What I Learned by Riding Across America

Discussion in 'Touring and recreational cycling' started by rtara, Jun 2, 2004.

  1. rtara

    rtara New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2003
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    0
    What does one learn when trying to ride across America at an average of 110 miles a day in 31 days?

    1. Eat Like a Pig
    Eat as much as you can. Stop when you can’t swallow another bite. A 150 mile day at 15 mph can require 6,000 calories. To replace those calories, I had to eat 3 times what I eat on a normal day. I learned to eat whenever and whatever I could.

    Eating this much food is not easy. Let’s say you’ve trained properly and you are eating all the right things. You pour nonfat milk on cereal, eat bagels, pasta, sautéed vegetables, lean meats, and so on. You’ve watched not only your quality but your quantity. That’s certainly what I did when I was training. It made me feel good and helped me trim away body fat. But during the ride is a whole different story. Not only does the quality of food suffer (entire states seem to be devoid of nonfat milk and vegetables) but the quantity of food that must be consumed is hard to fathom.

    Take a typical day on the ride. Breakfast is several trips to the buffet table: 6 pancakes drenched in syrup, fruit, 2 servings of cold cereal, eggs, hash browns and sausages. You squirrel away a bagel for the road. Within two hours on the road, you eat your pocket food, the bagel or energy bar. At the first snack stop, 6 to 8 cookies hit the spot, downed by most of a bottle of water and then maybe some fruit. Lunch is a turkey sandwich, a bagel with honey and peanut butter and some salty chips. A bag of animal cookies goes in the pocket for down the road, to be washed down by a whole bottle of sport drink because dinner is 20 or 30 miles off. You arrive at the hotel and eat a handful or two of almonds so the protein will rebuild muscles but you’re already thinking of where to get a dinner. You could eat half a large pizza or get a sit-down meal. A restaurant with limitless salad bar is a joy to find. You tell the waitress to keep the bread coming. And which dessert is bigger? The Chocolate Delight or the apple cobbler with ice cream? A couple of pieces of Belgian chocolate are perfect back at the hotel while reading email before lights out. You arrive at breakfast the next day hungry. If it’s not a buffet, you get a normal eggs/bacon/toast/juice serving—the kind of breakfast that would normally make you skip lunch. But now you are watching the guy’s toast at the next table because if he’s not going to touch them…

    Whoa! What a nutritional nightmare. You’re picturing that I will not fit in my bike shorts by the end of the ride. Not at all. My weight at the end of the ride was within 2 lbs of the weight I started with despite this seeming gluttony. Riders who watched what they ate, passed on the gooey dessert and the donuts ended up looking haggard, losing weight and complaining of tiredness. One rider lost 22 lbs but 5 to 10 lbs loss was typical.

    What’s wrong with that? Weight loss is good, right? That is what we are trained to think and even fit and trim athletes seem to prescribe to this ideal. After all, you are just losing body fat, aren’t you? Now, I should check with a sports nutritionist before I go spouting off but just based upon my experience and reasoning, you can’t metabolize body fat fast enough to match the energy expenditure when cycling 15 to 20 mph. Once your body depletes its glycogen from the blood, it tries to produce glycogens from other sources. Your liver is a source for glycogen but you don’t want to go there. Waiting for fat to be converted to energy can’t help but slow you down. In fact, the point at which your blood has been exhausted of glycogen is what marathoners call “hitting the wall” and what long distance cyclists call “bonking.”

    It wasn’t without a degree of shame that I overcame my inhibitions about eating lots of food and “bad” food at that. After all, eating a half pound Dunkin Donut apple fritter and a glazed chocolate donut is about as far from health food as you can get. Yet, my admittedly non-scientific results prove otherwise. The times I thought I was tired, I was only hungry. A sugar fix from donuts or cookies gave me quick energy, the carbs kicked in a little later and the fat was for longer term.

    Could I eat like that forever—even if I was riding forever? No, I don’t think so. It was a diet that was high in processed food and very low in vegetables and roughage. That would have health consequences in the long term, I’m sure. I did supplement with multivitamins and calcium chews on the road, for what that’s worth.

