AXC - The bike

AXC - The bike

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Great Expectations

When I set out on this trip, I had a few expectations, and many things I either didn't expect or didn't even realize. Here are some of the things that have defied (or met) expectation. 

I didn't expect this trip to be this much fun. I knew it would be good, and enjoyable, and the experience of a lifetime, but I didn't think being on the bike for 6-8 hours a day for 60 days would be fun. But it has been.

I didn't expect this trip to start off being so hard! Yeah, that's a silly thing to say, I'm biking across the US, of course it's going to be hard! I knew that, but this defied expectation of 'hard.' And I didn't expect it to be so hard, so quickly! We crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Appalachians in the first week. Then went through the rest of the Appalachians and then the Ozarks. I was looking ahead to the Rocky Mountains, and hadn't though much about the first two mountain ranges. The 'razorback' hills in Kentucky, and the massive ups and downs in VA were a huge challenge. The heat, traffic, humidity and other factors in VA and KY also contributed. Which leads me to...

Who would have expected the Rocky Mountains to be easy!? Certainly not me, and certainly not after the difficulty of the previous mountain ranges. Plus, we climbed to the highest elevation of the trip crossing the Hoosier Pass into Breckenridge, and that wasn't a big deal to me, even with the challenge of the elevation. I think it was a combination of factors; The first and most obvious is that I'm a much stronger rider after doing this for 7 weeks! But also the weather was much better, and the climb was  slow and steady, but not too steep.

One of my biggest fears/worries for the trip was the comfort of my bike. In particular I expected the saddle to be killing me after a week! But instead, I've gone 60 days haven't had any saddle issues at all. Other people in the group have struggled with this since day one, and maybe half the group or more have even replaced their saddle during the trip. But mine was comfortable right out of the box and I haven't even used any saddle cream or anything. Sure, I'll be a little sore after sitting on the bike for 8 hours, but that's not a saddle issue, it's a 'sitting on my butt in the same spot for so long' issue. Give it a night off the bike, and I'm ready to go the next day!

Another factor of that is just general comfort on the bike; I was totally expecting my neck, shoulders, wrists, hands and knees to hurt at some point. On my road bike, my neck and shoulders ache after just one or two rides! On this ride I haven't had any issues. The bike isn't perfect, and if I stay in one position for too long my hands will start to tingle. But when I get off the bike, my back doesn't hurt, my neck and arms are fine. This is one of the biggest surprises for me. Which also leads me to...

The last thing related to the bike and just riding day after day is that I haven't had any over-use injuries. Anyone who does a lot of physical activity and/or training can attest to the fact that after doing one thing over and over for so long, eventually something starts to hurt. I was expecting my knees to hurt, or have a 'hot spot' in my shoes where something rubs over time, or perhaps the muscles in my lower back would build from a small ache to a big one. Just, something, but nope! Sure, I have an ache here and there occationally, and my legs have been lightly sore for most of the trip. But there are no over-use injuries that have been bothering me.

One of the things I put a lot of thought into was the availability of electricity. I didn't expect to have readily available power. A lot of people I spoke to about the trip had the same assumption, and my 'solution' for lack of power was to buy and bring a solar charger. The reality was that we've had power pretty much every night. Sometimes we've had to plug out stuff in at weird places. At one campsite the only outlet was in the bathroom, so I plugged in and left my phone in the bathroom for an hour. It also turned out that the solar panel was crap. It charged a battery, and from the battery I could charge my phone. A full day's solar charge would re-charge my phone up to 60%! Just... worthless. I mailed the charger home and bought a 6000mAh USB back up battery that can recharge my phone 3 times on one charge. Between that, and the regular availability, I've been able to keep everything charged. Then on the rare days there is no power, the backup battery is more than enough. The added bonus is that the battery is smaller and lighter than the solar panel (and it was less $$), so it's a 'win' all around. That leads to my next thought on campgrounds...

