This summer I did two century rides...it was an eye opening experience as to how not all "organized" rides are built equal. (I use the term "organized" in parentheses to refer to the second one). I'll do more research next time into the actual event. Anyhow, my tale is as follows, and will illuminate the sharp differences.
May '06: Banzai's first century! After having bike commuted for a year, and not riding much longer than that, it was time to do my first century. I signed up for the Cycle Salt Lake Century, the proceeds of which go to Mayor Anderson's bike advocacy and transportation council. (A good cause!) I was excited, and nervous. It turned out to be a HUGE event. Hundreds and hundreds of riders...the police blocked off the intitial route, an our huge peloton wound through the city with kids waving out on the lawns. There were rest stops every twenty miles, with amazing support. The route was thoughfully chosen, and the smiley face arrows guided my path cheerfully. It was an incredible and very positive experience for me, both from the personal accomplishment of 100 miles, and from the community perspective. The funny part is I was so worried about the support I packed like a commute, so I would be prepared for anything. I could have traveled with nothing but a water bottle, it was so well supported.
Aug '06: The Cycle Salt Lake century was such a great experience, I signed up for the Cycle For Life Century, the proceeds of which goes to help pay the medical bills of cyclists hit by drunk cagers. (Another good cause!). I was a bit worried when I showed up and there were all of 20 cyclists. It would be generous to estimate that 40 total ever made it there. Of course such a small crowd meant that they were likely going to be cyclists of much greater ability than me, which would mean riding alone most of the route. Great. There were two rest stops, one of which we went through twice; at miles 13 and 65. The other was at about 50. The staff, all 8 of them, were very nice and friendly...did I mention all 8 of them? There was essentially zero mechanical or SAG support. Because of my experience in the Salt Lake Century, I packed VERY light. That could have gone badly. The route itself, well...some of it was the best and most challenging cycling I'd ever done...and some of it was just stupid and scary. When I saw the state highway with no shoulder, pavement roughly akin to gravel embedded in asphalt, and 60 mph traffic, I stopped and pulled out my map, thinking "no f@#&ing way!" I should have let my commuter instincts guide me rather than my will to finish; I've never been that stressed out and scared on my bike, and as a regular commuter I'm very comfortable and capable with traffic. 15 of the last 20 miles were frightening. If this had been my first century, I may have never done another one.
So...in your opinion/experience, which of my tales best typifies a century for you?