Just two days ago I completed a full circuit of Sado island in the Sea of Japan. Never having ridden a century, I went out for a 140 mile (210 kilometer) long ride with a bunch of people I barely know on an island I’ve never been to on a course I knew nothing about, and I destroyed it!
When our alarms went off at three o’clock in the morning I laid in bed for a moment waiting for the swirl in my brain to coalesce into conscious thought that could be turned into the willpower necessary to haul my exhausted body out of bed. Just as I was considering going back under for another doze, it dawned on me: Today is the day we ride 200 kilometers!
I jumped out of bed, giddy and a little bit mad with excitement and drummed on the pillows of the other girls. “Get up! Get up! We get to ride 200 kilometers today!” I was dressed in fifteen minutes, had my gear ready by thirty, and was downstairs a full twenty minutes ahead of schedule. The girls did not appreciate my enthusiasm.
We started riding at six am. At first I was hesistant to really push the pace. I didn’t know if I could finish the distance and I have little experience riding with others. I wasn’t sure how to navigate the packs of riders or how much effort was sustainable over the course. In fact, I was even a little scared because the girly-girls from the shop seemed to be in better condition than I was for the first 20-40 kilometers.
Little did I know, but my legs were only just getting started. After the second aid station came the Z-climb, a seven kilometer climb with grades of up to 10% that switched back and forth up the seaside mountain. Every one was talking it up like it was going to be this beast of a climb. So I started up in the middle of the pack, pedaling light in a low gear and focusing on conserving my strength. At one point I noticed one of the girls from the shop coming up behind me. She always says she’s bad at climbing and here she was gaining on my tail. Hell no, I said. I’m not going to get overtaken by some girly-girl who can’t own her own skills on a bike after all the work and sweat and tears I’ve been through. I got up out of the saddle and took off. That was the last I saw her all day.
One after another I gained on the others in the group until I reached the top of the climb. There were people stopped to take pictures of the gorgeouse view over the Japan sea. I thought about it for a moment, but then I realized I had more important matters to attend to: the descent. I looked around for some people to ride with and when I thought I had found a buddy I took off. Five minutes later he was nowhere to be seen. Ten minutes later I couldn’t recognize anybody around me. Twenty minutes later and I came up on the next aid station a full thirty minutes ahead of schedule. I thought there’s no way I’m this far ahead; I must have come upon one of the larger toilet stops instead of a rest area. I push on. I’m all alone and I start looking for packs to tail. We descend back to sea level and the wind is howling in our faces. I focus on staying close on the back of my chosen windbreaker. I’m starting to get hungry when I look up and see the sign for 90km. What?!? Where was the rest station? I passed it an hour ago and never noticed. I’m nearly forty minutes ahead of schedule at this point.
The lunch tent was at the 100 kilometer mark. They had a stretch area and a lot of rice and bananas. I ate. I drank some miso soup. I filled up my water bottle. There was no sign of my group so I decided to stretch out my legs before heading on. This was arguably the furthest I had ever gone and I was nervous. My legs were tight and sore and my left knee kept threatening to cramp. I decided to ride conservatively for the next 40 kilometers by picking packs that I knew I could follow and staying with them even on the descents. These were the most boring kilometers I’ve ever ridden in my life.
Between the 140 and the 160 mark I started getting impatient. I would follow one pack until another came up behind. Unless they were really blowing by I would pick up their tail and drop the pack I was in previously. This way I would bounce my way up the line of riders without ever having to ride in the full force of the wind. I thought this was going to be a great strategy until, after the next aid station, suddenly there were no more packs. I had apparently left them all behind. There were lone riders and pairs here and there, and I would tail them for a while only to be irritated with their sluggish pace. More and more the people ahead of me started squirming in their saddles, rotating their shoulders and thumping out knots in their legs. What, are you done already? What’s with this aching? You don’t get a fucking massage until you cross the finish line, you wankers! I couldn’t handle it. I needed to move. I looked around me and I said, “What, are you all finished? I’m not done yet. I’m not done by a long shot! Watch me burn you, mothafuckas!” And I took off.
My entire body started to smolder inside, and the contrast of the cool air on my skin gave me chills up and down my arms and legs. My eyes became fierce and the pain in my knee, shoulders, and poor, abused taint, disappeared completely from my consciousness. My legs started to churn. My wheels started to spin faster and my tires began making a low hum as they sped hard over the pavement. I started to drop people. One by one I burned them. I didn’t have time to wait for a pack and I headed out onto the flats alone. As the next hill came up I was sure the same people I just dropped were going to come riding up on my tail again. I kept expecting it, even as I got up out of the saddle and churned. Laboring, sweaty men, and the rare female rider disappeared past my peripheral. Plugging away in their lowest gear, they looked miserable. I had rings to spare. Cresting the next hill, I prepared myself for the crash. I’ve felt this surge of energy in a run before, but it never lasted more than a mile (or about ten minutes). The crash never came though. Descending the mountain I got even more enraged at the crowd of slugs around me. Are you seriously riding your brakes in the curves??? You’re going to kill me with your awful line selection and unpredictable speed. Move!
At 170 kilometers I was so cocky I was jumping manholes and storm drains in the road even on the climbs. I was hooting with excitement and openly taunting the riders as I passed them. I didn’t touch my brakes except on the windiest of backroad descents. I got to the Long Climb, another seven kilometer hill that was supposedly going to destroy me because it was at the 191 kilomter mark, and I was still dropping people like flies. Suddenlly, I recognized a jersey from my team! It turns out that the shop owner had broken off from the group hours ago and had been riding by himself. We chatted for a few kilometers before he, without warning, took off like a bat out of hell on a descent so curvy that I almost rode into a truck trying to keep up with him. He was obviously just dicking around and wasn’t even taking the ride seriously and yet it took me ten minutes in my highest gear to catch him. Together we dropped another two dozen riders and I was in utter and complete disbelief that my legs were not only holding out, but they seemed to be getting stronger with every stroke. I screamed with the exertion as I finally caught up to him at the last two kilometers of the ride.
Like a true gentleman, he let me cross the finish first. I fucking bunny hopped that shit! I couldn’t believe it was over already. I was so pumped and so thrilled, not just with the quality of the ride, but with the thrill and the rush of letting all my energy loose, throwing caution to the wind, shrieking and screaming both in voice and in body and truly letting the beast inside me rage free across the pavement.
It was an hour before the next people in our group caught up to us. I couldn’t wait for them as the evening sun was already starting to chill my body. I rode the ten kilometers up hill back to the hotel with the baby of their pro cycling team. He had finished in just over six hours while it took me ten and a half. For a girl, though, I gotta say that aint bad. We rode for about half an hour together and shared our stories from the event. When we got back to the hotel we met up with Thighs who had set a course record nearly five hours ago. The Baby beamed at him and told him how much I sounded like a true athlete, gushing over the adrenaline and the thrill of dropping other riders. The three of us rode out to a small wharf and watched the sun set. It was the perfect end to a perfect day — perfect except for the fact that not a single one of us felt like we had ridden enough!