AXC - The bike

AXC - The bike

Monday, March 24, 2014

Who in the what now?

Ok, so I’ve been talking a lot about how I feel about this trip, how excited or nervous I am, etc, but I realize I haven’t said a whole lot about the specifics and what will be going on.
So, here ya go!

The ride starts on May 4th from Williamsburg, Virginia. I’ve got someone looking after my house, and I've taken care of most of the logistics of being away, so I feel comfortable leaving for 3 months.

The tour is with a group that I found online. We’re a group of 14, plus one tour leader. I don’t know any of the people I’ll be riding with, though many of them have sent e-mail introductions. It looks like the group skews a little older (many retirees), which is about what I was expecting. Not many people my age (or younger) can just up and put their life/job/family on hold for 3 months to trek across the US!

People are coming from all over the country, many from the Midwest and one even from as far as California. While I have the luxury of driving my bike down to the start point, most of the other riders will be shipping theirs to the start point and reassembling them there.
We’ll all get to meet for the first time over dinner on May 3rd. Then we’ll do a ‘shakedown’ ride around town to make sure everyone’s bikes work as expected and there are no surprises.

The ride is classified as ‘Self Supported’, which means we’re carrying all our own crap; Tent, sleeping bag, clothes, etc. We’ll be shopping and cooking our food every night and morning, and will be sharing the load of carrying the camp stoves and cooking material.
Yes, there will be showers at most (but not all) of the campgrounds.

We will ride about 55 miles a day, depending on terrain and availability of campsites. We might do upwards of 70 miles on flat terrain, or if we need to make up time, and maybe dip down to just 40 or 30 miles while crossing the mountains. There are ‘layover’ days built into the schedule for rest and to visit some of the sites along the way. They average about one a week, but some are 5 days apart and others are 10 days apart, depending on where we can stay, what there is to see, and how difficult those riding days are in-between stops. The trip is scheduled to take 3 months, and there’s not a lot of leeway there.

People have asked what I’ll do if there’s a mechanical issue. For that, I have some tools and spare parts so that I can fix a pretty wide variety of problems on my own. I just took a comprehensive bike maintenance class at Indian Valley Bike Works in Harleysville, and feel much better prepared to take care of problems.
For things that I can’t fix, I’ll limp to, or catch a ride into a nearby town and find a bike shop. But short of cracking my bike frame, there’s not much that can happen to my ride that would be really catastrophic.

For the route, we start off by dipping our back wheel in the Atlantic Ocean and then head pretty much due west from Virginia all the way to Colorado. Passing through Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas, before heading into Colorado and over the Rockies. Then we turn northwest into Idaho and Wyoming, taking a layover day in Yellowstone National Park, then back down through Idaho again and west to Oregon, where we’ll finish the trip by dipping our front wheel in the Pacific Ocean. We finish in a small seaside town about 100 miles south of Portland.
I’ve only been to 3 of those 10 states, so it’ll be neat/interesting to check out so many new places.
One of the things I want to try and do is take a picture of me in front of the ‘Welcome to [state]’ for every one I enter. I just hope I don’t end up in a riding fog and miss the signs!

After the trip is over, I’ll have to ship my bike back east and fly home.

That’s everything I can think of that might be relevant, without rambling too much.
If there’s more you want to know, feel free to post questions in the comments below!

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Just Cause

(*Unless I do it again.)

Over the years of doing races and endurance sports events, there are a series of questions that tend to bubble up as the most common. For the Philadelphia Triathlon it tends to be “Do you really swim in the Schuylkill River?!” For century bike rides it’s often “How long does that take?” [I give an answer] “Wow, I don’t even like to drive that far/long!” For marathon and half marathon, there’s a variety, but one that comes up a lot is “why are you running, are you being chased?”
For the upcoming bike trip, there have been a lot of questions, with a pretty decent variety. But one that comes up less frequently, but is still interesting, is: “Are you riding for a cause?” To which I just recently answered “The cause I’m riding for is ‘just cause.’”

