Has it been over two weeks already? Time flies when you put off writing ride reports. I’m actually beginning to feel like I can do it again next year. I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure there for a few days.
But that’s not really the important part. The important thing is that I have yet to put up any kind of significant write up about the event in question. I’ve been working on it- not exactly diligently, but off and on. Slowly, but surely the collective word count has been growing into the 2000+ range and frankly that’s ridiculous. Clearly I need to start breaking this up into a more manageable couple posts. So that’s what I’m going to do. Without further ado Part I:
The Lead Up
After a few years of wanting to do the Midnight Century things finally came together for me to take part this year. Based on the first hand reports of John Speare from the last couple years I knew this was definitely not a ride that I could just show up for with my commuting base and be successful. A lot of people show up and take part, but then inevitably end up bailing out along the way as the course destroys their body and will to continue. I think it’s great that so many people make an effort to participate in some form, but doing it part way was not for me. If I was going to show up at the Elk for the ride I needed to know that nothing short of a mechanical or crash induced injury was going to force me to bail.
I did a much better job of maintaining my overall cycling fitness this year thanks to the Univega Sportour I put together last year in conjunction with my trainer. Riding on my trainer is not my favorite thing by any stretch of the imagination, but it was pretty important for me to stay in shape during the cold winter months. And this spring and early summer, even if I wasn’t able to ride into work and get my usual commuting miles I made sure to hop on the Univega. So that set me up for a successful training ramp up in July when I was able to commute almost every day and to throw in some nice big extended evening routes with big hills added. Finally I topped things off with daylight rides of both halves of the course to avoid any course surprises and give myself the confidence to ride on my own as necessary.
I left my house at about 11:30 pm. I had a little nervous anticipation going on, but as I told Mary, I was well prepared and ready to go. We said our goodbyes and I headed out on my first night ride in ages. After some internal debating I opted to get down to the Elk via Inland Empire Way rather than navigating Walnut and Downtown Spokane by myself at that hour. Just after turning off Cedar and heading down Maple I felt what would be the first of many raindrops during the ride. Lots of people were watering their yards so at first I thought I might have just been hit by a stray drop from a sprinkler. Not so much. By the time I was down to 7th Ave I was experiencing a full on rain shower. I wouldn’t have changed any of my clothing choices for the night anyway, but I was really wishing I hadn’t completely forgotten about my Eddie Bauer cap with the 3 LEDs in the bill- keeping the rain off my glasses and being able to read my computer and cue sheet in the dark would have been very helpful!
I made it safely down to the Elk despite the newly challenging weather. A guy named Justin came up and introduced himself and we moved up the street to Tully’s Coffee where the rest of the group was congregating. I said hi to Joe Thomsen and basically hung out and took it all in as the group swelled to roughly 25 people. Lots of different bikes and styles going on, yet we were still all one unified collection of friendly nocturnal cycling adventurers. It was pretty cool.
Pat showed up after a little while and started taking some pictures for his blog. As he mentioned in his big MC blog post the vibe of the group is pretty sweet. Just a bunch of cool people on bikes looking to do something fun and crazy together on a dark and rainy August night. I recognized Glen Copus of Elephant Bikes fame (maybe someday I can have him build me a cross bike) and Tom McFadden (the MC pacesetting machine) through the context of the interesting conversations they were having next to me.
A few more people rolled up and then it was Midnight and finally time to go.
And We’re Off
Tom took off as fast as advertised and was essentially out of sight within seconds heading down Riverside . I ended up towards the front of the pack mostly by the accident of lining up there as I was waiting for the race to begin. I moved to the side to let more fearless descenders pass me, but for the most part everyone seemed to be taking it easy to begin with. As it was I took the turn on Clarke a little faster than I should have. I saw Glen up ahead and settled into comfortable opening pace trailing him by a couple bike lengths. We hit the short climb on Main and I passed him although he caught back up almost immediately as we waited with a few other riders for the first light on Monroe.
Once we got onto the Centennial Trail Glen set a pretty good pace and I tried to keep within 3 or 4 bike lengths of him. There were a couple faster cyclists a little bit further ahead of Glen, but Glen’s pace seemed to be pretty good to me and I concentrated on following him. It was a bit strange riding so fast in the dark after not doing any night riding in months, but I adjusted pretty quickly.
The Centennial Trail was definitely a part of the route where I felt like I could put money in the bank of my race time so to speak because it’s paved, relatively level and probably faster than any other longer section of the route except for the Cheney – Spangle road and the Fish Lake trail. My number one goal was just to finish, but I figured I would be able to ride the race somewhere between 8 and 9 hours total with some good fortune. Riding a reasonably fast time on the CT wouldn’t be very taxing and would hopefully give me a little time buffer at the end to reach that secondary goal if I made it that far.
On My Own
Going into the race I thought I might try to ride with Pat, since I figured we might ride at similar speeds throughout, but I was also okay with riding by myself if that was how it worked out. Unfortunately I never even saw Pat again after the start. I continued to follow Glen on Maringo until I suddenly lost him on the curvy section of the Centennial Trail immediately after the trailhead. One moment I was seeing his taillight as usual and then the trail curved and I followed it, but there was no sign of Glen anymore. I couldn’t quite figure out if he had just driven off the trail or just completely dropped me so I went ahead and pushed on.
Riding that part of the trail took a bit of adjustment with my speed and lighting. Even though I’ve ridden the trail many times during the day that particular section is pretty twisty. My headlight was sufficient, but nowhere near as many lumens as some of the riders. There were a few moments that I was afraid that I might not make the turns and shoot off into the bushes.
I remember thinking around that point what a comfortable night it was. Sure it was wet and a bit rainy, but the air temperature was excellent and only really started to be too cold on the last couple major descents.
There were still two taillights visible a ways further up the trail, but I didn’t make any effort to catch them immediately. Eventually a group of three guys that I later learned were from the North Division Bike Shop caught up to me. I decided to pretend I was in a bike race and use them to bridge up to the two riders that I had seen ahead. I fell in behind them and sure enough we caught those guys pretty quickly. I rode at the back of the now larger group (the two guys we caught up to were also part of their North Division group I think). I held the pace for a while more, but eventually dropped off the back and lost sight of them.
The rest of the ride out to Spokane Bridge Road was pretty uneventful. I caught sight of the North Division guys’ taillights heading south and continued to see them until the first big climb began and they disappeared again up and around the hill. It was definitely reassuring to see bike taillights off in the distance throughout the ride and seeing Tom’s trademark pine cone smiley in the road was pretty uplifting too. It felt good to know I was not alone and on the right track despite being out in the middle of the countryside by myself in the middle of night. The first climb was challenging, but I was ready for it having ridden it in daylight back in July. Once I reached the top I took a quick break, downed a Clif bar and then started the fun descent into Liberty Lake.
Little did I know that I was just minutes away from my first real ride-endangering mishap.