Saturday afternoon I loaded up my bike and made the four hour drive from here to Savannah for the Savannah Century. I had never done a century before and really wasn't sure what to expect. There were the usual concerns of everyone being faster than me. I worried that if I was too slow, they might close down the rest stops before I get there and maybe they could at least wrap my "post ride meal" in a little tin foil and leave it by the finish line in case they had all gone home by the time I got there. All that worry was unnecessary.
I pulled into the parking deck on Sunday morning and it was packed with cyclists getting on their gear and pumping air in their tires. An older man comes over and asks me if I will help him put two bananas and some sunscreen in the back pocket of his shirt. I had never seen anyone carry frozen bananas on a ride. I thought it was odd but maybe I am just not up to date on bike riding nutrition.
Tires pumped and helmet on, I make my way out of the parking deck and over to the starting area. The ride has about 1000 participants doing various routes of 25, 37, 56, 69 or 103 miles. I was given a map in my ride packet and had it with me just in case. The start was kind of uneventful. Bikes just started moving into position and slowly inching forward. Next thing you know we are off.
The Savannah Century is a weekend event. There are two rides on Saturday along with "the bridge" ride on Sunday. They call it the bridge ride because the very first part of the ride takes you over the Talmadge Bridge. Let me just say this is no small bridge. It is closed to cyclists typically so it is a big deal to be able to ride your bike over it.
After everyone got their legs warmed up on the bridge, the ride thinned out as pace lines were formed and everyone settled into their riding speed. As we started making turns, I asked how you could tell which road markings were for which route. I knew that my route stayed with the others for a few rest stops but didn't want to have to rely on the map. All the road markings were color coded. If you had a yellow map, you followed the yellow markings. This was the most well marked course I have ever seen. At certain intersections where you might be tempted to turn, there would be a confirmation marker letting you know to continue straight. Markings to let you know of an upcoming turn were well in advance and then once you made the turn there was another marking to let you know you were on the right path.
On the ride, there were rest stops every 10 to 15 miles. Since I was using this as a training ride for Beach 2 Battleship, my initial plan was to hit up every other rest stop and to do so as quickly as possible. My first stop was at the second rest stop which was hosted by a local boy scout troop. They had even made a makeshift bike rack out of wood for us. It was a little chaotic as none of the distances had split apart yet but I managed to fill my water bottle and move on.
Shortly after that rest stop, the shorter distances split off. I had that brief realization of "no turning back now" and kept going. Shortly after the split off, two cyclists asked me if this was the century route as they whizzed past me. I said yes. They asked again, the 103 mile route? Still yes. I tried not to take that as a sign that I looked out of place :)
The next rest stop was at a feed and seed. My original plan was not to stop there but for some reason that sounded interesting to me. Any excuse, I suppose. One of my two water bottles was completely empty so it was probably best to fill it back up. I was trying something new this route. I had been using accelerade in one of my two bottles but decided to go with nuun tablets. I would fill up a water bottle, drop in a nuun tablet and then put it in the back bottle holder to give it time to dissolve while I drank from the front bottle until the next rest stop. It seemed to work great.
For most of the time riding, I amused myself taking pictures or keeping up with the mileage to the next turn or rest stop. It really made the miles fly by. Having rest stops every 10 to 15 miles almost seemed like too much in the beginning but by the end, when you would ride up on one it was almost like an oasis. Towards the end, people would be stretched out on the grass resting and taking a break. Oh and the food at these things is a carb lovers dream. Tiny cups of pretzels, trail mix, cheez its, 6 or 8 kinds of cookies, pickles, oranges, grapes, bananas, shall I go on? I became addicted to the orange slices and would pick up a couple as I filled my water bottle.
The weather during the ride was in the low 90s with no wind that I could tell in the beginning. Once we made the turn for the final 50 miles, we had some occasional sprinkles which felt cooling. At one point, there was a deluge of rain for 6 or 8 miles which was not quite as delightful as the sprinkles. I could see sunny spots in the distance so just kept riding despite the downpour. As soon as it stopped, the heat dried everything off and we spent the last 40 miles or so in a pretty intense headwind. For most of this portion of the race, I felt like I was riding alone. I could occasionally see riders in the distance or have a small group pass me but there were plenty of times where I wondered if maybe I had missed a turn. A few miles from the last rest stop, there was a random family out there clapping and cheering which made me smile.
I had planned on skipping the last rest stop but when I came up on it there was no one there other than the volunteers. I decided to stop to thank them for helping. As they filled my water bottle with ice, I realized that was the best decision I made all day. I enjoyed that icy water bottle for the last 12 miles back to the finish.
As I made the final turn off the highway I could feel the wind gusting and pushing my bike over to the left. I was thankful to get off the highway at that point and on to side roads for the last four miles. As I made the final half mile, there was a group coming out of a restaurant that saw me and started cheering for me as I was coming up a hill. At that point, I actually thought I had 2 miles to go. Little did I know I was so close. Rolled through the finish and I was done!
Everyone was so nice, I guess as a lone rider and a girl at that I kind of stood out. At one point a group of guys passed me and told me I was "rad" for doing this by myself. As I was packing up the car, a couple of guys loaded the bike for me. I didn't ask them, they just did it. What a lovely group of people. So well organized and such a great time, I would definitely do it again!