Having decided to ride across the country I needed to assess my fitness. So in January 2009, I decided on a century, a distance I had not done in 15 or so years. To give you some idea of my general fitness for this adventure, last September I easily completed the 64 mile Metric Century for the local club. It took about 4 1/2 hours including rest stops but the first 20 miles was done with a large group of racers in the pack. My usual late fall riding was touring speed between 30-60 miles at 17-18 MPH. I have no special fitness, though at 5’ll’ and 180 lbs., am not in bad shape.
I set off from M________ County High School on my first Century. I am after all planning to do 31 in a row to get across the country in a month. At Lexie Cross Roads or about 40miles into the ride , there is a hilly 16 mile loop up to Lynchburg and I was getting tired so I decided to return home and ride more if I had any gas left. A stiff headwind chewed me up and spit me out and I slinked home, whipped, for an 84 mile ride. Not possible to do THAT again the next day. I was a long way from EASY daily 100+ mileage. I felt confident that I could do a daily metric century but it would take at least 6 weeks (47 straight days for 3,000 miles) to get across the country. I wasn’t sure I could take off that much time from work. That was when I received the Adventure Cycling Association maps. Approximately 2000 people buy the transcontinental maps every year, perhaps an equal number make up their own route. If 2000 people a year do a cross country ride then I figure about 30,000-50,000 people have ridden across the country.
Bad news from the maps! It’s 3,780 miles across the country if you take the Western Express to Pueblo CO and then the transcontinental to Yorktown. Bummer! Can’t be done by me in a month although I hear tell the record is some 8 days and 17 hours.... I must confess that I really liked my idea of riding across the country in a month. Secretly, I did not want to give up on the possibility but all mileage per day over 100 is going to be problematic. Especially if you are planning to do it again the next day. The country also has a number of hills. I decided a compromise was in order. I would ride half way across America, just the Great Western Express Route from San Francisco to Pueblo, CO. I figured if it was the most fun I ever had I could do the rest the following year, kinda like the Appalachian trail hikers. I modified it somewhat to include the Moab, Utah area because I had heard it was stunning, a real bikers paradise and I decided on an ending in Telluride, CO. so that my wife and some other friends, not that into the challenge of a cross country trip, could join us for a sojourn in the mountains. Our trip would be 1,282 miles across California, the loneliest road in America Nevada, southern Utah swinging up to Moab, and then into western Colorado and Telluride. We planned to do it in 13 days.
Winter training, even in Alabama is daunting. The weather is too often cold to ride far. I really did not like getting up at 5:30A on Wednesdays to ride hard. I must be a touring kind of guy. An easy 20 mile ride would however do nothing for my fitness. So my first suggestion would be that if you are going to resolve to ride across the country, it would be best to build a base in the FALL. New Years Resolutions are fine but if you get a cold winter or wet early spring you are going to have a lot of bike rides in less than ideal conditions. This last year was particularly windy and rainy. My preferred method of coping with this was to ride before breakfast, go 25 miles return home, have a nice breakfast-coffee--read the paper and then go do a 60-70 mile ride. Riding 25 miles before breakfast is psychologically most helpful.
I have never had butt problems on a bike BUT riding more tests the tender areas. My two methods of coping with this were riding two different bikes (with different seats) or carrying an extra saddle and then changing it at 50-60 miles. Strategically placed Band-Aids are helpful. Two pairs of shorts are helpful. The problem never really goes away though, like blisters while hiking it is important to take preventive action before developing a problem. If something seems sore, I would fix it in the next copse of trees. My other concern was eating and drinking properly for maximum recovery. Since I was skipping a day to rest while training, but wouldn’t be on the ride, I used a recovery drink 15-20 minutes after the ride on Friday and Sunday. Frankly there were too many variables for me to ever figure out what was helpful. Perhaps the biggest effect was from the level of the previous days’ effort, perhaps it was the pizza with anchovies I mistakenly ate too many slices of. I simply had not done an extended tour and my usual biking practice of drinking 1-2 water bottles and eating a granola bar to ride 60-70 miles was hard to change. The next day was typically sore but the problem is not the lassitude in the muscles but the weakness of desire to do another hard effort AGAIN. I could not summon the will to ride hard 3 days running although I had every expectation I would be ready for the adventures of the road each and every day. That was in fact true.
Another issue is that training is done in the cold and wet and the ride is planned for the hot and dry. Training is preparation and it is difficult to envision a shimmering Nevada desert highway while cranking into a rainstorm with the Gore-Tex soaked through. In short, sometimes its not the miles but the condition of the miles that’s important.
I bought the T1 especially for this trip. I trained in January and February on the racing Cannondale and the vintage Gitane but I found the miles over 50 harder than I remembered and the bikes felt so harsh. I had a compact crank on the Six-13 with a 50/34:12/24 but the Gitane had the 42/24 for the lowest gear and the maps showed a 68 mile climb from Placerville to Carson Pass. I didn’t think I could push it that far. I have developed the idea that every serious cyclist needs a “constellation” of bikes: racing, vintage, touring, mountain, fixed gear(track), tandem.... and so I needed a kinder,gentler ride and a triple crank. The Cannondale T1 weighs a ton but feels great! I loved the 28cc Gator Skin Continentals and the ride stability. You can pound a big pothole and fly into gravel MUCH more comfortably. We wouldn’t be carrying our luggage and camping gear, it would be in the Sag Wagon, but a rear rack with pannier and bag would enable day trip freedom. A touring bike for a tour is only logical. My wife remains skeptical that you need anything more than 1 bike, you can only ride one at a time. She has her ’84 Peugeot--and it’s enough.