After riding for 8 years, through 5 bicycles and 2 different states, you would think that I would have completed a century (100 miles) by now. But excuses of “What if I don’t finish? What if I am really slow? What if my bike breaks down?” constantly rang in my head. Up until this point I had completed 1 metric century (62.5 miles) and countless 40-50 mile rides – until I heard about the “Rails to Trails of Withlacoochee” century in Inverness, Florida. The route is built on an old rail road line that spans 46 miles (one way), across 3 counties, multiple parks, and trail heads. It is flat, shaded, and known as the “friendliest trail”, so I knew this would be a great first attempt at conquering the cycling century!
Unlike most other organized group rides I have completed in the past, this one was not a mass start. It is designed for cyclists to start as early or late as they want to in order to complete their desired route distance on their terms. The suggested start time is between 7-9AM, providing riders enough time to complete their ride and have access to the amazing SAG stops. I opted for a 7AM start time to miss out on Florida sun as much as possible. Fortunately, plenty of other riders had the same idea so I had a better chance of finding a group to ride with.
After about 10 miles of solo spinning I found a group of 8-10 cyclist who had a comfortable and steady 18 mph pace. I hopped on the back and quickly worked my way up to the front helping to share the workload with my newfound brethren. In true Withlacoochee style they took me in and were more than happy to have another workhorse in tow. Over the course of the century, I had a great time talking with my fellow cyclists as we shared stories, laughed, and enjoyed being outside.
Before I knew it, we were at the metric century (62.5 mile) mark. I inhaled 3 PB&Js and was ready to tackle the remaining 37.5 miles. Fueled by carbs and adrenaline, I took the lead a few times during our trek to the last rest stop. Unfortunately, the rest of the group wasn’t doing so well. On multiple occasions I could hear a faint, “…slow down…” behind me as I charged up some slight inclines. I decided to drop back and let somebody else set the pace, not realizing how much people were suffering until we reached the final rest stop.
At this point, a majority of the group was sprawled out on the grass and picnic benches completely gassed out. There was even talk of people tapping out instead of continuing for the last 16 miles. After a brief pep talk, a few of us convinced the group the stick it out and make it back to the finish line together at a 15 mph pace. We wanted to finish as a group.
With the end in sight, our group had made it. I could tell one of the other riders was itching to open it up the last few miles and, not wanting to lose out on a good sprint, we raced to the end like we were after a stage win at the Tour! A wave of accomplishment poured over me as I saw my Garmin read “100 miles“.
More information about the ride can be found using the following link: https://www.rttwst.org/
Live to ride. Ride to live.