Monday, September 10, 2007

2007 NYC Century - There I Went

Slow and Steady did not win the race.
But I did finish my first century.

For all my planning and list making, I was too nervous to sleep. I felt the beginnings of a cold coming on on Friday which I promised myself I could have later if it would just go away until after Sunday. Instead, it put me in bed for most of Saturday which made it really difficult to get to sleep (as opposed to bed) at a reasonable time.
I awoke before my alarm, walked my very confused dog, picked up my carefully prepared bike bag, and then decided to ride to a different subway stop because mine is a little lonely at the best of times, and I don't count 5am as the best of times.
I was already running late - and I hadn't even left Brooklyn.
There were a bunch of cyclists on the platform, and many more on the train. I ended up in a conversation with a guy on a mountain bike and no helmet who said he was going to ride the 100. He was very polite, and kept insisting he didn't need a helmet, so I gave him some safety pins for his number and wished him luck.
By the time we all managed to haul our bikes up and out of the subway, it was 6:15 am and I was not feeling too happy with myself. Considering how little sleep I got, I could have been there by 5. Starting on time didn't seem too much to ask.
I got myself a cue sheet, stuffed it in my trunk and took off with a bunch of other late arrivals.
My first surprise was the long swoop down Riverside Drive. I don't know why I thought we were going through the park, but obviously, we weren't.
I wish I'd taken a picture of Times Square at dawn. There is something refreshingly sleazy about Times Square when it is empty that the tourists and the Disneyland gentrification have stolen from it over the years. Sort of like catching the prom queen on her early morning walk of shame.
The early parts of the ride were frenetic and full of moments of panic. I was riding with people who were much faster than me, and the effort it took not to get dropped at every light was making me wonder how I would finish the 100.
A lot of the people starting early seemed to come from bike clubs. Lots of hand signals and yelling 'Clear' and 'Passing'. Endless clicking in and out of clipless pedals at stoplights. I'm not used to riding in a group, so the argot was both strange, annoying, and oddly compelling. Fairly quickly, I was joining in - pointing at holes, signaling turns, and motoring along a little faster than I would have gone on my own.
Ain't peer pressure grand?

Crossed the Brooklyn Bridge as the sun was rising, curved around through Dumbo, and then off to Prospect Park.
The route through Brooklyn is very familiar to me, so I settled down a bit and found a more natural pace. I was getting passed a lot, but I no longer felt like I was getting 'dropped'.
I peeled off to use the rest room at Coney Island and for one shining moment had the early morning world all to myself. I didn't remember there being a generous number of bathrooms at the Canarsie Pier, and I just couldn't face the long lines. Ate bananas one and two, bemoaned the lack of things NOT made of chocolate, recognized a couple of people from the subway, and took off toward Queens.
The section through Queens was the least familiar part of the route for me. And now I know why.
I hate to say this. It's really quite rude. But...
I never want to see Queens again.
The ride into Flushing was beautiful.
In all my years in NY, I've never seen the Unisphere's fountains turned on. It is an awe inspiring sight. Flushing is about at the halfway point on the 100 mile ride, and I felt pretty optimistic about my chances. Brooklyn had seemed easy, Manhattan went by so fast, it was barely a memory, Queens would pass into the Triborough Bridge, and I would only have the Bronx to finish.
Oh, no, no, no.
Queens sucked.
Forest Hills. Jackson Heights. Richmond Hill. Are you seeing the pattern?
From Flushing to Alley Pond Park and back again to Astoria, all I did was ride up and down, up and down. Hills, hills, hills. I hate hills.
My lowest moment came in Alley Pond Park, where after what felt like miles of hills, I was finally flying down a long, steep, downhill to the rest stop, when I saw riders struggling back up the hill toward me. I realized at that moment that every foot I descended I was going to have to fight my way back up, and I crumbled inside. Things were starting to hurt, the day was getting hot, and that Godforsaken corner of Queens felt like the end of the earth.
I decided to call my family and friends to inform them that I would now be living at the Alley Pond Park Rest Stop - because there was no way in hell that I was getting back up that hill.
One powerbar later...
I decided to leave.
There's no use living at a rest stop where you have to wait on line to get a banana, and I was in no mood for a line.
So I took off toward Astoria in hopes that getting back on a recognizable route would perk me up.
Some parts of the ride back across Queens were lovely. There are stretches of waterfront promenade that are breathtakingly beautiful. However, there are also seemingly endless stretches of hilly, asphalty, sun beating down on you, cars trying to run you over, semi - suburban streets, that I am not likely to revisit anytime soon.
I arrived at Astoria park and was heartened to see some familiar faces. - Not that I actually knew any of them, but I kept finding and losing the same basic group of riders. - The bunnies to my tortoise.
Ate bananas three and four. PBJ number one and orange number three. Was momentarily confused by the sign that said, "55 milers - 5 miles to go. 100 milers - 28 miles to go. 75 milers - (scribble out) 28 miles to go."

