1st Century on a guni (long)

I very nearly completed 100 miles on a guni today (11 Sept, 2005), held back at the end more by time constraints than physical exhaustion or discomfort.

“Transportation Alternatives” sponsored the annual event, which takes bicyclists and me thruout NYC. The ride was set to start at 6am for 100-milers, but due to terrible planning and disorg. on their part, most of us weren’t able to get our bibs till 6:30 or later, so I didn’t leave the starting area till 6:45. The ride starts in Manhattan at 110th Street, the upper limit of Central Park.

The first leg of the ride mysteriously took riders uptown for a mile before heading down to Brooklyn. As I did two years ago, I didn’t bother with the ride route thru Manhattan, which took people down the streets, with lots of start-and-stop due to traffic lights; rather, I rode down the beautiful West Side Path, a few miles longer but much faster. This path also put me very close to the site of the World Trade Centers, which I thought was important on this terrible anniversary.

I caught up with the riders at the Brooklyn Bridge and was able to zip past many of them, allowing me to use my favorite phrase of the day, “On your left!” By now, I was really enjoying the speed of the geared 29" uni. The ride wended its way thru the part of Brooklyn that I use on my daily commute, so it was great riding on familiar streets, and soon we were at the famed Carousel in Prospect Park, drinking Accelerade (courtesy of the Accelerade company, one of the sponsors of the ride). This was the only time I was able to get ahold of the drink, which is like a protein-enhanced Gatorade, because the sponsor hadn’t supplied enough drink mix to meet the needs of the 5,000+ riders.

Leaving the Carousel, the ride headed right past my house, so I had to drop in and squeeze the kids. It was also a nice chance to use a bathroom that didn’t smell like a blue chemical. A few minutes later, I was on my way, my drink bladder as full as my own bladder was empty.

Next the ride took in the outer limits of Brooklyn, which accounted for about 45 miles of the route. It’s mainly flat and a bit bumpy, and I noticed (when I had to stop now and then to stretch my vegetables) that I was maintaining an average speed of 11.6 mph, not including rest stops. Bicyclists routinely gave me thumbs up and were verbally encouraging and curious (“How far you planning to ride?” the most popular question of the day). Their praise was just as important as the bananas and Gatorade that I consumed along the route.

As for the actual riding, it was also encouraging that I continually ran into the same people, many of them fairly fit, suggesting that their average pace was about the same as mine. It’s neat to be able to ride a unicycle as fast as many people can bike. I never switched gears during the first 50 miles of riding because the roads were pretty flat and because I was feeling good. These factors came to an ugly ending in Queens, the worst part of the overall ride.

Queens is hilly. It’s not as well-known for its hills as the Pyrenees or the Alps, but that’s only becuase it’s on a smaller scale. It seems that there aren’t two consecutive residential streets in Queens that are flat, and at this point I began having to use the low gear, tho I still used high gear most of the time. I saw my average speed slip closer to 11 mph as Queens wore me out. Worse still, the ride disorganizers had chosen to skip a traditional rest stop point, so we were riding “straight” for 35 miles. Most of us stopped at least twice to replenish drinks, stretch our veggies, and give our aching seats a rest, and I was lucky enough to meet a generous biker who gave me a spare minitube of butt cream, a moment that definitely proved pivotal in my ability to continue since I was developing some serious saddle soreness. Finally the rest stop appeared, and I applied the cream, chatted with friends (including a colleague and some members of my uni club), complained, and rested. At this point, I had to decide whether I was really going to go for at least 75 miles or maybe just 55, as the ride has different routes depending on your goals. I chose to go the 75-100 mile route.

There were a few more rest stops left, tho as usual I created my own as my legs were jellying somewhat and my saddle soreness was only moderately under control. I continued seeing familiar faces and hearing encouraging words, both of which continued to inspire me greatly as I headed for the mile-62 rest area, but at this point, I was strongly considering taking a taxi back home because I suddenly remembered another fault of the ride officials. They always list the ride options as “15, 35, 55, 75, or 100 miles,” but in fact, no route except the 15 is even close to the stated distance, suggesting that they just really like having numbers that end in 5. In fact, the routes are more like 15, 40, 62, 86, and 109. When I realized how much riding I had left and how little time (thanks to that late start), I knew that a Century was out of the Q, so I set my sights on meeting my family after the 86 mile route – they had driven into Manhattan to pick me up. Along this stretch of Queens, I realized the the organizers had gotten one thing right. They planned the route to include a long stretch on “9/11 Memorial Way,” a street that commemorates some of those who died 4 years ago in the WTC attack. Every few blocks, another side street had been renamed for a local person who had died that day, a very somber reminder of what day it was.

There was a final rest stop at mile 75, but it was mile 79 for me on account of some extra riding I’d done on the day. I gobbled down another peanut butter pita, replenished my water supply, and rested with friends before heading the last 6 miles to the finish. Somehow even this distance was off, and it turned into 11 miles, getting me to the end with a total of 90 miles under my belt. I also had nothing to drink for the last hour of the ride because my water system malfunctioned.

I was disappointed at not being able to go the whole hundred on my guni (I wanted to be the first to ride a Century on a guni, another of my inspirations during the ride), but I was happy that I’d been able to maintain an average speed of 10.5 mph while riding just under 9 hours. Including the rest I took, my average speed was a more pedestrian 8 mph, but who’s counting. I also consoled myself with the fact that the night before the ride, I’d ridden 13.5 miles from my house to my mom’s, so in 24 hours, I’d managed 103.

Arriving at the finish, to my amazement, there were still free water bottles and tee-shirts to be had at the end, the only items they had not run out of. Sponsors who didn’t come up with enough of the goods included Accelerade, Ben and Jerry’s, and Naked (fruit drinks).

I bought more Gatorade and drove the family home, where I too a lengthy bath before putting my youngest to bed. A few minutes later, I was asleep, too, tho by 1:45 I was up again, writing this note. I’m glad that I can still take stairs two at a time and that my back isn’t sore and that my butt is healing well, and I’m amazed that it didn’t hurt to pee all day (when I did the ride two years ago, it hurt for 2 days). Maybe a KH seat trumps the more comfortable Sem seat I rode in 2003, or maybe it was the 2nd pair of cycle shorts that I was wearing.

I don’t think I’ll be attempting another Century any time soon, but it was a blast being able to put in so many miles in one day on my guni. It held up great. It was also fantastic to put to the test my own idea that at a given moment, I could ride at least 50 miles even tho my commute is only 9 total miles a day.

Good night!