The Midnight Century is this weekend. It is not an "organized" ride, but a self-supported, semi-sane ride that a bunch of guys just happen to get together to do the first weekend of each August. Here is the official information: http://www.midnightcentury.com/index.html. It was the inspiration of David Blaine, proprietor and chef at Central Food, so it is fitting that the ride ends there this year. Below is the epic length blog I wrote after I rode the course a couple of summers ago. It takes about the same amount of time to read this as it does to ride the course, so choose wisely.
Faithful readers will note that I previously did a 100-mile mountain
bike this summer. For brand new readers, please refer back to the War
and Peace-length saga earlier this month of the Leadville 100. So,
after finishing such a long and difficult ride, what would the natural
and normal thing to do be? Take it easy, enjoy some casual riding,
right? So what did I do? I went out to ride the Midnight Century
course with the fastest MC rider in town. Was this sensible? No.
Reasonable? No. Hours of endless gravel rollers? Yes.
of quotes I heard this morning remind me of this ride. Nietzsche
famously said, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Are they
mutually exclusive? I don't think I died, but I certainly don't feel
any stronger. Is it possible for something to both kill you and make
you stronger? The other quote is actually a song lyric and no, I don't
have to be embarrassed about it, I was listening to a Coldplay song.
The line is something like, "no one said it was easy, but does it have
to be this hard?" And that, my friends, regardless of your feelings for
Chris Martin is a good motto for the Midnight Century course.
the summer, Tom (who is the Head Mechanic at Two Wheel Transit (okay,
currently the only mechanic)), helped me out by taking care of my bike,
serving as a sounding board for numerous discussions of tires, wheels,
etc., and may have saved my life during the 24 Hour Race (he helped me
find the large and obvious wheel drag problem that plagued my 3rd lap: http://teamtwowheel.blogspot.com/2010/06/24-hour-race.html).
Alongside the great wrenching and therapy sessions Tom offered me, we
also discussed the Midnight Century and his preparations for it.
had done numerous reconnaissance tours of the MC course in preparation
for the actual event. While it is not a race, Tom was ready to go out
and set the course record. Instead, because Tom is an incredibly nice
guy he did two things on the night of the actual ride - he rode with and
supported the efforts of two friends to help them have quick rides that
night and he leap-frogged these riders to leave behind pine cone smiley
faces for all the other riders. In other words, left to his own
devices he clearly could have ridden faster than the 6 hours, 9 minutes
that they finished together.
In my conversations with Tom, we
had talked about doing a pre-ride of the MC course. I had wanted to go,
but timing or my Leadville prep. schedule or something prevented it
before I left for Colorado. I had considered doing the MC, which was
the week before Leadville, but not being familiar with the course, I was
concerned that it would be too much of an effort to recover from in a
week's time. I was also cognizant of the additional danger of riding at
night and didn't want to needlessly complicate or endanger my chances
at Leadville. As a result, I put aside my desire to ride the MC and Tom
and I agreed we would ride the course after I got back from my trip.
did, however, pose a couple of issues. One, Tom, as mentioned above,
was capable of a very, very fast ride on this course. While he will be
very uncomfortable with me mentioning it, he is a previous Washington
State Road Race champion in one of the Master's categories. As a
result, I was a bit afraid of going with Tom because I didn't want to
endure 9-12 hours of a) holding up Tom; b) patronizing comments from Tom
like, "No, you climb really well for a fat guy" or "I was really
looking forward to a 10-12 hour pace on the MC course - I get to see so
much more going half the speed I normally do"; or c) finding myself
laying in the midst of yet another gravel roller, crying on the road
side and wondering why had I hadn't just rested on my laurels instead of
tacking on another tough 100-mile mountain bike ride.
trepidations, however, I agreed to meet Tom at the Elk Saturday morning
at 6.30 am for a trip around the MC course. We extended a couple of
invitations to go along with us, but had no takers. I had no idea so
many cyclists I knew would be having their hair done that morning.
Nonetheless, the two of us headed out at the appointed time. In fact,
my Garmin says we started at 6.32 am, which is remarkably timely for me.
