Days 49 & 50: Life is unpredictable, isn’t it?
Well, I have just one more day in my ride. I have bittersweet feelings. To be honest, I am anxious to get home. I miss my family, my friends, my riding group (go PSC), my house, my hometown, and my job. This ride has been a wonderful experience. But at this point, I am ready for it to be over. Seven+ weeks is a long time. Fortunately, I should finish tomorrow (Sunday). The weather forecast indicates on and of light rain in the morning, a lot like today. I can push through that. And then, Chris and I will hop in the car for the long ride back to Fort Collins.
Speaking of Chris, she drove out to be with me for this last few days of the ride and then to give me and my bike a ride home. Chris planned to visit local tourist spots like Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s home) and Colonial Williamsburg (capital of Virginia from 1699-1780) during the day. Then we would meet up for dinner. Unfortunately, right after Chris arrived she was not feeling well and tested positive for Covid. The good news is that her symptoms are relatively mild. She has been quarantining in a separate hotel room. We meet in safe spaces, but it is mostly too hot, rainy, and/or muggy to hang outside for very long. We think she will be “safe” by the time I finish and we can drive home together without throwing on masks.
I have moved into a different phase of the ride. More cities with more places to stay. So I am not running into other TransAm cyclists or meeting as many fellow riders. That said, the riding in Virginia is just spectacular. Mountains. Valleys. Climbs. Descents. I have really enjoyed this last week. For entertainment, I am catching up on my favorite podcasts, binging on Slate Money, Hang Up and Listen, The Gist, A Slight Change of Plans, and more.
The last two days brought great, yet very different rides which I describe below. I also build on my last blog post, where I talked about managing bike, body, and mind—this time giving an update on body and my take on mind.
Day 49: 76 miles, 5781 elevation (several wheeeees!)
Today‘s ride featured multiple extremes. It started with a beautiful morning. Riding in the Great Valley, with the South River and Blue Ridge Mountains on my right. When I reached the town of Vesuvius (aptly named after the infamous volcano), I followed the trail and made a sharp right and started a challenging climb. This three-mile climb includes a mile and a half above 10%, most of that at 14-18%. It was brutally hard. The most difficult climb of the whole trip for me.
The reward at the top was the Blue Ridge Parkway, and initially more climbing (though not as steep). I rode the Blue Ridge Parkway for almost 30 miles. It was maybe the best stretch of riding of my life (although Randy’s Chief Joseph trip might give it a run for the money).
After that, things got a little ugly. Coming of of the Parkway I got lost twice. The ACA maps, signage, and the RideWithGPS on my Garmin were contradicting each other. I got confused, went down some hills and had to go back up. I also needed to find a convenience store. I finally turned to Google Maps and plugged in Charlottesville, VA. Google Maps took me on a pretty busy road for the last 30 or so miles. Worse yet, when I arrived in Charlottesville, the route took me on busy city streets to get to my hotel. I am not sure if Charlottesville (a college town by the way) has a poor biking infrastructure, if my hotel was just in a bad area, or if Google Maps was flawed. While that was not fun, I will always remember that valley, the Vesuvius climb, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Day 50: 85 miles, 2713 elevation (2-3 wheeees)
Day 50 was a day of decisions. The day before, the weather forecast for Day 50 indicated it would rain all day. When I went to bed, I told Chris I would make a decision in the morning, but I was 90% sure I would not ride on Sunday. I can ride in light rain but worry if the rain is heavier (distracting me and other drivers) or if there may be thunder or lightning. I woke up at 3:00 a.m., saw it pouring outside, and turned off my 4:30 alarm. When I woke up at 5:30 (sleeping in for me), The forecast now showed it might not rain until noon. I decided to go for it. Unfortunately, I had not prepared much the night before and didn‘t get started until late for me (~7:45). I figured if it rained too hard, I could find shelter along the way.
My first hassle was getting out of town. My hotel was not near the TransAm Trail and local roads were not bike-friendly (see yesterday’s blog post). I turned to my friend (?) Google Maps and it offered a route on a major road for 20 miles before connecting to the TransAm Trail. I decided, that traffic would be lighter on a Saturday morning and the route was also a bit more direct. The traffic was somewhat busy early but diminished as I got further from Charlottesville. The rain did not wait until noon and started about 30 minutes into my ride. It was a light rain, so while wet, I didn‘t feel unsafe. The rain lasted about 3.5 hours, so the last few hours were dry. In spite of the rain, I enjoyed the ride, especially those last couple hours—and not only because of the lack of rain. It was beautiful countryside. Winding roads. Forested. Then horse ranches. You can see some of that in the Relive video.When I got to Ashford I called Chris to see if she wanted me to grab her something to eat. She was in the drive-through line at the Chik-fil-A and got me something to eat. We rolled into the hotel at the exact same time.
