I was in PEI for several days over Canada Day, staying with a friend whose mother has a cottage there. All I did was sleep, read, ride and eat. PEI is like that.
I rented a road bike so my friend and I could ride together. She got a later start in her training this year and doesn’t have the looming Toronto to Montreal ride coming up (next! week! sponsor me here for a great cause that’s struggling this year). We were going to just take it easy. We went for one lovely ride together on Canada Day that ended with a lobster roll and ice cream. Then I started to hatch a plan.
I had time. I had a beautiful island. I had kind people with cars who would pick me up if Things Went Wrong. What if, I thought, I used this time to fulfill a long-time yearning to ride an imperial century? I’ve ridden 100 km many times, 125 a few times… but 160 km — 100 miles — is a whole ‘nother ball of worms. 100 miles was about claiming a level of fitness that always seemed for other people, not for me.
I made a plan and I made a vague little map. Basically I sketched out 160 km going from interesting coffee shop to interesting coffee shop. I want to ride where I can see the sea, I thought airily, and picked a road on the north side of the Island for the return.
I got up at 7, took the quick wake-me-up shower I always need to get moving, had a couple of hard boiled eggs and a piece of toast, and headed out. My plan was to do 25 – 30 km and then make my first coffee shop stop.
I opened the door of the beautiful little house on this hill with the seaview on three sides… and could barely push open the door. The Canadian flag was flapping with angry hard cracks. I put my shoes and socks down on the porch and my socks blew away.
Oh shit, I thought.
In denial, I went back in and futzed around a bit, gathering a few bits and bobs. When I came out, I still had to push the door open… hard.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t have to do this. I had merely decided I was going to ride 100 miles on this day. I was on holiday, this wasn’t a race, I hadn’t committed to anyone else, this wasn’t necessary training, it was just… a harebrained scheme.
But I’d decided to do it, and I felt this sense of “oughtness” about it. I knew if I didn’t, I’d have this little pocket of forlorn regret whenever I thought about this trip to PEI. I could do this here. So I had to. I first heard about the notion of riding a century before I even had a road bike. From the first time I clipped in, I had this little quiet thought, how far could you really go? That was 9 years ago, and it wasn’t until last year that I really started to think seriously that I could do it.
So I did it. And it was crazy hard. Every metre of that 160 km, 8 hour ride, was windy and unpleasant. Not one tailwind. Crosswinds and headwinds. Windy. And… hilly.
After my first coffee stop, I picked a route from Summerside to Charlottetown that ran across the middle of the Island. “Away from the sea will be calmer,” I thought.
A few kilometres into that road, I found myself speeding down a long high hill. “That was awesome,” I thought. “Maybe I should go back and ride up that hill.” (WTF, you never go backwards!) Thankfully, I didn’t listen to that insane voice. Because about half a kilometre later, I came across a big muscley male rider coming in the other direction who didn’t look up when I said hi… and then another.. .then another… about a dozen in all. Not one of them said hi.
Unfriendly riders here, I thought. Then as I rode, it dawned on me. I was on a crazy hilly road that the serious riders were training on. I was meeting them at the end of 25 km of hellish hills. Which I rode with massive crosswinds. Felt over and over that bizarre sensation of letting gravity take me down a hill fast, a bike-dancer, an aerialist, immediately followed by grinding to what felt like an absolute stall as I was continually flung from a 50km/hr downhill to a 15 km/h uphill. Fly down. Grind up. My top speed was 64.5 km an hour, even when I was tapping my brakes because I didn’t know the hired bike or the roads. Think about what that speed means in a downhill… and then picture the corresponding uphills.
I did my 160 km. And every kilometre of it was unpleasant. The week before, on our 35°C 90 km ride, Nat commented how “light” I seemed on my bike. I’ve posted before about the joy I feel on my bike. But this 160 km was… grim. Pure grit, doing it only because I’d said I was going to do it, and dammit, I was.
The snacks were the best part of the ride
While I was riding, I was reflecting on whether or not I was doing this because it was on some life list for me. I’ve never liked the term “bucket list” — the term apparently comes from the phrase “kick the bucket” — as in, “here are the things I want to do before I die,” which I think is just grim sounding. But I think I really dislike it because it’s not a dynamic metaphor — it’s like the phrase implies that you collect a pail full of ideas and take them out one at a time, and when it’s empty, you’re done. I have a friend who has a list she keeps in her wallet, and I’ve had her pull it out on 2 or 3 occasions after we’ve done something together and she crosses it out; we ran her first 10K together, and she said, “there, I never have to do that again.”
What I find is that every time I do something that’s been a long-cherished goal — especially the sort of secret ones that push my limits — it sparks or inspires some other aspiration. I started riding, and as soon as I rode my first 100km, I started musing about what it might feel like to ride 100 miles. The first time I summited a small mountain in Scotland, I started thinking about Kilimanjaro. After traveling by myself in North America and Europe, I started yearning to go to Rwanda, Congo, Myanmar, Sri Lanka. There’s a dynamic, stretchy quality for me to my interior set of aspirations. When I do the things that feel out of reach, it generates confidence that I can reach further, use my strength in different ways.
The last two hours of that century were bloody hard. I had a headwind, and found myself repeatedly going uphill at 10 km/hr. Toil, profane explosions, and constant calculation. But I kept going. Stopping just didn’t feel like an option. I was out there to ride, and I rode.
My windy, hilly century was 161.5 km, nearly 1500 m of climbing, in 8:05 hours of riding. I met H and her mom at the Frosty Treat in the town closest to them, and ate fish and chips and a chocolate dipped ice cream cone. Then slept for 10 hours. In my dreams, pondering what’s next.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who works as a consultant and educator in the space of strategic system change in academic healthcare in Toronto, focusing on creating sustainable, socially accountable healthcare communities. She also coleads an all-volunteer learning and development project for orphaned and vulnerable youth in Uganda, for which she would love any support: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/nikibasika-development-program-66/ . She also blogs at fieldpoppy.wordpress.com.