So, no, I’m not riding to specifically support any cause. In past years I’ve raised money and done rides for LiveStrong foundation and the National Multiple Sclerosis foundation, among others, but this particular ride is ‘just cause.’

This brings up a slightly deeper question of ‘well then, why am I doing it?’ 
This ride isn’t cheap, it’s logistically challenging, I’ll spend 3 months away from friends and family with only a group of strangers for company, and above all else, it’s going to be immensely difficult. I have no pretense that this is going to be casual ride.
And yet, none of that intimidates me.

In the most generic terms, this will be magnificent, ‘once in a lifetime’, growing/learning experience. This sounds great, but in the same sort of way that life advice boiled down to one sentence and superimposed on a picture of a sunset is ‘deep.’
But you don’t uproot your life for 3 months to have a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience without looking for something more than what can be summed up in 140 characters.

I am doing this ride for the specific experience and the general experience. What does that mean? I look forward to seeing this beautiful country in a wide variety of settings. Endless plains of wheat growing in rural Kansas. The splendor of the mountains in Colorado. Riding alongside a meandering stream in Virginia. Watching the sunset every single night (well, except when it’s pouring rain.) Seeing the milky way splashed across the sky from Yellowstone Park.
And doing all of this at a cycling pace that decompresses time and lets me feel the experience rather than just passing by it. I look forward to challenging myself, as I’ve done with triathlon and marathon recently. There will be the physical effort to do this trip and achieve it, but also the enjoyment of getting a great workout every single day and the clarity of mind and body that comes with that kind of effort.
There are 14 other riders that will start out as strangers, but I will get to know very well by the end. Maybe I’ll make new friends, maybe I’ll be exposed to new ideas and ways of looking at the world. And conversely, I’ll have a lot of time to myself, to decompress and just think (or, spend time not thinking, and just let the miles roll under my wheels.)
There will be lots of challenges; setting up my tent in the pouring rain for several days on end. Aches and pains from riding for so long. Sleeping in a tent in 100 degree heat. But I’ll also learn a lot; The group will cook dinner every night and maybe I’ll pick up some culinary skills. I’ll get really good at camping and setting up a campsite. I’ll see what life looks like in small Midwest towns and talk to people with very different mindsets than my own. I’ll learn what my physical limitations might be, and if I can push past them.
And by conquering all those I’ll better learn what my personal strengths and weaknesses are, and hopefully that my physical and psychological upper limits are much higher than I expected.

TL:DR (too long, didn’t read) summary:
I get to see the country and get beautiful new experiences. I get to challenge myself physically and mentally, make new friends and learn about myself. All while taking a break from the ‘real world.’ It’ll be hard, but that’s part of what will make the experience.*

*That is more than 140 characters, will it all fit on one picture?

Ps, when I’m 60 days into the trip and cursing myself for doing this, point me back to this blog post for perspective. Then I’ll probably curse the naiveté of my ‘past’ self.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tip of the iceberg

One of my favorite comments in life was said a few years ago by my friend Amy after I did a write up of my first Triathlon. She read my race recap and said “Wow, I thought triathlon was just ‘swim/bike/run’, but that sounds a lot more complicated!” This was in reference to all the training, planning, and race-day logistics like nutrition and setting up my transition area.
This comment has stuck with me, through more triathlons, marathons, and just generally in life. Most things are lot more difficult than they seem.

When I talk about my bike trip, people of course focus on the act of bicycling across the whole country. And certainly, that’s a big thing. They ask questions like; How long with this take? (3 months.) How far will you ride each day? (55-60 miles.) How far is the trip? (4300 miles). Etc.
But as I’m preparing for this, I’m realizing that the act of pedaling every day is just a fraction of everything involved. For the trip itself, some of the difficulties include; setting up and breaking down camp every night. Shopping, cooking and cleaning up dinner and breakfast everyday. Biking in the rain, or worse – setting up and breaking down camp in the rain.

