The Running of the Bulls

Bulls in Durham

Durham is filled with Bull

The Year of the Century: Ride 1
Place: Durham, North Carolina
Ride: Habitat Halloween Ride
Date: October 27, 2012

After a bit of faffing around, I finally got myself organized to launch my century-a-month campaign.  While the unreasonable absence of  road rides in the mid-Atlantic during the winter months means I’ll have to do some traveling to sunnier climes, I’m trying to keep as  many of these rides as possible (relatively) local.  The Carolinas, therefore, represented an obvious starting point.  This particular ride has been going for about five years and is a fundraiser for the local Habitat for Humanity program, so it was a chance to contribute to a good cause while having some fun.

As I wrote in my last post, the big challenge with this whole century plan is not, for the most part, going to be the rides themselves.  It will be the logistics of getting my arse to the start line.  Life has a lot of moving parts.  Some of them aren’t that durable and tend to break a lot.  In this case it was surprisingly tough to find a decent (or even an indecent) hotel room in Durham.  There were a couple of major cultural events going on this weekend (apparently David Sedaris was in town for a show) but the real room-filler was parents’ weekend at Duke (the strange ritual where students and parents who may not have seen each other for, at maximum, an entire 8 weeks (!) feel the inexplicable need to remind one another that while absence may make the heart grow fonder, presence makes the heart wish someone would put a fork through a ventricle).  All I could get was a room in  Holiday Inn with a scenic view of the freeway–and a smoking room at that (in Durham especially, I’m guessing that smoking rooms are probably in the majority in most hotels).

It is a pretty quick trip down to Durham, about four hours even at sub-lightspeed.  After picking up my packet, I made my way to the hotel where the clerk very kindly gave me what he cheerfully described as the “least worst” of the smoking rooms.  Dinner was at a local student-dive/pizza/beer place, and despite the fact that the hostess was wearing a “Durham: It’s not for Everybody” t-shirt, the food was pretty good and the beer, courtesy of local Aviator Brewing was even better.

The morning didn’t start off well for two reasons, both of them plumbing related.  The alarm went off, I stumbled groggily into the bathroom, turned on the shower taps. . .nothing.  Turns out that a water main down the street had broken.  I dressed hurriedly and flew downstairs and then found to my relief that somehow they had managed to put a breakfast together (hey, I paid for it, and while I can go without shaving, going without breakfast is another matter).

The second issue happened after I added the chamois creme to my bike shorts.  After climbing into the bibs and making sure everything was snugged up nice and tight I began to feel a strange sensation. . .down there.  Not entirely unpleasant, but certainly. . .strange, as if everything was being gently heated.  It turns out, that the last time I’d bought the Paceline chamois butter I had bought one that looked exactly like the one I usually get except for the tiny piece of text hidden under the price sticker that informed me this was “Euro-Style.”  And even smaller piece of text explained that this was for people who wanted a little “cooling.”  Given that the “cooling” sensation I was experiencing was very definitely a warming one, I can only assume this is another one of those occasions where concepts in Europe mean the opposite of what they do here: you know, like “service” and “bathing.”

The ride start was at the storied Durham Bulls Athletic Park.  Even the minor leagues are apparently a major deal in Durham (I found myself flashing back to the waitress’s t-shirt) and there are cement bulls of all shapes and sizes scattered throughout the city.

Bulls in a Line

Well, OK, technically this is a cow, but a city full of cows wouldn’t make much sense, would it?

We couldn’t really get into the interior of the ballpark but it was kind of cool to see the outside of the venue draped with bikes and surrounded by cyclists in various states of preparation.

Durham Bulls Athletic Park

Cycling: Almost as Popular as Baseball

The ride features three distances–31, 62, and 100 miles–with the century riders given the option of starting at 8:30, half an hour before everyone else.  The start area was a closed street down one side of the park; it was packed with Halloween decorations, with lots of volunteers and even a few riders in costume.

Riders at the Start Line

Wait, I thought I was already in costume. . .

The majority of the volunteers came from the Habitat for Humanity program and they did a fantastic job throughout the day.  All the rest stops were well organized and abundantly stocked not just with the usual suspects (PB&J sandwiches, and the like) but a variety of baked goods.  There’s nothing like a well-timed brownie to give you that extra kick.

The century group, or at least those that started at 8:30 was pretty small; I’d estimate not more than about 50 people.  The first part of the ride took us through the Duke campus, so naturally some people had a great time yelling out “Go Heels!” at the top of their voices.  I braced myself for the flying beer bottles but they never came; we were probably about four hours too early for anyone to be thinking about getting out of bed.

The leading group was relatively big, and stuck together for most of the first ten miles as we wound our way through the outskirts of Durham and then into the surrounding countryside north of the city.  This is always an interesting time when you are riding with a group you don’t know.  There are typically pairs and microgroups riding together but everyone is subtly checking each other out, measuring themselves against the current pace.  Unless you are particularly Type A this isn’t usually a competitive thing (and on a fun ride if you can’t rein in your “I will crush the Peleton with my balls of steel” mentality, then you might be in the wrong place).  Rather it is simply waiting for the entire group to find its level, to sort itself out into people riding at different paces.  So throughout that first ten miles the group concertinaed on the hills; I ended up in the second group, which fractured still further.

