100 Miles in the Saddle: Finding Friendship and Overcoming Obstacles on the Little Miami Scenic Trail

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It’s late September in the Midwest, but the temperature was expected to hit 90°.That’s a heat wave! We were all dressed lightly, some in layers, for the early AM start, but stripped down to tank tops and shorts by mid-morning. We could not have predicted these warm temperatures, but we’d all been riding through the summer, so we knew what precautions to take.

We’d hydrated for days before the ride, had water bottles at hand and bags stuffed with nuts, granola, bananas, grapes, jerky and peanut butter sandwiches. We knew we’d need to eat something every time we stopped. Every time! We hoped for a real meal at the ½ way point, but couldn’t depend on that. We considered the number of calories we’d burn, pushing pedals for that many hours on end, and had a CLIF Bar or two tucked into a handlebar bag, just in case.

When a loose fender almost prevented the ride organizer from participating in the ride, we wondered why we had tubes in various sizes, and patch kits, at least 3 Hex tools, and duplicate air pumps, but no wrench. Then our “wrench” arrived – an experienced rider, with a vehicle that looked like it had an entire bike shop on board. The faulty fender was removed, which was faster than working to fix it, and we were only 30 minutes or so behind our planned 7 am start time.

I took my final sips of black coffee (to wash down the glazed donut I’d been offered), secured my helmet, and pushed off on my Trek, headed toward the completion of my 2nd Century ride. Wait! Our route was technically only around 96 miles, so we headed off in the “wrong” direction. We’d ride 2 miles out, make a quick U-Turn, and cruise back past the parking lot we’d started in, to begin the preplanned route. Better to do this at the start, then have to make up miles 97 – 100, riding past our cars to do so.

Was I the only one slathered in layers of Icy Hot and precautionary sunblock? I believe so. Early in the day, before the sun was high overhead, and streaming through the tree cover, the sunblock may have been unnecessary. We were following the Little Miami Scenic Trail, from Yellow Springs to Maineville, OH, and back. It’s an old rail trail, with at least 75% of the trail shaded by trees, on both sides. Better to be careful! The Icy Hot was treating a 2-week-old shoulder strain, and was quite necessary, with the bumps and jolts we’d encounter each time the trail crossed the area’s country roads.

When we got to our first sheltered area to rest, I noticed dirt specks on my arms, chest and shoulders. By the 2nd stop a fellow rider had his legs covered in the same grit and grime, the hair on his legs acting as a net to catch the debris. I felt a tickle on my elbow. Glancing down, and realized the specks were teeny tiny bugs, sticking to my skin, and now drowning in Neutrogena SPF 50, mixed with my pouring sweat! I’d turned myself into roaming human flypaper that morning, before the ride.

This was a bike ride, not a beauty contest! So, I ran a hand down my arm, to wipe away the carnage, and reapplied my SPF, because even light deflected by patchy fall leaves can burn my freckle-prone Irish skin. I didn’t need to be going into October with itchy, peeling sunburn.

We rested up a bit, took a swing or two on a swing that faced sunrise over a horse farm, then got back on our bikes. And we rode. . . and rode. . . and rode.

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Many of my friends have completed a Century, and they know the mental and physical work it takes. This was a 1st Century for the 4 other riders I was with, and I was thrilled to be along for the ride. I’d done this just once before, on the same trail, with a much larger group. That had meant always having someone to ride alongside, including a dear friend who is the ultimate “sweep”; he makes sure no one falls so far behind that she is left behind. I wished he was there!

With just 5 of us, with varying skill and strength levels, we spent much of the day within sight of each other, but there was also some time to ride alone, push through, and reflect on the experience. The nice thing about the rail trail is that it’s almost entirely flat, with gentle curves, following the path of the old rail lines. Many cyclists have said that it’s the perfect 1st Century. There’s a very slight downhill on the way out, which you hardly notice (or appreciate), and a very slight uphill on the way back. We all noticed that!

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Even on flat ground, however, riding a bike for 100 miles is a real test of strength and endurance. I had completed several Metric Centuries (62 miles) this season, but still felt unprepared. Training for the hills in Glacier National Park, this summer, established a good foundation, both physically and mentally, but it’s not often that I cover this much ground in one day. The physical preparation is key, but the mental fortitude is what gets you through the day.

Riding a Century (Stream of Consciousness)

“It’s just so beautiful on this trail, with the fall leaves raining down in light flurries, encouraged by even the slightest breeze. . . . this is terrible! I really need to stop, just for a few minutes; I can’t go on. . . . “Just keep the pedals turning,” a more experienced cyclist had advised. . . . left, right, left, right. . . . 1, 2, 3, 4. . . . 26 miles. . . . 26.5 miles. . . . 27 miles. . . . “You’ve got this”, said another. . . .”

“It’s so great to be out in nature. . . . what exactly is a paw paw, anyway? Oh, that’s a paw paw tree, right there?. . . . Maybe I’ll do the Paw Paw Festival Ride next year. . . . Ha! I may never ride again!. . . . I’ve got this; piece of cake. It really doesn’t hurt that much. . . .”

