100/200 Revisited!

New: I'm experimenting with a ride blog. Read it online at http://sbarner.blogspot.com/

On July 15, 2005, I blew the dust off a classic ride of the past, the 100/200, in celebration of my 50th birthday. It was a fantastic day and I finished the 206 mile ride in fine style, in spite of a "slight" route change that had totally unanticipated consequences.

History

1986 FlierThe 100/200 is a ride that I started organizing in 1984 as a one-day, 200+ mile ride from the Canadian border to the Massachusetts state line, primarily on VT 100. Jeanne organized support vehicles and supplies and I did the promotion, organized planning meetings and actually rode the ride. Jeanne drove one of the sag vehicles and held everything together, a role for which all of us were grateful. I believe we had six or seven riders the first year, and the field eventually grew to as many as 35 riders. We purposely never kept close track of finish times, as just completing the ride was always our primary goal.

I have a copy of an article from Bicycling Magazine (year and edition unknown) that lists the 100/200 as one of "The 10 Toughest One-Day Rides in North America." At the time we 1990 Flierinitiated the ride we thought that it was an original idea, but the story about the US Nordic Team doing the ride in the '70s was a topic of discussion on the second or third ride and has since been confirmed by skiers from that era, though their route may have been different.

We did the ride annually for six years, consistently advertising it as an "opportunity for a bunch of over-the-hill cyclists to prove just how out of shape they are"--and that was 20 years ago! Where does that leave us now? The event ended somewhat ignominiously in 1990 when we pulled out of the ride the morning of the event. We had advertised the ride as "shine or shine," clearly indicating that the ride would be scratched if the weather was bad. The day of the ride was quite windy (in the wrong direction) and heavy rains were forecast, so we cancelled. That's a much easier thing to say than to do, and some of the people who had planned to ride were not very happy with us. A few did the ride anyway, but the experience was unsettling enough that we never attempted to organize it again.

The Hiatus

I'm sure many others have done their own versions of the 100/200, as it's such a natural idea for an epic ride. In later versions of our event, we sometimes changed the route to add some variety. However, I was unaware of other organized versions of the ride and did not attempt anything of that level of difficulty until this year. My teaching career distracted me from riding to the point where, one year, I didn't ride a bicycle at all! Yet, cycling has historically been such an integral part of my life that I couldn't stay away and I started working in earnest to get back into decent shape several years ago.

The Reprise

I don't remember the exact circumstances, but many months ago someone remarked that the 100/200 was an event of the past that I would never do again. Somehow, that bothered me. I was just starting to feel the inevitable approach of the 50 year benchmark, and the sense that I could always get back into decent shape if I really wanted to was challenged by that off-hand remark. I realized that I had a choice to make and, if I ever wanted to be truly fit again, I was going to have to get serious about it now.

Aging is not something that should be denied, but neither need it be encouraged. I often see older people in absolutely fit condition, but much more commonly seniors are in an obvious state of decline. Certainly, this is often a result of conditions beyond the person's control, but all too often it is the result of neglect or outright personal abuse. There are often choices to be made and patterns of behavior set in middle age that can make a huge difference when one is 60 or 70.

That off-hand comment set the 100/200 as a closed chapter in my life's book, and this was disquieting to me. I didn't set any absolute goals, but I decided to do what I could to get myself into good enough shape that I might ride the 100/200 again on my 50th birthday--not as a measure of denial, but of celebration. A celebration of life, the revisitation of a unique experience, and a chance to do a darn cool ride again! I rode whenever I could, and as the date grew closer, made it a point to squeeze in challenging rides, without waiting for it to become "more convenient." A month or so before the ride I let it slip to a few trusted friends that I was considering doing it, but I was hesitant to reveal my plans since I wasn't sure that I could even complete the ride if I started it.

My plan was to do the 100/200 as a solo, setting my own pace and just hoping to finish. Several weeks before the ride, Jeanne asked me if I wanted anything for my birthday and I used that as the opportunity to ask her to provide support, to which she, somewhat surprisingly to me, readily agreed. I am not sure anyone could really understand how difficult a role this is unless they have attempted it themselves. There is no way that I could have done the ride without her. The actual decision to make the attempt was not finalized until five days before the ride, after I completed a double-gap century ride as a test of my readiness.

The Ride

On the way to the borderWe awoke at 2 AM, loaded up two bikes on the roof rack and set out for the North Troy border crossing, the traditional start of the 100/200. The humidity was quite high, 95% according to NOAA, and there was a heavy mist. The border station was well-lit but quiet, with no cars going through in either direction while we were there. I started the ride on a very wet bike a few minutes before 5:30 AM.

At the Canadian BorderThe bike I used was the same one I rode in every other edition of this ride, my early '80s custom Marinoni, the most comfortable and best fitting bike I have ever owned. It is terribly outdated by modern standards, though I have added Look clipless pedals. The components are all from the '80s, including the Mavic SSC wheels that I added for this ride. I also dug an original Avocet 20 bicycle computer out of one of my spare parts boxes and installed it on the bike to better pace myself and to more accurately measure the mileage. I had never ridden with a computer before and I have to say that it really helped on this ride. Having spent many years as a professional bike mechanic, I always keep my bikes in top working order and had no mechanical problems at all.