Doing it in the daytime has some upsides, like it means that without
the lighting systems the bikes are lighter, the navigation is easier and
you can show up feeling reasonably rested. Doing it in the daytime
also has some downsides, like it is still a long, hard course full of
mile upon mile of rollers and gravel roads.
Tom described the
course generally like this, the first 25 miles are pretty easy and the
last 25 miles are pretty easy, but the middle 50 miles are pretty tough.
You could describe the 100 Years War in the same way (that middle 50
years was really something), but with just a bit less bloodshed. One of
the interesting things about riding with Tom is that this description
of the course may have been the only instance of him using
understatement. In fact, Tom is a remarkably literal person. If
someone asks me how far something is, I might say, "about 4 miles" which
could mean anywhere from 2 to 8 miles, unless of course I have
completely mis-remembered and then it could be somewhere between 100
yards and 10 miles. I don't mean to be inaccurate, but I'm okay with
the idea of a range. That's why atomic clocks are of no particular
interest to me. "About 4 pm" makes more sense to me than "4.01.53.002
pm" as a time. In contrast, when you say to Tom, "how long is this
hill", his answer will be "it's about 1.1 miles" which translated means
"it is almost precisely 1.1 miles unless I am wrong and it is really
between 1.09 and 1.11 miles".
In terms of course descriptions,
this is a great resource. Every time I asked about what was coming up
on the course Tom had a full, complete and accurate answer, which is
really nice when you aren't familiar with an area. On the other hand,
it also means that when you say something like, "Sorry I am holding you
up today," his response is not, "oh, you're not holding me up, I wanted
to go slow today," and instead his response is more like, "Sure". Oh
well, it is true that I was holding him up all day.
course, at least the version we rode, which I think is the 2008 version,
starts in Browne's Addition at Cannon and Pacific, heads into downtown
and picks up the Centennial Trail to Stateline. We rolled along this
portion of the course quickly and it did call into question the mountain
bikes and giant tires we were riding. We covered this first 23 miles
in about an hour and twenty minutes. Not blazing fast, but then again
we were just riding and talking as opposed to racing.
you hit your first substantial climb and then descent towards Liberty
Lake, followed by the next climb out of Liberty Lake. At this point,
all of the roads are still paved and I wondered about my cyclo-cross
bike sitting at home. Shortly thereafter, however, the gravel roads
start and the mountain bikes seemed like a better idea. We finished the
first 1/3 of the course in something over two hours, but we had just
started to get to the meat of the course (or, for you vegans, the "tofu"
of the course). If you aren't familiar with the route, the best way to
understand it is to go ride it, but second best is probably taking a
look at this: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/47717598.
next 1/3 of the course is mostly comprised of rollers, many on gravel
roads and a few on paved roads, but through mile 58 you are either going
up or down. I do not recall more than 100 feet of level road in this
entire section (There might have been a level section, but I find that
hypoxia limits my recollections). This section also involves the oddest
part of the course, where at about mile 55 you take a right turn off of
the gravel road, go around a fence and down a path into a ravine,
across a charming wood bridge and back up the other side of the ravine.
It is totally unexpected and I have to think it would be easy to miss
in the middle of the night, not to mention a bit of rough riding. This
is a portion that a cross bike would be a distinct disadvantage to a
mountain bike. Rideable, but tougher. I am interested to go back and
check this area out to understand the how and why this county-owned
cut-off came to be.
Just after this, you then reach the major V
in the profile. About mile 58 you start a 2-mile descent that takes
you to Valley-Chapel road, but really to the base of this little valley.
From there, however, you start climbing right back out of the valley
including going up Spangle Creek road. In total, just after the 2 mile
descent you have about 2.5 miles of climbing and an elevation gain of
around 550 feet. I had never ridden up Spangle Creek road because I
have always been at the bottom on my road bike and thought it turned to
gravel just out of sight of Valley-Chapel Road. It turns out the climb
is all paved, but it does turn to gravel for many miles before you can
hook-up to a paved road again. This climb has grades as steep as 15%
and it is, to use a crass term, a real ball-buster. For me, at least,
this marked the period of waning strength. Tom was being very patient,
but my back had been bothering me (which is a very unusual cycling
problem for me) and I was getting tired.
