Bike Tour 2019

Here’s my plan for my 2019 bike tour.

Big U Bike Tour Map.JPG

I start in Chicago (or north central Indiana). I follow U.S. Bicycle Route 66, the dark blue line, to southwestern Missouri. This route follows, to the extent possible, the old Route 66 highway. I switch to the TransAmerica Route, the orange line, and head west across Kansas and the southern half of Colorado. In Pueblo, Colorado I take a day off after 1,300 miles. I’ll need it. I leave the TransAm Route and head west across the Rocky Mountains and into Utah. If I have it in me, I’ll do a side trip to Bryce Canyon National Park. I’m not planning on hiking but the scenery alone in Bryce will be hard to pass up. 

Between Pueblo and South Lake Tahoe, California, there are dozens of mountains to climb. Most of them are higher and steeper than the seven climbs I did in Montana and Washington State last summer. My maximum elevation last year as a little over 5,600 feet. This route has climbs that go over 10,000 feet. To add to the difficulty there will be long stretches with no services, including no water. And did I mention some of these will be in desert? I bought a water filter and plan on carrying extra bottled water whenever I can.

I’d like to cut weight on this tour but there really isn’t anyway to avoid carrying a tent, sleeping pad, cold weather clothing, food, and water. The best place to cut weight is from the engine. Unfortunately, I now weight 213 pounds. No bueno. I need to be under 200 by the time I leave Pueblo.

Near South Lake Tahoe, I turn north along the Sierra Cascades Route. I thought this was going to be the hardest part of the trip, but now that I have seen the elevation map of Nevada, these mountains will be a relief (so to speak). This stretch of the tour will take me past Crater Lake. Once I get into Oregon, I’ll decide whether to continue following the Sierra Cascades Route to the Columbia River. There I can turn west following the river to the finish in Portland, Oregon. An alternative would be to switch back to the Trans Am route at Sisters, Oregon, climb over McKenzie Pass, and ride down to Eugene, or even continue to the coast. Either way, I would use the Google to route me to Portland.

Since I fully expect to be a hurtin’ unit for much of this ride, I have thought about places where I can call an audible and change or curtail the tour. For instance, I can cut out the Sierra Cascades entirely and ride one last climb west across the Sierras to Sacramento or, even, the Bay Area.

I planned a two-month itinerary, the same as last year, even though the tour is 700 miles shorter. The lower daily mileage has more to do with the availability of resources than with the difficulty of the route itself. For example, when I am faced with the option of a 45 mile day or an 80 mile day, I am planning on the 45 mile day. (I generally end up riding farther than plan because riding is preferable to sitting around a campsite or a motel.)

I plan to start on May 15. The original idea was to take Amtrak to Chicago. Mrs. Rootchopper has dangled the idea of driving me to her parents’ house in northern Indiana. I can ride west and pick up Route 66 in a day or two (and avoid the traffic of northern Illinois.)

I am open for suggestions as to what to call this tour. The Big U is one idea. YODO in the Wild West is another. If you have any suggestions, feel free to add them in the comments section.

Stay tuned.

 

 

Bike trip stuff

I’m starting to amass some new stuff for my bike trip. Two new Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires to replace the two I’ve been riding for a year and nearly 5,000 miles. (The old ones are still usable but won’t survive a long tour.)

A new Ottolock will replace my heavy U-lock. I’ll be mostly in rural areas so this should provide ample security. It’s a combination lock so I don’t have to worry about losing my key.

Spray on sunscreen for the ever growing solar panel on the top of my head.

And a pile of Adventure Cycling maps to keep me from getting lost.

I’ve also bought new Koolstop brake pads for my front and back wheels.

I’m going to buy a water filter and maybe a merino wool t-shirt before I leave.

About five or six weeks to lift off. Stay tuned.

Rain, Rest, Motivation, and Maps

Last night I took 2 ibuprofen PMs (ibuprofen with a sedative) to make sure my wonky left knee didn’t wake me. It worked. I overslept Friday Coffee Club.  This was pretty convenient because I would have ridden 15 miles to DC in a cold rain.

I needed the rest. I’ve been pretty disappointed with my body this winter. Sore knee, shoulder, hip, achy back,…., I want my mommie! Self pity won’t get my act together but exercises, new walking shoes, and riding my bike, alternating hard and easy days, will. So, for the last seven days, I rode 207 miles, mostly on my Cross Check. And I did a couple yoga torture sessions, a weight session, and two foam roller super six sessions. Each day included specific stretches for my iliotibial bands in hopes my left hip and knee will heal themselves.

