Why metric centuries are better than American centuries

On Saturday, I cycled in the 2012 Festival of Flowers Buzzin’ Bee tour. Sign-in went from 7 a.m. until 7:45 a.m.; I arrived at 8:17 a.m.

I had this crazy idea I was going to “win” the 62.5-mile (100 kilometer – hence the name “metric century”) ride, which was not meant to be a race. Therefore, I was wildly disappointed when I gained consciousness two minutes after sign-in began and 13 minutes before racers took off.

I still tried, pedaling furiously toward the pack after breezing through a makeshift check-in (thanks to a friend working the thing) and looking like a jerk as I flew past the stragglers three miles into the ride. The course was beautiful, as was the morning. Everyone I passed seem to be really enjoying themselves.

Then it occurred to me: if I could “win” this ride (only intended to benefit the city’s annual Festival of Flowers, which showcases the manmade natural beauty of the place), it would likely be by the skin of my teeth. Some of these folks are avid riders who train for these events regularly, whereas I just ride when I can.

Did I really think I was going to catch up to them having given up a 10-mile head start? After an evening of Coors Originals, staying up until 1 a.m. and consuming no water whatsoever? Did I really think I could just Bode Miller out of bed at the last minute, wash down a protein bar with some coffee, grab a 20-ounce bottle of water and go? And win?

Really, Justin?

It wasn’t going to happen. Truth was, I knew I’d be fighting cramps and uncooperative quadriceps by mile 40. So I threw the will to “win” in a ditch between the road and a farm not even 8 miles into the event.

I was going to do something I rarely did on a road bike: enjoy the damn ride.

Riders in organized events are faced with signs like these at some point on the course. If they’re at all like me, some serious consideration goes into the decision. Twenty-five miles and you’re home in an hours. Sixty-three miles and you’re at home (exhausted, sunburned and with a numb rectum) in nearly three. But as it is with life in general, one always seems to feel better after accomplishing a goal that demanded effort.

Here is some of what I saw the first time in Greenwood County:

This is pretty much the view the entire ride when you’re focused on finishing instead of riding. While healthy competition can be enjoyable, it’s nice to sometimes ignore your bike computer and check out the stuff you’re riding by.

Looking down a slope is always better than looking up one.

The wind blowing through your jersey is always refreshing, as long as it’s from behind. There’s a great sense of accomplishment in knowing you’ve covered these miles using your own power. The faster these things happen, though, the sooner their effect comes to an end … and that can make you miserable when climbing hills with the wind in your face.

 Still, one must find the strength to press on.

… even when the water bottle’s empty!

By Saluda County, South Carolina, I had abandoned what once was ambition to finish the ride first and replaced it with appreciation for the opportunity feel the contours of the place in which I live. I’d only ever passed through Saluda County to get to Columbia, S.C. – but each time, I noticed the charm of its “unforced” rural life and made a mental note to return for the sake of returning someday.

 But I never had until yesterday.

The thing about Saluda is it’s exactly what Yankees picture when they imagine the South.  The feel of Saluda County – the rolling of its hills, freshness of its air, absence of traffic, gentleness of life – is unlike any of the other counties ’round these parts. It’s really cool.

  • It’s the kind of place that makes one want to be a farmer
  • It’s the kind of place that reminds one of family
  • It’s the kind of place that makes one think of God

Saluda County, S.C.

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and can coast down them … thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motorcar only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” – Hemingway


By the time we returned to Greenwood, I had gone into a wonderous daze.

A less proud man would have felt guilty for not experiencing such tranquility after two years among it.

 I almost didn’t know where I was.

—-   I have finally learned the contours of the country. I shall remember them as they actually are.   —

Back to Greenwood County, S.C.

It’s true. I love the churches in the South. (The view from outside, anyway!)

This here’s the church of proper apostrophe placement.


Fields clear-cut for no reason (other than to make the owner money, of course) disgust me.

This was a wonderful sight on S.C. 225, just past the rail yard, as the ride came to a close. The climb is awful when your legs feel like slabs of beef, but it makes the ride down feel like an amusement park phenomenon.

I doubt I’ll always ride like this. Surely, I’ll be back to aspiring for broken land speed records sooner rather than later. But this was nice for a change. I feel more connected to the land here than ever – and it’s all because of my two-wheeled limo.

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