- Must be held on a Saturday (we're Mormon, and Sunday is a day of rest)
- Within two hours of home
- Reasonable cost (preferably under $50. There are two of us, after all)
- Well supported rest stops
The Tour de Lion met all of our criteria. The event was only $35 and the race organizer assured me via email that each rest stop was well stocked, including a lunch at the halfway point and second lunch at the finish.
We reviewed the course ahead of time and saw that it would be fairly flat. We like the challenge of hills (all of our other centuries have been suuuuper hilly) but also liked the idea of a less exhausting ride. :) We weren't thrilled with the out-and-back design of the course. Most organized rides are a loop, and it's definitely more desirable to have new scenery the whole time. Also, some of the joy of a downhill is taken away when you know that you're turning around at some point and going right back up it.
We found the starting line easily and picked up our packet. With cheap races, we don't expect much of a swag bag, but we did get some granola bars and fruit with our bibs. There were bagels and coffee on the registration tables, and checking in was quick and painless.
This was definitely the fewest people we'd seen at a century before- there were maybe 50 riders congregating at the starting line. A lot of them looked fast. We later learned that most of them were locals and from racing clubs in the area, so that explains why we never saw them again.
After just a few minutes, we settled into a pace with a solo female rider whom I immediately made friends with. I tend to do that. We stopped super briefly at the first rest stop, only 15 miles in, and I mostly veered over there because I saw chocolate. I can't refuse a handful of M&Ms. We quickly pedaled away and my new friend Melanie and I were chatting so much that we didn't realize we hadn't seen any signs in a while. Eventually we stopped and got out a cue sheet.... we had totally ridden off course. At least 5 miles. We checked a map (before smart phones, did humans just get lost constantly? and stay lost?) and debated trying to find a route back to the course, but then decided we would turn around, find the right turn, and in the interest of NOT adding more miles to the already long ride, we'd turn around before the halfway point to make up for the miles we were off course. Suddenly I was very glad it was an out-and-back.
On our way back to the course, we found several other riders who had missed the turn as well. See, we're not fools! I blame myself for our mishap because I was the one leading out of the rest stop after my impromptu chocolate grab, and Husband and Melanie were trying to catch up.
It turns out our little deviation added 16 miles to the ride. Husband decided to go the full distance to the turn around point, and sped off from us in pursuit of a crazy long and tiring day. For the next many many hours and miles, Melanie and I rode along on this oh so pleasant Saturday on this oh so flat ride. Seriously, the weather couldn't have been better and the inclines and descents were mild and kept the ride interesting without being over challenging.
Because we turned around earlier than the course marked, we missed the halfway rest stop. The rest of the stops were fairly well supplied, but I would have preferred more variety. They had water, gatorade, ice, nature valley bars, trail mix, bananas, and an assortment of what I tend to call "crap food" like Doritos, hostess snacks, etc. I was glad I had brought a few items for myself.
At mile 90, my legs became lead and I was going so.slow. Melanie wins an award for being patient neough to stopp and wait for me at one point to make sure I didn't miss the not very well marked turns. A small climb woke me up, and before we knew it we were navigating back to the Food Lion where we started. The finish line tent was great about applauding each rider as they came in, awarding us with medals, and serving up BBQ ribs, baked beans, cole slaw, and rolls.
I had been wondering how Husband was faring, and was just starting to get worried when he came cruising in. 120 miles! Who does that?
It was a great day. The Tour de Lion century gets a low grade on course marking (not just for our one wrong turn, but the others were hard to follow at times, too), moderate grade on rest stops and finish line food, and high grade on convenience, cost, and overall friendliness. I have a hard time rating the course, because normally I wouldn't like an out-and-back but it ended up being very beneficial with our detour. The mild terrain would make this a great ride for someone trying out their first century, but would be disappointing for someone looking for a more challenging ride.