I turned in my summer school grades after what would look like an easy schedule but in fact was anything but. I had a hard time getting my head into the summer class. I just didn't want to work. Most everyday was a struggle and a chore to open my email and visit the class site. It's not because of the students or anything in that vein. I just didn't want to to work. my brain needs time to think about other things than essay format, warrants, thesis statements and the like. But I turned grades in Friday, and to celebrate, I joined about a dozen folks for The Midnight Century. The writer of this blog, John Speare, is a friend I met through our mutual work on the Spokane Bicycle Advisory Board. His passion for riding focuses on riding a road bike, or something akin to a road bike, on dirt. Me, I'm a roadie, hard and fast. Give me concrete, blacktop and tarmac and I can go on and on and love it, even with a steep climb. Take me off road, and well, I'm off my feed. In short, this wasn't your father's century ride. Half of it was off-road, at least off pavement.
The ride has been an annual event for several years now, but this was my first time. We met up at the Elk, a nice little pub in Browne's Addition, headed to the Centennial Trail, and from there, it was all downhill, meaning damn near all up hill, and on dirt roads. The first 24 or so miles were a piece of cake. After that, it was pain, pain, and more pain, but a good bit of pleasure as well. I'm going to do it again, but with better equipment and preparation next year. At least that's what I hope.
Once we got near the Washington/Idaho border, we turned off to some back roads. The first climb, after hitting dirt for the first time, was brutal. My computer, a gps that is pretty accurate, recorded the grade at 15 percent in points. That's steep. Just watch the signs the next time you cross a mountain pass and you'll see grades between 4 and 7 percent. Railroad grades are one and two percent. Fifteen is Alp de Huez steepness, and that famed Tour climb is paved. There was another climb near the 50 mile mark that was nearly as steep, and at least as tough. On three climbs I found myself walking, pushing, my bike up hill.
Some of the paved descents were borderline insane. After the first tough climb, we got back to a paved road and ended up descending to Liberty Lake, at least I think that's where we were descending to. It was a windy, twisty and steep descent. At the time, because my computer doesn't have a permanent light, because it's really not intended that many people begin 100-mile rides at midnight, so I had no idea how fast I was going. It was much too easy to outrun my headlights. And even when I was riding within the throw of my light, my light was so inadequate that I often had to guess on the curve and the condition of the road. The last thing I wanted to do was lean my bike into a curve and find myself sliding on gravel.
I was often bringing up the rear, but I'm not all that bummed about that. The first climb I pegged my heart rate at 180! A loose measure of heart rates has my max at 170, which is 220 minus my age (50). When I try to get my heart rate up, I'm happy to work it at 160-165 if I can sustain it. 180 had my chest feeling like it could explode. The problem was I had to bust my butt to keep up with the others, so I couldn't ride within my capability. I had to keep up because I didn't know the route and I didn't want to ride through the night by myself.
But there were a few times I was alone, and it was somewhat sublime. A quarter moon was lighting the sky, a bit. A few times I could hear coyotes howling in the distance, wondering just how close they might be, and how much interesting I might be for any big animals in the area, cougars in particular, but bear as well. At one point, deer bounded across the road in our combined headlights, and that was something of a site. And the dogs along the way, they didn't know what to make of a gaggle of bicyclists in the middle of the night, and ended up barking, barking, barking. I'm sure a number of dog owners were awakened in the night, wondering what riled up the dogs.
I ended up bailing out at mile 54, with 12 miles to home. It was the last descent that did me in, as much or more than the various ascents had wiped me out. The road as a "summer road" through some wheat fields, meaning it's not maintained during the winter, and it was rutted, wash-boardy, gravelly and steep, like most of the dirt roads we were on. Plus, I could barely see and was cold and tired. The funny thing is, in an "odd" rather than a "ha-ha" way, is that I'm interested, though maybe not excited, to try it again next year. The course will be the same and I can get better tires for the route and a better light so I can see. And I can ride more dirt roads to prepare. Then I just might finish.