In choosing a course for the 100 Miles of Nowhere I focused on the “nowhere” attribute. Near Montreal there is a man-made strip of land in the St. Lawrence river. It was created to separate the river from the St. Lawrence Seaway, which is a series of locks allowing ships to travel from the Great Lakes down the river to the Atlantic Ocean. The strip of land is about 50 yards wide, 20 or 30 feet above the level of the river, and over 10 miles long. For a bit over 6 miles there is a road on top of it, a road beloved by cyclists because cars are not allowed on it. The road has no name (there’s a sign near it directing you to the “estacade” which I think is an old Iroquois word meaning “place where people in Lycra go”). It’s not quite in Montreal or any other political jurisdiction (I’m not sure it’s even in Canada because the Seaway is a joint U.S./Canadian project). There are no buildings or addresses on it. It’s nowhere. So I decided to ride 100 miles on it.
On Friday, May 31, I dropped my kids at school, walked home, jumped on the bike, and rode the 8 miles to Nowhere. My goal was to ride seven laps and make it home before my son (age 7) got out of school, although I had arranged for someone else to get him if I didn’t make it on time. My wife was out of town out her 25th college reunion (one of her classmates founded Strava. How cool would it be if she got to know him?)
Lap One: a normal ride along Nowhere. I establish a comfortable pace, 19 m.p.h. I notice that one of my big worries, that there would be swarms of shadflies, is not coming to pass. There are a few, but it is tolerable. They land on you and just sit there, not biting or anything.
Also, although there was a 30% chance of rain forecast, the skies are cloudless.
Lap Two: still on schedule. Nowhere consists of two miles heading south, two miles of gradual turning to the west, then two miles heading west. I notice a significant headwind, maybe 15 or 20 m.p.h., on the western leg. But of course it’s a tailwind on the return trip, so it’s a wash, it’s all good.
Lap Three: remarkably consistent pace. I think about how the 100 Miles of Nowhere is like the Doughnut Race in that they both have two elements. For the Doughnut Race, biking and eating. For the 100 MON, biking and fighting boredom. I don’t pretend that my Nowhere course is as much of a challenge as riding indoors or doing 3000 laps of my driveway. When it comes to mental toughness, the people who did those rides are are like Eddy Merckx and I’m just a Fred. But my Nowhere is still tough. I pass the time flicking hitchhiking shadflies off my jersey and listening to songs in my head.
Lap Four: Still on pace, but it’s becoming an effort, especially into the wind. Ear worm of “Ever Fallen in Love” by Nouvelle Vauge becomes annoying. I try singing “Renegades of Funk” out loud but cannot kill the ear worm. I notice that redwing blackbirds were out in the morning, but now the predominant species is the goldfinch. Perhaps redwings get up early to get worms, but goldfinches eat shadflies, so they can sleep in. I flick some annoying shad flies from my legs so the goldfinches will have more to eat.
Lap Five: A half minute slower. But what’s a half minute in the grand scheme of things? I think about averages. Sure, two miles into the wind and then two miles of tailwind average out to no wind at all, but it is definitely not the same as riding on a calm day. It’s like the mathematician with one foot in a bucket of scalding water and one foot in a bucket of ice water. When asked how his feet felt, he said, “On average, they feel just right.”
Montreal weather this spring has been cool and not particularly rainy. On average. But late March and early April were snowy and cold, so my outdoor training started late. Then the second half of April and early May were beautiful, dry, and relatively warm, so I was riding a lot. The rest of May was terrible. Last week it didn’t get above 50 degrees, with constant drizzle and high winds. So I lost some fitness and certainly was not acclimating to hot summer weather. Now, for the 100 MON, the temperature was heading into the high 80s, with humidity around 60%. I wasn’t confident that I would handle it well.
Lap Six: “Two minutes is not going to make the difference between picking up my son on time or just seeing him when he gets home. 19 m.p.h. is just a number. Hey, I live in Canada now, I should go with metric anyway. 18.6 miles is 30 kilometres. That’s a good round number.
“Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with? No, but I’ve gotten songs stuck in my head that I shouldn’t have ever listened to in the first place. And I’ve left an ‘emergency’ caffeinated gel in my saddle bag for two years, sucked it down near the end of a hot 100 mile ride, and immediately felt nauseous. If only my swag bag had arrived, I’d have some fresh ride food. But no, I live in Canada now, so mail from the States takes forever. Canada, eh? I remember when I was five, on our summer vacation we visited Niagara Falls. On the Canadian side I walked up to a Mountie and asked, ‘Where’s the snow?’ I could use some snow now. Remember last week, how it felt with my toes cramping on the cold kitchen floor in the morning. I should focus on that. Remember how it felt last week. Remember how it felt last week. Remember how it felt last week.”
Lap Seven: “Five minutes is probably not going to make the difference between picking up my son at school or just seeing him when I get home. Even ten minutes. Anyway, he’d enjoy going home with someone different for a change.”
“I thought that staying hydrated would take care of me. But I’m obviously drinking enough and getting lots of electrolytes, yet I still feel dead. Not the bonk, not cramps, just dead. My legs do not want to move. After I stopped for a quick break down near the river and cooled off I felt lively, but now that I’m hot again the legs won’t spin.
“30% chance of rain? Sure, on average. But it can’t rain 30%. Either it rains or it doesn’t. Either you’re pregnant or you’re not. Today there is 0% cool, refreshing rain. 100%, hot, humid, windy sun.
‘Just keep turning the pedals. Just get through the headwind section to the turnaround, then it will be a tailwind. Just enjoy the tailwind, no need to push it, without the headwind it’s too hot to push it. Just let the shad flies cling to you, what’s the harm, it takes too much energy to flick them off. Just keep turning the pedals. Just a short crosswind straight section to go. Just turn the pedals. Just catch those two women on mountain bikes. Surely you can catch them, you’re not that dead. One last sprint. There’s the bridge. Done.”
Lap Heading Home: Focusing on finishing the Nowhere part of the course helps me finish the Nowhere part of the course. But then comes the 8 miles of generally uphill, headwind riding back into Montreal. As I get closer to downtown I realize how much cooler it is in the middle of the river. And quieter. And the air is cleaner, despite the bugs.
I wobble up towards Mt. Royal (I live two blocks from the bottom of the climb, along the route of the 1974 world championships won by Eddy Merckx) and looked at the time. My son got out of school three minutes ago.
I pull up to my front door just in time to see him coming down the street on his bike. He starts sprinting to me, out of the saddle, his backpack bobbing up and down behind his head with each pedal stroke. “Did you do it, did you do it?” he shouts. I feel pretty good. I take the 100 MON swag package out of the mailbox and we go in together for a cool drink and an afternoon snack.