FAQ: Common questions about riding across America

What did you think about as you rode?

  • I tried to make my daily posts to Strava and Facebook interesting, so I was thinking how to title and describe the day’s ride.  That doesn’t seem like a big deal I know, but summarizing the day’s ride in a few words wasn’t so simple.  It seemed to work, though, such as “big miles despite self-induced adversity” generated curiosity (and the answer was: leaving my water bottles at the hotel- nooooo!)
  • I had to focus far more on the road than I expected. Conditions such as road debris, potholes, and traffic required constant attention through the 10-12 hours of daily riding.  Courtesy varies A LOT- many people give 3 feet or more and wait patiently for a place to place.  Many don’t- and it only takes 1 to create a scary, dangerous situation.  So I had to focus constantly.  And of course, I had to think about the course.  Here’s the elevation profile in the Rockies and the Appalachians (x-axis is miles from the start, y-axis is elevation in feet):  my Garmin would show me the upcoming elevation profile like
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    Elevation profile on the climb into Oatman, AZ (the day I forgot my water bottles!)

    , so I’d be thinking about climbs coming up.

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Elevation profile in the Rockies, from the Calif/Arizona border through Colorado Springs
Appalachians
Elevation profile in the Appalachians, from the Ohio/W Virginia border through Mt. Airy, NC
  • I tried to spend quiet time with God and prayer, although less active prayer as much as contemplation and trying to listen to God. I have to admit, I feel some regret that I didn’t take greater advantage of this time.  It’s not likely that I’ll ever have 250 hours of solace in a month ever again in my life.  I could have used my alone time better.

 

What was your daily routine?

My wake up time varied from 330am (when I had to get an early start in the desert) to as late as 7am, but typically around 6.  Get dressed, eat some breakfast- with my Warmshowers host, hotel, or packed food if nothing else was available, and pack the bike.  Usually I could do that and be riding within about an hour.

Ride all day- averaged 9-10 hours of riding plus a couple of hours of stops.

I had a definite routine as I reached my stop for the night.  First was to drink down a bottle of Clif Recovery drink (which has protein and nutrients that are most effective when consumed within a half hour of finishing strenuous exercise).  Then I’d plug in electronics to charge- there were many to rotate among charging cables- my Garmin bike computer, electronic drivetrain that needed charging every couple days, head and tail lights, phone, etc.  A long shower and finding real food for dinner were the next priorities, plus spending time sharing travel and bike stories and talking about the ride with my Warmshowers host (about a half dozen nights).  If I were eating alone, as I was about ¾ of the time, my dinnertime entertainment was sorting through the day’s pictures and posting my ride to Strava and Facebook, and looking ahead to the next day’s route.  I’d pack the bike at night except for what I needed in the morning, to try to get moving as soon as I could after waking up.

And I’d call home each night of course.  That’s one embarrassing story.  As I left Cameron, Arizona a few days into the trip, my phone wasn’t charging.  I debated trying to find a phone shop, but decided to ride for the day, then look for one.  I arrived in Kayenta, AZ mid-afternoon, with a rare stop at a chain hotel- a Hampton Inn.  I knew Alisa would be worried, not receiving even a text from me.  In this digital age, I couldn’t remember her phone number.  I recalled most of Alisa’s number, but couldn’t remember the 3 digit exchange.  I called my parents, but they didn’t have it, nor did they have Jenna’s number, who I knew had Alisa’s.  Suddenly it popped into my head.  I picked up the phone in my hotel room, and called her.  She answered hesitantly, not recognizing the number of course.  I told her what had happened, and she understood.  Then she reminded me- to my chagrin- of my “Road ID” necklace I was wearing- which has my name and emergency contact information.  Her phone number was literally hanging around my neck the entire time!

 

What did you eat?

Breakfast was usually oatmeal, pancakes, or cereal at a hotel or Warmshowers host.  I definitely tried to eat as much as I comfortably could to start the day.  There were some occasions that both breakfast and dinner came from a convenience store and a couple grocery store stops.  That meant things like dry cereal, maybe juice, granola, and hard boiled eggs.  On the bike food consisted of my Clif supplied products- bars, gels, shot bloks, and energy food (several flavors such as mango and pizza and sweet potato for variety).  As I got into the ride, I began to crave “real food” through the day, but couldn’t afford long stops.  My go to choice was Subway breakfast sandwiches- essentially a sub, but with scrambled eggs.  It provided a good 20-30 minute break, and I began to look for Subway’s on most days,  which I usually found.