    2. Prepare on the Hills
    In Marin County, where I live, if you can’t do hills, you can’t get out of your neighborhood. The Marin landscape is all hills. Every 50 mile loop you can create will have thousands of feet of climbing. Marin’s Mt. Tamalpais (2600 ft) is one of the tallest mountains along the California coast and I rode up it as often as I could. Riding a Marin mile gives you more exercise than miles in most other parts of the country. I had been worried about getting over the Rockies with their snowy peaks and elevations of over 10,000 feet. “Gotta get over the Rockies” became a mantra on my training rides (as well as motivation to lose all possible body fat). In retrospect, I was over-prepared. In the first place, the highest elevation on the trip was going over the Continental Divide (7,200 ft). Secondly, you start the mountain climbs a base that may be already 4,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level. (Why don’t people ever talk about that?) And lastly, all the roads I took up the mountains had lower grades than what I had gotten myself used to. I estimate 6-8 per cent grade while at home long stretches of 10 per cent are not uncommon. So while I wouldn’t say getting over the Rockies was a walk in the park, it was not the challenge I was expecting

    3. Regulate with a Heart Rate Monitor
    Bike racers will always train with a heart monitor (hrm) but rarely use them on road races. Therefore, I debated leaving mine at home. I’m SO glad I didn’t. My heart rate monitor (hrm) allowed me to regulate my intensity throughout the ride the same way it did during my training. I could determine my maximum sustainable heart rate in the morning and on a good day, I could stay within 5 beats of it the rest of the day. On hills, I might go above by 10-20 bpm but the higher intensity on hills is also something I can maintain. Using the hrm let me know when I was overdoing it, such as when I tried to latch on to a paceline that was going too fast. It also kept me from slacking on descents and flats with the wind on my back. On a few days where there was a mighty tailwind, I could easily do 20 mph but because of my hrm, I could fly at 24 to 26 mph.

    4. Get Low and Narrow
    I try to use every trick to cheat the wind. I position my handle bars as low almost as low as they will go which keeps my head low and my chest out of the wind. With headwinds, I ride with my hands close to the center of the bars and elbows tucked in reducing my frontal projected area even further. I can gain 1 to 1.5 miles per hour this way. I figure that is free speed.

    5. Downtowns are Dying
    The route I took across the country took me through countless small towns. The picturesque, thriving towns were few and far between. Much more common were towns with boarded up windows and stores with “Closed” signs. Sometimes, entire downtowns were deserted. I joked about them being neutron bomb test sites but it was sad to think so much of America could have been abandoned. The heartland of Norman Rockwell with pies cooling on the windowsills, swimming holes and country stores with pickle barrels has all but gone out of existence. Yes, there are more Wal-Mart's and strip malls but they don’t make up for all the stores and businesses gone under.

    6. Carry One Additional Layer
    The Weather Channel lies. Days that have not a drop of rain on the Doppler will have sudden flash thunderstorms. A day with a high of 90 degrees could have a mountain top that is forever in cold fog. I reserve one jersey pocket for one additional layer, either a wind vest or a rain jacket that will keep the weather from ruining my day.

    7. Thick Heavy Tires
    Forget light, expensive racing tires. When riding across the country, you’re better off with thick, cheap tires. And fill them all the way up to the maximum recommended pressures to avoid pinch flats. I got only 5 punctures. I used one pair of Specialized Armadillo tires for the whole ride. They certainly have my personal endorsement.

    8. This Can be One Boring Country
    I never thought I could fall asleep while riding my bike. I came close on this trip. Another cyclist told me he had fallen asleep and ran into a cornfield. Everyone thinks that this country has beautiful sights—and it does. There’s the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, and lots of others. But in-between those points are long, straight featureless roads and a sameness of surroundings that can stretch for hours. Do you remember being bored out of your mind taking interstate rides in the family station wagon? It’s worse. It takes even longer on a bike and you can’t even make faces at cars behind you.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I did find enough beauty to warrant almost a thousand photos. There were great mountains, flowers, rock formations and the like. I’ll remember the waves in the wheat fields and the treeless deserts. But there were whole days that didn’t warrant my camera to be turned on. One day’s wheat field looked like the next, and so on. The straight roads flat smooth roads through Arizona and New Mexico made me feel like I was pedaling without progress as if I was on a stationery bike against a big diorama.

    9. Take Time to Dwell
    In terms of personal journeys, this was an epic one. Though many days I was in a hurry to get through the ride and end up in the hotel, I knew I would regret not stopping enough times and enjoying the journey. Many historical sites were ignored. Dozens of curious locals were not talked to. Even a quaint bike museum was given short shrift. While the goal of this particular trip was to get across the USA in the minimum amount of days, I would advise others to take a few more days and dwell on the unique and interesting sites as well as meet people along the way.

    10. Know When You’re Done
    Unless you are a die-hard adventurer, riding your bike across the Unites States is a signature, memorable and life-defining trip. You don’t need to do it again, do it with a different route, go around the world, do it on a unicycle, etc. You are done. Remember, you just took a lot of time off: time off work, time away from your family and/or loved ones. That’s not including all the time you took to train for this, which is probably equal to the trip itself. Now that is a lot of debt you have incurred. If your job or family and loved ones don’t mind you being away for all this time, you have other problems to consider. But if you were missed, keep in mind that the only reason you could take a whole month off go away to do your own thing was because every body indulged you. To put it very bluntly, they catered to your selfish interest. You have to make it up. Coming back from this ride and telling people you’d now like to plan for Mt Everest is not going to make you very popular.
     
