AXC - The bike

AXC - The bike

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Day in the Life

You've read stories here about how hard a day of riding can be, or how beautiful. Here is a description of what a general, typical day on the tour looks like. Some of the fun and interesting things we see and do, and some of the mundane things that are necessary in order to pedal across the land.  

The morning starts with an alarm at 5:45. I hit 'snooze', even though other people in camp are already up and milling about. At 6:00, I'll reluctantly drag my ass out of bed, mostly rested and getting ready to face the day. 

After I'm up, I'll start packing up my stuff. I roll up my sleeping bag and ground pad. Pack away my clothes and other stuff into various bags and get dressed in my riding clothes for the day. By the time I leave my tent around 6:15 or 6:30, everything I have is all packed up. 

There's a group breakfast usually set up by about 6:30, 7 at the latest. Depending on what was available to buy at the local store the night before, the offerings will vary. We typically have oatmeal, some cold cereal, milk and orange juice. Sometimes there's some fruit. Somebody will be making coffee, and people are milling about as zombies until they have their first cup. 

There's also food-stuff for us to put together a lunch for the day. Cold cuts & cheese sandwiches if there was a decent store the night before. There's usually granola bars, cookies and some chips. Apples and maybe oranges if they were available. Bananas are also a regular staple, along with PB&J. We're not shy about loading up on food. I have a little cooler bag I originally bought to take my lunch to work, I pack that full with one of everything. I'll eat most of it through the course of the day. 

After breakfast I break down my tent and roll it up. I don't have a dry bag for my tent, so I roll it up in the tarp I use for a ground cloth. I call it my tent burrito.

(update! I found my tent bag, so I don't have to do the tent burrito unless there's rain in the forecast!)

Everything else gets packed back into the saddle bags or strapped to the bike with bungee cords.

We usually have our act together by around 7:30 and everyone is packed up and ready to go. Some people are eager to roll, and they head out on their own. Depending on the day, we might ride as a group, ride as smaller groups, or I occasionally end up riding by myself. 

I'm tired when I get on the road and start pedaling, but only 15 or 20 minutes into the ride I look up at the beautiful scenery and have a renewed sense of appreciation for the beauty of the surroundings and how fortunate I am to be here.

We try to get 15 miles, or an hour and a half of riding under our wheels before our first stop. Although it has more to do with the availability of a place to stop than it does with our desire. There's been a real scarcity of stores and restaurants. Before I came on the trip, I had this idea that I'd be stopping at all these wonderful country restaurants for breakfast and lunch! They don't exist. Or, when they do they are few and far between, and not always 'top notch.' The thing that surprised me the most was how many 'meals' I'd be making at gas stations, and then, how happy I'd be to see a gas station on otherwise empty roads. 

So I stop into a gas station and have 'second breakfast' which is usually some drink to boost our energy like chocolate milk or a V8. I'll buy a gatorade for the road and top off my water bottles. I'll buy a snack depending on what they have, and maybe eat half a PB&J sandwich.

Rare opportunity for a real sit-down second breakfast!
Back on the road, I warmed up and ready to tackle the day. Optimistic and full of energy. That'll last until about noon. 
Mostly we ride through the countryside, lots of hills and sparsely populated, on back roads that are lightly traveled. Drivers are generally courteous. I've been passed by thousands of cars and trucks, and can count on 2 hands the number that have been obnoxious. 

Sometimes I'll turn on the music on my phone and play it out of the phone speaker. The quality is bad, and it's hard to hear, but it breaks up the silence (or, drowns out my squeaky bike chain.) I don't always play it. 

There are a lot of hills. I drop down into 'granny gear', zone out and spin. Then after a half hour, or even longer, I'll finally crest the hill and get to roll down the other side. I will just never get tired of bombing down the backside of a hill, sometimes upwards of 40 mph! It's like a cross between downhill skiing and a roller-coaster, and it is relentlessly thrilling. 

Often I try to remember to look up and take in the scenery, look at the different trees, the rock formations, look through the treeline to see hills off in the distance.

I follow my maps that lead me along back country highways, small rural roads, and quaint little side roads that even the locals might not know about. Along the way I look out for 'Bike Route 76' signs that sometimes supplement my maps. They are friendly guides along the way, to either help keep me on track, or just remind me I'm on the right path. (See the pic at the top of the post for the sign)

As I go through towns, (really small, no traffic-light towns) I check out the houses, try to figure out what people in these parts do for a living. Look at the fancy new houses and the rundown trailers. No matter where you go, there are highs and lows, from downtown Philadelphia, to backwater Kentucky. 

