AXC - The bike

AXC - The bike

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Two Week Touchpoint

I wanted to write this post at the actual two week point on Sunday, but have been so busy or so tired, it wasn't until now that didn't get to it until now that I've had the opportunity to type up all my thoughts. 

Right up front, this trip is a blast. I'm having a great time and am still very glad I'm doing this. 

Here are some thoughts on the trip so far;

For starters, I thought I had an idea of how hard this was going to be. Sure, that one day climbing the Blue Mountains I blogged about being the hardest day ever. It almost seems naive in retrospect (and that's only a week and a half ago!) I definitely jumped the gun on that 'most difficult thing ever' because much to my surprise, it kept getting harder! And it was hard in different ways. Sometimes the heat, surprisingly, sometimes the cold, the hills, the relentlessness of the trip, and more.

In the past, for triathlons and marathons that I've done, I always feel that I haven't trained enough. Usually I'm fine, and I'm just paranoid, although a couple times it was actually true. For this trip, I thought I was training adequately, and now it feels like it was completely insufficient!
For one thing, I needed to do a lot more hills, with the bike fully loaded. For another thing, I didn't know what 'fully loaded' really was. Oh boy do I have a lot of crap! Plus there's communal gear I have to carry. Every day as I'm dragging-ass up another hill, I do a mental inventory of all my stuff and wonder what I could mail home or even just throw away, and I feel like I need it all! 

Here's a number of things I assumed or thought I knew that I was off-base about:

For some reason I had it in my head that the trip started off a little easy and eased into the hard stuff. I was SO wrong about that! Maybe the first day or two was 'easy', but it got really hard, really quickly. And as I wrote in 'Help, I'm Alive!', one week in I was doing the hardest thing of my life! From there, the term 'hardest ride ever' was getting redefined every day! To the point that I'll try not to say it anymore, because I know it's just going to be made moot or lose it's significance.

Coming into the trip, I thought that electricity and showers would be at a premium. To the extent that I bought a solar panel to keep my phone charged, and left a few electronics at home because I didn't expect to be able to keep them powered. But so far we've had power just about every night. Tonight is maybe the least yet, as there's no outlet near our camp. But even so, I'm doing laundry and just plugged in at the laundry room (while I sit and type this!) Also, the solar panel is for crap. It takes all day to charge the battery, then that battery only gives me about 70% of a charge on my phone. It's also one of the heavier pieces of gear I'm carrying. I'm seriously considering sending it home, but a fellow rider tells me that power might be more scarce in the campgrounds out west. I'm going to hold on to it for now. (I've already carried it over the Appalachians, and that was the hard part.)
Showers was the other thing I thought would be scarce, but is not. Online I bought this pack of wipes called 'paper shower', and haven't even opened the package! So far I've had a shower every night of the trip. Granted, Wednesday night's shower was an experience, as there was no hot water (it was absolutely ice cold!), but it was a shower! Again, I'm holding onto the wipes just in case. 

On that note, we've also had regular access to laundry. Sometimes at laundromats in towns where we stay, sometimes at the campgrounds. One thing that didn't occur to me is that because I only have 3 sets of clothes, I have to do laundry like every other day so I can have clean clothes! On the up side though, I haven't yet had to re-wear a dirty set of clothes. Although my kick-around clothes (stuff I wear off the bike) I do often wear multiple times. 

One thing I had a tiny bit of concern about was how well I'd sleep and how I'd get used to sleeping in my tent, on the ground pad every night. To prepare for this, I had blown up my ground pad and slept in my sleeping bag in my bedroom at home. Every time I tried this, I couldn't make it a whole night before giving up and crawling into my real bed. The ground pad was too thin, the sleeping bad too constricting, etc. I was worried about this, but hoped I'd get used to it quickly. It took about 5 nights, and now it feels perfectly fine. I can sleep comfortably thought the night and feel rested. 
The tent is also starting to feel like home. I have my set-up down pat, and a place for everything in the tent so that it's not cluttered and I know where everything is. It actually feels kind of comfortable, and is a nice little retreat of my own space after a hard day of riding. 

Also in preparation for this trip, I downloaded a bunch of e-books to my ipad, hoping and expecting to get through a bunch of classics that I've been meaning to read. But so far, I haven't even opened the Kindle app once. 
I'm totally surprised by just how busy I am every day. For one thing, the riding takes a lot longer than I anticipated. Between the long mileage, the difficult hills, and the frequency that we stop to regroup or rest, the riding takes 2-3 hours longer than I thought it would. Then, once we're at camp we have to cook dinner, set up camp, and we do something called a 'map meeting' to review the route for the next day. Toss in a little socializing (usually involving beer), maybe do laundry, and before I know it, it's 10 o'clock and I'm ready to drop like a stone! I don't have nearly as much free time as I thought! And certainly not as much time as I want to write and update the blog! (Sorry)

The camping conditions are also something I didn't fully understand or realize what we would be doing. In two weeks, we've stayed a whole variety of differently places. The biggest surprise for me are the churches. Along the route, a number of churches have opened their doors to us as cyclist hostels. What that means varies from church to church, but mostly they let us stay there, and we can put our sleeping bags on the floor. Most of the time the church also has a shower, and a real kitchen. So we can clean up and prepare a nice meal. The other night we stayed at a church cyclist hostel that was just the lawn behind a church, and they'd set up a shower stall attached to a hose (that was the really cold one!) And one night we stayed at a church summer camp on their camp grounds. 

