The Midnight Century (MC) is a legendary Spokane bike ride that begins, as one might expect, at the stroke of midnight at The Elk in Brown’s Addition on the first Saturday night in August. It travels to Central Food in Kendall Yards by way of a colossal 100 miles of road, trail, and gravel.
On the patio at The Elk you’ll find all manner of riders gobbling down burgers and tossing back pints an hour or two before the start. Other patrons might wonder—“Why all the helmets?”— which is part of the mystique of this ride; there are no promotions, no sponsors, no entry fee, no insurance, and no support aside from the camaraderie of your fellow riders. This thing just happens. There’s an arcane little website with a cue sheet for the route and some helpful tidbits about endurance riding—most of it from an Out There article from 2009.
The 2018 MC saw a good turnout, with roughly 40 riders in all, standing about gabbing when, all of a sudden and with no fanfare, the whole mob took off like a pack of psychotic bike messengers. The route hops on the Centennial Trail where it makes a mad dash east for State Line. And it truly is a mad dash because the sensible thing to do on an endurance ride like this is pace yourself. But only the most seasoned rider can resist the temptation of the sprinting mob. It’s late on a warm Saturday night and you’re turning pedals with your friends; how do you NOT go a little too hard?
From State Line the ride dips into Idaho before it swings back around the north shore of Liberty Lake. Then riders begin the grueling ascent up and over Quinimose. It is here that the mysticism of the Midnight Century takes hold. It delivers a vague sense that, somewhere in the inky black darkness, the ghostly presence of Mica Peak is looming. Lights from various farms and homesteads dot the valley below, offering a heart-rending vista indeed.
As the route meanders eastward on the northern edge of the Palouse, riders get their much-longed-for-and-later-regretted gravel roads. Food and water options are almost non-existent on the course, but the MC has its own Dust Angel. A dude named Glen sets up a respectable feed station out of the back of his car somewhere around the 50-mile mark. He also stocks a feed table at the end of his driveway a few miles from Spangle. Mic Woodruff was also out there dust angel-ing mid-course somewhere last year. You can’t hope to find two friendlier faces in the dark!
Faster riders come blazing through Spangle under a veil of darkness. At my pace the faint pink wisps of dawn are beginning to light the horizon, and others mosey through when the sun is up. Then comes Jennings Road, a 6.7-mile meandering ribbon of deep loose gravel and inescapable washboards that will rattle your fillings out. You may think you see a smooth line through the rough patches. There isn’t one. It’s a psychological test of sorts. If the Midnight Century is still fun after Jennings, then you have an extraordinary spirit of adventure.
After Cheney, the route returns on the Fish Lake Trail, a godsend as home stretches go, gently whisking between the pines all the way back to civilization. I teamed up with local cyclocross legends Lynn Stryker and John Osterbach for a pace line to the finish. Lynn and John, like so many other riders you’ll meet, exude a love of the ride, and to join with them in that experience is nothing short of transcendent. At least it transcends the pee stops, exhaustion, and bone-rattling washboards.For a finish line there’s an unassuming little sheet taped to a window at Central Food in Kendall yards for riders to sign before they stumble in for breakfast. The restaurant, owned by Midnight Century’s inventor David Blaine, doesn’t open till 8, but if you don’t think it’s a better idea to go home and fall face down in a bowl of cereal, you may just find yourself sitting around the back patio sharing war stories over a meal with the likes of Tim Dunn and Josh Hess. And later arrivals will be slumped over their plates at Central Food while you’re at home sawing logs and dreaming about your night of mayhem on The Midnight Century.
Justin M. Short is a local rider who you might meet commuting at some obscene hour, tearing up the jumps at Beacon, or grinding gravel in the middle of nowhere. Though not a stranger to its pages, this is his first article for Out There.