For any cyclist, a century ride is a bucket list activity. You could even call it a right of passage. I have been riding bikes regularly for 13 years and a century ride has always been in the back of my mind, but I either never made the plans or the opportunity never came into focus for it to happen. I also didn’t have a strong desire to take on that kind of suffering. The years came and went and I never crossed the triple digit barrier.
Then one day a few weeks ago, I got tagged in a social media post. One of our members was looking for riders to ride the full out and back of the Virginia Capital Trail. I had talked with a few guys in the past about doing this. The full route is 104 miles, completely paved and free of cars. It’s near my parents house so accommodations and child care are free. So, this was it! I was going to commit to a century!
On our Facebook Page, Patrick Wells posted this on Facebook and it was all set in motion.
The DIRT Facebook page is a busy place and it could have easily been missed had Casey Ferguson not tagged me in it. Joe Dietrich, another one of our members also took notice of the post, so we put a plan in motion. 11 days later was the date. We agreed to meet up at 7 am on June 21, 2019 at Great Shiplock Park in Downtown Richmond, VA.
If you have ever spent any time in the South, you know how stifling the heat and humidity can be. This morning was one of the most beautiful mid-June mornings I can remember in this region. A cold front had blown through the night before leaving the air unseasonably cool and crisp. Not wanting to short change ourselves on the full ride, we pedaled down to the official beginning of the trail.
The Virginia Capital Trail is a 52 mile long trail that runs from Downtown Richmond, VA to the Jamestown Settlement near Williamsburg, VA. It is a paved greenway friendly to pedestrians and cyclists, completely protected and free of cars. It is an amazing piece of recreational infrastructure and took many years to complete. There was a big push to complete it before the UCI World Cycling Championships in September 2015. While not completely flat, there are no major climbs and the farther East you go, the flatter it gets as you approach the Coastal Plain. It has about 50% tree cover and 50% exposed. Wind and sun exposure can be a factor. We really could not have picked a better route for a Century ride. For Casey and me, this was our first Century. Patrick had already done the ride before and was really helpful with tips and logistics. Joe would be joining us for a one way trip to Jamestown with his wife stopping a few places along the route to provide cookies and water.
“There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”-Desmond Tutu
To say a 100 miles is a long ride is a gross understatement. What may make you a strong mountain biker or a keen Zwift racers doesn’t necessarily translate into spending that many hours in the saddle. We did not have any intention of going hard. The plan was to ride slow, drink often and eat lots. We estimated that the total ride time would be over 7 hours. Think about sitting in a comfortable chair for 7 hours. Now think about sitting on a tiny little bike seat for that long. Over the course of the ride, I never felt like fitness was the weak link to finishing. The things working against me were my thoughts, my fatigued neck and shoulders but most noticeably, my ass cheeks. Not to say that I didn’t feel it in the legs towards the end, but they were not the thing giving me the most trouble.
Fortunately, we had great ride support. My dad and I stashed an extra car near the halfway mark full of snacks and cold drinks which was very helpful. We hit it going both out and on the way back. There are also places to stop for water and bathrooms along the way as well. This trail is built to make supporting yourself easy.
On the ride out, we all had fresh legs and a massive tail wind. The farther East we made it, the stronger the winds became and the flatter the trail. We were making great time. Along the route, there is one climb up Chickahominy River Bridge. Casey and I had to unleash an attack and happily we smashed the KOM! Sort of.
By the time we made the halfway point in Jamestown, we were definitely feeling the discomfort but still in good spirits. It was time to say goodbye to Joe and his awesome wife and turn back around and face the wind. Funny thing about a tailwind is that it isn’t that noticeable but once we turned around, it was apparent that the ride back could be a slog.
Things went well until about Mile 73. At that point, we could conceive of the end of the ride. We stopped for a great lunch at the Cul’s Courthouse Grill and it was great to slam an ice cold Coca-Cola and some fresh food and get off the bike for a little while. We chatted it up about DIRT, bikes and being Dads. After lunch though, the remaining distance really started to get in my head. My booty was killing me, my legs were fried, and my stomach was feeling a little off. All talking pretty much ceased and Patrick, Casey and I toiled mile after mile into a heavy headwind.
Here is a link to the ride on Strava. We finally rolled back into Richmond 7 hours 49 minutes after we left. Our total ride time was 6 hours, 33 minute at 16.1 mph for a total of 105.46 miles. In total, I had 5 Gatorades, 3 bottles of water, 1 Coke, a sleeve of fig newtons, 2 granola bars, 3 chocolate chip cookies, 2 Oreo’s, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a turkey and cheese wrap with a side of coleslaw. Casey was still feeling spry towards the end and started throwing down 1250 watt sprints. Patrick looked beat up and his cookie monster kit was caked white with salt. We posed up for a few final photos, shook hands and parted ways.
Being able to share such an adventure with strangers that I met on the internet is a memory that I will carry with me for a lifetime. I am grateful that Patrick posted up his interest in doing this and set it all in motion. Casey and I have been Discord buddies (team realtime chat app) for months and it was great to get to meet him. Joe showed a lot of grit smashing out a 52 miler at the age of 64 and just months after major hip surgery. This is definitely the type of thing that I want to keep doing so I can get out of the shed and ride with the great dads that I have met on Zwift. While this ride took a lot out of me and it took me a solid 3 days to feel fully recovered, it was worth every second of it. To take on new challenges whether it is your first Cat D Zwift race or Century with strangers exemplifies what we call The DIRT Effect. I have seen so many dads break through barriers since this thing started that it continues to inspire me.
Thanks for taking the time to read and I’ll see you in Watopia. RIDE ON!
Ken “The Badger” Nowell