Other places we've stayed include established camp grounds like KOA, where there are mostly RVs, and a little space for tents. These are nice as they have real bathrooms, showers and laundry. Some of these though have been little campsites in small towns, and are scaled down accordingly. One campground we stayed at we were originally going to camp in the grass, but the manager let us stay in the banquet/restaurant hall (that had long ago closed). This was a really nice reprieve as it was raining and extremely cold that night (it was on a layover day, so we stayed there 2 nights.) It was just fun and neat to stay someplace so unique and off-the-wall like that. It was simultaneously fancy, and run down. It felt a little like the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. 
One night we stayed in a very nice hotel room with the most spectacular view, and another night we stayed in a grass field in a county park. 

I was also caught off guard by the weather extremes. I knew it was going to be warm, but I thought it would come on gradually and be really hot in June and July. I wasn't expecting 98 degree heat in early May. Then, in the span of just 7 days, it was in the 50s during the day and down to nearly freezing at night. I hadn't packed adequately for the cold, and did have one very chilly night and a very cold ride the next day. 

The group that I'm riding with is pretty great. There's a nice mix of personalities, but for the most part people are pretty chill. One the road the last few days, we've been playing leapfrog with a few other riders also doing the TransAm route, and we've gotten to talk to other people on the same trek. One couple we spent a few days with made me appreciate my group even more. The guy was a very big complainer. 'These hills are hard!' 'I bonked the other day!' 'I'm a cancer survivor, so I'm weaker than most.' 
Oy vey. It made me glad that we don't have any complainers in our group, just a whole bunch of can-do, go-get-em attitudes. 
One thing I decided early on was that I was not going to complain. Everyone in my group is doing the same difficult thing, and nobody wants to hear that *I* had a hard time that day. Particularly since I'm one of the younger people in my group!

A few other things I was expecting or was worried about was the physical toll all this riding would take. I am absolutely shocked that my saddle does not hurt at all, and has never hurt. My tush is just fine, thank you very much. Not a saddle sore, or hotspot, or even pain from sitting all day! If you had asked me what the #1 issue I was worried about, it would have been sitting on the bike seat day after day. So I am all smiles that that is a non-issue!

I was also expecting some sort of overuse soreness or aggravation, most likely in my neck or my shoulders, perhaps my lower back or even my hips from all the time on the bike. But nope, none of that either! My left knee hurt on day 3 or so, and I was a little worried, but the next day it was fine and hasn't bothered me since. I'm also surprised that my shoes are absolutely perfect. My feet don't hurt, they don't get too warm during hot days, I don't have any hot-spots that are rubbing or causing blisters. They're even pretty good to walk in. 
And even my legs are mostly ok. They're achy every day, and maybe more sore some days than others, but they don't hurt. I haven't gotten major leg cramps or soreness that I was expecting. I think it's still kind of early, so these things could still pop up, but I feel that if its all ok after two and a half weeks, it's probably good for the long haul. 
I am being very careful to pay attention to how I feel, making sure I drink enough water and take in enough electrolytes. I don't push beyond my limits to keep up with other riders or try to get to camp early. And I think this is all paying off. I'm in much better shape at this point all around than I was expecting, and I know I'm very fortunate that I don't have major aches, pains or issues. Other people in the group are complaining about their saddles, their shoes, some joint pain and other little things. I don't know if I just nailed the preparation, got really lucky, or maybe a little bit of both. 

Lastly, after two and a half weeks I'm still enjoying the trip. It is hard, damn hard. And maybe while I'm trudging up yet another hill I'm not exactly elated at the prospect, but I don't dread getting on the bike and pedaling each morning. I'm really enjoying just being outside, riding my bike, taking in the scenery and getting lots of exercise and sunshine. I'm also very happy and surprised to realize that I haven't gotten tired/jaded of the view. I look up and everywhere there are beautiful vistas. Rolling hills, mountains, forests. Even the little towns and cities we ride through are interesting in how different they are from what I'm used to, and different from each other. 

The trip is only just getting started, and it really is hard. People reading this are saying 'duh, of course its hard!' And I had a good expectation of what I thought it was going to be, but the difficulty has far exceeded my expectations. And yet, I'm also happy to find out that I can rise the challenge, conquer it, and still look forward to the days to come. 

Here's to more of those days, those challenges, and rising to meet them. 

Thanks for reading.

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These are some of the pictures I've taken over the last couple weeks that I like, or that stood out for me. 

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