My midlife crisis showed up unannounced about nine years ago. Turning 50 will do that to you.
But I didn’t buy a Harley, go skydiving or dye my hair. Instead, I set my sights on riding 100 miles on my bicycle. In a single ride. I wanted to prove to myself that I still had “it.”
Some people think nothing of doing a 100-mile (often called a century) ride. A friend of mine once cycled 208 miles in a ride known as The Longest Day. He also once rode 530 miles in six days, from his home in Delaware to Stowe, Vermont. Now that’s crazy.
But I’m not one of those people. While the idea of riding 100 miles exhilarated me, it also downright intimidated me. What if I couldn’t finish? That would merely prove I still didn’t have “it.”
To prepare for my BIG RIDE, I rode as often as possible, on weekends, after work and sometimes at 5 in the morning before work. My training rides typically ranged from 20 to 40 miles. Not bad, I thought.
But 40 miles isn’t 100—it isn’t even halfway there, as I later painfully realized. When the day of the ride finally came, I set out at 6 a.m. on what turned out to be a record-hot September day. I felt great the first 35 miles, arriving at my brother’s house in Yarmouth full of vigor. My brother joined me for the next 35 miles, which is when I started slowing down.
Riding solo again, the final third of the ride beat me to a pulp. My legs were spaghetti, my body was overheated, my bicycling jersey and pants were soaked through with sweat. I gave thanks when I finally pulled into my driveway nearly eight hours after my start, but when I looked down at my odometer it read 99.8 miles. “This can’t be!” I thought. I hadn’t reached 100 miles, so I rode down and back up my street to make the final 0.2 of a mile (the slowest 0.2 a mile I’ve ever ridden). Even when I was done, I was in no mood to celebrate. I just wanted to lie down on my cool basement floor and chill—which is exactly what I did.
I call that 100-miler a once-in-a-lifetime ride because I have no desire to cycle that distance again. However, it spurred another idea: to make a ride every year equal to or greater than my age. It would give me a goal to shoot for and prove to myself—or maybe deceive myself into thinking—that I was still young.
Since then, I’ve made the ride each year, sometimes by myself, sometimes with a friend and a couple of times with a large group as part of an organized 62-mile (100-kilometer) ride. Every year, the minimum distance gets one mile longer.
I try to fool myself into thinking that the ride is a piece of cake. It should get easier every year, right? After all, with each year that passes I have another year of experience under my belt. But it’s hard to dupe your brain when you’re riding hard for four hours or more.
Now that I’ve turned 59, I’ll make a ride this summer that’s at least 59 miles long. I’ll no doubt feel it; my legs will shake, my lungs will burn, my body will ache. I’ll curse to myself as I ride up steep hills, and I’ll sigh with relief when I glide downhill.
I’ll also give thanks to be living in a place where I can ride by farmland, beaches, marshes and lighthouses just minutes from my home. And in the end, I’ll feel triumph, a sense of achievement that I’ve done something special.
Hopefully I’ll continue this tradition until I’m old and gray. God help me if I live to be 100.
Clarke Canfield is a longtime journalist, writer and editor who likes to be active. He is the communications director at Southern Maine Community College.