Now that my body is starting to come around, I need to work on my brain. Bike rides and daily meditation are not getting it done. Two things happened the other day that should help. First, the maps for the middle part of my bike tour arrived. They span the gap between Pueblo, Colorado and South Lake Tahoe, California.  The thought of riding this section of the country is intimidating. I will sit down in the next day or three and do a day by day itinerary in the hopes of getting enthused.

The other thing that happened is I stumbled on a video blog about a coast to coast bike tour. Ryan and Ali are two film making fitness people who fell in love. Having been together only three months, Ryan didn’t want to ride across the country solo so Aly agreed to join him, despite her inexperience at bike touring. Being obviously smitten with each other they decided to interview people along the way and ask them the secret to maintaining their relationships with their partners. They called their tour LoveCycles.

To document the trip, Ryan made 37 videos, each about 20 minutes long. To be honest I found the love interviews a bit boring after a while, but the parts documenting the tour are amazing.  He even used drones to capture the spectacular landscapes and the two of them riding through them.

I’ve watched the first twenty videos. I was especially enthused by the first two that documented the Oregon beginning of their trip from Fort Stevens State Park (where I dipped my front wheel in the Pacific last summer) to Portland (where my trip ended).

Their ride through Washington State, eastern Oregon, Nebraska, and Wyoming is really beautiful. So if you want to get a sense of what bike touring is like out West, check their videos out.

There are a few things about their tour that differ from mine. First, they made up their route as they went whereas I use Adventure Cycling maps. It turns out the Google isn’t the best bicycle touring router. Yeah, well. On the plus side, they received great route advice from people along the way.

They also traveled with four panniers between them. How the hell they managed to do this and carry video equipment is beyond me. They each brought about a third the clothes that I do, for a start. Their two-person tent is about half the size (and weight) of mine. They have nothing on their rear racks and no fenders. So their bikes were considerably less heavy than mine. And their engines, lacking belly fat and boobage, were much lighter. (For what it’s worth, my father’s genome provided me with a competitively compact ass.)

People often ask me how I managed to ride across the country alone. After watching these videos you’ll see that spending 24/7 with someone under stressful conditions can be trying. (Much of the stress happens off camera, but they make it clear that the trip wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns.) After over 2,000 miles, I actually welcomed Martin’s fitful companionship as I rode through North Dakota, Montana, and Washington. It added variety to the proceedings. It’s a good thing he’s a nice person though. In general, however, solitude works for me.

So it’s back to the videos, only 17 more to go, then a big time bike planning and itinerary session.

Enjoy the rain.

 

Imposter Syndrome, Nightmares, Eagles, and Maps

When I retired, I finally could say good bye to imposter syndrome. an intense, irrational feeling of inadequacy.  To some extent it served as motivation. Six months after riding solo across the country, I am doubting my ability to do a long tour. It makes not the slightest bit of sense but there it is.

For decades I have had nightmares about being in grad school. Typically, this involves forgetting to go to class (I missed only a handful of classes in college and grad school) or getting lost on campus. Last night I had a very disturbing nightmare about statistics, of all things. In my dream I had forgotten everything I knew about statistics. I felt utterly useless and defeated. I was rattled by the dream for a couple of hours after I woke up. This is totally stupid because I took statistics in high school, college, and grad school. I taught statistics at a college in Rhode Island. And statistics played a major role in my professional life.

A couple of hours after I woke up, I found a very woo woo guided meditation online. I just shut off my skeptic and went with it. It was recorded live and featured the sound of rain from a passing shower. After 25 minutes the lingering anxiety from the nightmare was gone.

Having restored my sanity, I went for a ride. I did 41 1/2 miles yesterday in shorts so I wanted to do a fairly easy 30 today.  I was meandering through suburban neighborhoods when I decided to go down a dead end street to take a look at the Potomac River. The street was lined with McMansions that go for well over $1 million. As I passed one of the last houses before the turn around, I spotted something in a pine tree. A big nest. And right above it was a bald eagle. I am guessing that he may have been guarding a brooding mama eagle.