The ride to Stowe was almost entirely in the fog, but this kept the heat down and at least I didn't get thirsty. The humidity dropped in the middle of the day, making things more comfortable, then rose again in the late afternoon. The first 50 miles of this ride are quite easy and the important thing is not to get carried away and push too hard so early. The first real climb appears in Waterbury, and I hit it around 8:30 AM. I was running 42 x 26 as the low gear, and made it a point to use it whenever appropriate to conserve energy, even though that climb can be made in a taller gear. The next climb is into Granville Gulf, but it's pretty easy, even if it is a bit long. One big difference this year was that I took more frequent, very short breaks, never stopping for more than 15 minutes and trying to keep the refueling stops to 5 minutes or less. This is definitely better than taking fewer, longer breaks on this long a ride.

I felt strong pulling through Rochester, which is around the 95 mile mark. I was still keeping a little over 20 mph on the flats. The temperature was climbing and the sun was out, but there were some fair weather clouds forming and the slightest of tailwinds that kept with me almost the entire ride. The long climb to Killington was the first place that I started to bog down. It was getting hot and I was starting to tire, grinding up the long, steep climb. I recovered a bit after the 44 mph decent (love that computer!) and got a serious second wind in my legs on the gradual rise through Plymouth and past the lakes. Jeanne found a place where we could wade into one of the lakes to cool off the legs a bit. Afterwards, I put on a fresh jersey and a pair of shorts with a bit more padding and started preparing for the Terrible Mountain climb.

It was hot in Ludlow, where I switched bikes for Terrible Mountain. I had brought Jeanne's Paramount along because it is a light bike with sewups, yet a triple chainring. Its 36 x 28 low gear was just the ticket for the steep five mile climb, and by keeping to the wrong side of the road in places I was able to maximize the shade while muscling up the hill. I was surprised when I hit the summit, as it had been easier than I remembered. In the past, that long hot climb coming 140 miles into the ride really destroyed me, but this time I actually felt good when I switched back to the Marinoni at the top.

The ride down the back side of Terrible Mountain was the fastest of the day, topping out at 48.5 mph, according to my Avocet 20. Jeanne and I were so focused on the ride that we neglected to get any photos, but it was a bright, hot summer day (the highest temp Jeanne noticed on the car thermometer was 86), just full of Vermont beauty. My legs were hanging in there quite well and my speed on the flats was still 19-20 mph, though I was slowing appreciably on the climbs.

Historically, the ride kept to VT 30 where VT 100 separates and heads south from Jamaica. I knew that VT 100 was hillier in southern Vermont, but I had decided to stay on it this time as I never really liked the Route 30 ride into Brattleboro and it is, after all, supposed to be a ride down Route 100. I did not at all remember or notice on the map that this route takes one over Stratton Mountain (Mt. Snow, to be precise). So, there I was, 170 miles into the ride, pulling up a climb that is almost 13 miles long, increasing in steepness in true Vermont fashion until the grades were over 8%, with the steepest climbs right at the top. Still, I cranked up it with buckets of sweat pouring off me and, even though my speed dropped as low as 5 mph at one point, I never really bonked.

Posing at the finish!After a 45 mph decent, the rest of the ride through Wilmington and south to 8A was either downhill or flat and it felt incredibly good to see the computer trip 200 miles. A few short miles later I turned onto 8A, which presented a steep 3 mile climb to the Massachusetts state line, but I felt so good about achieving my goal that I got out of the saddle and made those last climbs in fine style. It was an odd mix of exhilaration and exhaustion, but I had made my goal, even though it meant that I had to overcome significant unexpected obstacles in the most difficult portion of the ride. I finished a little after 8 PM, completing the first 100 miles in just over six hours and the remaining 106 miles in about eight hours, including breaks, of course.

Epilogue for an Epic Ride

I am extremely satisfied with the way things turned out. The 100/200 gave me a focus and a goal to work toward and the ride itself was an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding experience. The most surprising thing was that I did better this time than any of the six previous editions of the ride that I did 15-20 years ago. For this, I credit better preparation and the fact that I did the ride 3 weeks later than our historic date in late June, giving me time to get in a few more long rides before the event. I also supplemented my water intake with sports drinks, which is one of the things that may have saved me from the nasty leg cramps that I usually get on very long rides. I filled a number of water bottles half full of water and froze them before the ride, adding cold water when I took them out of the cooler to put on the bike. I think this helped me keep my core heat down. I drank over two gallons of fluids over the course of the day! It really helped to have such excellent support from Jeanne, so I was never stuck with an empty water bottle.

Perhaps the best thing is that, though I don't have any other major cycling events planned, I'm in such good shape now that fast rides feel completely different and I shouldn't have much problem keeping up with most of the younger riders for the rest of the season. I don't plan on trying to resurrect the 100/200 as an annual ride or attempt to become an ultra marathon cyclist, but I'll keep riding and tackling challenging rides as long as I am able. And, who knows, maybe when birthday 55 comes along, the 100/200 will beckon to me again.


Last edited July 18, 2005.