Monday, October 19, 2015

One-Quarter Mile at a Time: The 100 Miles of Nowhere Report

For those who prefer short rather than drawn out versions of stories, I will share just a brief summary here at the start of Sam's and my 100 Miles of Nowhere ride. If you are wondering whether or not we completed the 100 MoN ride the quick answer is no and yes (for the long answer, I apologize, you'll have to keep reading).

I have been told that donations have been dropped off and made online as well, and that was the important piece of the ride, so thank you to those who gave in whatever form you were able. I am so grateful to each of you for your generosity and I appreciate you supporting a community organization.

And now, for the longer version of our 100 MoN...

This all started off so innocently. We (Sam and I) read every year about Fat Cyclist's 100 Miles of Nowhere ride and fundraiser for Camp Kesem. We always talk briefly about signing up, but usually by the time we come to any sort of answer, the ride is sold out.

The beauty of the 100 MoN is that no one needs to travel away from home. Instead, we all get to set up our own race course and ultimately, if we are specific enough with our category, each individual will win his/her division. Really, it sounds like a race made for me because it is the only sort of race I will ever win on a bicycle.

This year, we were a little more on top of our registration, or I suppose I should say that others were not quite as quick with signing up, so it allowed us the opportunity to be a part of this event.

As I was signing the two of us up for the 100 MoN ride, I had an "aha" moment. Why not do our own fundraising ride for a local organization that can always use some assistance while we ride to support Camp Kesem? It made sense to me and to Sam, and so we came to the conclusion that we would ask for donations to be made to a local organization in support of this ride.

I was excited. Sam was excited. Local friends were... well, I think they thought we were a little nuts, but I'm pretty sure they've come to expect a bit of semi-bizarre behavior from the two of us and were, at least to our faces, supportive of the endeavor.

We knew we had to select a date because the "official" date of the ride is November 7 this year, and we are well aware that the combination of Colorado, decent weather, and the month of November is unpredictable at best. It may still be gorgeous and sunny and we'll be waiting for snow, or we could be presented with a foot of white stuff on the ground.

We also have an array of happenings between October and mid-November, making a weekend day very challenging to devote entirely to a 100 mile ride. The only date that was available was Sunday, October 11, and so that became the date we would ride our 100 MoN.

The physicality of the ride was also of great concern to me, though I was trying not to let it overwhelm me. While Sam has been busy year-long preparing for various endurance races and events, I have not. With multiple injuries at the beginning of the year my saddle time has been sub-par. Well, really it's been sub-sub-par, if I'm completely honest.

The last time I rode 100 miles in a day was over two years ago. The last time I rode over 50 miles was more than a year ago. My longest journey via bike this year was under 40 miles and even that had been several months. In fact, my total mileage in the saddle over this summer and early fall is less than I'd normally ride when we're still coming out of our snowy months in the spring.

With each passing day, I became more panicked. How was I supposed to ride 100 miles when my typical bike trip has been somewhere around 5 miles? It's like telling a person who's been running 1 mile a couple times a week that s/he is going to now run a 26.2 mile marathon tomorrow. The ridiculousness of it is staggering to me on this side of things. Why on earth would I ever think I could do this?

Sharing my doubts with others went without any sort of pity. Typical responses were, "Oh, you'll be fine," or "This is your thing...You'll enjoy it." Apparently, no one was feeling bad for me and the situation I'd put myself into - and I can't say I blame them.

In a typical riding year, it's true, this wouldn't have been a huge deal. Challenging, yes, but unattainable, no. However, when I haven't put the time in the saddle, it doesn't matter how easy or slow I pedal, it's pretty well impossible to get this sort of distance completed. In fact, going slower is part of the problem because it only extends the time on the bike.
Streets in red would be our "race course."
Streets in black had too much motorized traffic to be considered.
*Map from Google
We had (at the very last moment) finally decided which course we'd be riding. We selected the 1/4 mile stretch of 10 streets running parallel. I thought this would actually work out nicely because it would mean 10 miles on each of the 10 streets. The thought of riding one street repeatedly for 100 miles was more than I could handle, so this seemed to fulfill the "nowhere" requirement and it would hopefully keep us somewhat entertained.

Or so we thought.

It's amazing how each of these streets looks remarkably similar when ridden back and forth, up and down, for an hour or so a piece. It also turned out that our measurements were slightly off. I had thought that the streets were 0.2 miles in one direction and Sam thought they were 0.25 miles long. In reality, the distance was somewhere in the middle at about 0.22 with each run.

Rather than trying to count laps, we decided to simply reach the 10 mile goal on each street and move on to the next.

