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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.