Dinner consisted of whatever carb source was close by.  A couple times I had to ride my bike a mile or 2 to dinner- doesn’t seem like much after 130 or 140 miles but was the last thing I wanted to do.  A couple times I downed pasta for 2 or an entire medium size pizza (double what I’d normally eat), then a dozen breadsticks.  For the one time in my life, I hoped to find an all you can eat buffet- but never did, although I think I nearly bankrupted a couple of Pizza Huts by the number of salad bar trips I made!  I did have a few hamburgers, accompanied with veggies or some other carbohydrate.  As much as a beer tasted good after a long day’s ride, I focused on rehydrating and carbs, so only treated myself to a single beer every 4-5 nights.  I did treat myself to dessert every single night- often 2 or more desserts!  No guilt whatsoever!  And I’d almost always have a granola bar or some snack in the middle of the night.

I didn’t track off the bike calories (my on the bike bags of Clif bars consisted of about 2500 calories while riding), but it had to be a lot.  Another frequent question- did I lose weight?  Not much, perhaps a few pounds, though I think I overcompensated when I returned home and added a few pounds.

I can’t say that I felt full for nearly a month.  I’d eat and eat, and still feel hungry.

Through the day of riding, I would stop often and probably averaged 3-4 convenience store stops per day.  I’d fill up on water, Gatorade (I had Clif drink mix, but only a couple bottles per day), and often a salty snack, usually potato chips.  It wasn’t unusual to stop for 10 minutes, down a 32oz Gatorade plus some water, fill my water bottles with both water and Gatorade, and eat some potato chips and perhaps a Clif bar before getting back on the bike.  On hot days, I’d soak my arm sleeves and neck gaiter in water- the refreshing coolness felt incredible, though it only lasted a few minutes.

 

 How did you feel at the end of the ride?  Were you happy that it was done?

Actually, no.  I was tired, but fatigue peaked a few days into the ride and was relatively stable the rest of the way until adrenaline kicked it up the last few days.  A plot of my average daily heart rate is below (heart rate going down at the same level of effort indicates increasing fatigue).  Some days were harder than others of course, but I honestly felt like I could have turned around, and ridden back across the country.

HR plot

 

Did you learn anything during the ride?

Even though I didn’t visit any new states, I learned and saw a lot.  Sights I will share in future posts.  Here are my top 6 “lesson learned”:

Cycling (and life) philosophies:

1- Never give up!

2- It doesn’t get harder, you just go slower.

3- There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad attire.

4- Just keep pedaling!

5- There’s no such thing as can’t- only won’t.

6- If I can do it: anyone can.

 

#5 is the most significant, and goes hand in hand with #6.  One of my Warmshowers’ hosts- Kenny Smith- related a story to me about a 16 day rafting trip he took with his wife Patsy.  Kenny told me “you won’t be the same person after this trip”.  I looked at him and didn’t really understand.  He went on that “you’ll face many different conditions, adversity and fatigue and you’ll get through them all.  You will discover that you can overcome anything”.  I thought a lot about Kenny’s comments the rest of the ride.  He was absolutely right.  I’ve always been a “can do” type of person, and pride myself on finding ways around obstacles, and consider that one of my leadership abilities.  But the ride took it to an entirely other level.  I never feel powerless, and having overcome the challenge of riding across the USA, I know that there is virtually nothing I can’t do.  It’s all a decision on whether I want to badly enough.  The same goes for you!

Next up: the ride starts in California

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Preparing to bicycle across America

This blog is mostly going to share some of the stories from the road during TDSU17- Tour de SRAM USA 2107- my ride across the USA in May & June 2017 to raise money for World Bicycle Relief.  There are so many stories to tell!  I’ve had a lot of questions about the ride and several people even suggested that I write a book.  That’s been done many times before by writers far more entertaining than me, but hopefully we’ll have some fun with answering those questions and telling the stories on this blog.

But first, how does someone prepare to bicycle solo across the continent in under a month without any support vehicle.  And why?

I don’t know when I first started considering it, but after completing several centuries (100 miles in a single ride or day), I was looking for a bigger challenge.  I progressed to a double metric century (200km= 125 miles), back to back century rides (in cold, wet conditions on the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi), longer rides such as RAIN (Ride Across INdiana- 160 miles in one day), and a double century- 200 miles in a one day in 2013 that was downright easy.  I also sought opportunities in places that would prepare me to ride across the US- such as climbing Pikes Peak (over 14,000 ft), and multiple centuries in a row- working up to 5 straight in 2014.  I downplayed them all, but each one was part of the grand plan of building up for a ride across the USA.