Managing body and mind, the other keys to a long tour
Doing a 7-week bike ride has its physical and mental challenges. Let me talk about how I managed those over the course of the ride. The bottom line for me was that doing this ride for 7 weeks required a high level of discipline. I needed to carefully manage my body early on so that it would survive the challenge. I needed to manage my mind so that I would enjoy the challenge.
Can this 62 year-old body really ride a bike across the country?
My 62 year-old body came into this ride cautiously. You may recall that my busy spring semester left me less time for training than I wanted. Consequently, I tried to manage my riding carefully in those early weeks. You may recall a blog post that described I used my power meter (on my pedals) to average about 140 kw of power. I also managed my effort (using power as a guide) to assure I did not burn many (any?) matches. Cyclists talk about burning matches in this way. You only have so many matches. Every time you really put up a lot of effort (power) you potentially burn a match. Because you only have so many, we manage them carefully. Carefully managing my effort in those first few weeks assured I could ride 80-90 miles per day, day after day. Being cautious meant that I was usually dropped by Bruce and Dave, but it did mean I was effectively “riding for tomorrow” (thanks Archie).
As you might imagine, I got more physically fit as the ride progressed; today I am in the best shape of my life. I have ridden more than 60 miles for 23 consecutive days. I have not taken a day off since Pueblo, Colorado. I am now able to put out more power and burn some matches.
Sometimes that is a necessity. Out west the climbs were long but not as steep. I could ride at 140 kw for 10 miles. Out east, the climbs are steep, I had to put out 200+kw just to get up a hill without falling over. Plus, when you have cars lined up behind you, I felt I should power up. Fortunately, I can now do this and “ride tomorrow.” Lately, I am putting in 90-100 miles or more and climbing 6000 feet or more day after day. Normally, one ride like that would knock me out for a couple of days.
My body has also not pushed back at me. I have had no injuries. I got hot foot (pain in your foot that occurs later in the ride) on just one day early in the ride. I feel sore at the end of the day but ready to go the next morning. I have not taken a single pill or used any ointments. I attribute the discipline of not overdoing things early and then building as the ride went along to my 62 year-old body surviving and thriving.
And what about that 62 year-old mind?
How do you manage the mind over a 7+ week ride like this? How do you keep it sharp? How do you not get lonely? I am not sure I can answer those questions for anyone else, but I can answer them for me.
For me, a big piece of the puzzle is having discipline and routines. I wrote a blog post describing my routines and checklists. Having those things helped keep my mind focused on what was most important. It also kept me from being distracted and/or worrying about things every day.
The actual rides were freeing. I rode 90%+ of the miles by myself. Sometimes I listened to books or podcasts, but often it was time to just think—or NOT think. In life I often think too much, so this was a vacation from that. The ride helped my mental health.
A bigger question, that I get from a lot of people, is about the loneliness. I didn’t feel lonely at all during this ride. In the first half of the ride I would usually eat dinner with Bruce and Dave and see them along the ride.
For the second half of the ride (Pueblo on), I was completely “solo.” But then again I wasn’t. I talked to Chris every day, often more than once. I talked to my kids and my brothers. I also talked to all of you every couple of days. Writing this blog has been very therapeutic. And the feedback I have received through comments, emails, texts, or other communications have helped me feel connected to my friends and family.
The second half of the ride featured plenty of new friends that I kept meeting—sometimes for a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days. One of the benefits of riding the TransAmerica Trail is that there are other riders. We met only a few before Pueblo, because the Western Express portion of the ride is less popular. But after that, I found many riders going the same way would be with me for a several days in a row (Matt, Steve, Colin, Julio, Suman, Dan and others). I talked to some of these guys several days in a row and others just once. It was nice to share thoughts as we rode the same adventure. I have not felt lonely or disconnected. I have felt supported by so many people. Thanks to all of you for providing that support.
All of that said, 7 weeks is a long time to be on the road and I am excited to get back home. I think my body could do this trip longer—maybe with a few more rest days—but my mind is itching to get back to normal.
Stories and pictures
The best ride photos from the last few days are shown in the Relive videos.
Many of you enjoyed hearing about my friend Julio, the TransAm racer from Houston. I have an update. Julio finished the race. Early Saturday morning (2:00 a.m. he told me), he arrived at Yorktown Victory Monument—the official endpoint. He rode 380 miles in the last two and a half days! Julio clearly got his mojo back. I am so happy for Julio and as you can see below, Julio is very happy for himself. He has a reason to be proud. He finished TransAmerica Trail (he started in Oregon, I shortcut him by 450 miles by starting in San Francisco) in 34 days and averaged 123 miles per day (I only had one day that exceeded Julio’s average). I am proud of my friend‘s dedication, persistence, and grit.
Well, today I should finish. I have about 95 miles to ride to that Yorktown Victory Monument. And it will be in the rain. I will skirt Richmond and then ride the Capital Trail and Colonial Parkway. My next blog post will describe that last day.