Sunday, September 27, 2009

No. 9 (unedited)

Make it two in a row.

For the second consecutive year and my third time overall, I have completed the Headwaters 100.

The annual ride in the Park Rapids, Minn., area offers routes of approximately 45, 75 and 100 miles. I was prepared to bike 100 miles on Saturday, but like always, my ride is contingent upon the weather.

The drive up north on Friday afternoon was dogged by showers. Just when I started to think the clouds were breaking up or we were driving far enough north to escape the rain, down came another shower.

But things did clear up by the time we arrived in Park Rapids, and the forecast promised sunny skies and 70 degrees on Saturday, a gem of a late September day in northern Minnesota.

It's rare that a day of bicycling is perfect, and Saturday was no exception. First and foremost, it wasn't raining. Rain makes a day miserable, but not impossible. Should it rain in northern Minnesota in late September, however, there's little chance I'm biking 100 miles.

Rain is my biggest fear, followed closely by wind. Wind is nearly impossible to avoid most days, so you expect it. But if you have a breezy day -- a day with winds exceeding 10 mph -- you can be in for a challenge, depending upon how far you're going and how long you're riding against the wind.

Saturday turned out to be a bit breezy, unfortunately, but the route regularly changes directions, so it was never crippling.
The Headwaters 100 seems to stick to its time-tested routes. Some rides vary the route year to year, to keep riders from becoming bored with the route, I guess. I figure if you're doing an organized ride one day per year, having a familiar route isn't a bad thing, as long as the route is a good one.

I set out around 8 a.m., as usual. It was about 55 degrees, warmer than I'd ever expect in Park Rapids. While it was mild, it was overcast, and a bit humid. The air felt damp, and despite the actual temperature, it wasn't the most pleasant 55-degree morning, but I have no complaints. Within minutes of departing from the starting line, I was plenty warm thanks to my interior furnace.

For 100 miles riders, the route heads out of Park Rapids and heads north to Itasca State Park, home of the headwaters of the Mississippi River. The park is about 20 miles north of Park Rapids, but for 100-mile riders, the route weaves off the main highway and past a couple of lakes on its way northward. By the time you reach the park, and the first rest stop, you've biked about 31 miles.

It's not a tough 31 miles, just your basic rolling hills now and then. It's a good start to a 100-mile day, and I did rather well.

The rest stop precedes a 13-mile loop through the park. It's a nice ride, albeit a bit challenging. There are no major hills to climb, but lots of rolling hills. If the entire 100 miles were as challenging as those 13, I might not make it to the finish.

I stopped at the rest stop on my way out to refill my water bottles. At that point I had biked about 46 miles, and was nearly four hours into the ride.

From there the route departs from the park and heads east. Every year it seems that the 7-8 miles east are the easiest of the ride. It's relatively flat and the wind never seems to be an issue. Turning south, however, provided more of a challenge than I anticipated.

The wind had picked up as the morning progressed, and it seemed to be coming out of the south. It wasn't crippling, but the route goes south for about 12 miles, with periodic hills. It was during this stretch that the clouds finally started to burn off. The weather report said it would clear by afternoon, and it was right. It was rather sunny by early afternoon.

When the route finally turned east, there was barely a mile to go to the next rest stop, where they serve lunch. Lunch is soup, but it's better than more peanut butter and bananas, which is a staple of every bike ride in the free world. No, you're not required to consume the two together. At this point I was two-thirds done with the ride.

After lunch it was another 22 miles until the final rest stop of the day. I figured it would take me about 90 minutes to complete the next leg, and considered it to be the final challenge of the day. The route winds every direction on its way to Nevis, an insignificant little town on a big lake, about 11 miles east of Park Rapids.

It probably took me a little more than 90 minutes, but I continued to do well. I tried to forget about the previous 67 miles and treat the next 33 as if it was just another average Saturday afternoon ride. Easier said than done. For the most part, however, I managed to avoid dwelling upon the ominous task ahead of me, from start to finish. I do find myself thinking about how proud I'll be to claim success in biking 100 miles. I don't make a habit of bragging to everyone I know, but occasionally I bring it up.

The last significant leg of the ride provided a rare occurrence for organized bike rides. Rather than riding the same direction as 75-mile riders on a stretch of road, I was riding the opposite direction. The 75-mile riders don't go to Nevis, and as I wound my way back and forth to Nevis, I ended up biking the opposite direction of those riders for a few miles.

I was both envious of them and slightly inspired by them. Part of me wished I was only doing 75 miles, as my day would be about done at that point. But part of me was inspired by the fact that when these riders saw me, they saw somebody who for whatever reason was biking more than they were. That doesn't make me superior or a better rider, for that matter. But it did make me proud, and that provided a bit of an energy boost. I don't remember crossing paths like that with 75-mile riders last year.

Nevis provided the final resting place. There were several riders there when I arrived, and several who came in behind me. I am not an elite rider, so most of them had come and gone. But I was happy with my performance to that point.

The final 11-12 miles of the ride are on relatively flat bike trail, as it's an old railroad bed. I was a bit tired, and didn't complete them as fast as I wanted to, but I maintained a decent pace. I won't blame my performance on the wind, as the trail was primarily westward, but I did notice that the wind was more of a factor traveling west than east. Thanks to trees the wind was a non-factor at times along the trail. I was tired, plain and simple.

I returned to the start/finish line a bit later than I anticipated, in part because I took photos and video during the ride, something I don't normally do. I didn't spend a ton of extra time working the camera, but it did delay the completion of my ride. Regardless, my average riding speed was 15.2 mph. I think that's typically of my past efforts, but I don't normally take note of my average at the end of the day.

There were no amazing tales from this year's Headwaters 100. I didn't set the course on fire, and I didn't suffer any gargantuan hardships.

If my calculations are correct, this is the sixth consecutive year I have biked 100 miles in a day, something I never would have imagined in 2003.

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