Flat, Fast, & Camaraderie-Filled: My First Time at the Sea Gull Century

Crowded and flat. Windy. Dangerous. The words often used to describe the Sea Gull Century out of Salisbury, Maryland, did not endear me to it.

For more than 10 years I had avoided the Sea Gull, telling people that I wasn’t sure if it was the ride for me.

Sea Gull Century

This year two registrations fell into Felkerino’s and my laps thanks to our BikeDC friends Ted and Jean, and with a near-perfect forecast on the horizon I cast my reticence aside and made up my mind to see what all the fuss was about.

In the No Surprises Here department, we rode tandem. Recently tuned up, our Co-Motion comes in handy in a headwind, and it’s what we’ve been riding all summer. I actually feel out of practice on my single bike, but that’s another story.

Brompton
Brompton

The Sea Gull Century route covers Maryland’s Eastern Shore, including the towns of Berlin and– the highlight of the ride– Assateague Island. It’s non-undulating, you might say.

Having been quite taken as a child with the story of Misty of Chincoteague, I was also curious to see the wild ponies of Assateague.

I imagined noble elegant ponies with heads held high, like something out of The Man From Snowy River, but friends warned me that the ponies were mangy and crazy. “Don’t look them in the eye!”

Brompton
Brompton

Despite my aversion to flat terrain and deranged wildlife, I found myself looking forward to this century. We’d have plenty of company (this ride draws approximately 8,000 people) and I considered it a nice reward for my legs and my fitness after spending almost all of the last six months doing long rides in the hills.

I was a little worried about the danger aspect, since I was not sure of the skill level of the other riders, and crashing did not appeal to me no matter how much drama it might add to my day.

Andrea and Bones

Flat, fast, and full of camaraderie, the Sea Gull Century exceeded all my expectations. We never rode alone, and the riders around us all held their lines and pace well.

Level terrain made it easier for us as a tandem to be around single bikes, as the differences in our momentum were not nearly as noticeable when compared to a rolling or hilly course.

1974 Raleigh
1974 Raleigh

We saw fatbikes, hand cycles, racey road bikes, velomobiles, folding bikes, and several tandems of varying make and vintage. I even saw a person on a unicycle. It was like being part of RAGBRAI for the day, only on the Eastern Shore. And no kringla. But there was pie and ice cream, apparently a tradition at the 85-mile rest stop.

Time out for pie at mile 85
Time out for pie at mile 85

And ponies! In Assateague (mile 63), I was feeling a little disappointed about not seeing the mean-spirited wild horses, but all my Sea Gull dreams were meant to come true, I guess, because as we left the island we saw at least three of them on the roadside opposite us.

The horses didn’t seem so crazy to me. I didn’t go over and introduce myself, but from what I saw they seemed hungry for green grass and nonplussed by cyclists. The wild ponies of Assateague were not the noble animals of my childhood imaginings, but they had a primal beauty about them.

Wild pony sighting!
Wild pony sighting!

After we finished, I could not believe how quickly the time had flown by. 100 miles, and that was it. Done for the day! It was a feeling only made possible by the big rides done earlier in the season.

I had no regrets about waiting to take on the Sea Gull Century, but I realized that I had overlooked all the ride’s up-sides.

This is probably the largest paid century in our area so you are likely to see at least one person you know, either on the route or at the finishing area. It may not be the most scenic course, but there are wild ponies!

Sea Gull Century

You see cyclists of all abilities. For some, this is their first century ride ever. For others, it’s the only century they do in a given year. And for people like us, it’s a welcome change of pace. I liked being part of this large circle of riders.

I’m not a fast rider, but Felkerino and I were able to maintain an 18.5 miles per hour moving average over the course of the day and take an hour off the bike, without flailing ourselves. This course is good for a person’s ego.

Felkerino and me. Photo by Andrea Matney
Photo by Andrea Matney

I do wish there had been more real food to eat (or maybe if all the rest stops offered pie, ha ha!), but if I ever rode this again I’d probably tuck away a sandwich and potato chips in the Carradice.