Around noon or 1, I stop to have lunch. This might coincide with finding another gas station, or maybe just pull over somewhere on the side of the road, sit in the grass and eat my bagged lunch.
If I stop for more than 10 minutes, my legs cool off. Then when I get back on the bike my muscles feel like clay, and take 5 minutes to warm back up. Ideally, I dont' have to start back up on a hill. Clay legs on hills = suck. 

Warmed up and pedaling, I am just as happy to be out and riding on the fourth week as I was the first day. The scenery is still beautiful, the sky is an amazing shade of blue and -twack!!- a big bug smacks into my face. A day of riding is not complete until a bug hits me in the face. 

Sitting on the bike, pedaling, nothing else in the world matters. Just me, the miles under my wheels, and the scenery that goes by. My body is working hard, but my mind is calm, it is almost meditative. 

As I'm pedaling along and taking everything around me, I'm also on the lookout for abandoned cars and houses for my Abandoned America photo album.

After many hour and many miles, I roll into camp. Sometimes camp is easy to find, sometimes it's a little hidden. I'm rarely first into, but also rarely last. 

In camp, I'll scope out the setup; where is the bathroom and shower, where are we setting up dinner? I pick a flat spot with minimal rocks, not on the other side of camp from the bathroom. The back panniers come off the bike, along with the tent. I'll usually sit for a little bit and just relax and let my body recover from the ride. Then I'll set up my tent, blow up my sleeping pad, and dig out my clothes, toiletries and towel, and head to the shower.

The group has a rotating dinner responsibility. So the two people on cook duty tonight will empty their panniers and head to the closest grocery store. They'll buy fixings for dinner, plus stuff for breakfast and lunch the next day. We all carry a little bit of the group gear needed for dinner and cleanup. 

At camp, the riders will trickle in, maybe separated by an hour, at most. We set up, clean up, and talk about the ride. If there was anything exciting or out of the ordinary, it's the talk of the table that night (like a dog attack, an aggressive driver, a really great bar along the way, a hard hill or a fun downhill.)
Someone might have picked up some beer at a store on the way into camp, and people will crack open a can (or 3) and chill. 

Dinner is usually served around 6p, and we're all starving by then. The cooks have been pretty good, and in 30 days I've had maybe 2 bad meals, and those were due to limited grocery availability wherever we were staying. 

After dinner we do cleanup, and that's on the same rotation as the cooks. The two on cleanup tonight are the cooks tomorrow. 

Following dinner we have a 'map meeting'. This is where we review the route we're taking tomorrow. We all have a set of maps that lays out the route all the way across the country. We'll discuss how far we're going, what towns are along the way (and what services are available, like restaurants, stores, etc.) If there are any words of warning or wisdom from past tours added to the leader's notes, he'll share them. We will also gloss over the upcoming week so we have an idea of what's ahead, including any upcoming rest days and where those will be located. 
(Pictures of the maps are at the end of this post.)

After map meeting, my day is effectively done. As a group, we'll hang out and chat, maybe play cards or do any work on our bikes. If there is a laundry nearby, we'll probably throw a load in. Since we don't have a lot of clothes individually, we will combine loads to save time and money. 

Depending on how hard the day was, we might go to bed early. If we are in a town (and actually in town), we might go to a bar and hang out for a little while. If not, two of the guys in the group have a few instruments between then and they might strike up a song. If there's internet connectivity, many of us are on our phones or tablets responding to messages and updating our blogs. 

I try to get to bed by 10 if I can. Sometimes it happens, most of the time it doesn't. I might read for 15 or 20 minutes (it takes a while to get through a book at that rate!) or I might type up a blog post or upload pictures from the day. I'll write my daily 'G/B/U' and post that if I have a signal, if not I'll save it for when I do. 

Then I turn off my headlamp and go to sleep. I've been able to fall asleep pretty quickly, but I still don't sleep all that great. At the last rest day I bought a new ground pad (the inflatable pad I put my bag on) and thats helped a little. But I wake up frequently in the night to roll over. Still, somehow I manage to get just enough sleep to make it through the next day!
And at 5:45, my alarm goes off and I do it all over again! Grateful for the opportunity, and one day closer to the west coast!

1 comment:

  1. I have spent the last chunk of my evening catching up on your blog entries. I have been insanely busy with the kids and work recently and hadn't had a chance to read about your adventures in Kentucky. As usual, your writing is beautiful and eloquent, and your ability to create images that draw the reader into your experience is captivating.

    Your photos are amazing. They make me feel like I am doing my children a disservice by raising them in Florida!

    Take care....we think of you often and really enjoy keeping tabs on your trip.