I rode this part of the route on Monday.
It goes over the Triborough to Randall's Island, across to the Bronx, and then East across Bruckner Boulevard. I thought the 75 milers had been riding with us up until this point and were almost done.
Maybe delirious.
Went over the Triborough, which didn't back up as badly as I expected, but I think it probably sucked earlier in the day given that you have to carry your bike up and down three sets of stairs. Onto Randall's Island, and then - across the pedestrian bridge to 106th street?
Wait a minute.
This isn't how it's supposed to go.
But there are the green C's.
Pointing North.
Right smack into a Saint's Day Parade.

So, off I went, across the Willis Avenue Bridge and into the Bronx.
I really enjoy riding in the Bronx. There are some bike paths that are true hidden gems. But I was not enjoying myself this time. My back hurt, my left hand was going numb from clutching my handlebars too tightly, and all of a sudden, I developed a blinding, shooting pain in my knee every time I had to put pressure on the pedal to grind up a hill.
My odometer said 90 miles. I was almost home.
I fought my way to Van Cortland Park, dreaming of Advil and cold water. Ate bananas five and six, and orange number four. Compared odometers with a guy who got lost in Queens and somehow managed to shave three miles off the route. I was going to make it.
The volunteers were giving advice and pep talks. "Last rest stop before the finish in the park. Remember to use the rest room. Only eleven more miles to go."
My odometer read 96 miles.
How was that possible? Maybe my odometer is set wrong and I just never noticed because it's a cumulative discrepancy. Oh God. Riding 10 miles in pain is one thing. Riding 17 was way too much. ...But I had already done 6 of those miles. I only had 11 more to go. ...I was so close...How could I give up now?

That little voice is really annoying sometimes.

I saddled up and took off.
This time, there were no groups to go with. We were stretched out too thin, and the faster riders were already done.
I know this part of the ride really well. Which is a good thing, because, going up a hill in Washington Heights, I had my first mechanical failure of the day. My chain slipped, and I tumbled onto a parked car. Some nice marshals made sure I was OK, and I hopped onto the back of their group and let them lead me back down to the park.
110th Street seemed like a foreign land. Bright and crowded, with blaring music and daytime park users. It was like crossing the international date line and landing the day before you left.
I saw the guy whose classic Italian racing jersey I had admired in Bayridge, and the kid who I passed in Flushing riding what looked like a food delivery bike, complete with metal basket. There was the 'hotter 'en hell' chick who left me in the dust at Alley Pond Park, and finally, the guy in the green t-shirt who I saw for the first time at 5:30 in the morning on the subway platform in Brooklyn. Just then, I felt that I knew them all.
I stood for a moment the the afternoon sun and wondered if it had all been a dream.

1 comment:

Phil said...

Congratulations on finishing your first century! I just remember this afternoon that I wanted to see if you'd written something about the ride. Well done. I hope you'll be back for next year's ride.

Check my blog for my report on the ride. I agree with you on the stretch between Canarsie and Alley Pond -- it's always the hardest part of the ride.