Today I discovered that I was capable of much more than I previously imagined. Very often during this trip I would feel mentally bound to my average daily mileage, about 60 miles, plus or minus 20. If I knew that I would be facing adverse riding conditions, especially headwinds, then I would decrease my mileage expectations. Today, despite some tough riding conditions, I pushed myself to a new level and completed the second longest ride of my life. Why did I push myself so hard on this unremarkable day? I did so because I knew that the Pacific was right around the corner and that my dear friends, Dave and Mal, awaited me in Portland. My goal of riding a bicycle across this country was so close I could taste it. I pushed myself so hard on this day because I was fueled by my passion.
The "century ride", or 100-mile ride, is something that many cyclists strive to accomplish at least once on their tour. It's one of those accolades that means a lot to people within the community. Century rides are tough, especially when your bike is loaded down by 40+ pounds of gear. My first century ride was a very special day in Illinois. Aided by some nice tailwinds, I cruised 92 miles from Joliet to Bloomington-Normal, then took laps around the town for eight miles to reach the 100-mile mark. I had no expectation whatsoever of completing a 100-mile ride on my second day along the Columbia River. I knew that headwinds would be a challenge in the afternoon, so I figured that I would call it a day around the 60 or 70-mile marker.
After a nice breakfast with Jodie and Lisa, I departed early from the Sand Station campsite. I was excited to follow the Columbia River all day. Around mile 15 I crossed over a bridge, taking me back to the state of Washington. The nice part about being on the North side of the river was the particularly low traffic volume. I had a pleasant ride along this country road, constantly gazing at the Columbia River.
At about mile 20 I stopped to refuel. My map showed me that there was a restaurant and convenience store at the upcoming junction. I was upset to find that the restaurant and convenience store, both housed in the same crummy little building, were closed. Ugh. Stuff like this was such a drag. But wait! There were two other cyclists here, also lamenting the fact that the supply station was closed. Their names were Dan and Billy. Oddly enough, I knew who both of these fellows were before I even met them. Jodie and Lisa told me that these two cyclists had stopped by the Sand Station just an hour or so before me. Happy to again have company, I teamed up with these guys to hit the road.
As usually happens, the three of us quickly got separated. For some reason I was peddling vigorously on this day, causing me to get a good half mile in front of the guys. Then, about 10 miles after my encounter with them, I got a flat tire. Damnit. I pulled over to repair the bum tube. Inspecting the tire was pretty shocking. There was a lot of glass lodged in my tire. Luckily, it only punctured through in one location.
As I doctored my tube and tire, Dan caught up with me. He was a little bugged out to see that I had a flat tire. Over the past few days his riding partner, Billy, had to fix two flats and he was actually presently fixing his third! Seeing that I also had a flat caused Billy to suspect that perhaps he brought some kind of misfortune upon all of his riding mates. He hung out with me while I fixed the flat, helping to distract me from the frustration of bike maintenance.
Dan and I rode and rode and rode. Somehow, despite the headwinds, I kept pulling ahead. I guess I just felt that Portland was calling me. I knew that the harder I pushed, the sooner I would arrive. Every mile, every crank, every breath counted. I was relentless in my desire to finalize this journey.
The ride became terribly difficult in the afternoon. Fifteen mile per hour headwinds were hitting me square between the eyes. As I looked up I saw countless wind turbines all facing my direction, Westbound, and spinning rapidly. Despite the wind resistance and constant visual reminder of the overbearing winds, I pushed forward.
Around mile 90 I had arrived at the base of the final climb of the day. I needed to ascend about 1,000 feet to the top of the ridge. Once atop the ridge I would descend to the Maryhill campground. Despite my fatigue, my concentration was unbending. I did everything I had to in order to get up that final hill. My heart nearly skipped a beat when I reached the summit. Gazing to the West I spotted the towering Mount Hood, unparalleled in its dominance of the scenery. This mountain was perhaps the most puzzling of all that I had seen on this journey. The mountains in Colorado sat atop a plateau at 5,000 feet above sea level. From that plateau they extended upwards of 10,000 feet, reaching peak altitudes as high as 15,000 or 16,000 feet. Mount Hood was like no mountain I had ever seen in my life. From its base at sea-level, it extended over 10,000 feet into the sky. There was absolutely nothing in sight which rivaled its magnitude. I was in complete awe of the behemoth formation.
Dan and I rejoined at the summit. From there we enjoyed a pleasant downhill cruise which led us directly to the Maryhill campsite. Before settling at Maryhill we went bananas at a fruit stand just by the entrance. In savage fashion, Dan and I devoured cantaloupe, apples, peaches, basically everything this woman offered. Boy, her fruit stand was a sight for sore eyes.
I still wasn't ready to call it in after the fruit stand, so I parted with Dan to grab a bite at the Biggs Junction. There I found a mediocre little diner where I could order a hamburger. While awaiting my meal, I grew sad. I know this sounds kind of weird, but I realized that this would be one of the last times that I would be able to stuff my face like a pig after a ride. There was a piece of me that was preemptively missing the satisfaction of being so pleased by such large volumes of mediocre cuisine. I realized that there was a sort of carelessness to my dietary habits on the road which was oddly pleasant. That evening I got an early taste of nostalgia with the plain burger and fries that I scarfed down.
Back at the campsite I was astonished to discover that I had rode precisely 100 miles. What was even more surprising was the fact that the ride included grueling headwinds and some substantial climbs. I could not believe that my legs were capable of taking me such distances under such strenuous conditions. I scoured my mind to determine what was the difference between today's ride and every other ride I embarked on. How could it be that I was capable of so much more than I had previously imagined? My mind only came back to one answer: passion. Today I rode with passion, and that passion was the difference between mediocre and extraordinary. That evening I passed out, again beneath a beautiful night sky, with a sense of fulfillment.