Eagle backyard

Before my ride I called Adventure Cycling about some maps I need for my tour. The maps that would guide me across Utah and Nevada were out of stock last week. It turns out new maps will be available on Friday. So I ordered all the other maps I need. Later in the day, a couple of packages arrived. One contained a pair of hiking poles. I intend to put them to use in April and later in the summer. The other package had new tires for The Mule and a lightweight lock, which I will use instead of a heavy U-lock.

Speaking of weight, I have noticed that The Mule’s engine has added some mass in recent weeks. Time to dial back the beer and chips. Oink.

Getting Back in Shape

My body has had a tough winter. For a few weeks I was really falling apart. I couldn’t stand up straight. I walked with a pronounced limp with pain in my left knee and hip.

Setting Aside Little Nellie

It occurred to me that my back pain was probably caused by the impact shocks I get while riding Little Nellie. Those little wheels don’t absorb much of the hit from countless tree roots on the Mount Vernon Trail. (The National Park Service is starved for money and their maintenance has really gone south in the last two or three years.)

I switched first to The Mule, then to my Cross Check, both of which have normal sized wheels (700c x 35 for the bike nerds). My back responded almost instantly to the softer ride on The Mule. When I switched the Cross Check some new back and knee problems cropped up. I re-measured the seat height and the distance from the saddle to the handlebars. The seat was about 1/2 inch higher than The Mule’s. After I adjusted it, I took off. The Cross Check’s bigger gears were just what my legs needed. I feel like my old self again.

I rode it to Friday Coffee Club today. The strong, persistent tailwind made me feel like a bike god. The ride home was a bit challenging but I actually enjoyed fighting the wind. I am back to my old commuting mileages. My last 8 days were: 30, 23.5, 45.5, 28, 31, 32, 32, and 30 miles (252 total). A couple more weeks like that should put me in decent touring shape.

Cross Check at Dyke Marsh
The Cross Check at Dyke Marsh on the Mount Vernon Trail

 

Working Out Off the Bike

I am also doing on alternate days: yoga, weight lifting, and physical therapy exercises including some with a foam roller. I don’t much care for any of these but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Shopping

My pre-tour shopping spree has begun. I’ve bought mountain bike shorts, glasses (clear and polarized, both progressive for map reading while on the bike), Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires, Croakies, Koolstop brake pads, and a combination lock. (I am trading off weight for some security but I can’t recall ever having someone try to steal The Mule while on tour.)

The other night I attended a presentation by Jim Sayer, the Executive Director of  Adventure Cycling. Adventure Cycling makes the maps that I use. Jim’s presentation really helped get my head back in the game. Jim talked up La Route Verte, the bike touring network in Quebec. This is definitely going on my to do list. The website is amazing. (And it’s in both English and French, of course.) I need to do a key word search for “black flies” though.

And just to add to the preparations, spring arrived in DC. It may be temporary but two 70 degree days are just the tonic. I rode in shorts and a t-shirt today and it was bliss.

 

 

 

Shopping

Every bike tour uses up things. I had three pairs of bike shorts during my last tour. One pair were a bit snug at the start of the tour. I didn’t much like them. I ended up shrinking into them over the first half of the ride. By the time I reached the west coast they were my favorites. After 4,300 miles, they hung on my hips. Sadly the nose of my saddle tore the stitching out of the front. They died a hero.

My gloves wore out. I wore them every day. They were just shreds of fabric at the end. They were old school, mesh gloves with no padding in the palm. I could tell I needed more cushioning when the top of my right middle finger went numb.

With these things in mind, I have made a list of stuff to acquire for this year’s tour:

  • Shorts. I learned today that it is a little early to be shopping for bike shorts.
  • New glasses, both sunglasses and clear, with progressive lenses. This will help immensely with map reading on the go. I bought these yesterday.
  • Croakies (the thingies that holds your eyeglasses on your head). Acquired at the optician yesterday.
  • Headsweat. The one I liked was last seen hanging on a shower rod in a motel somewhere west of the Ohio River
  • Adventure Cycling maps. All I need to do is commit to a route. Derp.
  • A new bag and map case for my handlebars. My old map case was help together with packing tape from the post office. The new ones won’t work on my 15-year-old bag.
  • Tires. The Mule’s current Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires have over 5,000 miles on them. I’m confident they have another one or two thousand miles on them. That’s not enough though. My baby needs new shoes.
  • New Koolstop brake pads. My brake pads have been on the bike for two years. It would be nice to be able to stop now and then.
  • Gloves.
  • Water filter. I have never used one but something tells me that way out west I may need one.
  • Health. I am waiting to see if the cortisone shot I had fixes my left rotator cuff. So far, the spasms of acute pain have been dialed down to mild, occasional discomfort after less than a week. I am encouraged. I seem to be over all the colds and body aches that plagued me this winter.
  • A lighter motor. Alas, I have gained quite a bit of weight since last summer. I am confident that warmer weather and a few 200-mile weeks will do the trick.
  • Motivation. Cold March weather is sucking the enthusiasm out of me. Fortunately, two things are coming in the days ahead. On Sunday, temperatures will rise into the 60s. Next Wednesday, I am going to Adventure Cycling’s get together in DC.
  • Train ticket: I need to get to Chicago if I am riding Route 66.

