Dean is the bike racer in our family. Bike touring is more my speed. I have, however, had a goal for the past couple of years to ride a metric century in a day. On our tours, we’d typically cover 50-70 km per day. In 2014, I was 4.4 km shy of 100 km. We were touring from Banff, Alberta to Fernie, British Columbia along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. I was going much faster than I should down Elk Pass when the front wheel snagged on the wall of a deep rut and I flew over the handlebars. We camped at the garbage-strewn, bear-bait of a campground at Blue Lake. There were no pet-free hotels at our planned stop at Sparwood and I refused to camp another night with a wrecked shoulder. We rode another 31 km to Fernie. When we reached Lizard Creek Lodge at the opposite end of town, the bike computer read 95.59 km.
In my 2015 attempt, we got caught in a snow storm in the Canadian Rockies. The forecast called for rain, which we were prepared for, but the mountains had their own plans. The temperature dropped below freezing with wet, sticky snow – the kind that sticks to your eyeballs. As long as we were moving, we were fine. If my feet got cold, I walked to warm them up. When it started to get dark, we stopped at the Mount Shark trailhead to put on our lights. Our hands froze pretty quickly since our gloves were soaking wet. We’d already been riding for 11.5 hours and our “waterproof” gear was no longer what it claimed. I prayed for someone to offer us a ride and I eagerly accepted when a nature photographer offered us a truck ride to Canmore. My teeth chattered audibly and I shivered uncontrollably as we alternated defrosting the windshield and blasting the heater. Dean would have kept on riding if he’d been on his own.
One of us had an epic adventure.
The other can laugh about it now.
I had the opportunity to complete my goal at the September 2016 MEC Century Ride in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. I had one of 3 mountain bikes among the sea of road bikes at the rainy starting line. Dean would test ride his coach’s gravel bike on what for him would simply be another training ride. He’d already accomplished 300 km days during his Tour Divide training and he competed in his first road race, the Drayton Valley 100, the week before. The announcer said that volunteers would notify us if the ride had to be cancelled due to the weather but I had already made up my mind to finish that day no matter what.
Mountain Bike at a Road Race
The first time we tried to put slicks on my 29er bike, we blew up a tube. Our ears rang from the explosion. The guy at the bike store said they would fit no problem but they were too narrow. My bike computer wasn't working at the starting line despite putting fresh batteries in the night before. Dean would be my pace bunny and the pressure of maintaining the computer metrics was off.
I was also putting my ketogenic diet to the test. I was one month into it and curious to see if it would affect my performance. Dean was on the keto diet for endurance cycling while I was on it for weight loss. On our bike tours, I would eat electrolyte gummies or jelly beans every 20-30 minutes as soon as I’d start to bonk. For the century ride, I had homemade ketogenic pretzel bites in the feedbag. I ate one every 20 minutes more as a prescription for steady fuel maintenance rather than in response to hitting the wall.
At the halfway point, I wolfed down a bunch of free watermelon – the first blatant carbs I’d consumed in a month. My stomach felt mildly horrible after but I had no regrets. It was probably the best watermelon I’ve ever had. I started to think about food for the rest of the ride. There was McDonald’s garbage littering the ditch and the thought of chicken nuggets and fries sounded so good.
Something I didn’t expect was how much more challenging it was to contend with the wind than the climbs. My past long rides were all in the mountains where I now realize I was very sheltered from the wind. Riding in the open, windy, golden Alberta prairies was another beast entirely. The climbs also cemented for me that I want to stick with flat pedals. Dean has encouraged me for years to switch to clipless pedals. I budged an inch and used them on our trainer in the basement. I really liked pulling up on the pedals but I liked being able to change the position of my feet to draw on different muscles with the flat pedals even more.
I was giddy after the halfway point. Prior to the upcoming carbohydrate gut-rot, I felt surprisingly good. It was kind of novel, waiting for the energy crash that never came. Because I stripped all the touring gear off my bike, I had the misconception that the ride would be easier than a day of bikepacking. I pushed myself harder on the century ride than I ever have on a fully loaded bike. By the 80 km mark, I started to feel some aches and pains. First it was in my shoulders, followed by my neck. It was like the 80 km mile marker triggered my awareness. My lower back started to protest and the seat became less and less comfortable. The marker indicating 10 km left to go completely messed with my head. They felt longer than the other kilometers. We were riding in the city again. There were hardly any cars when we started out in the morning but the Saturday afternoon traffic was much busier towards the end. The route was unfamiliar. I kept expecting to see the finish line after every turn but I was wrong almost every time. I missed the isolation of the country roads until the inflatable arch was finally in sight. I believe I was the lantern rouge for the 100 km ride but it didn't matter. I had done it. I was finished and I never had to do it again.
Minutes later, Dean asked if I would do the 160 km next and my immediate response was no. In the past, I’d asked him the same kind of question after he completed a big race and his immediate response was the same. Like clockwork, his answer would change the next day. We would discuss ways to make the next run faster and more efficient. My answer began to change on the drive home. I had been so vehemently opposed to road bikes since the end of our very first bike tour in 2012: a saddle sore-laden adventure from Jasper to Banff on a rented, unfitted road bike. After the century ride, I unexpectedly found myself wanting to buy one.
The metric century ride was a goal I happily crossed off my bucket list. We have another goal to ride across Canada someday. I use this to rationalize my baffling desire for a road bike. For now, I’ve got my eye on a faster, lighter approach to the 160 km.