Weather-wise, it was a really gloomy day, and even with the orange lenses it was pretty dark at times.   It looked like rain the whole day, but that never really eventuated.  What did makes its presence felt early on was the wind.  Steady, and strong, out of the north.  I skipped the first rest stop but had to stop at the second because it was located in the pit area of a motor speedway.  This was a helluva lot of fun.  As you came over a rise and onto the track there were teams of high school cheerleaders yelling at you enthusiastically, and if you felt like it you could take as many turns around the track s you wanted.  To be honest, this sounds a little more fun than it actually proved to be; it was a pretty old track and it was like riding across a bridge with gaping expansion joints every few metres.  But the steeply banked curves were fantastic; for just a moment you could pretend that this was a country with a velodrome in every town rather than a speedway.

Second Rest Stop at the Speedway

Ginger makes her NASCAR debut

I met some cool people on the ride; the pic above was taken by Lee, an art teacher from southern Virginia who warned us all that he was going to sound like he was dying on every hill (he wasn’t lying) because he was missing part of a lung, but that he would be fine (he wasn’t lying there either;  we rode about 80 miles together and he left me right at the end when I began to tire over the last 5 miles).  Then there was Joshua, a dreadlocked brain researcher who rode a lot with the Duke cycling team, a really strong rider who stayed with us until the Duke team went past us (around mile 60) like an express train and he hitched on to the back.  Joshua, Lee and I rode with a couple of other guys for the better part of 40 miles, and it was great to be riding in a fully functional paceline.  No offense to my triathlete friends, but triathletes just don’t get the idea of the paceline; they are content to sit behind the one person who is equally content to tow everyone else, or they “rotate”–by taking monster pulls at the front which last until they’ve completely shot their wad.   Today, we each pulled for maybe a mile or two, depending on terrain, dropped back, and the guys were all great, complimenting and thanking one another for every pull, no matter how long, not matter what speed.  It isn’t about being the strongest, it is about taking your turn for the benefit of the group.  That said, after the third rest stop we made sure that we didn’t leave without Joshua!

The gloomy conditions meant that I probably wasn’t seeing Durham county at its best, but still, it was a little less scenic than I anticipated.  You ride through a lot of forest, but it is all that strange kind of featureless North Carolina forest that you see way to0 much of when you are driving down I85.  Leaves were just starting to turn, but it wasn’t yet the riot of colour it would no doubt become in a couple of weeks.  The route did have its interesting quirks, however.  As we came up to the final rest stop near mile 85 we passed through an old (at least I hope it was old) artillery range; at every turn there were enormous (we’re talking “I can shell Russia from here” size) mobile artillery pieces.  I’m kicking myself for not taking a photo, but we were only a couple of miles from what I hoped would be a portaloo with nobody in it.

At this rest stop I got a chance to talk with David, whom I’d been riding with for the last few miles.  He was one of the construction directors for the local Habitat project.  At one point he asked me what size Ginger was.  When I told him she was a 56 he smiled and said “Be careful!  I’ve had my eye on that bike for a while.”  He asked me how long I’d had it, and I started rabbiting on about how I’d got it with Cervelo’s “Buy Two Get $2000 Off” deal and how cool that had been because Mary had needed a tri bike and. . .  I paused when I saw the stricken look on his face.  “They. . .they. . .had a deal?” he murmured in the voice of man who has just found out his wife has been cheating on him with the entire DC United midfield.

The last part of the ride took you through a couple of less-than-scenic parts of Durham, and I added to the fun by taking a wrong turn.  Still, I arrive at the post-race celebration, in a little less than 6 hours of riding (under 6.5 all up), the fastest century I’ve ever ridden.   The food at the finish maintained the same high standard: there were salads, three different kinds of pasta, Papa John’s pizza, and some awesome pulled pork (the NC way, dry and spicy, not drowned in sauce).  There was also beer, which I had to forego because I had to drive back up to NOVA to try and beat the arrival of Sandy.  But I still had a great time catching up with some of the people I’d ridden with.

The ride was a little more grueling than I expected.  It rolled constantly, with a couple of steady grinding climbs; Strava gives it a corrected elevation of about 3900 feet over the 100 miles, which felt about right.  Not hilly, but certainly not as flat as something like Cedar Point.  Still, I’d anticipated the terrain.  What I hadn’t counted on  was the wind, which was pretty strong, and seemed to be always in our face or on the front quarter until well over 60 miles into the ride.  I definitely felt the effect of the ride over the last week.

Still, it was a very well organized, fun event.  The only cautionary note I would have for anyone thinking of doing it is that if you are a slower rider the time allotment for completing the century is not all that generous: seven and a half hours total even if you start at 8:30.  After that they close the route and sag you in.   For me, however, it was a great way to open my Year of the Century campaign.

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One response to “The Running of the Bulls

  1. A little late at stalking (reading) your post. Damn, now I want some NC BBQ. Good job on the first of many centuries this year.

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