Last weekend, I participated in The Udder Century, a 100 mile bike ride that starts in Illinois, meanders up into Wisconsin, and then loops back into Illinois. My friend Jackie invited me to go. I’ve done centuries before, and they’re a hoot, because a century is not a timed event.
Like me, Jackie is an “Ironman”, someone who has successfully completed an Ironman race, where you swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and then run a marathon. It is a race, but it’s more of a test of one’s resolve. You only have 17 hours to finish it. The race is physically demanding, but it changes you more mentally than anything else.
Before we did the century, Jackie told me we were going to bike slowly. She likes to ride slow. I was down with that, because my whole new way of cycling is to ride as slowly as possible. I used to love to go fast on a bike; I even purchased a $5,000.00 time trial bike just so I could cycle as quickly as possible. That was a good experience at the time, but I was a different person then. Now it’s all about going slow and letting the bike be a metaphor for the rest of my life. Everything needs to slow down. It’s important to look around more, take it in, be aware of where you are.
So we rode our bikes slowly, about ten miles per hour–in part because we had a 20 mile per hour headwind for the first 62 miles of the ride. The 38 mile return to the finish was pretty quick, because we had a great tailwind taking is back. But the slowness enabled us to have some great conversations. Jackie’s friend Carly (a fellow Ironman) joined us too, and for 8 hours we engaged in a boat-load of discourse. We talked about how to raise children, Carly’s work as a nurse at Children’s Hospital, our desire to travel to Africa, all the great restaurants in Milwaukee, how ready we were to have a big pasta dinner at the end of the ride… it was a fun-filled non-stop exchange of information. A lot of the cyclists passing us were head-down, drafting each other and looked as if the goal of the day was to ride the 100 miles as fast as possible. Not much conversation going on there. I’ve cycled with bikers who ride like that, and what I learned from those experiences is that if you do talk, you talk about how fast you’re riding and what you need to do to ride faster.
I like slow. I like talking to Jackie and Carly. We had a really, really good time. I feel as if I know these people so much better–not just because we did a century together, but because we talked in depth on topics of substance. You can only do that when you have a conversation that goes on for 8 hours. And a slow century is a great opportunity to make that experience happen.