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
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!
ps, I added an e-mail subscription link on the right side of the page. Sign up if you want to get notified of new posts. I won't be cross-linking every update on Facebook.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.