Solo century

Circumstances left me on my own this weekend. Jeff and Jacob went up to Chicago for the NFL draft, and many of the usual suspects of my gravel training were either out of town racing or celebrating anniversaries or doing prep work for next weekend's Cedar Cross.  In truth, it wouldn't have taken much to find riding partners for Saturday, but riding solo meant I could go at whatever (slow) pace I wanted, start whenever I wanted, bail wherever I wanted, and (most importantly) leave from my front door and avoid my usual hour-long drive to St. Louis.

My area has a fantastic network of dedicated trails, and because I'm a huge chicken about riding roads alone my route took advantage of these. I tried to connect the trails in such a way that I could ride as many of them as possible without any doubling back.  The planned route had a pretty significant amount of crushed gravel, so after Friday night's heavy rain I some changes. Granted, 20 miles of soft surface would be good training, but I've ridden in enough slop this winter/spring that I'm pretty much over doing it when I don't have to. Also, I hoped to avoid having to wash gravel spray off my bike.

The new route was almost entirely pavement (oh, the shame). I loaded it into my fancy new Garmin 520 and waited for the morning rain to quit.  My motivation was at an all-time low, but I knew I'd be fine once I got moving. I finally took off around 11:30, leaving the whole century plan in question. Plan B was to get in at least 6 hours on the bike.

Another goal for the day was to get a little experience following a route on my Garmin, something I've had mixed success with on my 500. I had a couple early hiccups when I wasn't sure I was on the right track, then I remembered I was just following the line (no turn by turn directions). My first loop was a 15-ish mile one using the Nature and Nickel Plate trails.

So much green.
That loop went pretty quickly and then I turned west onto the Goshen Trail, taking that until it ran into the Watershed Trail.

It's hard to tell, but this bridge had a ton of standing water. The creek it crossed was absolutely raging.
I followed Watershed until it dead-ended at Wanda Road. That turn onto Wanda is where I got my first taste of the south wind that was blowing all day. I put my head down and pushed into it, grateful that I had a west turn coming up in...well, whenever it came up. The good/bad thing about the lack of turn by turn directions is that you just follow the line until it turns. With the Garmin Connect route there was no "X number of miles til your next turn". That was occasionally frustrating, but mostly it let me just settle into bike zen mode, just taking what the course gave me.

Eventually I made my turn onto New Poag Road, grateful to have the wind at my side instead of my face. I passed the location of the Hartford Castle, marveling again that something so cool is hidden in the woods just off the road.  A mile or two down the road I encountered some most unwelcome signs: "Road Closed" and "Detour". After a brief moment of consideration, I continued on, assuming I'd be able to get through.

No one was working. Successful non-detour!
From New Poag I turned onto a new-to-me section of the Confluence Trail, which runs along the Chain of Rocks canal. This was my only gravel of the day, and the soft gravel combined with a headwind for a little extra challenge.

Confluence Trail
I'm doing better this year at not letting conditions get into my head, though, so I just pedaled along, raced a couple barges, and took selfies.

Let's all just take a moment to appreciate how slim my legs look here. It's mostly the angle of the camera, but still. On the flip side, apparently I'll never manage to have both my cap and my helmet straight in a picture. 

I rode the Confluence Trail into Granite City, passing by my dad's old workplace. Good memories. I thought briefly that if I'd been an engineer I could have worked with my dad and ridden my bike to work. Then I laughed, because I am definitely not an engineer type. Math is not my forte. Also, my dad died before I finished college, so we couldn't have worked together anyway, but it was a nice little daydream.

I was a little disappointed to check my mileage and see that I'd only gone around 40 miles. It seemed WAY further than that. I'd been eating Shot Bloks and drinking Perpetuem as I rode, but I was getting pretty hungry. I was watching for a Casey's so I could get a slice of delicious gas station pizza (it's really easy to make me happy); there was no Casey's, but I did pass a QT. Perhaps the only time ever I've been disappointed to see my favorite gas station. I sat there for a little bit eating my taquito, drinking a coffee, and checking on Facebook before hopping back on the bike.

My route took me through a residential area and then back onto a bike path. Right before the bike path I saw this street sign and had to stop for a picture.

No, I didn't steal it. I doubt it would have fit in my jersey pocket. Also, rules.

From Granite City I headed back onto familiar territory, the Schoolhouse Trail as it passes the currently closed (thank you, Illinois budget stalemate) Horseshoe Lake State Park.  I enjoyed a lovely tailwind back to Glen Carbon and then headed east on the Heritage Trail to Marine, where I circled the pretty little lake, and possibly photobombed some prom pictures.

At the park in Marine a little after 5.

I refilled my water bottles at the drinking fountain and took another short break before hopping on the roads to connect to yet another of our trails. Riding north on Marine Road I enjoyed a glorious tailwind and actual sunshine.

Soon practically every rural road in Illinois will be lined with corn.

I had the road all to myself, which is good because I almost rode off of it taking a bike shadow selfie. I should really do something about my handling skills.

My bike looks huge.

I turned from Marine Road and its lovely tailwind onto Fruit Road and took that all the way to the paved Quercus Grove Trail, bypassing the Nickel Place Trail and its soggy surface.  Fruit Road has some small rolling hills, and pedaling up them started irritating my left knee, which became progressively sore-er. Even with ibuprofen it was bothering me when I turned onto Quercus Grove, so I decided it was ok to bail on my century plans and head home. Better 80% trained than 50% injured and all that.  I shifted into an easy gear and gingerly rode towards home.

By the time I reached the turn that would take me home, however, I'd realized two thing. First, that my knee wasn't constantly hurting anymore, and second, I'd be at 78 miles when I got home. I knew it would kill me later to have quit when I didn't have a good reason to anymore.  Sigh. Instead of turning towards home I rode back to the Goshen Trail, this time turning east to the stretch of the Heritage Trail I hadn't yet ridden.

I took Heritage back to Nickel Plate where, for the first time all day, I finally rerode a section of trail. The sky was getting darker, and when I pulled out my phone I saw why. The severe thunderstorm warning that had been listed for 9 p.m. had been moved back to 7:30. It was currently around 7, so this was cause for some alarm.  I picked up the pace, made the turn onto the Nature Trail, took a quick picture of the clouds, and made a mad dash for home.

Unfriendly skies.

With a thunderstorm bearing down on me and about 9 miles to go, I was a little frightened, but not quite scared enough to call someone for a ride. Chances were I'd make it home before I got picked up anyway, and I was so close to 100 miles.  Sprinkles were just beginning as I hit my neighborhood, but I was only at 98.5 miles, so I circled the block a few times as rain fell harder and lightning lit up the sky.  It went something like's ok, there's no thunder, it's not that close yet...FLASH FLASH...ugh...but still no thunder....FLASHES EVERYWHERE BOOM...ok, ok, I got the message! Heading for home.

I pulled into my driveway soaking wet but with 100.1 miles on my Garmin. Mission accomplished.

Well, mission almost accomplished.  I'd promised myself I could have Qdoba if I rode my bike for at least 6 hours, so I still had to go out in the storm to get my supper. So I accomplished that one last task and spent the rest of the evening totally relaxed. How relaxed? Well, if soaking in the tub while eating Qdoba and watching a movie is wrong, I don't want to be right.


  1. Way to go, 100 all alone! I love your reward after - that's cute. I spend half my long runs dreaming about eggs and club soda (not together), so understand.

  2. Funny, I get more nervous riding trails by myself than roads.

    Congrats on the solo 100 - awesome day of training!

  3. Nice perseverance to complete the 100!


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