Riding did not get off to the best start... But, I should probably go back a bit in time to help fill in some gaps and to help further illustrate why I would be struggling just a few miles into our 100 mile adventure.

On Wednesday prior to the 100 MoN, I had missed my doctor's appointment/adjustment for my back. Well, I didn't miss it, but the doc was ill and unable to come to the office, so I figured it would be a good test to see how long I could go without an adjustment. I had already been experiencing some spasms and pain, but figured that at some point I'd have to stretch beyond my current level of comfort. I made an appointment for Monday (as I was assured he'd be back in the office by then), which I thought would be great as a follow up to our 100 MoN on Sunday.

Friday, I went to kickboxing. I don't normally go to classes on Fridays, but it was a special circumstance and while there, part of the workout was a set of chariot races. If you're unfamiliar with this exercise, a band (or in this case, our belts) is wrapped around a person's mid-section while another person holds the "reins" of the belt from behind. The front person then runs forward while the person holding the belt attempts to pull in the opposite direction, making it more challenging for the front person to move forward.

I love this exercise! It's exhausting and, if done properly, is a phenomenal workout. It's also how I triggered some severe pelvis/back issues earlier in the summer. It's important to note here that technically I had not been released by my doctor to do this particular exercise, but I've missed this particular workout so much that I just had to participate.

On Friday, I also discovered a painful saddle sore. As I was riding to kickboxing I thought that perhaps I was just sitting oddly on the saddle, but as it turns out I was very wrong. If you've never experienced these, count your lucky stars, and if you have, then you know the sort of thoughts that were running through my mind with a 100 mile ride looming on the horizon.

After Friday's chariot race session, I was feeling some pain, but nothing that I didn't think I'd overcome. However, on Saturday when Sam and I went for our normally-attended kickboxing class, we did chariot races again.

Now, I have to say, our instructors are great about working with injuries. I could very easily have opened my mouth and said I needed to sit this round out... but, I didn't.

Instead, I participated each round  - and there were many - (though I did ask my belt holder to take it easy on me) and at the end of class proclaimed to Sam, "I think I'm broken."

I wasn't exactly broken-broken, but I was definitely feeling the ramifications of my actions. Between the two days of pulling, I had managed to somehow mess up my heel/Achilles area on my right side as well. I limped my way through the day, and managed to sit through most of the wedding reception for friends we attended that same evening.

That night, the evening before our 100 MoN ride, our Labrador, who normally sleeps on her dog bed at the foot of our bed (or in the guest room, or on the living room sofa), decided that she wanted to sleep on top of me in our bed. Normally, she's a very restless sleeper and moves after only a few minutes, but on this night she had decided that I am the very best human pillow on the planet and she did not move all night long.

It was a long, long night.

When I woke, I was miserable. I don't think I'd slept much more than a couple of hours total and every part of my body felt mangled from the odd positions I'd laid in throughout the night.

I got up and Sam was already busy shuffling about the house. He's an early riser by nature, so he had been tuning bikes and preparing for the ride long before I was even considering leaving bed. I was cranky and not wanting to ride at all. "Are you sure you want to do this?" I questioned, half way hoping that he'd say we could skip it. But, I knew we were riding, whether I was up to it or not.

The start was crisp, an ideal autumn morning. The sun was shining bright, the bikes were ready to go, and I was trying to internally pump myself up to get through the next 10-12 hours.
I knew our pace would be slow. If we averaged 10 mph, I thought we should consider ourselves lucky. We were both on ill-suited bikes for speed, Sam on his single speed mountain bike and me on my touring bike weighing no less than 50 pounds (only a slight exaggeration - though I do love this bike, despite its weightiness).

Could we have selected different bikes? Yes. Should we have chosen different bikes? Probably. But, we were close to home, so if we wanted to exchange rides that would be pretty easy to accomplish.

We knew our course would be riding residential streets with a lot of motorized and pedestrian traffic running perpendicular to us. At each end, we'd have to remain observant for turning traffic. Had I the foresight to truly consider what this would entail, we may have selected another more suitable, less mentally taxing course.
As we started out, I could feel the strain in my heel while pedaling. I could also feel my lower back muscles pulling, which wasn't giving me great confidence. I knew I was going to have to work it out in order to make it to the end, so I tried to just put it out of my mind and enjoy the morning. I was also dealing with my saddle sore issue and trying to locate a comfortable spot to rest this tender spot, but that wasn't off to to the best start either.

Sam seemed to be struggling a bit as well. He was shaking out his hands, trying to work out apparent numbness. He also seemed unsettled on his position as he would wiggle about from time to time on the saddle.