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The summit of Pikes Peak

 

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Riding in the Pyrenees in France & Spain

A thought slowly turned into a dream slowly turned into a plan.  The dream was real by 2012, when I rode 430 miles over 4 days in New Zealand on my Bike Friday (see blog).  From there, it really became the what, as in what was the point.  When I joined SRAM in 2013, World Bicycle Relief became the obvious answer.  The opportunity to combine my faith (using my interests and talents for service), cycling, travel, and my desire to challenge myself far beyond anything I ever had done all came together.

I played with the thought of a cross-country ride for a few years, always thinking about the long-term preparation during the long days of commuting (50+ miles) and weekend rides that were more than just exercise, but doubted whether I would or could take on such a challenge.  Several years, I wrote down annual personal goals, one of which was to make a cross-country ride happen before I turned 50, in 2017.  Having a deadline always drives action!

As 2016 progressed, I had an internal debate of whether I would do this or not.  I finally worked up the courage to talk about it with a couple of trusted friends, and then my boss and another colleague.  More than anything, I didn’t want to live with regret in the future that I had failed to act on this dream.  Finally, one day at our weekly all-employee meeting in July 2016, I stood up and announced publically my plan to ride across the USA for WBR.

Someone once said that the best way to turn a dream into a plan is to share it publically.  I agree.  No backing out now!  I was more than a little surprised when my co-workers’ reaction wasn’t skepticism, but rather they broke into applause!  That reaction was a precursor of the support that was to come.

The support of family, and sacrifice that planning for and riding across the USA required, was a huge factor.  As 2016 progressed, I was single and dating, and conscious of the relationship impact of this ride.  I considered for a while stopping dating until the ride was done.  I am glad that I did not.  Not long after committing to the ride, I met the beautiful lady who would become my wife.  Alisa supported my dream, though was admittedly frustrated with the time commitment to planning and training for it.  Our weekends together were cut short by my long training rides.  But she lovingly supported me and the reason why I was doing this.  She was there at the start, joining me for a prayer at the office and then taking me to the airport, shipped supplies to me along the way as I crossed the US, and walked onto the beach with me in North Carolina as I finished.  She is amazing!

I could write pages on the details of planning and preparation, but suffice to say, it was my nearly single-minded focus for at least a year.  I’d done some bike touring, so I already had a good idea of what to pack, and there are many resources available.  Mapping the route was definitely the most time consuming aspect.  Finding a balance of bike-able roads that were as direct as possible was a huge challenge.  Nearly everyday for a year, I spent my lunch at work and many evenings toggling between Google Maps Streetview and ridewithgps to define a route.  Many roads that Google shows as bike friendly- or roads at all- are not.  My first attempt at a route put me onto single-track mountain bike trails in the Mojave Desert that if I had used without further investigation, probably would have resulted in my running out of water and dying.

There are many resources from bike clubs, state transportation departments, and cycling organizations, especially the Adventure Cycling Association, that provided input on recommended roads and routes to ride- or to avoid.  I also posted on bike touring bulletin boards for input, and by the time the ride began, I knew I would run into some questionable sections, but overall felt the route was solid.  There are many defined routes and maps to bike across the US, but my route which planned stops at SRAM offices prevented using most of them.

Much of my planning had to take into account places to stop.  Early on, I hoped to have a support vehicle.  I sent proposals to RV rental companies- and hotels- but got no response.  In the end, I concluded that going solo without camping- while not the least expensive option- was possible.  If I had more time, camping would have been feasible but the weight of the extra gear, and the time to set up and break camp each day, made it impossible.  So the route had to consider where I could find places to stay.  In many areas- the western US and even into southern Ohio and West Virginia, options were limited.  I also used Warmshowers a lot- but more on that on the ride details to come later in this blog.

My training plan was pretty simple- ride as much and as often as I possibly could!  My daily commute is a good start.  My first real mini-test was in August of 2016.  I aimed for at least 10 straight days of 100 miles or more.  I got up early and rode extra on the way to work, sometimes rode at lunch, and then more on the way home.  Working 8-9 hours per day and riding 6-8 on top of it day after day for eventually 11 straight days was a good test that built my confidence.  Then in late October, I spent 6 days hill training in southern Indiana, riding well over 100 miles a day- 130+ on several- with over 30,000 ft of climbing.  I rode through the winter on a trainer that a co-worker gave me, but in a stroke of good luck, the winter of 2016-17 was mild, and did not often prevent me from getting outside.

