I’ve got some friends in low places — the lowest gears on my Trek 1.1 bicycle. It’s a good thing I rediscovered them recently, because they helped me conquer some tough hills and a 104-mile course in 85-degree heat last Saturday (June 4).
Call it the high spark of low wheel gears. Or something like that.
The new, longer course in the 2016 Flying Wheels Summer Century took myself and several hundred other riders through 11 different cities in east King County. It was a long, hot, sweaty, but enjoyable ride, aided by the camaraderie of a group of us back-of-the-pack riders who soldiered on until we hit the finish line at Marymoor Park.
A big thanks to the volunteers for the food stops run by ride organizer Cascade Bicycle Club. They kept their food and water stations open until most of the last bunch of riders came through.
Back to my low gears. I’ve had this bike for three years, but have neglected until recently to fully utilize the lowest back-wheel gear. Duh, you say. OK. Fair enough. I just didn’t realize that using it, combined with my lowest front-wheel gear, could make climbing steep hills much easier. I’d gotten used to not shifting down all the way on my right side.
Anyway, I made it up the Flying Wheels ride’s steepest hill, Inglewood Hill Road into Sammamish at the 4-mile mark, and that gave me some early momentum for the rest of the ride. After that, I felt confident I could conquer the four or more other tough hills throughout the course. And I did, including the climb back up on the East Lake Sammamish Plateau from the east side on Issaquah-Fall City Road.
I hadn’t been able to get up Inglewood Hill without walking my bike a short distance since my first Flying Wheels ride in 2012.
Not as tough a ride as 7 Hills of Kirkland
Let me be clear about one thing: Unlike the 7 Hills of Kirkland Metric Century ride I completed five days earlier, the hills were not the hardest part of the Flying Wheels Summer Century. It was a longer ride, but actually an easier one on my body. The toughest part was riding all 104 miles in such heat, while staying hydrated and avoiding being sideswiped by a car or suffering a flat tire.
I did it. Took me more than nine hours to finish. But it felt great.
It was my sixth century, which is bicycling’s equivalent of a marathon. It was my fifth time riding in the Flying Wheels event, and 26th major organized bike ride since 2011.
Some highlights and lowlights:
- New course takes me near my home: Since my first Flying Wheels in 2012 (I did the 65-mile route in 2012 and 2013, and the full century the last three years), the course has always veered north to Snohomish. This year, it dropped that northern loop in lieu of a more southerly one through Issaquah and Newcastle, and back to Marymoor Park through Bellevue. It was cool to ride the last 15 miles through Factoria and east Bellevue, near where I live. (See route map below.)
- Eastern loop includes climb up — and ride back down — Snoqualmie Falls hill: This 1.5-mile hill is steep and narrow, but a perk of having it on the course is the high-speed, wind-in-your-face, “Wheeee!” ride back down. Other fun downhill jaunts: Union Hill Road toward Carnation, 228th Avenue S.E. from Sammamish to Issaquah, Newcastle Way, and the final downhill to West Lake Sammamish Parkway and Marymoor Park.
- Food stops were well stocked: I try to avoid eating much at these stops, because in earlier rides, I actually gained weight after a long ride. But last Saturday, in the heat, I made sure I had enough fuel. I enjoyed a chocolate muffin at one stop and a cookie or two at another. There were lots of oranges, bananas, cookies, energy bars, pastries, peanut butter sandwiches and more. Thanks, Cascade! A ton was leftover too; hope it got eaten by someone.
- Scorching heat hit in the afternoon: The morning hours of the ride were bearable. But by the time I got into the second half of the ride, in the early afternoon, the 80-plus degree heat suddenly slowed me and many others down. It was most intense in miles 70 through 90, heading from Fall City through Issaquah.
- Great to see more women do this event: I don’t have an official count, but I’m estimating that 2,000 or more people participated in one of the four different 2016 Flying Wheels routes — 23, 45, 63, and 104 miles. Around 35-40 percent were women bicyclists, which is encouraging. It is the reverse of road runs, where women dominate participation, but still nice to see it climb closer to 50 percent in bicycling.
By the time myself and a group of others reached the finish line, the after-ride party had ended and a concert featuring The Lumineers was under way nearby at Marymoor Park. It was still a feeling of accomplishment to complete this ride, even at 6:30 p.m.
Here are my tips for this event:
- Train for this ride or else skip it: You can do the shorter rides, such as the 23-mile route that is mostly around Lake Sammamish, with little training. But the longer routes require more fitness and stamina, as you need to hit cut-off times to continue riding certain distances (in other words, you needed to reach 44 miles by noon to continue on the 104-mile route).
- Know your limits: I determined early on in the ride that I was going to attempt all 104 miles. But I was prepared to reevaluate things at the stops at 63 and 79 miles; I decided each time to stay the course, rather than take a shortcut to the finish line. If you feel you’ll be out of gas in those last 20 miles, it’s unsafe not to cut the ride short.
- Make yourself eat and drink enough water during the ride: As I said, the food was plentiful. You need to eat enough protein and carbs to keep up with other riders and stay safe. Fueling up and staying hydrated, especially at the early stops, is a good way to avoid problems and mishaps later in the race.
- Meet fellow riders at the stops: There’s nothing better than meeting fellow riders whose chatter and support can keep you motivated. I enjoyed talking to several riders throughout the ride, and many of those conversations gave me inspiration to finish.
I honestly want to do another long bike ride soon, perhaps even another century. Maybe I’ll find someone who will ride Seattle-to-Portland (STP) in July or RSVP (Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party) in August with me. Or perhaps I will raise money for cancer research so I can do Obliteride in August for the first time.
In the meantime, my next event is the Washington Beer Run 5K on Father’s Day, June 19. I got my timing messed up for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Half Marathon the day before; I signed up for the Beer Run at the urging of Allytics co-workers, so I’m doing that instead.
Thanks for reading! Till next time.