“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.”
— Ernest Hemingway
Three hours after finishing Foxy’s Fall Century, my first 100-mile bike ride, I drove up Sycamore Lane with my dog and my mom. They needed a greenbelt walk.
Approaching Covell Boulevard, I saw groups of cyclists heading toward Villanova Drive. They were wearing yellow wristbands —signifying they were still on the 100-mile course.
Because Foxy’s is not a race — it’s a tour — there is no specific finish line to cross where you see your time and compare that to how others fared. When I got back to the Veterans’ Memorial Center — where we’d started out at 7 a.m. — it was unclear whether I was among the first or the last in my ride to come in. I was simply happy to have completed the challenge.
Everyone I was with at the end was wearing a green wristband — the 62-mile riders, who had started later. It was only when I saw the yellows hours later on Sycamore that I realized I was not last.
Although I knew most of the route ahead of time — I’d done the hardest climbs on training rides — I had very little idea how the day would play out. There was space for 1,500 entrants, but many signed up for the two shorter rides. I’m still not sure how many rode the 100-miler. Not everyone began right at 7 o’clock.
My first surprise was to find myself with no packs to draft off of early in the day. There were plenty of riders around me departing Davis. But because I did not enter Foxy’s with any of my friends, I found myself between cyclists, some too slow, others too fast.
Fortunately, 10 miles in, I caught up with a pack riding at my pace, and I drafted much of the way to the first rest stop, halfway between Winters and Vacaville. From there to the lunch break at Wooden Valley School in Napa County, 51.6 miles from the start, I was always with a swift group.
Wooden Valley itself, full of vineyards, is the prettiest part on the ride. The perfect weather on Oct. 19 added to its autumnal charm.
On the route there were four rest stops staffed by friendly folks from the Davis Bike Club. Some combination of food and drink was available at each. Everyone, the volunteers and the other riders, was incredibly nice.
The big question leading up to a 100-miler is how to train for it. Normally, my regular exercise rides are between 15 and 30 miles, nowhere close to 100. When I pedal with a group to Winters and back — about 30 miles — we break that in half, stopping 20 minutes for coffee at Steady Eddy’s.
Fortunately, before my knees gave out, I learned how to train for marathon runs. The trick is to keep adding a couple of more miles once every week or two. Eventually, your 12-mile Sunday run becomes 14, 16, 18 and finally 20.
I used the same method for Foxy’s. My training rides climbed from 40 miles to 50, 60, 70 and finally 75. Once I accomplished 75 miles by myself, I felt I was ready for 100.
The other key to doing a long bike ride is to break it up into smaller segments, with substantial rest periods thrown in. A 100-mile trek, for most, is five 20-mile rides, eating food, drinking water and recovering in between.
The hardest part of Foxy’s Fall Century is right after the lunch break. I left with the pack of riders I’d come in with, but we broke up on the steep climb up Highway 121 in Napa County. I’m far from the fastest guy on flat land. But I am fairly strong on the hills for a person my size (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) and age (49).
Going up Circle Oaks (1,100 feet) and 10 miles later the back side of Cardiac Hill (1,090 feet), I was without a group. I was, however, passing riders on those climbs. By the time I got down to the bottom of Monticello Dam (69 miles into the tour), I was feeling good physically, but mentally I was spent.
Unfortunately, I never saw the final rest stop at Lake Solano Park. A man who saw me go by it caught up with me at the top of the hill on Pleasants Valley Road said, “You didn’t need a stop?”
Actually, I did need it. Along with food and water and a chance to clear my head, I wanted to join up with a pack for the final 25 miles back to Davis. Stupidly, I never looked at my route map for the rest stops.
Nonetheless, I pulled over in a walnut orchard a few miles later, drank water, ate a Clif bar and relaxed for five minutes.
My salvation riding back into Davis was a gentleman from Modesto named Cree. He was on the 62-mile ride and he caught up with me 12 miles from the end. I asked Cree if I could draft off of him for a while, and he said, “No problem. I’ll get you to Davis.” We rode in at a comfortable speed — about 19 miles per hour — and finished at 1:18 pm.
My only goal when signing up was to make it the whole way safely. I did that.
But along the way, as Hemingway would say, I got to know the contours of some lovely country.
— Rich Rifkin is a Davis resident; his column is published every other week. Reach him at Lxartist@yahoo.com