 

 

 

 

 

Tour Planning 2019

  • Warm weather and improving health have nudged me to start thinking about a tour.
  • I went to Friday Coffee Club and talked to Felkerino about the Sierra Cascades Adventure Cycling Route. He said it was not a climbing hellscape, had lots of services, and is very pretty.
  • So I just sat down and mapped out a tour using Adventure Cycling’s interactive route map.
    • Take Amtrak to Chicago (I’ve ridden across Ohio and Indiana enough, thank you.)
    • Ride Bike Route 66 from Chicago to Marshfield MO. (Basically this is in west central MO.)
    • Hang a right and take the Trans America Route west from Marshfield to Pueblo CO.
    • Take the Western Express Route from Pueblo through the Rockies, the canyons of Utah, and the basin and range terrain of Nevada to Alpine Village CA, near the southern end of Lake Tahoe.
    • Switch to the Sierra Cascades Route north to Sisters OR.
    • Switch back to the Trans America Route and head west from Sisters to the Oregon Coast.
    • Ride from the coast to Portland and fly home.
  • This tour would be 3,700 miles long. That’s 600 miles shorter than last year. This one is considerably hillier and hotter, though. I guess I could do it in 65 days.
  • If I were feeling spunky, I could ride down to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. This would add 300 miles and a week. Also, a side trip into Bryce Canyon would take a couple of days.

 

Martin’s Every Road Tour

I met Martin Arnold in the Honey Pot in Gackle, North Dakota. Actually, I woke him up after midnight. Martin had begun his bike tour two months before mine in Brunnen, Switzerland.

For the next month we met time and again as we both made our way to Anacortes, Washington. Martin had a video camera and has made this edited account of his ride. The section of his ride in Europe is new to me. Although we didn’t see each other, our routes actually overlapped somewhat from DC to Indiana and again from Minneapolis to Gackle.

I got a good laugh out of the pictures from the Northern Cascades in Washington state. He’s going fast one second then crawling the next. Just as I remember it. Except that the crawling lasted all morning and the speedy descents lasted a few blissful hours in the afternoon.

At the end of the video is his blog address. The blog is in German but contains many more pictures including one of the two of us when we briefly rode together near Colville National Forest.

 

Any Road Tour – Riding with La Mariposa

During my bike tour to the Pacific northwest, I tried to put out of my mind that I had several mountains to climb to get from central Montana to the Pacific. With each climb I’d find myself grinding away, sometimes at speeds as slow as 4 or 5 miles per hour. On several occasions as the effort became difficult and my speed fell, I would pick up a companion.

As it turns out, butterflies fly at about 6 miles per hour. I’d find myself totally focused, giving it everything I had, and there, flitting around me would be a butterfly. Each time it seemed as if the butterfly was telling me, “See how easy it is?” These encounters would go on for as long as five minutes, welcome diversions from the arduous task at hand.

And my flying companions would remind me of someone.

Four years ago, a friend of a friend died. She was hit by a bus while walking home from a Metro station. It was 2 hours before her 42nd birthday. A Facebook memorial page was started. Many of the postings in her native Spanish referred to la mariposa, the butterfly. Perhaps this was just an obvious reference to rebirth or maybe it was a childhood nickname. Regardless, the upshot of these posts is that whenever I see a butterfly I think of Lorena.

Lorena was going to American University. Younger students and friends would look up to her and ask for advice. Her advice was often couched in three sentences:

Are you happy?

What would make you happy?

Do that with everything you’ve got.

Time and again this summer, mile after mile, I pedaled onward and upward, fulfilling my dream of a lifetime. And when the hills steepened, una mariposa would remind me to give it everything I got.

IMG_0268

 

 

 

 

 

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.