode into Wegerzyn, I’d been riding a little more than six hours. My odometer read only 86 miles. I would have to ride past home to West Carrollton then back to make it. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but I knew that meant it was over. I wasn’t riding that far past home only to turn around and ride upstream into the wind.
I parked my bike and laid down on a bench for a few minutes. A group of laughing and screaming kids kept running by as I gathered the energy to pull my phone from my pocket and call my wife and ask for a ride home. Then I waited.
It just wasn’t my day.
Extra: Here’s a gallery of photos from the ride.