“God, my ass hurts!! I just told everyone I don’t wear the padded shorts, because they make me feel like I pooped in my pants, but that’s ok, because I have enough natural padding! And now everything down there hurts. . . .”

“40 miles to go. . .  “You can do 10 miles like it’s nothing, right? Well, it’s just 4 units of 10. You can do that! That’s nothing! Nothing times nothing is nothing!” says Tom, our SAG.”

The day was put together by friends, with no entry fees, T-shirts, fanfare, or supported stops. We were just 5 crazy cyclists, hitting the trail together for the day! What better place to start (and finish) than the artsy Central Ohio town of Yellow Springs. Home to Antioch College, the village website describes it as “a unique mix of rural and urban, with a thriving downtown and eclectic neighborhoods surrounded by farms and orchards that fill our markets with fresh local food.”

Later in the day, at the end of the ride, one of the cyclists was surprised to see his wife, and his two-year-old son, as we rolled into Yellow Springs.  We’d somehow miscalculated, so that we had .8 miles before we would reach the 100 mile mark. So, we rode past our energetic support team, cameras in hand, to ride just a bit further. This was visibly difficult for Dad, who just wanted to scoop up his son and give his wife a big hug. Emotions run high, when putting your physical body through this level of effort.

It was a hot, sticky day, for all of us, so Mom had traded her fall jeans for a loose, billowy skirt, from one of the small, locally owned retail shops, in downtown Yellow Springs.  The shop owner actually discouraged her from spending the extra money to purchase an entirely new outfit, saying “It’s fine – we don’t “match “around here, so it doesn’t matter if your top doesn’t match your skirt.”

Yellow Springs: “Culturally diverse, open, friendly and creative; Yellow Springs is Everyone’s Favorite Place. . . .People are drawn to Yellow Springs for its authenticity. The streets are lined with an eclectic assortment of shops, galleries and restaurants. Rich visual and performing arts abound in this vibrant community of artists. Yellow Springs hosts festivals, art openings, theatre, live music and more.  You can expect something interesting every time you visit.” (Yellow Springs website)

Anchoring the ride to such a colorful place, on a colorful fall day, was a distraction from what we were striving to accomplish. It was also a great place to celebrate, once we’d accomplished our goal. Our best meal, however, was at the 60 mile mark, in the town of Oregonia, OH. The Little River Café sits just along the bike path, and we’d noticed it on our way out, considering a stop on our way back.

With delicious calzones bigger than my head, a waitress who was diligent about keeping our water classes full, and a rack out front to lock our bikes to, I’d definitely consider getting back on the trail to head back to The Little River Café. It’s rated #1 in a list of the “Top 30 Restaurants in Oregonia, OH” by the Yellow Pages. Impressive! We weren’t the only bikers in the place, though the others seemed more interested in powerful engines, colorful tattoos, and well worn black leather.

We’ll never really know if the food may have tasted just a tad better than it actually was, given our state of extreme hunger and exhaustion. In any case, the stop was just what we needed. Together with a chance to rest, and the support of our little group, the meal prompted one tired rider to utter: “I think we’re actually going to do this!”

We all nodded, in agreement.

A lesson I learned this summer, completing my first triathlon, was that the support of friends and family means everything when you’re right there in the middle of it, whatever “it” is that’s challenging you, in that moment! At the Tri, it made me surprisingly nervous to have friends come along to act as a cheering section. But their kind words, and their smiling faces, lifted my spirits, especially as I transitioned from one event to the next.

In support of our Century, the husband of one rider played the role of SAG (Support and Gear) wagon, making sure we knew that he was there if we needed him.  Having that safety net in place means so much more than having emergency transportation, or a spare wrench. Our SAG communicated with us throughout the day, tracking our progress. He surprised us along the trail, around 60 miles in, clapping and waving. He was a breath of fresh air, for a group of hot, sweaty, spent cyclists. His energy, jokes and stories took our minds off whatever was ailing us at the moment – the heat, the aches and pains, or doubts about whether we could make it!

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In the end, we all made it back to Yellow Springs, as a group. The lead riders waited for the rest, about 2 miles out from the finish. They put the slower riders up front, to set the pace, and we celebrated our accomplishment by raising a glass at a local bar. Even as we were sitting at dinner, a couple of us were talking about a possible recovery ride the next day, to keep our muscles from completely stiffening up.

So, what did I do on Sunday…? Just what the experts on recovering from a long ride advise: sleep, massage, compress, elevate, stretch, hydrate, eat protein, and…..ride!

Join me on my next adventure,

~ Kat

Related Links:

Yellow Springs, OH: http://www.yellowspringsohio.org/

Little Miami Scenic Trail: https://www.miamivalleytrails.org/trails/little-miami-scenic-trail

Antioch College: https://www.antiochcollege.edu/

Peaches Grill: https://www.peachsgrill.com/

Recovery Ride Guidelines: https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/knowledge/article/izn20130108-sportive-r-r–maximise-your-post-ride-recovery-0#reArUZyVVlPQ1tAI.99

Paw Paw Festival: https://www.ohiopawpawfest.com/

The Little River Café: https://www.yellowpages.com/oregonia-oh/restaurants

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