    Tags:


  2. keydates

    keydates New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2004
    Messages:
    882
    Likes Received:
    0
    Did you do this alone or with a group? If you did it with a group, how does it work? Is there a van that carries most of your equipment to a designated area? How much did it cost?
     
  3. jhuskey

    jhuskey Moderator

    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2003
    Messages:
    10,605
    Likes Received:
    341
    Sound like a remarkable adventure. I know what you are saying about hills.I get to the end of my 250 ft driveway and start climbing and climbing and well thats all there is here.I just got back from S. Georgia and although it is flat and easy it seemed that the roads went on forever.Too much straight is boring. Could you tell me ,without getting too detailed, what your route was and what states you passed through? Did you have a planned destination or were you just on an adventure to somewhere.
     
  4. Powerful Pete

    Powerful Pete New Member

    Joined:
    May 29, 2004
    Messages:
    3,866
    Likes Received:
    0
    Very impressive post. Please do tell us more about your experience. A ride across the US is one of my secret dreams, which I hope to achieve some day.

    Did you participate in an organised ride (sounds like it)? How did you train? What route did you take? How much did it cost?

    Thanks!
     
  5. spam

    spam New Member

    Joined:
    May 28, 2004
    Messages:
    7
    Likes Received:
    0
    Thank you for a realistic picture of long distance touring. I have yet to find any guide books that speak as informably as you did. Great post!
     
  6. Trekker2017

    Trekker2017 New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 23, 2004
    Messages:
    236
    Likes Received:
    0
    The reason you don't find any guide books that paint a realistic picture of long distance touring is that the publishers won't publish them. I cycled from Connecticut to California solo. Try writing an article about the lonliness of long distance cycling and see what magazine will take it. (As a published writer I've tried. Editors are just not interested. Or they weren't several years ago when I made my cross country odyssey.) You spend a lot of time counting telephone poles between towns and a lot of time on self-analysis. It's a very zen-like experience. Like the author of this thread, I lost only four pounds on the trip. Physically I lost inches but not weight.

    The toughest part of the ride for me was the long straight stretch of road from Canadian, Texas to Amarillo. The road was arrow straight and table top flat with a 25 mile an hour head wind coming out of New Mexico. The wind was so constant I was in my granny gear for days.
     
  7. rtara

    rtara New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2003
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    0
    I did it with a tour group. 2 vans transported your gear and provided lunch/snacks/water and mechanical support. Hotels/motels every night. The alternative (panniers/camping) just doesn't appeal to me any more. I'm getting old. :)
     
  8. rtara

    rtara New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2003
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    0
    The states are as follow: CA, AZ, NM, TX, OK,KS,MO,IL,IN,OH,PA,NY,VT,MA.

    The whole trip was planned in advance by a tour group.
     
  9. rtara

    rtara New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2003
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    0
    Yes, this was an organized ride. I wouldn't do it any other way. The tour operators took care of all logistics (detailed route sheets, mechanical support, 2 meals, snacks, water, hotel reservations). We just had to get our butts and bikes from one hotel to the next. One disadvantage, though, is that even if the weather is bad, you have to ride, since all hotels are booked in advance.
     
  10. Powerful Pete

    Powerful Pete New Member

    Joined:
    May 29, 2004
    Messages:
    3,866
    Likes Received:
    0
    Interesting. I am seriously considering doing a fast cross country tour next spring, and would very much appreciate learning more about your experience with the company you used.

    What company did you use? How much did it cost? Where you satisfied with the service?

    If you do not feel comfortable posting please send me a private message thru cyclingforums!
     
  11. Durangodave

    Durangodave New Member

    Joined:
    May 31, 2004
    Messages:
    204
    Likes Received:
    0
    Thanks for the amazingly personal and descriptive post, RTARA. You've inspired me to write my own based on a similar experience.... So, here goes:

    What does one learn when trying to ride across America at an average of 95 miles a day in 42 days?

    1. Divide up the pizza before anyone starts eating.
    You are so correct about food. I quit being a vegetarian for my journey. I just couldn't imagine crossing the heartland subsisting on grilled cheese sandwiches and milkshakes. Now, to the pizza: There were three of us, and in any eating competition I would finish dead last, but I would ALWAYS finish. So, when we'd order 2 large pies, I would claim my 2/3 right up front. We all understood. Then we'd all get milkshakes.

