Backroads Century 50 Miler

Three bikes on a tree

Don’t they look fresh and ready to ride?

In lieu of taking part in the August 70.3 race next week, I signed up to accompany The Accomplice and Raoul at the Backroads Century Ride, which takes place out in Berryville, VA (and much of Clarke County). We did the 50 mile ride option two years ago as part of our prep for the Seagull Century (my first 100 mile ride), and thought it was a well run ride with a very pretty course and great rest stops. Of course, I, personally, had a shitty ride that day & remember the ride itself with no great fondness. It was hot, I ran out of water, and I had some minor stomach troubles from mile 6 on. Also, it’s a pretty relentlessly hilly course. Nothing big or insurmountable, but just a constant up and down. Their site says 2500 feet of climbing (2438 ft by my Garmin) and you can feel it by the end of the ride.

Given that I’ve pretty much transitioned to making running my focus for the fall, my goal for the ride this year was pretty simple: have fun. My first go at it didn’t do it justice, and I figured this was a chance to give the ride its due.  I was also mildly curious if I was better on hills this year than two years ago, but it’s difficult to tell what with weather differences and riding a totally different bike (20 year old hybrid vs. a tri bike outfitted with climbing gearing).

On Sunday morning I woke up at 5am for a 6am pick up, not because I was bright-eyed and eager to go, but because I had a completely shitty night of sleep. Let’s just say the world was very loud on Saturday night. Still, I learned something new!  Turns out, when you prep the night before and wake up before the time you need to leave the house, you have time to do stuff! Specifically, I made myself breakfast #1, actually cooked breakfast #2, cleaned up my bike, pumped my tires, remembered to apply sunscreen (for once). And when the call came to get downstairs, it was a leisurely walk with no forgotten items. SO WEIRD. I can tell you, though, that this will never happen again. Still not a morning person.

The ride out to Berryville was painless, and once parked in their giant cow field of parking, we made moderately quick work of suiting up and walking the bikes over to the start at the local school. The morning was hovering at a mere 9C, so I busted out my DC Tri arm warmers for the first time since I bought them and put them under my short sleeved jersey. Then, we were off like a herd of turtles.

Me all kitted up

Ready for an exciting day of roadkill spotting.

They start you off easy, with the first 12 miles being nice and flat to rolling terrain. I tried to remember not to go out to fast, but with the relatively flat road and fact that it was a lovely day, I had no problems keeping up with Raoul (the speediest of  our pack). I shouted about tiny ponies and cows and sheep as we passed by farms and dairies, while Raoul shouted about all the fuzzy caterpillars crossing the road. Other cyclists kindly didn’t point out how crazy I probably sounded when I was shouting at no one.

The ride has 3 conveniently placed rest stops for the 50 mile option. The first takes place at an old mill where there are well-stocked food tables and a folk band for entertainment.

Bridge at the first rest stop

And a bridge! I didn’t take a picture of the folk band but there was a harp involved.

The Accomplice caught up to us at the rest stop while I was greedily shoving a bag of pretzels in my bike jersey and slurping down some Gatorade. We took off together, but the second section is really where the hills start picking up. At first it just gets a little rollier, but then you get to some short, steep climbs that make me grateful that I’ve got a bike with better gearing this year. I remember having to roll down one hill in 2010 because I didn’t realize how steep it was and didn’t shift in time. All in all, I was pleased to reach Rest Stop #2.

The second rest stop is really the pièce de résistance of Backroads rest stops. They give you tomato sandwiches! And watermelon! And more pretzels, though my jersey pockets were becoming uncomfortably full. I had an amusing conversation with one of the volunteers in which they explained the large handwritten notes all over the tables that warned cyclists not to grab their own food. Apparently the health department had caught wind of their awesome rest stop sandwich operation and told them that they needed to conform to health and safety rules this year, which meant all cyclists had to be given sandwiches by the volunteers. No more grabbing your own. That didn’t stop me from asking for a second tomato, cucumber and hummus sandwich.

I thought as I got further into the ride I would be eager to stash my arm warmers, but they were pretty perfect for the weather. It was cool in the shade and barely warm in the sun, so they stayed where they were for the entire ride. Around mile 35 or so my body started protesting the fact that it was still perched on a bicycle, which was inevitable, really. Thirty miles is around what I’ve been doing for “long” rides this summer, so a hilly 50miler was always going to be a slight shock to the system. I kept up nutrition, including one bug eaten on a downhill, and tried to stretch out at rest stops. I was sore but not miserable. The ride was also a good reminder that if I want to do a half Ironman in the Spring, I really need to replace my bike shoes. As it is, I can’t ride 50 miles without getting off the bike for a few minutes and shaking out my feet. The entire front half of my foot goes numb and it really starts hurting and throbbing after about 15 miles.

After the third rest stop, there was one more short steep climb and then you meander your way back into downtown Berryville. Like last year, I bypassed the school and went straight for our car to dump Frankenbike and change out of my shoes and arm warmers. We found a restaurant in town that served lunch, and I managed to put away a lot of fried cheese in a very short amount of time.

It’s hard to compare 2 years ago to this year, but I can say that the ride took a half hour less time and the hills definitely felt easier. Every time I spun up a hill I would make a comparison to other hills I endured this season and they all definitely fell in the range of ‘not that bad after all’. Overall, it was a pretty sweet bike ride and one I would definitely be interested in doing yet again. After all, there is a whole second 50 miles that we’ve never touched!

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