I ease off. My calves are twitching a painful twitch. Something doesn't feel right. I stop, stretch, and notice the seat has somehow slipped back in the clamp. A quick adjustment, and here comes Jay. We ride on.
Having not ridden more than 50 miles in the past four months, he's starting to struggle. We're at mile 70 and the wind has beaten him hard. A sweaty feather in the wind. We swap breathy good byes.
A pair of riders are up ahead. They must be passed. There's no reason for it. But they must be. It is my solemn duty. With energy waning, these little games keep you droning on. More miles slip by. Finally, they're there.
"I've been trying to catch you for miles."
"How's it feel now that you have?"
"I dunno. I'm just pedalin'."
It was a father son team, each a decade younger or older than me. They'd ridden Seattle to Portland together. Now they're riding the Peach of a Century. Next month, they've got another century planned. Each month, another ride together. As I pedal past on the first real incline of the ride, I wonder what it would be like to have a son.
We're finally in the modest hills of the route. I spot one of our hard to miss TnT jerseys (a garish purple and green) ahead. It's Marcia and her husband Fred - unstoppable modest Fred. She's come far from having her knee rebuilt more than a year ago, but the hills still punish her. He's pulling her through the ride. Unstoppable, that Fred. Jay comes by, we chat and are off.
The wind is gone. Now it's rollers. Oh, how I like rollers. I'd eaten a bit and could feel some energy returning. Riders with focused faces slide by behind me. I'm somewhere in front, the rest of the team working through their own ride somewhere on the road I've traveled. Too big a piece of me is happy to be the fastest on our mellow little team built of regular people with few if any aspirations to speed.
We're at state highway 22. Waiting patiently for a gap in the heavy traffic, I turn. The shoulder is wide and smooth. The air calm and cool in the shadows of massive trees. A brief hiccup of a dropped chain, and I'm moving faster. My legs are strong, my heart calm. I'm flying comfortably down the road.
A sign ahead cautions, "Divided Highway."
I missed the turn.