The ride organizers totally know what they are doing. It’s easy to park, find the start, grab your cue sheet, and go. Professional photographers are positioned at various spots along the course. The route is clearly marked throughout and course marshals and local police keep riders flowing through the intersections so stops and starts are minimal.

#BikeDC boys at the finish.
#BikeDC boys at the finish.

It was really a great day on the bike. Many thanks to our friends Jean and Ted, who were unable to ride and gave us their Sea Gull Century registrations. Without them, I’d still be wondering what all the fuss was about. Now, we’re seriously considering riding the Sea Gull again next year.

My full set of pics here.

20 thoughts on “Flat, Fast, & Camaraderie-Filled: My First Time at the Sea Gull Century

  1. I know this has really very little to do with this specific post, but every time I read about one of your tandem rides, it really makes me want a tandem bicycle… and I have always sworn that I would never, ever, ever own a tandem (perhaps it’s the allure of being able to average 18.5mph, as I am a slow beast). :O)

    Sounds like you had a great ride (Who gets to have pie while riding a century? That’s pretty cool!), and I’m sure having a flat route was a welcomed relief for you both. Congrats!

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    1. Right? All rides would be made better with pie stops. We do have a great time on our tandem (it’s taken years of miles and practice!), and I especially love this bike.

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  2. Congrats! I didn’t realize you hadn’t done it before; with all the riding you do, I just assumed it was part of your normal season. Looks like you got closer to the ponies than I did last year; they were mere lumps in my peripheral vision – but I still counted it! I don’t see myself ever doing a century again, but I’m glad I did that one. : )

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  3. Mary – I enjoyed this write-up! I rode the Sea Gull for the first time last year and had a great time, even with the park closure during the Federal shutdown. I didn’t ride this year due to some setbacks. A group from my local club rode, though. May I share your blog entry in our club’s newsletter? Of course, I’ll credit you as the author and provide a link to this page. Perhaps you’ll pick up a few new followers. 🙂

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  4. Resisted it for years. I thought you guys would enjoy it as bike people. The green route has far few riders and a late start on it will almost guarantee you very little traffic until the last few miles.

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  5. MG, If I ever create a distance/organized ride for a group, I am definitely incorporating at least one pie stop. I think that’s so much fun!

    I’m sure getting a good rhythm on a tandem takes some work, so I have no doubt you’ve worked for your skill level.

    Rebecca, Glad to know I’m not alone – and perhaps gives a glimmer for a possibility one day. 🙂

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  6. I did this ride for 15 consecutive years and only missed the last 2 due to my Rando schedule. I love this ride – always a party. I hope to
    make it down again next year. I am glad you had such a good time!

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    1. Ah yes, I saw you were doing something slightly longer. Long rides make these even more fun, I think. Huge congrats on the Natchez Trace 1500, by the way!

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  7. Welcome to the Seagull. The weather this year was just superb, including the lack of the infamous headwind on the return trip from Assateague to Salisbury.
    This was my 16th Seagull Century, this year and last on a Surly Moonlander fatbike. The Seagull is a social event, not just a century. As far as I know, the most popular one on the East Coast.
    Hope you come back again!

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  8. I don’t know who told you that the Assateague ponies were crazy– they’re so cute!
    I’m glad you enjoyed the ride. It really is one of the better organized rides in our area. Maybe someday I’ll ride it again.

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  9. MG – I was recording the entire Seagull Century on my Garmin VIRB camera and was able to find the exact moment you and Ed ‘blew’ by me on Disharoon Rd., as if I were standing still. The picture shows you taking a photo of me over your right shoulder as you passed. I will try to figure out how to send you the picture through Twitter( which I’ve never done before).
    Regards
    Ron

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  10. I’m glad you had a good time on the Seagull! I did the metric century with my parents a few years ago and enjoyed it, but not as much as I thought I would. I was comparing it to the Wild Goose Chase, which I think is a little better organized, especially in the way it offers a number of activities before the ride. The pie stop was wonderful though – delicious food and beautiful scenery!

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