Myra & Taylor's Do-It-Yourself Double Century (Plus) (August 1994)

Summary: On Friday, Myra and Taylor rode 218.7 miles around southern New Jersey, fully self-supported. It took us 14 hours, 33 mins.

The long version:


Three weeks ago today I (I'm Myra) decided to test my limits, and so I went on a 137-mile ride around ultra-flat southern New Jersey. When I was done I still felt pretty good. I had aching shoulders, and my butt wasn't very happy, but otherwise I was fine. My legs weren't all that tired, and I felt that I could have gone further. And so I got to thinking that I'd really like to do a double century. I posted a description of my 137 ride on rec.bicycles.rides, partly in hopes of finding a long-distance biking partner, but no go. I commented to my friend and biking buddy Taylor that I thought some day, not necessarily this year, but at some point, I wanted to do a double century. He said, "Let's do it", which surprised the hell out of me. He's a speed rider, not a distance rider. His goal on a bike ride is, it seems, to finish as fast as possible, and he's constantly challenging himself and others. I, on the other hand, ride because I love it, to enjoy the feeling of moving, of going places under my own power, to enjoy being outside, to watch the scenery... I don't worry about how fast I go. I like to go at a moderate pace, not too fast, not too slow, which is usually about 13-14mph average speed over a hilly 30-mile route, which is my standard weekday ride. But despite my surprise, I was happy to have a partner, and we set up a schedule -- we'd do the double Aug 12 (date chosen to avoid other commitments of ours), and we'd do two training rides on the next two weekends, one 80-miler, one 125-miler, in order to increase Taylor's ability to ride long distances, and we'd continue our usual 2 30-milers during the weekdays.

I chose the courses for the training rides. I picked routes that I'd wanted to try out but had never done before. Both routes were hilly -- tho' we'd do the double in southern NJ, which is flat, I figured that if we trained in hills, we'd be in better shape. I looked over my maps carefully, selected the routes, and made up cue sheets. I tried to pick the smallest roads that went in more-or-less the correct direction. But when riding these routes we hit problems -- there were always discrepancies between the maps and the actual roads, and there often weren't road signs, and so we had to stop and look at maps and ask directions often, which took up an awful lot of time. This didn't bother me too much, since I enjoy just riding, but they annoyed Taylor to no end. And even I realized that we simply couldn't do that on the double, since we'd be coming close to the number of hours of daylight anyway, and couldn't afford to spend any time looking at maps trying to figure out where we were. So we decided to drive around the double century route to make sure we knew where all the roads were, what the turns looked like, how the road surfaces were, and the total distance.

So last Sunday we drove around southern NJ picking out a course. I plotted one before we set out, but somehow I'd gotten confused about scale and soon realized that what I'd chosen would fall about 50 miles short of a double. So, armed with a Philly 50-mile radius map and a NJ road map, I replotted. The biggest problem we had was that many of the roads on the 50-mile radius map that we wanted to take were dirt, or didn't exist at all. We quickly found out that the best way to choose roads were not to take things that weren't on the NJ state map. They didn't have to be labelled on the NJ map, just drawn in was OK, since we could find the corresponding road on the 50-mile map and find out its name. Another problem was almost all roads in NJ that you'd want to bike on have numbers, 5XX or 6XX, and these numbers are well-posted on the roads themselves, but usually not mentioned on the maps. Thus, plotting out a route from the maps was a challenge, and we had to back up lots of times, but finally we did it. We had a nicely-detailed cue sheet with all turns and water stops marked. The proposed route was 205 miles, by the car's speedometer. The route was, roughly: start in Camden NJ, go southwest (paralleling the Delaware River on the eastern edge of the state) for about 30 miles. Then go roughly southeast, going along the southern edge of the state, looping up and down alot to avoid towns and cross rivers, for about 80 miles. Then go roughly northeast for 65 miles, zigzagging alot along the way to find good roads. Then the final 40 miles mostly west, and a bit north, into Camden.

I made us deluxe info sheets for the ride. On one side was a nicely-typed double-column cue sheet, on the other side was a copy of the relevant part of the NJ state map, with our route outlined and labelled with numbers and names.

