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The Joy Of The Metric Century - Why Pedal For 62 Miles?
Every year in Oregon thousands of cyclists sign up to ride 62 miles from the state capitol building, out to Champoeg State Park, and back again. This is not a race, at least not officially, although some people do set out to ride like the wind, in groups, or alone. However, most people on the annual Monster Cookie Metric Century seem to be out for a day of casual to decent paced riding, chatting with friends, and seeing many familiar faces that come back year after year.
Before I got into cycling as seriously as I have over the past few years, I'd seen this group of cyclists ride by our home year after year. There are normally cyclists on any given day, this particular group ride attracts as many as 1400-1600 riders each year. That is a steady stream of cyclists covering the mostly flat 62 mile round trip route. Historically the route is supported with 3 stops -- one halfway to Champoeg Park, and the same stop halfway back, plus a lunch stop at the park itself. Each of the years I've ridden the Monster Cookie, I've opted not to sign up for the optional lunch at the park because the three stops are stocked with fruit, bagels, water, sport drink, and of course, cookies.
Cyclists sign up for the Monster Cookie weeks in advance. There is no limit to the number of riders, and many people also 'poach' the ride, skipping the official registration and just jumping in along the way. Although the ride leaves from Salem, Oregon, people come from all over the Willamette Valley to do the ride. Participants wind through town, and get out on rural roads as quickly as possible. There is no ceremonial start, people just head out, ride at their own pace, and finish whenever they get back. Nothing marks the end of the ride, except for picking up your monster cookie at the end from volunteers at the state capitol plaza.
In cycling, they call a ride of this length a metric century for the 62 miles it covers is shorter than the 100 mile century ride. Before doing my first ride of this length, I increased my rides from 20 miles to 30 miles to 40 miles. I did a few of these 40 mile rides, but never rode much further than that before doing the metric. I typically ride alone on my training rides, so I figured the camaraderie of riding with several friends would help make up the distance I hadn't ridden yet, and it did. Additionally, being able to stop at 15 miles, then 30 miles, then again at 45 miles allowed us all to refuel with snacks and fluids, so we were never far from another burst of energy.
For most of the ride, the group I ride with takes a fairly casual pace and approach to the ride, typically riding between 15-18 miles an hour. Some of the faster groups will get into pacelines, and ride at speeds pushing 27-30 miles an hour, while many people are content to move along at 10 mph and make a whole day of it. At the 15-18 mph pace, we can still ride along and carry on a conversation with people around us. We can meet people who pass us, or who we pass. We can compliment people on their bikes, or ask questions about gear they are using. And we can move forward and backward in the group to catch up with other friends who may not be riding immediately next to us.
I particularly love the amazingly diverse group on the Monster Cookie ride. Everyone from wannabe racers riding 10,000 carbon fiber bikes, to local able club riders, to touring cyclists on folding bikes, couples on tandems, children on tag-along-bikes, and everyone in between. There are road bikes, geared bikes, single speeds, fixed gear bikes, mountain bikes, old bikes, new bikes, and bikes pulling trailers filled with kids and pets! And just about everyone is more than willing to lend a hand should you need any help at all. If you end up with a flat, someone will stop and help. Run out of water? Someone will give you an extra bottle. Need a tool to fix a faulty component? Any number of cyclists will have what you need as they slow down to make sure you're ok.
For many, missing a Sunday morning of church is reason enough to skip the Monster Cookie, but I will tell you that the religious experience of riding 62 miles on your bike, along with more than a thousand other people who love to motor down the road using their own two legs, is a beautiful thing worth giving up a Sunday for. I don't often like to be away from the kids for big chunks of time on the weekend, but once a year they know Dad heads out for the big cookie ride. And this year, my 14 year old son will be joining along, making the experience that much greater.