Beyond that, the actual trip is just a part of the overall effort. All of the planning and preparation leading up to the trip feels like it might be at least as difficult as the trip itself (and its certainly taking much longer!) Training for the ride is preoccupying me a bit. I’m trying to bike into work when the weather permits, but that hasn’t been much yet. I’ll have to do long rides (like, 100 miles) on the weekend. And I'm trying to break in a new saddle, which isn't pleasant!
I’ve had to buy a crap-load of stuff for this trip, from big things like a bike and saddle bags, to trivial (but still important) things like a solar panel to charge my gadgets, a first aid kit, a light cycling jacket, and lots more.

I don’t mean to oversell the difficulty of this, or to make myself out to look like a superman for taking it on. Lots of people do a trip like this every year. People do more difficult things like Iron Man triathlons, or heck, raise kids! I’m just sharing my thoughts and the feeling of scope that I’m experiencing in doing this adventure, and what it means to me. I keep coming back to ‘that’s more complicated than I thought.’  And really, it’s more complicated than even I was expecting. But it’s also part of the fun (at least for me.) I kind of excel at planning and logistics, so this is exciting for me, planning for all these contingencies, and trying to be prepared for things I can’t even foresee.

And, it’s not all going to be the difficulties, of course. There are a lot of things I’m really looking forward to. The trip is with a tour group, and there will be 14 strangers that I’m going to spend 3 months with. I’ll get to know new people. I’ll get to experience camping outside every day, being in nature. Seeing the fields of Kansas, the Rocky Mountains close up. I’ll get to see the United States of America – both the country and the people - in an intimate, close up and unique way. I’ll get to eat ice cream in dozens of towns across the country. I’ll meet interesting people that are far different from the East Coast/urban crowd I’ve known most of my life. I’ll visit states I’ve never been to, and see history I never knew. I’ll camp out under the stars, and feel the tent shake during thunderstorms. I’ll push myself physically harder than I ever have before, and will hopefully rise up to what will be the most mentally challenging thing I’ve ever undertaken.

And all along, I hope to keep sharing this with all of you who read this blog, and hope you’ll comment and share your thoughts as well. I also hope you’ll keep me up to speed on what’s happening in your life and hometown, so I don’t feel as isolated as I spin through yet another day of seemingly endless cornfields or up a hill that appears to go up and up forever.

As always, thanks for reading. That, at least, is exactly as difficult (or not) as it seems.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tempus Fugit

2 months.
My trip starts in just 2 months.

This seems surreal to me. Since I decided to do this in the fall, it felt so far away. And there was so much to do to get ready; buy a new bike, pay for the trip, etc. Now that 95% of the details are taken care of, all that’s left to do now is wait! When I signed up, this trip was 8 months away. But beyond that, this is something I’ve been thinking of and wanting to do for almost 8 years. And now, it feels simultaneously right around the corner, and an eternity away!

And with the start of the trip looming, I’m wondering if I’m ready. Thinking about this constantly and doing mental checks that I have everything I need. Dotting all the ‘i's and crossing the ‘t’s, taking care of the last bits of logistics. Starting to get a little nervous about the overall cost of the trip (going without a salary for 3 months), and worrying that I’m not training as much as I should. (This, at least, is a recurring theme – since its how I feel before every race I’ve ever done. Sometimes it was justified, most times not.) And at the same time, I’m giddy like a kid getting ready for his first trip to Disneyland!

Also, other aspects of the trip are starting to come together. The tour leader set up an e-mail list for people to introduce themselves and start chatting and asking questions. I’ve ‘met’ 6 people so far (out of 14). I have some of the trip details that I didn’t have before, like start location and how we’re all meeting up. Where we’re going to dip our back wheel in the Atlantic, and little things like doing a group bike maintenance check.

So, while I wait, I’ll at least try to take advantage of the nice weather this weekend and go for a bike ride.
It’ll help pass the time.