From the top of this climb, you are about 2/3 done with the ride. Unfortunately, I was more than 2/3 done with my joie de vivre.
We were at about 5 hours here, which I was surprised to realize was
only about 15-20 minutes behind Tom's ride at the MC event. It was, for
me, however, the closest we would be to that time. As we reached the
open Palouse, we were greeted with increasing winds and an inverse
proportion of strength from me. I gamely plowed along, but I was
getting tired. I also didn't realize the way the course went and I
thought that if I made it to Spangle then it would be an easy trip down
the hill into town. I was wrong.
From Spangle, you cross 195
(tantalizingly down the hill to my house) and get on more gravel roads.
These gravel roads, as all gravel roads on the Palouse, are rolling.
The don't roll up and down as much as some of the prior roads, but
nonetheless, they go up and down and up and down and up and down and up
and down. And for our ride, they also went straight into the high winds
for quite a ways.
You do, however, finally reach the point where
the road is going mostly downhill and eventually intersect with the
Cheney-Spangle road, leaving behind the gravel roads except for one tame
stretch. The Cheney-Spangle road also rolls up and down a bit, but
mostly down to the Fish Lake trailhead. From there, down the upper Fish
Lake trail (where we had a nice tailwind finally and I sat on Tom's
wheel for the whole length of it), a 3 mile section of ride-able gravel
taking you to the lower Fish Lake trail, and then the final few blocks
back to Browne's Addition.
I was seriously knackered for the last
stretch and probably tried Tom's patience. He stopped a time or two,
for a natural break and then for a couple of trail maintenance issues,
and each time caught up to me surprisingly quickly. At least it
surprised me. The old tortoise and the hare trick, except in this
instance the hare was the one that was able to keep going and going.
so, this story, much like the ride, peters out quickly. After the
criss-crossing of fields, mile upon mile of road I have never seen,
roller after roller and a very miserable wind that just blew stronger as
the day went on, you then suddenly find yourself sharing the Fish Lake
trail with families that just bought their bikes on sale at Wal-Mart.
It is a bit of an odd transition and it feels like you should ride along
next to them to say "hey, we started at 6.30 this morning and are just
finishing a very tough ride, do you mind having a bit more respect?",
but instead we just politely moved over to let the labradoodles and
their owners have the trail. We rolled back up to my car after 7 hours
and 13 minutes. As the Garmin tells the tale (succinctly compared to
me), we were moving for 7 hours, 1 minute and 46 seconds. I wish I had
realized so that somewhere I could have knocked off 2 minutes and booked
a sub-7 hour time, but I guess that's why the road is still out there
I am curious about how different it would be at night and I imagine it would be quite gratifying (as described here: http://26inchslicks.blogspot.com/2010/08/midnight-century-2010-my-view.html)
to finish as the day is beginning. I can't guarantee that I will be
there, but I will certainly try to make it next year to find out.
Speaking of which, here is the link to the not-official ride information
(since it isn't an official ride): http://www.midnightcentury.com/. Here are a couple of other links to ride information from 2010: http://100km.us/2010/08/22/midnight-century-2010-pt-1/ and http://100km.us/2010/08/25/midnight-century-2010-pt-2/ and http://cyclingspokane.blogspot.com/2010/08/midnight-century-preliminary-results.html and finally http://cyclingspokane.blogspot.com/2010/08/mc-results-mid-day-update.html.
In fact, the Midnight Century website and the Dean of Cycling Blogs are the best place to find out about next year's ride. It sounds as if Tom's cue sheet (found here: http://www.mechbgon.com/Midnight_century_cue_sheet.pdf) will be updated, revised and expanded upon to become the official cue sheet of the unofficial ride.
So, to sum it up. Midnight Century - No one said it would be easy, but did it have to be that hard?