The plan was that Taylor would pick me up at 4:30am Friday morning so we could get started about 5am. I figured that it would be nice if I could get to sleep early Thursday night. On Wed night I went to bed around 10 and was luckily able to sleep. I got up at 6:30 Thursday, and so I was able to sleep shortly after 9pm Thurday night. I packed up Wed and Thursday evenings. The plan was that we would carry all our own food, as well as Gatorade powder to dump into water. I have a small rack bag which I loaded with food (individually wrapped fig bars and granola bars) and film cans full of Gatorade powder, leaving space for some of Taylor's stuff as well -- he has no bags or racks at all on his bike and loads everything (tools, tubes, and food) into his jersey pockets, but 200 miles of food and Gatorade packets would not fit, no matter how full he stuffed his pockets. In addition to the rack bag I have a small bag for tools and a spare, which fastens to the rails connecting my rack to the seat-stays.

I should mention: I have a true touring bike -- granny gear, cantilever brakes, ultra-long wheelbase, moderately wide tires, rear rack, fenders, the works. Taylor has a stripped-down road bike. We both have aero bars: he's has his for a couple of years; mine are a recent acquisition, bought just for this ride (and other long-distance rides). My bike is 6 years old and heavily used, but it's recently gotten a bunch of new parts -- new freewheel and chainrings, new chain, aero brake levers (so I could get the aero bars), new rear wheel (handbuilt with Mavic MA40 rim), new brake pads. With all this new stuff it runs much more smoothly, feeling almost like a new bike.

The ride:

4:30 am Friday, Taylor rang my doorbell, we put my bike next to his in his Jeep and headed over the Ben Franklin Bridge to Camden. It had rained during the night, but it had stopped, as the forecast had said it would, by the time we headed out. We parked in a lot that we'd selected last Sunday and I dropped an envelope with $2 in it and "for the black Jeep" written on it into the empty booth in the middle of the parking lot. At 4:53 we were on the road. Now, we figured that since we'd be starting in a city we'd have steetlights, and by the time we got out of the range of the streetlights we'd have enough sunlight that we'd be able to see where we were going, so our main objective in choosing lighting was to be seen, not to illuminate the road in front of us. We both had blinking red Vistalight tailights, and I had a 2-C-cell Cateye headlight. In addition, I have reflective tape in several places on the bike, on my helmet, and on my rims. I like to be seen.

Very soon after starting, we encountered a bridge with a steel mesh riding surface. Normally, these don't bother me, but we weren't prepared for it and hit it at 15mph, and it was wet and slippery, and there weren't any streetlights near, so we couldn't see the surface of the bridge. Our bikes tried to slide out from underneath us as we crossed the grid, and several times I thought for sure I'd lose control and crash. But, miraculously, we both made it over intact.

Other than the bridge, we had no problems at the beginning. The balance between streetlights and sunlight was about perfect. As the streetlights thinned, the sun got stronger. Actually, we didn't see the sunrise, as it was very cloudy and foggy. When the sky had lightened somewhat, but everything was still dim and foggy, it was really beautiful -- just us, our bike tires swishing on the wet pavement, the occasional streetlight brightening things, the occasionaly car passing, houses and trees off in the fog, and it was cool and damp. This is what I love about biking... I think Taylor was just getting annoyed at the dampness...

We alternated taking the lead. He was in control. Basically, he'd lead for a while and then, when he felt that he wasn't keeping up the pace he'd let me in front, and I'd take over. But he'd soon tire of my slow pace, pass me, and I'd be behind him again. He ended up being in front more than half of the time, but how much more than half, I can't say.

Thanks to our road work of the previous weekend, we didn't miss a turn. We knew from the cue sheets what roads to look for, and we had enough of a memory from the driving to recall what the turns looked like. Our first water stop at 42 miles went smoothly. Our second, at 77 miles, got Taylor upset. I needed to go to the bathroom, and it was occupied. I waited for it to be empty. When we get back on the bikes, Taylor was fuming -- "We took 15 mins there!" "What's the problem?", I asked, "We're going along at quite a good speed". In fact, we had an average speed (including stops) of better than 15mph, and even after the stop, the average speed was *still* better than 15mph. He grumbled "Our average has fallen to 15.1. Come on, let's get going!" At that point I think I decided that I don't like bike computers with average speeds in them. Or at least I don't like the idea of riding with someone who's so concerned about how fast he's going.