It wasn't the ideal start, for either of us.

As we started at block 1 of our 10 block course, our pace was initially quite slow. I think we were both a bit tired and unsure of how much we should try to push our speed, but eventually we found a rhythm and traded out who was leading the way.
We marveled at how different this block of houses seemed from our own, despite the identical era, and discussed various front yard landscaping and how these ideas might work for our home as well. We took in the variety of Halloween decorations and wondered aloud whether we would see any Trick-or-Treaters this year in our new digs.

We chatted about current bikes, and potential future bikes, and spoke again about the possibility of selling off one of our vehicles.

By now, I was certain we were done with this block of our course.

Alas, we were approaching only the four mile mark, and I was positive there was no way I was making it to the end of our 100 MoN.

Just a half hour into the ride, we were pretty well out of things to say to each other. Instead, we hunkered down and plodded back and forth on our designated path, smiling at the people who watched us pacing in front of their yards. I have to be honest, I'm surprised not one word was said to us by anyone in the neighborhood regarding our pacing.

At 58 minutes in, we had reached the end of our first segment and I was happy to be moving on to see different sights and hear different sounds. I was actually feeling physically okay as well and was hopeful that I would see this ride to its completion.
To my dismay, the sights and sounds of block two were not at all dissimilar to block #1. There were some minor nuances that changed, but not enough to make for a new round of happy chatter between us for any length of time. Surprisingly though, there were different smells. While block one had filled the air with odors of frying sausage, block two wreaked of burning tires as though someone had set a pile of rubber ablaze and left it to burn for weeks. It was an odd and unexpected change in olfactory impressions.

By the end of segment #2, I was pretty beat up. My back was really hurting and my brain was not doing well with the monotony of our travels. We were 20 miles in and I knew I was desperately in need of relief from pain in all its forms.

I requested a brief break for a refill of water and a bathroom stop (I'd needed facilities from the time we started but decided to hope for "re-absorbtion" which didn't happen) after which we rode back out to start segment #3 of our course.

When we had initially discussed this course as a possibility, we failed to realize that not all of the street segments have the same elevation. The portion we'd tested was very slightly uphill one direction and a very slight descent in the other. However, several of the other streets are not the same. As it turned out, many of these start a fairly unexpected incline about half way up the path. It would have been of little consequence in every day riding, but when anticipating a reasonably flat course, it can be a bit of a shock as it's repeated over and over again.
After passing this several times, I had to take a photo. What exactly does "I Tomato Tommy" mean? Is this the answer here?
Each time we reached the climbing portion of the lap, my pace would slow. My lack of training was surely playing a part in all of this, despite my mental efforts to shuck off such a ridiculous idea.

Sam was shaking his hands more and more in attempt to find relief from the numbness, but he was doing well, as would've been expected.

I find that one of two things happens to me during repetitious events. I either tune everything out and go into a kind of meditative state until I reach the end, or I focus on everything that is hurting until I can no longer stand to press on.

Unfortunately for me, this particular ride found me facing the latter reality.

As I struggled to pedal back and forth on block #3, I asked Sam if we could take a 15-20 minute break and then head back out. He agreed and after finishing 30 miles, we headed home for what was intended to be a brief stop.

At home once again, we decided that switching bikes might be a good idea. Sam opted for his single speed road bike and I hopped on my heavier road bike that was still significantly lighter than the touring bike.

We made it all of 20 feet down the road when I realized I wasn't going to survive this. I pulled off to the side while Sam stared at me, wondering why I'd suddenly halted. "I'm not going to make it," I announced after standing for a few seconds. "My back is killing me, my heel can barely turn with my foot on the pedals anymore. I don't know what to do. If we keep going, I can guarantee the best I'm going to do is one more block today - and that's if my back doesn't completely give out because it's nearly there as it is."

We stood in silence for a couple of minutes. I don't think Sam really knew what to say, or how or if he should push me to continue on. After a few of these quiet minutes I came to the understanding that my body was not going to allow me to ride this distance in my current condition.

In truth, I was quite upset by this realization, despite the fact that I'd wanted to skip out on this ride all together. I felt like a failure. I knew that Sam would push on no matter what, but I hated the fact that my body, in its current state, was not having this.

We turned around and went home.

I sat on our couch and pondered all of this. The reality of failure stings, and despite my hard-headedness or determination when necessary, I was frustrated that injuries and my own lack of training through the season was creating this reality.

Also stirring in my head was the thought that I now had to explain this to others. How would I relay what had taken place to those who were expecting us to finish? I know most are understanding about injuries, but I had signed myself up for this and should be able to see it through.

