There is something about being a middle aged cyclist, or really middle aged athlete in general, that makes everyone around you wonder if you are a little crazy. After the last three weeks I think I have finally earned the title of middle aged almost athlete. Three straight weekends of pushing myself a little further than I thought possible while managing to smile about the quizzical looks from my friends and wife while trying to explain myself are over. I just wish I had a better answer for why I did it when they ask me.
I know why I played sports in high school. I loved being on a team. I loved being able to wear my football jersey on game day or leaving early to travel to a match. I liked being a part of something that most people weren’t, no matter what sport it was. I think athletics in school help you feel special and important in a time in life when you rarely feel either. I remember high school, it was awkward for everyone. Between puberty, trying to date, and trying to figure out the rest of your life it was just a rough time of life. Athletics let you find a place where you felt like you belonged, and if you were lucky, achievements and positive recognition. I completely understand why I wanted to be a part of sports and do all that I did.
I don’t really understand why I did what I did this past weekend. I got up at 3:30 am and drove to Woods Hole Massachusetts to catch a 7:30 am ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. Once I was there I rode my very first 100 kilometer, or metric century, ride. More on that in a bit. When I was done we drove to a pizza place, grabbed a pie to go and raced back to the ferry to start the 3.5 hour trip back. I don’t know what made me think it was a good idea before doing it and I know I am tired and sore the day after with not much to show from it other than the story.
My wife and father-in-law went with me on this adventure. He was riding the 50 kilometer ride and Katie was there for emotional support and to drive our minivan as a support vehicle if we needed help along the way. Thankfully we never had to call her so she spent most of the day waiting around for me to finish, but I really appreciate her support, even if she thinks I’m a little crazy. We managed to get to the ferry on time and had a great ride over. I loved it because we were on one of the smaller ferries so there was only one open air deck and you could stand right at the front of the boat. The views were amazing. We passed right by one of the large ferries that we would take back after the day was over. Once we landed we headed over the PA Club where the ride started and ended.
Every year the Rotary Club does an amazing job organizing the Cycle Martha’s Vineyard Ride and raising money for their charities that they support. I signed in for my ride and started to get ready. It had rained heavily most of the way over but it looked like it was going to hold off for most of the day.
The ride is a large loop that travels most of the island and offers some amazing views. There is an unofficial rest stop on the cliffs where you can see most of the island below you. I am sure that you can see much further on a clear day! The cliffs are about 30 miles into the ride, so roughly half way through. I am not sure about the actual mileage as I managed to get lost with a group of riders and we tacked on about 4 extra miles by that point. Thankfully we were all riding together and we were able to use the map to figure out where we missed the turn.
I had been having some mechanical issues with my chain dropping off the bike when I shifted into the big ring. It would keep moving right off the ring on onto my pedal! After the trip up to the cliffs I started to have some physical issues as well. The official rest stop was around 38 miles and by then I was starting to regret eating two Cliff bars on the trip up to the cliffs. I had felt like I was starting to bonk and I needed some fuel to bring me back. They were sitting like a lead weight in my stomach. I took a break at the rest stop and headed out before too much time had passed. I had about 15 miles to go before the next rest area and I started cramping in my legs almost immediately. It wasn’t bad, but it was uncomfortable as I tried to slow down and conserve some energy. Thankfully the road was mostly downhill and I was able to nurse myself into the second rest area. This was at Morning Glory Farm, a great farm and general store in the heart of the south shore of the island. They sell some amazing homemade snacks, breads, and fresh picked fruits and vegetables. This is always my favorite rest stop. From here on out the roads were flat and the only geographical issue was the constant headwind of 15-20 miles per hour!
I had thought I was doing better after the stop but the cramps quickly returned with a vengeance. Thankfully the roads along the coast were flat and another rider caught up to me and shared this part of the ride. I had paced him early in the day when he was hurting to make sure he made it the cliffs where he took some time to recover. Now I think he knew I was struggling and he rode alongside me and we chatted about where we were from and what we did. We laughed as an experienced cyclist fifteen years our senior but only about half of our weight caught us and chatted about the ride. He wasn’t part of our charity ride but was putting in 80 miles today because he had the time. Then, seemingly without effort he pulled away from us to leave us struggling with the headwind. As my cramps finally subsided I kept with my new friend as I noticed that he wasn’t peddling to smoothly anymore. I think we were both past our typical distances at this point. We were far beyond 50 miles as we headed to the last rest area.
Once I got there I met up with a young couple that I had rode with earlier. They had done the 5 Boro Tour of New York and had just done the Rugged Maniac obstacle race as well so we had plenty to chat about. We headed out of the rest area and kept talking in an effort to distract ourselves over the last six miles. We traveled along a causeway where tidal pools were on one side and windsurfers were on the other. The young woman laughed at them and called them crazy and all I could think of was I wondered what they would think of me, traveling so far just to beat myself up over 66 miles. I did have a small moral victory as I noticed we were cruising at about 20 miles per hour for the four miles of the causeway. Then the skies opened up. The last two miles became a slog as I struggled to control my bike over the soaked streets and the driving rain. Thankfully it stopped around the corner from the PA Club where the organizers were putting on a pig roast at the bar. My wife and my father-in-law were waiting for me, happy to see me back in one piece. We decided to skip the pig roast and find somewhere to change, grab a pizza and head for the ferry. Thankfully I booked us on a late enough one that we had enough time to do all of that and still make the boat.
So why do I do it? I think in telling the story I found part of my answer. Part of it must be that I need to push myself. I was 365 pounds at my fattest and now I am down to 275. Mostly it is due to cycling and committing to these epic rides. This forces me to train and to lose weight. I need to keep that going. But I think the other part of the reason is in the story. 85 cyclists showed up on a rainy Sunday to ride 50 or 100 kilometers with strangers but ended up helping each other like old friends. I met a teacher from Connecticut with a bad knee, a lab worker who just wanted to get into better shape, a retired factory worker that had a hobby that got out of control, and a young couple who were constantly looking for the next Big Thing to Do. They were all amazing and made the ride worthwhile. We helped each other when we struggled and we all finished.