I also felt that we were going a bit too fast. I think I was doing about 15-16mph rolling speed when I lead, while he was doing a couple of miles over this when he lead. I complained about this a couple times, and then when I was in front and going down a slight hill at 19mph he'd complain "Oh, so I'm going too fast eh? What's this then?" So I shut up about the speed and just kept up with him. I refused to try to keep his pace when I was in front, however.

We soon discovered that his computer was not accurate, at least as far as mileage. He had recently gotten a new front tire with a smaller width, which also means a smaller rolling circumference and didn't recalibrate his computer (not even realizing you had to) so his mileage was reading consistently high. So we took my computer's mileage as being the official one. But we used his timer, since he'd started it at the beginning. I have a timer, but it doesn't have an hours place (only minutes and seconds, a bad design decision in my opinion, what the hell do I care about seconds?), so I generally don't bother with it. But he was concerned with counting the number of hours on the road, and every hour would ask how far we'd gone and I'd report... Me, I'd calibrate my progress by looking at the miles done. They slowly crept up...

Around 70 miles he started talking about how long it would take us to finish. He asked "Do you think we'll be able to do it in under 13:30?" (This time includes stops. He usually doesn't include stops, but on a ride of this length, when you're fighting against the number of hours in a day, total time is much more important than rolling time.) I said "I don't know and I don't care". He wasn't exactly pleased with this answer. He wanted me to share his enthusiasm about getting a good time. Later, our time was still quite good. He said "Wow, it really looks like we're going to do it in under 13:30! I never imagined before we started that we could make it under 13:30!" I warned him "But we haven't done it yet. We could still have a flat tire or something..." But our time continued to be good. "Hey, it's looking like we have a shot at making it in at under 13 hours!! As long as we don't spend too much time at stops." I couldn't help being impressed at our time, but I still felt that he was making far too big a deal out of it.

When we neared 100 miles, he suggested I note the time it took to do the century. This seemed reasonable. His record is 5:09 (rolling time, not including stops) for a century, while my record is 7:20 (including stops), last year on the Philly Bike Club Century. So at the 100 mile mark we noted the time: 6:37 (including stops). Not bad, by far my best time for 100 miles.

I started to feel tired around 130 miles, which was near the longest distance I'd ever biked in one day. I stopped enjoying the scenery so much, we talked less and concentrated on biking more.

Everything was fine for the first 150 miles. We stopped every now and then for water, and otherwise kept moving. But then we were stopped dead by a closed bridge over the Mullica River on route 563 (on the generally northeast leg). We saw signs about 2 miles before the bridge, but we went on -- usually when there's construction a bike can get thru'. Not this time. The bridge was a drawbridge, and it was raised. There was no getting thru'. We were not happy. Hell, we'd been here a week ago, why was it raised now, and not then? For the first time, we flipped to the map side of our info sheets, on the back of the cue sheet. The shortest way to get around would add at least 10 miles to our total. My opinion was "Well, this is lousy, but no major problem, we'll just do a 215 mile ride instead of a 205 mile ride. Let's go on as planned. We'll make it to the end anyway." Taylor's opinion was "But it'll add at least 40 minutes to our time!!!!" I said, "But we'll have the miles to show for it...". He didn't care. He wanted a low time, extra miles or not. He was tempted to just head back the straightest way to Camden. But somehow he decided to go on. We followed found the roads that were marked on the map and made it over the river safely. All in all we figured that the detour would delay our arrival by about an hour, what with the time we spent at the bridge figuring out where to go, biking the detour, and including an extra water stop that we'd need because of the increased time and distance. Taylor continued to be grumpy about the detour.

After getting back onto 563 and going for awhile, it got the best of him again. "Ten more miles. I just can't take it". I asked him why. He said "I was all geared up for doing a 205-mile ride, and was planning everything, time, speed, based on that. That detour was too much of a letdown. Now, instead of having less than 3 hours left to go, I know there'll be more than 4! It's just too much of a kick in the teeth! I want to go back on 70! I'll wait for you at the car if you want to stick with our original route" Now, 70 is a major road, and would be terrible to bike along. But taking it would have cut off a few miles from our planned route. And now I had a dilemma. If he goes on 70, do I go with him, biking a highly unenjoyable road, with cars whizzing past us in a steady stream at 55mph and up? Or do I stick with the original, slightly longer course, that goes thru' decent roads? We biked on in silence. I finally decided that I'd stick with the original course, and if he wanted to go along 70, well, he could.

