New Blogs I Follow

Along the side of my posts is a list of blogs I follow. Some I follow more closely than others. Some have gone the way of the Monte Python parrot.

I’m pretty excited about two new blogs. Both are about travel. Neither involve bikes (but there is always hope).

Still a Tourist is written by my daughter Lily who seems hell bent on visiting everything and everywhere. Canada, England, Scotland, Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Vatican City, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, the Balkans, the Baltics, and Scandinavia. She’s currently finishing grad school in London.

It’s Not about the Destination, It’s about the Journey is the brand new travel blog from my friend and former co-worker Jessica. Like Lily she attended grad school in Europe and traveled extensively there. She recently quit her job, sold all her stuff, and took off to teach English in the Chilean desert. Although I know other people who have done this sort of thing, I am stunned every time someone I know does such a thing.

The Hardest Part

Each time I do a bike tour I get asked, “What was the hardest part?” I suppose they expect me to say something like the hills in Washington or the rain in Iowa or the mud in Maryland. Sorry to disappoint.

The hardest part is leaving home.

I am a creature of routine. I eat breakfast. Read the paper. Do the crossword. Take a shower. Go for a ride. Do other stuff. Eat dinner. Watch a baseball game or read a book or watch a movie. Take a shower. Go to sleep. (You’ll notice that one of my favorite things is taking a shower. I don’t take long ones though. Just long enough to press the clean re-boot button.)

My at-home routine provides a comfortable rhythm to my life. So it is not surprising that it takes several days to get into the rhythm of the road. And I don’t welcome the transition. It took me about a week to get into the rhythm of the road on my ride to the Pacific northwest. By the time I got to Montana it was clockwork.

Another reason why leaving is so hard is the fact that I am looking at the tour as one thing. Holy crap, my destination is so far away and I’ve never been there or most of the places in between! This could go wrong. That could go wrong. I’m an idiot for doing this! No way!!!

Somebody once said fear is excitement without breathing.

Then, of course, I take a deep breath and say

Yes way!!!!

And all those worries, all those unknowns become experiences and stories and adventures. The Meth Man on the Gap. Impossibly intense thunderstorms on the UP. Incredible piles of hurricane debris in the Florida Keys. Thrill ride descents on the other side of mountain passes.

And so many interesting new people and conversations. The brother and sister from Yorkshire riding all 50 states. Countless other bike tourists on the side of the road. A Swiss tourist in a beekeeper’s house. Plant nerds! An Alaskan rolfer/artist in a broad brimmed hat. Pretty good for an introvert, wouldn’t you say?

I’ve done eight bike tours.

Soon I’ll be leaving again.

The hardest part awaits.

 

 

The Mule Comes Home

In Portland I dropped The Mule off at West End Bikes. They packed it in a box and, using BikeFlights.com, I had it shipped via FedEx to my local bike shop. (I’d mention them by name but their normal policy is not to accept these kinds of bike shipments. Given the fact that I’ve been a loyal customer for well over a decade, they agreed to accept the shipment.) The bike shop did a quick assessment and sent me a proposal listing work to be done on the bike.

After some discussion we replaced two chain rings, the cassette, the chain, the rear wheel, and the handlebar tape. They turned the work around in two days. So today, I took my baby for a shakedown cruise.

After 62 days and 4,300 miles of daily riding, my body and The Mule’s geometry fit like hand in glove. With no panniers or tent, The Mule took off at a gallop. I had it in my head to go really long. So I rode to the town of Purcellville, just east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The cool thing about this ride is the fact that it was done almost entirely on trails. Welcome to BikeDC. Dang.

Purcellville is 57 miles by bike from home. The fact that I’d even consider doing this ride on a muggy day with storms in the forecast shows what bike tours will do to your mindset. My legs were flying. I felt completely at home on The Mule. My brain went to its happy place. For hours. So good to be back there.

The ride is gradually uphill with a few short rollers at about the 30 mile mark. Unlike before the tour, I was passing people on racing bikes. Ding. Mule on your left. Whoosh.

My quads and my knees were burning after 40 miles. I’d back off long before this point under normal circumstances but not today. So what if I get tired; I’ve got all day and all night if I need it.

I had no food with me – a mistake for sure. I made it 35 miles to Leesburg before I realized that my tummy was lonely. Rather than stop there, forged ahead to Purcellville. The gradual uphill can eat away at your confidence. Not today.

In Purcellville I noticed that many of the shops were not where they had once been. A bike shop was now a bakery. And, more importantly, Haute Dogs and Fries, a hot dog shop, was no longer in business. I headed to the bakery hoping to buy a sandwich but they only sold pastries. I inhaled an eclair. They make pretty awesome eclairs.

Then it was back on the trail, now trending downhill. In Leesburg I went to a gas station for fuel. A refrigerated sandwich, a candy bar, and cookies were all I could find. (The apples looked rather beat up so I passed on the fruit.)

With sammie in mouth, I was back on the trail. Then it started to rain. To avoid sammie sogginess I ate fast. With some fuel in my furnace, my speed increased. So did the rain.

After another ten miles I finished off my rolling repast. The rain intensified a bit. Lightning flashed. Thunder thundered. We’re havin’ fun now.