I can’t write about training and preparation without mentioning a Christian Cycling training camp in early April.  I had only ridden occasionally with the group, but had a great weekend of reflection and riding in Brown County.  I went to the camp hoping that I would have an opportunity to share my story of the upcoming ride.  Not only was the group supportive, they took on the TDSU17 ride as their own mission.  I continue to be humbled by their support- both encouragement and financial- but most of all their prayers and understanding that I felt this ride was my own personal mission trip.  To use our talents- even if riding a bike long distances is an odd one- to help others and spread the hope of Christ is exactly what ChristianCycling is all about.  I may have ridden 400 miles over 4 days, but the benefit of that weekend went far beyond the distance.  This group of godly men have been an incredible support group, practically like a part of my family.

After planning the route, stops, and training, publicity was the other major planning activity.  I set up the Facebook page, my WBR fundraising page, and had many other ideas.  Many failed to produce any results.  I googled and contacted bike clubs along the route, asking for route advice and encouraging cyclists to join me.  I am still at a loss that of dozens of inquiries, not one was ever answered.  That still surprises me.  Fortunately, one success was relying on the talented individuals that surround me at SRAM.  Our outstanding PR team did a story on my bike and ride as well as an update when I passed through Indy.  I don’t know that they generated any donations, but it certainly raised awareness for WBR and the ride across the US.

One of the coolest experiences falling into both training and PR categories, was the popular bike news website bikerumor.com posting a picture I submitted from a training ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway- see here.  It was another one that probably didn’t generate any actual donations, but being viewed over 3000 times, definitely raised awareness.

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Aside from SRAM, Clif Bar was a huge supporter.  Relying on a contact with a co-worker, I toured one of their bakeries just a few miles from our factory in Indy, and I can’t say enough good things about Clif.  They supplied all the energy products- bars, gels, drink mix, energy food, and more- for both training and the ride, and also contributed financially.  Clif is a company that I will patronize for as long as I train and exercise.  Their company values and support are incredible.  Plus their bars and other products taste great.  Consuming 7500 calories per day during the ride is not as easy as you might think!  After the ride is complete, I am not sick of Clif bars at all (a common question), and in fact probably eat more than pre-ride, relying on them for snacking more often.

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A day’s supply of on-the-bike energy- about 2800 calories- courtesy of Clif.

My timing for the ride was a carefully planned decision.  May and June provided the most daylight, and a compromise between being late enough in the year that the mountain passes would be warm and dry (I hoped!) and early enough that the desert heat wouldn’t be unbearable.  As it turned out, the plan could not have gone better.  I brought appropriate clothing, and was really only cold on 1 day (the morning I rode out of Pagosa Springs, CO to the Continental Divide), and though I hit hot weather (peak of 103F in Needles, CA as I left the Mojave Desert), weather was not a major hurdle.  I saw a few raindrops occasionally, but the first real rain was on Day 26 in North Carolina.  If I had left 2 weeks earlier, Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado (where I crossed the Continental Divide) was 17F with snow….

Wind was another major concern, and one I did quite a bit of research on.  I was worried more about wind in Kansas and Nebraska than the desert temperatures or the mountain climbs, purely to the unpredictability.  You can ride steep roads or on hot days, but if the wind goes above 30mph or so, depending on direction, riding can become too dangerous as you get pushed all over the road.  Fortunately, I lucked out and saw some windy days, but nothing unbearable.

This post is long enough, but there were plenty of other things to consider- and worry about.  Just a few that were on my mind, or I had run across as I researched training for the ride were- snakes (see Day 8!), altitude sickness- a last minute question from a co-worker prompted some frenzied research, breakdowns, food and water stops, weather (I spent countless hours researching temperatures and wind throughout the course), physical fitness and enough time to complete the ride, family emergencies, flight delays on the way to California and a carefully planned start, and finding places to stay and remain on schedule.  I’m not a big worrier, but try to plan well, and there were many, many things to consider!

As the last few weeks prior to the ride ticked down, I was both excited and nervous.  Years of dreaming, planning, and training were about to be tested.  But as I said many times: enough planning, it’s time to ride!  One of the very best moments of the ride was before it even started, as I left the SRAM office in Indy.  One of my co-workers- Pat Morrissey- who would later drive out and ride with me in the Quad Cities, stopped me the day before my departure.  Pat shares a deep Christian faith, and asked if I would mind a group praying with me before I left.  I was so humbled and moved by his gesture.  I absolutely appreciate prayer.  Alisa arrived at the office to join us, and a group laid hands on me as Pat said a prayer for my safety before I headed to the airport.  That relieved so much stress and gave me a sense of calm that God was in control and to just go out and try my best to serve Him.

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I could not have asked for a better send-off, and it was something I didn’t plan at all.  Thanks Pat and everyone who came out!

Next up: the start in California- on coincidentally, National Bike to Work Day!