We reached our last water stop. I asked him if he still wanted to take 70. He said "No, it's really too big a road to bike along. I'll follow the original course." And I was glad -- so we'd be sticking together after all. The water stop was a roadside stand with a young woman selling hot dogs and sodas and such. She asked us how long we were riding. I said "You'll probably think we're crazy, but 200 miles". She said "In one day??". I said "Yep, we started at 5am". Taylor interjected with "Well, actually, more like 220". I said "Yeah, we've gone 181 so far, and we still have to get back to Camden." She said "Why did you decide to do this?" We said "Well, just to see if we could do it". And we rode on. We were really starting to hurt by this time. My shoulders and arms hurt no matter where I put my hands. The aero bars helped some, but even having a couple new positions didn't eliminate the problem completly. Maybe I have to lift weights to improve my upper body strength... My thighs, back, and butt were hurting alot too. But we headed on.

We agreed that we'd try to keep up our speed until mile 200, and then we could go take the remaining however many miles at whatever pace we wanted. At 200, we took a reading: 13:07. Immediately thereafter, we pulled off the road and took a break. Taylor walked around a bit, trying to loosen up his feet, and I just flopped in the grass and tried to recover some. After a bit I grabbed some food and ate. We didn't stop long, just long enought to give the biking muscles a bit of rest. Then back on the bikes, at a slower pace.

The last 10 miles were torture for me. I've always wondered what my physical limitations are: well, right now, I know: they are what I did on Friday. I was putting everything I had into just keeping going. I hurt all over. I'd had plenty to drink and to eat; I wasn't lacking anything in the way of nutrition; I was just coming up against the limit of what my body was capable of. Bikers went by us, going in the opposite direction, and we waved at each other. They were obviously going much faster than we were. I said to Taylor "I just wish they'd ask us how far we've gone". He agreed. At the end I was crawling along at 12mph. I was amazed. How could it hurt so much to go 12mph on an almost completely flat road in perfectly clear weather? Yet it did. When I stood up to accelerate after stoplights, I was amazed -- it hurt less to pedal standing up. Usually I rarely stand up because it's too much effort, and after a short time my thighs start to burn. Instead I get up hills by sitting down, shifting down, and pedalling fast. Taylor for once wasn't worried about the time. We'd gotten a good time for our 200, and he was willing to let me take as long as needed for the last miles to get back into Camden. "This is just a victory lap" he said. I disgreed: "Victory laps are optional".

About 5 miles from the end I thought: I could stop and have Taylor come back for me with the car. But, no, as much as it hurt, I knew I could make it. Not very fast, for sure, but I could do it, and so I would do it. And I did do it. I've seen fewer things nicer than the parking lot where the Jeep was parked. Our final time: 14:33, for 218.7 miles. We loaded the bikes in the car, headed back over the Ben Franklin bridge, and I was home.

The recovery:

I took a shower to wash off the road grime and then a bath to try to relax the muscles. I kept feeling hungry, so I got out of the bath perhaps sooner than I ought to have. However, as I towelled off, the blood drained from my head. I left the bathroom, my eyesight turning black, and flopped on the bed, still wet. I listened to my heart beat and felt no desire to do anything, not even fix some food. After awhile I got up to try to wash out my water bottles (if you use Gatorade and don't wash them immediately after use, they get moldy). My vision blackened again before I could finish, and I flopped on the bed again. I fell asleep this time. It must have been around 8:30 or 9pm. When I woke up I turned off the lights and crawled under the covers. Obviously my body needed sleep more than food.

I woke up at 5:30. Great, I thought. So much for getting back to my normal sleeping schedule. I washed out my water bottles and brushed my teeth and tried to go back to sleep. I succeeded.

I woke up at 7:30. My legs ached some, but amazingly, I felt pretty much intact. During the course of the today (Saturday) I found that my shoulders aren't in the best of shape, they get shooting pains if I use them in the wrong way. But otherwise, I'm fine.

I think that'll be the limit for this year. But I think that another 200-miler (or above) next year could certainly be something I'd want to do. Either that or go touring. Or maybe even both.

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