The group camps most nights, and this was expected. I wasn't sure what to expect with regards to the types of campgrounds, but it still managed to defy expectations. When I go camping, it's usually at established tenting campgrounds in remote areas, or it's in the middle of the woods. A lot of places we've been staying are at RV parks, with a little plot of grass in the back for tents. There are big trucks and campers all around, and us. It feels less like 'camping' and more like just pitching tents in the middle of a mobile metropolis. There have been a few instances where we have camped in places that more closely approximated my idea of 'camping', but the RV's are still omnipresent. Which leads me to...

I don't think I expected my tent to feel like home, but it does. I look forward to nights where we camp because I get to set up my own personal space and sleep in my familiar surroundings. At first my sleeping bag and ground pad were uncomfortable and confining, but I've grown accustomed to it and can get a decent night's sleep. It's nice to occasionally sleep somewhere with a real bed, and an easily available bathroom in the middle of the night. But there have been stretches where we haven't camped for several days in a row, and I feel the itch to get back to tenting. Also related to places to lay my head down is another expectation...

The trip described something called 'biker hostels' which I didn't know what that meant but I know what a 'hostel' is, so I had an assumption. It turns out that many of the 'biker hostels' are buildings that let us throw down our sleeping bags on the floor. Sometimes, but not always, they have showers. Occasionally they've been little more than a roof and 4 walls, and occasionally a 'biker hostel' has been straight up luxury accommodations with beds, hot showers and towels, and even breakfast included! There's really no consistency, and it's actually been fun and interesting to see how different they can be. The hight of biker hostel was a place with bunk beds, sheets, and a washer/dryer. The low is probably sleeping on the dirty kitchen floor of a volunteer fire station in the middle of nowhere. 

Another surprise is that I didn't expect to have a shower every night (and most of my friends joked that they didn't expect that either!) I prepared for this eventuality by bringing 'paper shower', basically big wet-wipes which to wipe down. So far on this trip, though, I have had a shower every single night. Granted, some were better than others, and some were ice-cold, but I've never gone to bed covered in the sweat and grime of the day's ride. 

One thing I thought I was prepared for were the little challenges associated with a trip like this. I knew riding every day would be tough, and I knew setting up and breaking down camp would be one more thing to do on top of everything else, but there have been a lot of other challenges. The wind in Kansas was expected, the wind in Wyoming making Kansas look like a light summer breeze was unexpected!  The mosquito swarms of biblical proportions in Wyoming were unexpected. 98 degree heat in Virginia in early May was unexpected. Then flipping that around, I wasn't prepared for a really cold couple of nights in Virginia, only 3 weeks into the trip. (Although my friend Jo helped me out and sent me cold weather gear, so I was prepared for the cold nights in CO and WY!) 

I said this in a prior blog post, but it's worth repeating, the hospitality I've experienced is more than I expected, and greater than I knew existed. I was prepared for this to be a fully 'self supported' tour, and we would take care of ourselves. And really, we have, but people have come along and done things for us both really big (hosted a dinner feast for us) and really small (someone shared their s'mores with me last night.) Most of this is without us asking for anything, people have just stepped up and offered. I think it is because people are just more kind and giving than I really realized, and also in some little way they enjoy being a part of this big adventure we're on. I could do a whole post on the people I've met and the hospitality I've encountered, and perhaps I will. 

Lastly, one of the greatest things I didn't expect was just how terrific the group of riders I'm with are. I think about how great the trip is thanks to the people I'm with, and how much different it could have been otherwise. They are supportive, friendly, fun, kind, and even wise and experienced. There's a fantastic mix of personalities, experience and knowledge in a huge range of areas. We are learning who to go to if we want to know anything. (We passed an oil refinery and someone asked 'how does that work?' So we asked Normand, and sure enough he knew and explained it to us!)
The tour leader is fantastic, and the group is pretty self sufficient so that helps as well. Even after 60 days, we all get along pretty well. I hope I've made some friends for life, and am happy to still have another 30 days to continue to get to know everyone better and continue to learn from them as we go.

Some of the things I think of regarding this post:

1 comment:

  1. I admit when you described this adventure at first, I thought like you did that it would be rough, grimy and difficult in so many ways. I am so relieved and happy that is is so much better than you could have hoped. This is truly a Great Adventure and I'm glad that I could at least be a distant supporting voice for it.