For several hours I tried to talk it out. I relived my failures with bikes and physical aspirations over the last couple of years and beat myself up internally pretty badly. It's hard not to do so when just two short years ago this would not have seemed like such a monumental task. I went to bed that evening feeling defeated and as though I let others and myself down.
That could easily have been the end of our 100 MoN story, but it isn't.

The next morning I woke up with a thought. There had been no rule stating that the 100 MoN had to all be completed in a single day. In fact, there was no rule that stated the ride had to be 100 miles at all, but in the spirit of the race, I believe that many want to see the 100 miles completed in a single day. That wasn't happening for me, but maybe I could still make the 100 miles happen if I spread it out over several days.

I had made a commitment to complete this ride and even if I couldn't get it done in one day, I would finish what I'd started, one way or another.

Sam wouldn't be able to join me for this portion because of work, but it didn't mean I couldn't go on my own and complete this.
Start of day 2's ride
I decided to take it on the way that I would usually ride. Instead of getting all the long-ride bike gear on, I'd just wear what I would normally wear on a bike to get around town. I'd take along the iPod, and try to just enjoy my surroundings too, which would hopefully help the time pass a bit more easily.

On Monday, I took about an hour and went and rode one more street and 10 more miles of our 100 MoN.
My saddle sore was particularly painful this day and that 10 miles was all I could manage, but Tuesday I woke up feeling slightly more energized and in less pain, so I went to work completing 25 more miles and 2.5 more segments/streets.
Some of these roads are quite horrible to ride, I have to say. It came to be that on some of the streets it felt rougher than riding on some mountain trails. And if you don't believe me, you can watch the nauseatingly bouncy video below (the return trip is far rougher than the out trip) that I took of one of my up and back laps on one such street. Apologies in advance for the background noise of me sniffling/clearing my throat and the creaking of the bike that day.

Day four was set to be a busy day for me with quite a few things to get done. It didn't help that my back was acting up and my saddle sore seemed to be growing by the minute, so I planned to do as much as I could, but knew I wouldn't be out long.

What I hadn't anticipated was the fact that the three streets I would be riding actually have a stop sign in the middle of each lap. I don't know why this hadn't occurred to me prior to the ride, but once crossing over to the other side of the route, the street layout changes slightly and the cross traffic becomes the through traffic while the up and down traffic has the stop sign.

I wasn't entirely sure how to deal with this. Stopping every lap would be a huge time disadvantage, but I also couldn't run through the sign - for many reasons. There was a fair amount of cross traffic coming through and I could quickly see that I would be stopping completely each time I came through. Yes, it is a stop sign and I should be stopping anyway (and for the record, I do stop at stop signs), but I was trying to figure out a way to follow the law and not have an inconvenience repeated over and over again.
As I tried to figure this out, I decided I would do a lap in the park that is right next to the street I'd started riding. It's a small park, but there is a path running through it, so I thought perhaps I could substitute this route for the road.

I quickly learned otherwise. There were far too many tight turns that would require me to stop and dismount. Additionally, there were several small children playing in the park (and that is its purpose, so I had no issue with this) making for an inconvenient short lap. I decided to go back to the road I'd been riding and ride half laps and then I'd cross over and do the other side of the street.

My path that was 0.22 miles was now 0.10 miles. It grew dizzying very quickly.

To make matters worse, an unmarked police car had set up shop on the street I was riding and he was keeping a very close eye on me. I knew I wasn't doing anything wrong, but I have to admit it must've appeared terribly suspicious to see this person riding her bike in circles on half a block, round and round, back and forth.
Eventually, my nervousness got the better of me and I opted to head home. After only 10 miles, I called it quits and figured I'd also likely need another plan to finish out the 100 MoN ride because these last few streets would be the death of me if I had to stop every 0.10 miles.

Twenty-five more miles to finish this ride up. Where would I ride? I figured I could go back through the streets I'd already been down, but some of them were so rough that I wasn't sure I wanted to do that again. It's one thing to ride them not knowing what's coming, but quite another to know what I was in store for before I even arrived.

I also pondered the idea of using our alternate route selection as the finishing route. With a four mile one way trip, those 25 miles would go much faster than they would on these short street segments.

There was also the possibility of selecting an entirely different place to finish up the 100 MoN, but where and what?
Ever wonder what it looks like on a GPS report to go round and round in the same spot? This is it! :)
When I woke on Day 5, I had made a decision: I was going to re-ride the streets we'd already been riding. It was the simplest choice and while there would be rough spots, at least there was an element of familiarity.

