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Meditations on a Long Bike Ride: The Davis Double Century

“I was not yet sixteen when I understood a great deal from having ridden bicycles for so long, about style, speed, grace, purpose, value, form, integrity, health, humor, music, breathing, and finally and perhaps best of all the relationship between the beginning and the end.”
— William Saroyan, The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills

In the Beginning It’s not if, but rather when the question will come up. This particular time it’s the night before the 42nd annual Davis Double Century, I’m enjoying the all-you-can-eat $15 pasta dinner with a couple of other geezers in the recently re-located headquarters of the US Bicycling Hall of Fame, when one turns to the other and asks, “Remind me again…why the hell are we doing this?!”

We smile. There’s really no need to answer the question. It is, after all, rhetorical. But we know that what we’re about to do will, in no uncertain terms, give us our answer. As I walk reverently through the Hall of Fame – three floors of bicycle memorabilia that stirs me – I think how unlikely it is I would have visited this place unless dinner had been hosted here, and already the answer begins to come to me. Do something you love and other cool things will find their way into your life.

Now it’s an hour later, it’s a balmy 72 degrees in the parking lot of a motel a few miles from the very early morning start, and as I’m applying the finishing touches to my bike, gear, and I suppose myself, I think “isn’t this great…nothing on my mind but this ride and how good life feels in this moment.”  What I wouldn’t give, I think, for more focus like this in my life, and then I realize that’s another reason I do this – for the delicious, singular focus.  With that thought in mind I fall asleep at 8:30. 

Now it’s 3:15 in the morning, I’m cooking up oatmeal and coffee on my trusty camp stove, making final decisions about gear (I go with my Touchstone kit), packing the car up and heading to the start; I notice the quiet expectancy of night giving way to morning that I so rarely experience in normal life.   

At the parking lot start - still dark - familiar sounds punctuate the morning stillness; the “psssssshhh” of tires getting filled, the “click” of bike shoes engaging clips and the muffled conversations between riders as they ready themselves. I check and double-check my bike and gear, ride around the parking lot to ensure everything’s just right, adjust my lights, text my buddy Bobby to check on his whereabouts, and then wait for the right moment to begin, which I determine is…right now.

The Davis Double does not start en masse; you begin when you’re ready, you finish when you’re done, and along the way you either make the cut-offs or you get cut, not unlike life itself. How you “do” yourself here becomes a mirror for how you live your life. Want something different to happen…better change your behavior. Not happy with how thing’s are going…better change your attitude. It’s your choice, and a big ride gives you lots of opportunities to choose wisely…or not. Which will it be this time around? Calm, present, focused and strong, or frenetic, rushed, other- oriented and adrenaline-fueled?

As I take that first right turn out of the parking lot and settle behind a few riders, I notice my heart rate going up too quickly and I back-off…no need to rush, I think, lots of miles ahead. And then, after 10 or so flat miles of solo riding, opportunity strikes! 

A tandem and two bikes glued to it pass me at the just-right speed and I latch on for what will amount to 35 or so miles of effortless cruising. A wise choice, but I notice a familiar trick my mind plays on me; when I draft like this I feel lazy, maybe even guilty, because I think I’m not working hard enough and making enough progress. I let these thoughts pass and stay with these guys, knowing that my time to work hard will come soon enough.

During the Middle
Sure enough, at mile 100, it arrives big time – 7 miles up Cobb Mountain.  It’s around noon now and warming up quite a bit, and as I slow down I try not to get down as people pass me in increasing numbers. 

When I hear a familiar voice say “Is that Marty?” I know I’ll see fellow ultra-distance rider Ann for just a moment, and indeed it is, and was. “Damn, she’s fast,” I think, but I’m saying that about everyone who goes by, and I tell myself to chill out, to ride my own ride, and to stay in this moment, to appreciate what I’m doing and how truly blessed I am to be out here doing it. With that thought much of the craziness that gets induced by comparing myself to others dissipates.

Still, that lurking sense of being left behind is palpable, and a lesson I apparently keep needing to learn - see myself as “less than” because others are passing me by, and I will in fact, become less than. Not surprisingly, I reach my low point while climbing Cobb Mountain. 

“Keep moving forward, one pedal stroke at a time and you will,” I promise myself, “get to the top.” It’s a beautiful thing to reach the summit. My reward is a high speed, mouth-watering descent. Before I know it it’s mile 118 and time for lunch, where Bobby and I re-connect and take pictures to prove we were there. However there is no rest for the weary. 

The climbing begins soon enough, this time with the shorter-lived, but aptly named Resurrection Hill. I’m well-risen from the dead by now, but surprised at the effort this particular climb seems to take. I experience this climb as the toughest one of the day, even though the deed’s done soon enough, and beginning mile 140, the rest is actually pretty much downhill. 

At the End

This is where the real fun begins for Bobby and I. We move at a more casual pace, alternating pulls (guys our size can deflect a lot of air), getting occasional lifts along the way from small pacelines, and taking our sweet time at rest stops. Because I had become accustomed to flying through rest stops for ultra-distance training purposes, I hadn’t realized how much fun a more relaxed pace can be. The very best rest stop of all – and the reason I’ll do the Davis Double again and again – is the West Plainfield Fire Station at mile 196, which serves the best grilled cheese sandwiches in the entire world. Seriously. 

We pedal to the finish, laughing, relaxed and hungry, and eat well at the post-ride meal. Statistics? 203 miles, average speed 15.1, 13.4 hours pedaling, and over 10,000 calories burned. “Nice ride,” I think.