One Hundred.

The last time I did a century, it was a sub-four hour effort that made me swear I would never ride 100 miles in a single day again. I had trained specifically for this, which basically meant I rode around a lot and picked the flattest century I could find. I was drawn along by a large pack of determined riders (the largest one I've ever been in), and despite not pulling at the front for as much as a second, I was still barely hanging on. There were points that I almost fell off the back, only to be saved by a slight slacking of the pack's pace by a turn or other obstruction. I hated just about every minute of it.
When I first started riding, centuries were what I did. I didn't usually do them fast, but I did a lot of them. The vast, vast majority of them were solo. Looking back, I don't know what compelled me to ride like that. Instead of a really cool endorphin rush, I mostly just felt relieved to be off the bike. I just don't think I'm built for the endurance scene.
Almost ten years later, I signed up to ride another century.
Laissez les bons temps rouler.
Two guys I ride with down here were signed up and had never ridden a century. I had nothing better to do, so I figured I'd at least pace them and keep them from dying alone in a ditch somewhere in Mississippi.
Dawn had barely broken when we got out on the road. I figured the best plan was to make decent time while it was still cool, then slow as the day warmed up. We didn't have the best starting position, so we ended up jumping from group to group until I found one who maintained a tolerable pace. The first 90 minutes we averaged over 20 miles an hour without much effort, but that was still a little high for one of my friends. We stopped and he seemed to recover, only to flag before the next stop. We were well above the pace I was expecting, so I sat up and we cruised along at a very conversational pace. I was enjoying myself, exploring new roads and seeing new sights. He, on the other hand, was lagging off the back with his tongue hanging out. I don't think we were doing the same ride. We'd hit a rest stop, he'd recover for a few miles, and then he would slowly die.
After 60 miles, I let the other friend go while I hung back with the riding dead. We weren't moving fast, but we were moving well as long as we weren't going uphill. Unfortunately,it seemed like we were always going uphill. 
We weren't dead last when we rolled in, but we were pretty close. More than a few riders took short cuts (intentional and unintentional) and didn't do the full century, including our friend. We actually rolled past the finish for a quarter mile and then turned around because we were a little short. My comatose friend was determined not to miss a full century by a few tenths, and I admired his resolve. Me? I figure 100 is just another number, no more impressive than 99 or 101. The obsessive compulsive in me likes round numbers, but I wouldn't beat myself up about it if the Garmin shorted me in the end. Like I said, I've done enough of them and they hold no great mystery for me. I'm not transformed somehow by the experience, and I'm just not built for that sort of effort.
I'm glad I went. I got in a good amount of long, slow distance. I got a t-shirt, a swag bag, and a participation medal that will eventually end up in a junk drawer somewhere. My friends did their first long rides and didn't die. I saw some new roads that were fun to ride and met some really nice people. It was a lot more fun than my last century, taking a slower pace and wringing as much value out of my entry fee as I could.

It's a ride, not a race, and I rode it. There's a lot to be said for that approach.    


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