On this day, I was not at all excited about riding. In fact, I considered not riding at all, but the other part of me wanted to end this - to know that I had completed the 100 miles, even if it wasn't being done in the manner I'd anticipated.

Something strange happened though as I started riding. Actually, it wasn't at all strange when I think about it because once on a bike, I find that my mood generally does improve. As I started riding, I felt happy. I was hurting from all the aforementioned issues, but I was content.

I went back to the starting street of our 100 MoN ride and went to work. I had made a mental plan knowing that there were now 7 possible streets for me to ride without meeting up with a stop sign in the middle. I had 25 miles to travel which meant I could travel 6 of the streets for four miles and the last one for a mile.

As I started riding the first street though, something interesting took place. You'll recall I mentioned that one of two things happens to me during repetitive events? Well, this time I found myself in a trance-like state, focusing more on ideas and less aware of physical pain. I truly lost myself in thought.

Before I knew it, I had surpassed the four mile mark and was at about mile 6. The decision was made at that point to change the distribution a bit and ride 10 miles on the first street and then split the remaining 15 miles into 3 mile segments on 5 of the remaining 6 streets.

However, once again I experienced this meditative sort of mindset and missed the 10 mile mark. I then decided 15 miles would be the point of departure and I'd split the remaining 10 miles into two-mile rounds on 5 remaining streets.

This time, I tried to remain aware of mileage so that I didn't miss the end, but I have to admit it was sad to leave this first block and move on. This short distance had felt happy and I had found a rhythm. I probably should've just completed the ride there, but I'd set up this plan to hit all the remaining streets and so I moved on.

As expected, the remaining mileage passed pretty quickly - at least mentally. Riding only 2 miles each block seemed like nothing after doing repeats for longer distances.

It was a strange feeling at the end of all of this. It was really rather uneventful on the whole, but it almost felt as though I was saying goodbye to a friend. I'd grown used to many of the sights, sounds and smells on each of the streets and there was something rather comforting in the familiarity I'd come to know.

Sure, I had favorites along the way and some that I'd rather not ride again - at least in repetitious loops - but they each had their own sort of personality, despite being constructed by the same builder multiple decades ago. Time has given each block its own individuality and I was just beginning to appreciate each for these qualities.
The end left me with some amount of contentment, knowing that while I hadn't pedaled in the manner I'd anticipated, I had at least completed the mileage I'd committed to riding. In total, 101.1 miles was covered and it took five days to complete the course. I likely had and will have the most drawn out 100 MoN course and probably the slowest speeds, but that just means I surely clinched my category for a top podium spot, right?

Sam still has plans to complete the 100 MoN as well. Finding the time to do so is a bit more challenging, but he'll get it done. I may even end up riding it with him too.

Did you or will you ride your own 100 MoN course - whatever distance you selected? Always interested to hear how others will do or did pedal on their own course. Please do share. And again, thank you to those who donated and are continuing to give. I cannot detail my gratitude enough to each of you for your kindness.


  1. Good for you! That's a great way to meet your goal and accommodate your body.

    I was planning to do my 100 miles over two days too since I still don't feel quite ready for the whole 100 in one day. Last weekend, my spouse (hereafter, "M") and I were planning to go for our first little bike tour. We decided to make our first effort at a tour super easy. The idea was to stay in a hotel at the halfway point on a long rail-trail. We would go one direction the first day and the other direction the second day. Easy!

    Unfortunately, M got sick, so we had to cancel. We'll reschedule soon.

    In truth, I feel like I could do a full century now, but I keep delaying because M has only recently gotten back into cycling, and we really like riding together. He's definitely not up for a century yet, so I just go as far as he wants to go. The day after a 30 or 40 miler with him, I'm ready to go out again, but don't necessarily feel like I can do 40 one day and then 100 the next, so I usually just go for another mid-range ride.

    Soon, though, I've got to do this thing!

    1. It must feel great to know that you are ready to do the 100-mile ride, Kendra, regardless of whether or not you actually do it right now. I'm very happy for you! Can't wait to hear about it when you do ride it though. :)

  2. I hadn't thought to do it over multiple days. I am too late for this year but will definitely plan for it next year.
    Well done sticking with it! Kudos!

    1. I hadn't really considered it either, Sharon, but it kind of became a necessity. :) I'm glad I was able to ride it, even if it wasn't as I'd originally hoped.

  3. I've heard about this and I'm glad you were left contented with your take on the 100 MoN. I agree that it's a great activity - if you're indeed a fan of repetitious loops. And I think it somehow it promotes cycling as a great recreation!


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