6:20AM Out the door for a quick coffee. Large, with ice, so I can drink it fast. Bike du jour: the Surly fixed gear/single speed. Spinning through Druid Hill and alllllll the way down Monroe while glancing at my watch (6:52AM), the used tire seller with the great hand-painted facade, early church goers, boozers, still awake, stumbley and smiley. I can still see the slight halo of the bike lane that was removed last year (6:55AM). Swerve potholes, glass, funeral home with cool sign, waiting at the light at Baltimore st. and the crest (6:58AM) Whirling down to Wilkens ave to spot 4 riders waiting at the corner and a glance at my watch: 7:00AM. “Hi Tiffany, Peter, John and John. Ready?”
With that, I’m off like an excitable 12 year old. Sun feels good, air feels good, caffeine is surging and I’m already riding too fast. There is no “go easy” gear on a fixed gear bike so I’m spinning and bouncing my way over Hollins and Hammonds Ferries chattering to my friends. Thirty minutes later, we swing around the corner of Dorsey rd at BWI. Sheesh that was fast.
Over the next 20 minutes bikers congregate while large airplanes come in low over the Dixon Observatory. Sign ins and hellos to both new and familiar faces, I’m still giddy about the ride …or maybe it’s just the coffee. (8:00AM) Everyone’s ready except for me- my helmet’s still laying in the grass near my bike prompting Bill (thanks for the bottle fill up) to ask if I’m even coming on the ride.
We’re off, snaking single-file down the BWI trail, through Glen Burnie’s tidy neighborhoods and out onto the mostly empty expanse of Crain Hwy. We, a total of 19 riders, are a nice mix of speedy veterans and eager newbs. The hills pick up and I pick up too, spinning my little heart out bombing down Gambrills, Hawkins, St. Stephens catching John’s wheel, then Jeffs, then Tiffany’s. 30mph is 150rpm for my gear. It feels good to be pushing my cadence limit on a fixed gear, but a tiny voice inside reminds me that it’s poor planning for the first 20 miles of a century. Giving the voice a little respect, I pull into the first rest stop at (my) 42 mile point ready to slow it down a bit.
Today is a beautiful day. A smidge humid, but the temps are down, and the sun is ducking in and out of the clouds. Anne Arundel farms are breaking out in walls of green foliage. The local cyclists know it’s ride day. Our group is passing more and more oncoming smiling bike riders as we approach the western bay waters. I am leap frogging with a recumbent rider in our group, me chugging past him on the hills and he, swooshing past me on descents. It was somewhere along this stretch that I felt the first twinges of muscles cramping. Phooey, nothing to sweat about and I slow it down a bit. But, a bike that doesn’t coast doesn’t give you much ability to stretch a cramping muscle. Another cramp- now in the other leg, the recumbent rider moves on. I try concentrating on the glistening Chesapeake as we tuck in and out of the neighborhoods north of North Beach, but it doesn’t work. It’s time to get off the bike.
I begin slowly, painfully, walking towards Chesapeake Beach, the halfway mark of the ride (and, the furthest point from the start!) The road is as flat as a road can be and I can’t ride my bike. Riders from my group are zipping past me- they can’t imagine that I would not be able to ride. I’m the ride leader right? I climb back on the Surly and I feel twinges starting the moment I turn the pedals. But, I keep it up, trying desperately to relax. A quarter mile later I’m walking again. Then back on the bike for a partial mile, then off again walking. Each time I get off the bike my legs twitch into cramping further. THIS IS NOT GOOD, but the lunch stop in Chesapeake Beach comes to me, somehow. As does lunch, liquids, salt and rest off the bike.
Many problems can occur on long unsupported rides- unfortunate problems. The good thing is, many of those problems might get mitigated during the same long ride. You just never know. I ate my lunch, gently stretching my legs, and chatted with all the riders I’d started the day with. Any mechanical problems, flat tires? None. Anyone get lost, crash, or get a beer can thrown at them from an angry motorist? Nope. Weather: fantastic. Terrain: beautiful. Camaraderie: uplifting. Bill shook out 4 or 5 of his salt tablets into my hand (thank you #2). I began to snap out of my funk as the last few riders came in for lunch and the first few left for the return ride. It was a little after noon- ample time for a nice and easy 70 mile ride to back to Baltimore.
I tenderly climbed back aboard the Surly and mentally prepared myself for the return ride. Alas, the twinges came back soon enough. On Summer City blvd, the steepest climb of the whole ride, I hopped off pre-emptively and walked. Back on the bike, the long easy descent down wooded Dalrymple rd distracted me enough that I got in four or five miles without issue. When twinges came back, I’d drop back a bit. Relax, relax, relax. I found myself re-grouping with most of the riders at the 75 mile point. My ride-saver, Bill handed me more sodium tablets. I drank more water, ate my ice cream and was off for the final stretch to BWI.
At this point I was finding my ‘new normal’- slow on the climbs and very slow on the downs. Nonetheless, I was riding steadily and the time was fine. Peter, Ryan, John and I cruised down the long straightaway of WB&A rd into Dixon/BWI. I glanced at my watch and smiled when I realized I’d gotten back quicker than I had last year-even with the fixed gear and the poor pacing and the cramping legs.
Peter and I began our return to Baltimore, stopping one more time for water. Ironically, I started feeling stronger as we neared the city and Peter, who’d ridden very strong all day, began to feel a little heat exhaustion. I’m no paramedic, but I realized I needed to get us both to a bar quickly. We pulled up to the neighborhood traditional, Alonzos, just as the rain began to pour down. Slowly, but surely the nachos and lagers brought us back to health and the memory of painfully walking my bike into Chesapeake Beach faded. It was replaced by an overwhelming appreciation for a long day of adventure on a bicycle.