Spinning my wheels

Cyclist storms through first century ride

?My mom taught me two important lessons growing up: Always cover the entire slice of bread with peanut butter when making PB&Js; and never, ever doubt yourself. Both came in handy last weekend at the West Georgia 100, a century bike ride through the rolling hills and farmlands of the Georgia countryside.

About 70 cyclists showed up in Carrollton on a drizzly Sunday morning, most of them wearing brightly colored Spandex and fancy clip-in bike shoes. Their meaty quads and calves made my legs look like toothpicks. And my clunky, bottom-of-the-line bike seemed out of place beside their slim, streamlined cycles - fully equipped with aerobars, disk wheels and ultra-lightweight titanium frames. This is one sport where competitors can definitely buy speed.

But I wasn't out to beat them; I was trying to join them as a full-fledged member of the century club. Biking 100 miles topped my list of things to do before I die, and I was looking forward to cruising wide-open country roads without the cars and congestion of city cycling. On the long ride, I hoped to get out of my cerebrum for a few hours and clear away some mental pollution.

It was a symphony of sound at the starting line: first the blast of the start horn, then the percussion of thumb-clicking gears and shoes clipping into pedals, followed by the wind instruments spinning down the street. A steady rain pattered against the pavement, accompanied by thunderous bass drums rumbling overhead.

In the first few miles, I splashed past tandem cyclists, mountain bikers and even a couple of hand-pedaling cyclists cranking up the steep inclines. I jabbered with riders at the first rest stop while snacking on a chocolate Star Crunch. But for most of the ride, I was by myself. The only spectators along the course were a handful of farm dogs (including a Husky that gave chase for about a half-mile), pockets of wild, blood-red lilies crowding the shoulder and golden hay fields doing the wave in the wet wind.

To pass the time, I counted churches (11), tractors (18) and windmills (6). When that got boring, I hummed Mozart's Divertimento. I listed the names of all my grade school teachers, starting with kindergarten. I had a long talk with an ex-girl friend. I thought about this homeless guy named Brian, and how goddamn lucky I was to have legs and arms and good health. My mind roamed the pastures with the cows and lost itself in the green landscape.

Then, halfway through the ride, the rain started falling harder. Rooster tails sprayed from my back tire, and I could see my bike's watery reflection in the flooded road. As I hydroplaned down hills, raindrops felt like rock pebbles plinking against my forehead. In the downpour, I missed a turn and wandered four miles off course before backtracking. It was slow going, and by the time I reached Mile 60, I was knackered.

For the first time all morning, I thought about calling it quits. My chafed crotch ached in the stiff saddle, charley horses galloped through my calves and my hands were bruised and blistered from clasping the grips too tightly. I was completely waterlogged. I hated cycling and vowed never to ride again. But I knew my Mom's I'm-proud-of-you-anyway smile would hurt worse than cramped legs and crotch rot, so I kept on pedaling.

With 30 miles to go, I'd run out of things to think about, and I sure as hell didn't feel like singing anymore. So I concentrated on form: spinning my legs in circles, tucking down hills and maintaining a steady cadence on the climbs. Next, I tried shaking my legs loose and standing in my stirrups every few minutes. When that didn't work, I started bargaining with God: "If you get me through this one, I swear I'll start going to church. I'll even throw a few extra bucks in the collection basket to make up for the money I took from it when I was in second-grade."

My tongue was dragging in my spokes, my heart was about to jump out of my chest and I was sucking wind like a vacuum cleaner - when suddenly I saw an orange jersey up ahead, and I took off after it. Pretty soon, I caught up to another cyclist, and then another. I forgot about how much pain I was in and focused on the next pack of riders up ahead. Cycling was easy, once I stopped thinking so hard. I unclenched my grip on the handlebars and glided down the slick streets toward the finish, crossing the line in a little under six hours.

Saddle sore and stiff-legged, I hobbled back to the car and guzzled a bottle of Gatorade. The rain had finally tapered off, and sunlight glowed behind a veil of cloud. I loved cycling again. I unwrapped a homemade peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, sunk my teeth into a crusty corner, and thought about nothing. Nothing at all. ??

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