As the miles went by, my legs started to tire. My knees hurt. My lower back started to ache. My arms and shoulders were barking at me. Bear down, dude. The Mule didn’t care.

I made my way to the Mount Vernon Trail along the river. The storm seemed to increase in intensity. By this point I was already soaked. Once you’re wet, you’re wet.

Near home I decided to get off the trail out of concern about falling trees, because the ground here is saturated from so many days of rain. I chose a short, steep hill on a street rather than the gradual one on the trail. I deliberately opted not to use my granny gear just to see how my legs would react. They felt a bit like the top of Rogers Pass in Montana. Been there. Done that.

Ten minutes later we were home. 114 1/2 miles.  No major problems for The Mule or me.

I have a month until the 50 States Ride. I think I’ll be ready.

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Any Road Tour – The Pictures

After several nights, I finally got all my tour pictures in an album on my Flickr page. So if you want to see what the tour was like, just flip through from start to finish.

In doing this, I discovered that I had forgotten much of the first half of the tour. Already. I also found pictures of eastbound bike tourists whom I met along the way. Some of them have journals on Crazyguyonabike.com. I checked them out. They ran into far more weather problems (including cold and snow) than I did. I totally lucked out with regard to weather. Also, they visited places that I didn’t even know existed and saw things I missed mostly because they were looking east and I was looking west.

In any case, here is the link to my pictures.

Wheel dip in Pacific Ocean, Fort Stevens State Park

 

Any Road Tour – Afterglowing

This bike tour, far more than any other that I have done, has left me with after effects that I truly wish I could hold onto.

The Physical Afterglow

Despite eating and drinking an appalling amount of unhealthy things, I managed to lose weight just about everywhere except my legs. The upper body muscle weight that I gained from lifting weights all winter is gone. My belly, although still very much in evidence, is smaller too. Mrs. Rootchopper said that the roll of fat around my waist in the back is gone. I can tell because my pants fall off.

Of course, the upside to this physical change is my body is much, much more efficient on a bike. My pedaling goes more round and round than up and down. I am a few miles per hour faster, which is not surprising, I suppose. I can stand when I climb, something that normally tires me out, and find an extra gear in the process. I noticed near the end of the tour that walking up stairs or up a hill was a snap.

I stopped doing my daily stretching and physical therapy routines for the first time in ages during the tour. It was a complete shock to me that I was much more flexible in my tent than I have ever been.

One thing that didn’t change, and may have been worse than before, is the cramping in my legs and feet. When I was putting my sandals on in the tent, I’d have cramps in my feet. My feet felt like they were curling up, kind of like the Dr. Pepper dude in An American Werewolf in London. Sometimes when putting on shorts in my tent, I’d get a hamstring cramp.One night when my calf was swollen, I had a humongous, painful  cramp in my calf muscle in the middle of the night. Ayeee! Then there was the infamous hamstring cramp in Astoria that caused me to fall off my bar stool.

I could do without the cramps but the rest of these physical changes are quite welcome. I held onto my weight loss from my Key West tour for a couple of months, until pulmonary embolisms parked me on the couch with junk food for solace. It would be great to hold onto these changes well into September so that the 50 States Ride is relatively easy. (Doing it last year with blood clots in my lungs set a low bar for “easy.”)

The Mental Afterglow

After the Key West tour, I was totally mellowed out (except for my bruised rib). This feeling went far beyond mere satisfaction from completing an arduous task over a month’s time. After this year’s tour, I had the same mental afterglow but it was much stronger and more long lasting.

I have no idea what the endocrinology or neurology of this phenomenon is. I recall reading an article about a writer who microdosed on LSD daily for a period of time. (Basically, until her supply ran dry.) She just felt happy all day long. And much more productive. I can’t say I’ve been particularly productive, but the happy part sure fits like a glove. A friend of mine once did ayahuasca and described a profound experience that she “still need[ed] to process.” I feel that same need to process this post-tour mental afterglow.

I talked about my tour with Joe, a reader in DC, at a protest I attended last week. He says he had the same thing after his tour and, to this day, he feels changed in a way that he can’t describe. Andrea, my friend from Friday Coffee Club, said something similar last Friday. She did a tour very similar to mine a few years ago.

It’s a subtle feeling. It’s similar to the feeling I get immediately after I meditate.  (Ironically, I stopped my meditation practice during the tour because it was obviously superfluous.) Maybe it’s caused by a boat load of endorphins or serotonin floating around in my head. I wonder if it made me less introverted during the tour, talking with my Warmshowers hosts or the people in the park in Wenona IL or Martin or Maria and the plant nerds. I definitely noticed it when talking to Julie in the bar the last night in Astoria. I felt like I was talking to someone I had known all my life.

Regardless of the introversion angle, I feel very different. And, just like last fall, the feeling is fading.

Can I hold on?

In the interest of holding on to the physical and mental afterglow, I decided to go for a long bike ride today. The humidity was oppressive and, as the day wore on, so was the temperature. I managed to ride my Crosscheck 92 hilly miles to Poolesville MD and back.

