Two 50 somethings tackle Headwaters Hundred
A light turned on at 5:15 a.m. in our hotel room.
The usual moment of confusion hit as I woke up some place other than my own bed.
Then I realized: It's Sept. 26 and I'm in Park Rapids. Bob Hines and I are going to ride in the Headwaters Hundred bike ride.
But why are there lights at 5:15 a.m.?
Registration doesn't open until 7 a.m. and that's at the Century School just a couple miles away. I set my alarm for 6 a.m. Isn't that early enough?
About 20 minutes later, as we're having breakfast in the hotel, Bob notices that I'm still not awake.
"You're really not a morning person, are you," he says.
"Oh, I'm a morning person," I reply, my annoyance obvious, "I'm just not a pre-crack-of-dawn guy like you."
We drove to the school and assembled our bikes. By 6:45 a.m. we're ready to go and registration is open. There go my arguments about not getting up early.
The volunteers hand us maps with colored lines indicating the routes of the three different rides.
Everyone crazy enough to do the 100-mile ride has to follow the yellow line on the map and signs with yellow arrows on the way.
We head out in the dark and, in a couple minutes, realize we're lost. Where's the first sign leading us out of the parking lot?
We're pedaling 100 miles today and we're chalking up extra distance before we even start.
Following other riders, we find the exit. It's marked with a sign.
As we continue, all the signs are in place, although we nearly miss a few.
The ride is called the Headwaters Hundred because the route takes cyclists through Itasca State Park and right by the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
The first rest stop is in the park and 31 miles into the ride.
As I munch on some muffins, Bob says: "Boy there doesn't seem to be anyone here who's under 50."
"And there aren't too many 50-somethings who should be wearing spandex," I add.
There are plenty of younger people among the event's 655 riders -- we discover as we ride most of them are already ahead of us or pass us during the course of the ride.
Some of the youngsters seem to be from clubs or in teams that whiz by us in groups as they joke and call warnings and other instructions to each other.
They might as well be yelling "geezers dead ahead," (as the day wears on that's more accurate in several ways) as they fly past.
Bob heard one guy say he was with a group of 10 from Canada.
One pair of riders kept passing us.
This teen-or-20-something woman in a pink jersey and man who appears to be in his 50s like us pass us, stop to talk on a cell phone or chat with friends riding another route.
Then, a few minutes later, we hear a young female voice saying, "On your left."
"It really makes you feel old when the pink jerseys are passing you," Bob says.
After the third or fourth time, I begin to feel like the Sundance Kid when he kept asking about the posse he and Butch couldn't lose: "Who are those guys?"
The icing on the cake comes when, at the final rest stop, we hear Miss Pink Jersey tell another rider she's recovering from an injury.
But being old and slow gives us more time to enjoy the scenery. While not at the height of their fall colors, many trees' leaves are turning.
We're lucky all the color doesn't distract us from seeing an orange sign in the Itasca State wilderness area that says: "Bicyclists slow down."
Moments later, we're rolling down a steep decline that accelerates even us fogeys to nearly 30 mph.
It's a good thing we heed the sign and apply our brakes or the ride becomes sort of a biathlon. At the bottom of the hill is a sharp left turn. If we miss the turn, we can go swimming in Mary Lake.
Having avoided a watery detour and surviving somehow missing one of the rest stops, we ride the last 11 miles of the route on the Heartland Trail.
Normally I prefer riding roads to trails because roads offer rolling terrain and more exercise.
But a flat former rail bed and a following wind are just what I need right now. I'm saddle sore and sore in a few other places that prove I'm as old as some of these kids make me feel.
Of course Bob, who also runs marathons, is about a quarter-mile ahead of me.
Next time I'm turning on the light at 4:30 a.m.