It has been just two months since THE BIG RIDE concluded. In some way it seems more like two years. It’s amazing how fast everyday life can push once in a lifetime events to the rear burner. That said, there’s hardly a day goes by that some mention of THE BIG RIDE is not made between Martha and me.
We’re both still adjusting to regular living. I’m just now back to club riding at my usual level of fitness. From prior experience, I knew that tour riding gives you great stamina and endurance, but leaves you woefully short for those high heart rate jumps that inevitably go with every club ride. It always takes me a few rides after every tour to get back into sport riding shape. Of course, after THE BIG RIDE, due to its duration, the situation was only worse. It was so discouraging not to be able to hang with the same riders I always ride with on our local club rides. I just couldn’t get it going for almost a month of rides. Finally, finally, my fitness for sport riding returned and now everything is back to normal. How unfair that after two months and 2,500 miles of riding, you’re ‘out of shape’ to ride your bicycle.
Of course, everyone we meet back home asks about our trip. Our standard response is that it went better than we had even hoped. And it’s true. We had no difficulties of any consequence. Sure, a few little challenges here and there, but that just goes with it and is part of the fun.
Emotionally, I think we’ve stabilized. We had a little bit of an emotional dip with the knowledge that a big item on the bucket list is now checked off. Now what? The answer, naturally, is to come up with a new challenge. We’re working on that. It won’t be as cycling ambitious as THE BIG RIDE, but it will involve a tour, just not an all summer tour. The talk right now is an early June 2014 tour in New England. Martha has never been there. ACA has some good routes up there and we could wind up in Bah Hahbah, ME before it’s over. We’ll see. Put it in the happiness category of ‘Something to look forward to’. (The others are ‘Someone to love’ and ‘Something to do’.)
Back to THE BIG RIDE. A big part of our favorable result, I must immodestly say, was good planning. We spent a lot of time – months! – thinking out our tour. Really, planning (aka ‘anticipation) was a very fun part of the whole process. We made our decision that THE BIG RIDE was a go a full 9 months before our tour actually began. We enjoyed endless hours of discussing just what our route would be and how we’d do it and what we’d need. I was in charge of making sure Barney was ready. Martha handled all the technology and reservations. That arrangement worked great. Martha did her usual outstanding job. I was proud of the fact we had virtually no mechanical issues and extra proud that, as the captain, I never dumped my stoker.
Folks that decide last minute to do a big tour and can just grab their stuff and go are special, but we’re not them. I’ve read lots and lots of journals on CGOAB. It’s amazing how some folks take off for a tour. Usually it all works out, but sometimes ‘winging it’ has its consequences. Sitting beside the road with a mechanical or sleeping under the bridge because everything had been booked is not our idea of a fun adventure. Sometimes those things happen despite one’s very best planning. But those events are easier to take if you at least have the comfort of knowing that you’d done your best to head such issues off at the pass.
We had a few little sayings we came up with during the many, many hours we spent riding that we would go over every day. One was our motto: ‘Adapt, Improvise, Overcome’. Those words will give you a can do attitude that will get you through every tour (and life, for that matter).
Our other mantra was a collection of self-reminders:
‘It’s the journey, not the destination’
‘Stay in the moment’
‘Learn to piddle‘
Those silly little sayings got said everyday and helped remind us what a special moment in time we were enjoying and not to let anything spoil it.
As far as the trip itself, we can honestly say we wouldn’t change a thing. We saw some fabulous country and had a wonderful time. Although our trip was billed as a transcontinental adventure (and it was), we weren’t the least bit disappointed that we didn’t ride every single mile of our transcon journey. Picking up and driving across North Dakota and part of Montana was one of our better decisions (even though we waited until Wisconsin to make it). We wanted to see the country and we did. We drove through a part of the country that wouldn’t have been our favorite place to ride. The rental van let us take in Yellowstone and Beartooth Pass, both of which we’d have missed if we’d stayed on the bike. We pedaled almost 2,500 miles and could have easily done more, but were well satisfied and ready to stop once we got to Anacortes, WA.
A few well worn tips for any prospective transcontinental bike tourists would include:
The Bike – You can go across the country on a unicycle, or a Wal-Mart bike, or a fixed gear, or any other kind of bike. But unless you just want an extra challenge, get a real touring bike. You’re going to see all kinds of road surfaces and terrain. Mechanical breakdowns are no fun and the wrong kind of bike will break you down physically as the miles pile up. A tour should be a journey, not a race. Get a comfortable, dependable bike that will be your friend, not your foe.
Put some new, big and rugged tires on that bike. Who likes to fix flats?
Be sure you have low gears (48/36/24 x 11-36 for us). No one ever complains their gears were too low. Not so much the other way around.
The Gear – ‘Less is more’ says it all. Do a couple of week-end tours to evaluate what you really need. Try to have things do double/triple duty. One rain jacket is good for the rain. And, with some under layers, the cold. For both on the bike and off. When in doubt, leave it out. You can always buy stuff on the trip if you decide you really, really need it. Check out some of those ultra light backpacking sites. Those people know how to do minimalist.
The Mind – The most important part. On tour, you’re doing something outside the norm, something special. Enjoy and savor that time. Be prepared to embrace a little hardship. It makes us better appreciate the so many things otherwise taken for granted. Get your mind right and the tour gets magical.
THE BIG RIDE was magical for Martha and me. As mentioned, the planning has already started for our 2014 tour. We don’t know how we could possibly top THE BIG RIDE, but we're going to try.