After the ride, I was totally zonked physically. I think riding fast on an unloaded bike brings about a higher level of muscle fatigue that riding a loaded touring bike slowly. Mentally, however, I felt the same afterglow, albeit in muted form. Then I fell asleep. And the Sandman took it away.

 

 

 

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Any Road Tour – Some questions, some answers

What did you do with your bike at restaurants, stores, nature breaks, etc.? 

I was mostly in small towns or along the side of a road in the middle of nowhere. I would lean my bike against a wall and not bother to lock it. I figured if a thief tried to steal my 80 pound bike, he’d probably crash within a few yards. Sometimes I’d through my U-lock on the front wheel to immobilize it or keep the front wheel from flopping which might cause the bike to tip over.

It was far more likely that a thief would take something from the bike. The rear panniers were buried under the tent and sleeping pad so they were inaccessible. The front panniers didn’t contain much of anything valuable. If you’re that hard up for chamois cream, go ahead and take it, brother.

My handlebar bag was another story. That contained, among other things, my wallet and cell phone. I am absolutely paranoid about losing either. (I even took a picture of my driver’s license in case someone stole my wallet.) I checked to make sure they didn’t fall out of the bag several times per day. If you’re smart (smarter than me) you’d carry a credit card, a copy of your id, and cash elsewhere in your gear. Of course, then you can worry about that stuff getting lost or stolen.

Where did you put your bike overnight?

When camping I’d have all my gear in my tent. This would leave my bike vulnerable to theft. First, I’d try to orient the door of my tent so that it was facing my bike. When things went bump in the night, I could peek outside and check on The Mule. Second, I’d secure my bike to something solid. When there was a picnic table available, I’d use a bungee cord to attach the bike to table so that it wouldn’t get knocked over. One bad fall and you could break a shifter lever or your derailler and that would be bad news. If there was only a tree around, I’d use the bungee to make a loop through the front wheel and around the seat post. This would keep the front wheel from flopping. Finally, I’d throw my lock on, if only to immobilize a wheel. Anything to make the bike undesirable to passersby.

Overnight or when it looked like rain, I’d cover my leather saddle with a waterproof seat cover.

At hotels, more often than not, I’d roll my bike right up to the reception desk as if to say, “Look, it’s already inside.” I’d ask for a first floor room. Failing that, I’d ask about an elevator. A couple of times I had to carry the bike up the stairs. I’d unload it first, of course.

I’ve only once had a hotel tell me I couldn’t take my bike in a room. This was in 2004 when I was touring with Big Nellie, my long wheelbase recumbent. They put it in the luggage storage room.

Always ask at hostels if there is secure bike parking. The hostel in Astoria didn’t have anything for me to use so I hauled The Mule up three short flights of stairs. After 4,200 miles, this was not fun. The hostel in Columbus had wall mounted bike racks in the living room, but I had to carry the bike up some steps to get into the house. The hostel in Pittsburgh had a garage. The one in Portland had bike storage in a keyed basement luggage room, accessible by an elevator.

What about prescriptions? 

I have two prescriptions that I needed to take on a daily basis. For my asthma medicine I had two partially used maintenance inhalers in hand. Then just before leaving town, I refilled my prescription for the last time. This was good for almost two months. My doctor is planning to tweaking in August so she gave me a sample inhaler to bridge me to my next appointment with her.

For my eye drops, I brought the prescription box with me. In Lewistown MT, a pharmacist used the information on the box to call my drug store at home and transfer the prescription to him. When I got home, the local pharmacy called Lewistown and they transferred it back.

How did you arrange for travel home?

One of the best aspects about being retired is I don’t have to get back to work on a certain date. The flexibility takes some stress from the tour. But I still have to get home, and do so without crushing my finances.

In Florida, I booked a return trip on Amtrak while staying with a friend in West Palm Beach. It was ten days away so I had plenty of time to make the train.

On this trip, I waited until I got to Missoula and booked a return flight on Southwest from Seattle for the Saturday after I’d reach Anacortes. This turned out to be an inexpensive direct flight to BWI. I used my points to pay for all but $6 of the cost. I left a day or two to deal with getting a duffle for my camping gear and to drop my bike off for shipping home. (You can do this at the airport, but that can be a big pain.)

By the time I got to Camano Island I had decided to bypass Seattle so I switched my return flight to a direct flight from Portland to BWI. It cost a few more points but the switch itself was free. (Southwest is great for this.) I gave myself three days in Portland to deal with my bike and the duffle. (It took about three hours.)

Using The Google, I found a bike shop and arranged to drop off my bike. They boxed the bike and acted as the shipping agent for FedEx. The bike is going to my local bike shop who agreed to be the receiving agent prior to the tour. The particulars of shipment were done through BikeFlights.com which was pretty easy to use.

July by the numbers

Well, this is getting ridiculous. I knocked out another 1,482.5 miles in July. 1,357 of that was from the Any Road Tour. I rode in five states (Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Virginia). There were five mountain passes too. My longest day was 94.5 miles over Washington and Rainy Passes then down hill for miles and miles and miles.

For the year I’ve ridden 7,736.5 miles. And my ass doesn’t hurt one bit.