    2. Prepare for the hills!
    We hit some savage climbs. There was Beartooth Pass, in Montana, a 5000 foot climb up to 10,900 ft. As we crested the third or fourth false-summit, I can remember looking up at a Christmas tree of switchbacks. Then there was Bighorn Pass, out of Lovell, Wy., the most vicious climb I've ever done. 5800 ft of elevation gain, much of it at 10% grade. There was an elaborate and pictoral warning sign at the top describing every curve and ramp for the truck or RV that dared the descent. I was (un)fortunate to have grown up in a house on a ludicrously steep hill. Every time I'd ride Mt. Tamalpias, I'd have this 18% grade waiting for me on the way home. It was adequate preparation, I suppose.

    3. Camp in the town parks.
    Camping in the west is easy: pull over and camp. But, its a little more problematic in the midwest and east. I'm sure it's illegal to camp in every one of those little town parks; but its quite convenient. There's always a hose or a spigot that will make for an improvised shower. Plus, the locals get pretty excited about visitors... in a good way. There's something about riding a bike that makes you automatically safe and friendly in a strangers eyes. In the town park of Yale MI, we were approached by a guy who invited us to camp in his yard and partake of the local Bologne. Yale is America's Bologne Captial - I'm not kidding. We met his family. His sister was that years (1988) Bologne Queen!!!

    4. Shakedown ride.
    In my case this was learning by not-doing. In hindsight it seems so stupid. I mean, if you are going to engage in a 3800 mile journey with a fully loaded touring bike, why not load it up and test it just once before the big ride? Nothing bad happened until cruising down the backside of McKenzie pass (heading east over tha Cascades.) In no time my beautiful Bob Jackson was shaking all over, panniers flopping around, quite dangerously. All it needed was some load balancing and rack adjusting. Silly not to have done it back home, though.

    5. Achieve a level of fitness comparable to your companions prior to the big event..
    God, did I suffer keeping up with the other two. Mostly in the first week, and especially on the flats. (I'm a natural climber.) I developed an inflamed achilles tendon, and a bit of an inflamed attitude from time to time. Things evened-out around day six.

    6. Fully loaded touring bikes move slower than nice light racing bikes.
    I don't know why we did this, probably some young person's need to show off, but just outside of Boise we jumped onto the back of a fast training ride that blew by us. I can remember suffering dearly and trying to keep a cheerful face while chatting with the local roadies for about 20 miles.

    7. This can be one boring country.
    I'll second that. Much of the boredom is concentrated in the eastern two thirds of South Dakota. Flat grassy monotony, punctuated by the crunch of a grasshopper underwheel.

    8. Get a motel room from time to time.
    We slept in beds 4 out of 42 nights. It was like a vacation within a vacation. It's enough to make you feel good about watching television. If you're on a budget you may be able to purchase just the use of the shower. In Faith, SD we payed $2 each for the priviledge of falling hot water. Then we relaxed at, of course, the town park.

    9. Bring a big novel that you've always thought you should read but never had the time.
    After 8 hours on the bike it's usually time to dismount for the day. Assuming you rose at the crack of dawn (easy if you're camping,) that puts ride's end at, say, 3pm. The pure, easy joy of reading in the afternoon shade. Unless, perhaps, like me, you chose to bring The Fountainhead. Oh dear.

    10. Memories are flooding back. I could go on till number 30, but I like 10. It's so..... decimal. SO. Ten: share your journey with others from time to time.

    Give it a go sometime!
     
  12. rtara

    rtara New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2003
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    0
    What a fun read! I hope this encourages others to post their top ten lists.
     
  13. cchs

    cchs New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2004
    Messages:
    21
    Likes Received:
    0
    If any one want's to know Adventure cycling sells maps that go across country and other smaller rides. My da has some and it makes me want to go across
     
  14. Mouse Potato

    Mouse Potato New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2003
    Messages:
    176
    Likes Received:
    0
    Excellent posts, rtara and Durangodave! :)

    (Can't contribute myself though... I haven't done any rides exciting enough to even make a top one list!)
     
  15. cuervo

    cuervo New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2004
    Messages:
    374
    Likes Received:
    0
    Rtara and Durangodave,

    Thanks for sharing, I like to read your top 100, no only 10, it sounds like an amazing journey accomplish by amazing people (that knows how to write).

    Thank you both
     
  16. ptc123

    ptc123 New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2004
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    0
    Just read your notes - very informative and funny.

     
  17. jerseyrider

    jerseyrider New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2005
    Messages:
    19
    Likes Received:
    0
    Awesome post.

    I am planning to bike two sections of France this summer - from Paris to Saumur in the southeast and from Clermont-Ferrand to Murat in the Central Massif. Very inspirational.

    Good riding!
     
  18. rule62

    rule62 New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2004
    Messages:
    622
    Likes Received:
    0
    Great insight. Thanks for taking the time to post! ;)
     
  19. glenna1984

    glenna1984 New Member

    Joined:
    May 31, 2005
    Messages:
    30
    Likes Received:
    0
    I'd love to post your story on my website. Let me know.
     
Loading...
Loading...