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Fifty States, Fifty Centuries, Part I
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By Ken Comer

I have set a goal for myself to do a century in each of the 50 states. It's an ambitious, but worthy, challenge for a 52-year-old slow-going cyclist. It's a voyage of discovery, and I've discovered one secret already: planning and anticipation is almost as much fun as riding itself. In fact, I feel better already! The charming editor of Pedal Patter had agreed to allow me to document my progress on these pages.

After living in the Virginia suburbs for 25 years, I've been up and down local roads many times-inside the beltway and throughout the Piedmont. I've been over almost every hill and dale between the Potomac and the Blue Ridge. This 50-century goal, for me, will put some of the spice back into cycling.

Some ground rules for the articles I will write: The first half will be about the mechanics of the project. There's a lot to be learned as one plans for bicycle tours. It's useful to document this experience for other bicycle tourists. Advice on bicycle travel, sadly, goes out of date rather quickly. But, the project is about the bike rides, so the second half of each article will be about the ride. That will give us fifty articles (more or less)-by then you'll either ignore these articles or turn to this page first.

Let me define the bicycling rules. There are six states in which I have already ridden a century-or a significant portion of one. I will also count those states in which I've done a weeklong ride of over 300 miles. This gives me another seven. My "been there, done that" list now stands at: VT, NH, MA, PA, MD, VA, FL, KY, WV, CO, UT, ID, and OR. That's thirteen. Coincidentally, the United States started with thirteen as well.

I've also decided I will count a metric century on a mountain bike. I figure the effort is about the same, and this opens up a broad range of interesting adventures.

Now, you need to know, I ride a very slow nine-hour century. You will not find me riding a paceline. Actually, riding fast would be incompatible with my goal. If I'm not going to stop and smell the roses-or at least the cows-then what's the point in changing the scenery? Life should be about the journey, not the destination.

Some planning issues are immediately apparent. Focusing on organized centuries simplifies the process. Local bike clubs understand the best routes, and provide map and sag support. They make the job easy-all I have to do is ride. Airline travel with a bicycle probably is the biggest roadblock. I will expand on that in future articles, but that's the most boring part of the project. Really, it's about the ride?

The Ride: Adams Apple Century, Gettysburg PA. Completed Saturday, September 25, 2004.

Gettysburg was shrouded in fog, and I mean shrouded. We're talking pea soup, can't see your hood ornament, fog-your-glasses fog. There was some danger, and I might have decided to wait and ride a shorter distance had I not set out on my 50-century quest. But, the goal has been set, and this will probably not be the last time my goal will urge me to get me out on the road.

My hotel was at the end of the commercial "strip", so my room overlooked Cemetery Hill. I woke up to a view of the misty battlefield, and could imagine the ghosts of Armistead and Reynolds (generals, Confederate and Union, killed on that field) gazing back at me. I'm sure they would be amused.

The Adams Apple Century (so named because of the eponymous host county), began a short distance north of Gettysburg, and crossed back through town and battlefield several times. There were two loops, north and south (how fitting!), with rest stops half-way through each.

The ride was hosted by the local Chamber of Commerce, and the Gettysburg High School headquarters had all the trappings of a major event: food, bike stuff for sale, and a disc jockey spinning pop music for the departing riders.

Not 500 feet out of the parking lot, the fog closed in. You could hear the music, but could not see even the outer line of cars. As the route wound through Gettysburg streets and out into the country, I was sure that we were in the middle of the battlefield. On a clearer day, there would be monuments and cannons, statues and granite obelisks along the sides of the road. But, this morning, the fields were as featureless as they were on the day of the battle.

The north loop, which many of us chose to do first, had more hills. Psychologically, the fog may have helped here. As I look back on a topographic map of this route, we went through a rather mountainous region. At one point the route passes through a ravine with 600 foot walls on either side of the road, aptly named "The Narrows". It was probably a good thing that we could barely see the roadside trees.

The disadvantage of the fog appeared during the downhills. You must keep your speed in check due to the low visibility, and fogging eyeglasses compounded the problem. (That is, until they went into the pocket.)

Somewhere past the first rest stop the fog finally began to burn off. Just as it did, a cyclist went past with a jersey from my own local bike shop, The Bike Lane in Burke. I chatted with him briefly, and told him my own Trek was from the shop. It was one of those amusing coincidences that demonstrate how small the cycling community really is.

The ride had its share of road hazards-many railroad crossings and a few steel grate bridges. After hearing many horror stories, I've chosen to walk over all railroad tracks. Since I'm not into doing minimum-time centuries, this detracts little from my ride. Besides, I'm a bit of a train buff, so I get to notice the little details about the rail line. By the rust on the tracks, one can tell whether it is used frequently. And, if there are weeds or plants growing between the ties, we have a candidate for another rail trail!

The southern loop made up for the lack of battlefield vistas. The ride moved right down Confederate Avenue, launching point for Pickett's Charge. We had to maneuver around tourists in cars and buses and past the crowd watching re-enactors firing cannons. By mid-day, Gettysburg was a whirlwind of activity.

Shortly after we left the battlefield, I turned the corner on a country lane and found myself riding over a covered bridge. The bridge was not marked on the cue sheet. It was one of those delightful surprises that century organizers like to insert in their routes. These are the dividends we earn for all that hard work.

The southern route did prove to be less hilly, as advertised. But, as I was the slowpoke on the century, it tended to get lonely. If you're riding alone, you need to pay careful attention to the cue sheet, lest you find yourself adding "bonus miles". Around mile 65, I missed a turn by a few hundred yards. After that, I vowed to stay focused on the cue sheet.

The final rest stop was in Littlestown, PA. I won't say I closed it down-there were a few people behind me-but the volunteers were more cheerful and encouraging than one would expect this late in the afternoon

We had a pleasant surprise as we neared the end of the ride as well. Some miles to the east of Gettysburg, a cavalry battle was fought between an already-famous Jeb Stuart and the soon-to-be-famous George Armstrong Custer. This battlefield is a rarely-visited annex to the Gettysburg National Historical Park. It was on our route, though, adding a bit of history to our final 15 miles.

I rolled into the parking lot with the disc jockey still spinning tunes. After a few photos, and a great pasta dinner, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was "in the bag".

more Ride Schedule

12/8/2016
C (MH) * 21-29 miles * MD *10:00 AM * Glen Echo Loops * Glen Echo (GLE)

12/8/2016
C/CC * 15-25 * VA * 1:00 PM * Neighborhood Midday Ride * Pinn Community Center * 32°/wind 20+mph

Featured Members
Linda B. KolkoLinda is the D/C Ride Coordinator for MD & DC
Matthew BirnbaumMatt is Chairman of Potomac Pedalers

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