It's amazing what a week can do in terms of one's mindset.
One week ago I was pedaling my way to a state park, figuring out how to ride within feet of passing vehicles, clicking in and out of my pedals. I felt so excited and hopeful, not yet refamiliarized with the feelings of soreness, exhaustion, might I say despair? I would experience all of that the next day, after riding nearly 70 miles with a loaded bike.
I arrived back home, wondering how and why and what if... and I really didn't know how to sit with it other than to simply say, "I don't know..." whenever I'd think about my plans to bicycle across the country.
I haven't been back on my bike in days, leaving her in my basement amidst children's board games, Hot Wheels pieces, and drum sets. I've gone ahead and emptied my panniers, washing my clothes ripe with the stench of campfire smoke. My next task will be to organize my camping and touring cycling gear into bins, ones that I'll revisit in the spring.
And then what? What comes next in my journey?
Well, I've adapted a more realistic picture of how cross-country cycling may look for me. Granted, I'm only going off what I experienced over the course of a few days. But, my picture is now filled more with emotional challenges, feelings of physical exhaustion, and longings for personal connections.
Do I want to choose these challenges? Do I want to spend the time away from my loved ones, moving myself further and further from my community with each passing day? Do I want to spend the time training and building my strength so I can actually enjoy the start of my journey? Am I going to be at peace knowing that I will not hold my children for two months?
These are all questions that I'm contemplating. I don't have an answer today. I still really want to head off on this adventure, but I'm not so naive about the experience. Because what I felt last weekend will be multiplied, and I need to choose this adventure, rather than feeling like it's something I should do out of obligation (I spent all this money! I've announced my plans to my friends and family! How will I feel to change everything I have been thinking about for the last couple months?!).
So many thoughts...
Friday night was spent picking up last odds and ends (yes, dark chocolate covered almonds counted as a necessity). I loaded up my panniers, installed my new pedals, readied my new cycling sandals, and installed my cyclometer.
Then I went to bed and lay there thinking about what the the next three days would be for me. Would it confirm my desire to cycle over 3,000 miles? Would it make me rethink my plans, changing everything that I've been thinking (obsessing?) about for the last two months?
I woke up early on Saturday, showered and dressed. I ate a little, said goodbye to my family, and headed outside. With my bicycle loaded, I began to push it to the end of the driveway.
It was so heavy. How had I not expected the heaviness?! I knew my panniers were heavy, as I had loaded them onto my bike. But actually moving the bike with my body proved to be more difficult than I had expected. In fact, I uttered the words, "what the f*ck was I thinking" as I neared the end of the driveway, chuckling to myself.
So, not only was I first learning to ride with a weighted bike, but I also was wearing my new cycling shoes for the first time, too! I took time to learn how to click in and out of the pedal, one at a time. And after riding on our rail trail, I felt like I was getting the hang of it. I stopped at the co-op for a coffee, and as I sat in silence, I contemplated the next few days. I really don't think I was thinking anything in particular. I just let my mind wander, thinking about my family, camping, the weather, the challenge ahead.
I went back to my bicycle and started my ride to the state park. About 20 miles later, I arrived and made it to my campsite. My friend Kate joined me for the rest of the day and made plans to camp with me, and it was so nice seeing her pull into camp. We ate lunch, rode around the state park, and I made my first change of plans for the weekend. Instead of riding 60 miles on Saturday, I decided to stick to riding in the park and felt finished, having only ridden 36 miles for the day. We returned to the campsite, read and napped, and ate dinner. We roasted marshmallows, talked and I fell quickly asleep once my head hit the pillow.
In the morning, after Kate had returned home, I made breakfast and headed out. I hoped to ride 60 miles, and I headed to the back roads to start my ride. The route was very hilly, and I experienced a range of emotions and thoughts. This is so beautiful. I wonder what my family is up to. What's that noise on my bike? My butt is sore. I can't believe I'm out here by myself doing this! I wish I had someone to talk with. I'm so glad I'm not slowing anyone down because I'm barely breaking 9 mph! My fingers are numb. How much longer? I'm so tired. I've only ridden 14 miles so far?! Okay...if I've gone 22 miles since I left, what time will it be when I finish? And so forth.
I somehow made it up one hill only to find another one waiting in the near distance. I took each uphill as it came, trying not to think about the others that followed. I found myself counting and told myself that I could do anything for 60 seconds (something I share in childbirth classes and doula work as we talk about contractions "you can do anything for a minute."). I'd pedal, "1", pedal, "2", and on, until I tried to mix it up to stretch out the numbers. I rode up, knowing that I'd surely have a glorious downhill, if not immediately following, then sometime soon. I reached the highest downhill speed of 33 mph, but tried to keep it to 20-25 mph.
I rode the opposite direction of the Hilly Hundred cyclists, and I was met with some confused looks and none of the waves or comradery I'd expect from fellow cyclists. But I kept on, and changed my route a bit, not by choice, as I missed a turn off a state highway I was only supposed to be on for 0.1 mile. So, I stayed on the state highway and found myself more south than expected but on a well traveled road with good shoulders. I felt good about this change in plans, as being out on the backroads felt too solitary and isolating.
I ate lunch at the cutest diner, sitting at the counter. I saved most of my food for later, as I just wasn't hungry for it. I made my way on, having decided to ride the longer +30 mile route instead of the 17 mile route back to camp. I can do this. This is why I'm here. I'm supposed to feel tired and sore. This is all new (again) to me. So, I kept riding, excited to enter the next town listed on the map. All were small, with little to speak of. I wondered whether the small towns on my cross-country ride would resemble these towns, particuarly the ones where I was planning overnights. I can't imagine spending the night in a small town city park like this one!? What am I thinking?! But I kept at it, knowing each mile pedaled brought me closer to camp.
I soon found myself getting off the bike, sometimes halfway up a hill, to give myself a water break and a chance to catch my breath. I also was conscious of the narrow shoulder at times, and gave passing cars more room to pass on the uphills. Once, I was getting back on my bike, and right after I clipped in I lost my balance and the bike slid out from beneath me, tossing me to the right down a steep shoulder. I only fell a few feet, and I caught my bike as it turned over towards me. It all happened in slow motion, making me take a few minutes before trying to get on my bike again. I wasn't hurt badly, but I felt shaken up, knowing I had probably 20 miles left in my ride for the day. If I ride and stop for breaks, that means I'll be back by 6pm?
I called Jim for some support, some encouragement. He said all the right words and I kept on. I couldn't have been happier to arrive in the final town.I stopped for a cup of ice, a soda, Starbursts and gum. I rode on, thinking of how wonderful it was going to feel to lay in my tent, eating candy and wearing dry clothes. About 5 miles later, I found my way to my site, ate my lunch leftovers and built a fire.
I fell alseep after I read, with the crackling fire outside my tent. I kept the rain fly open so I could turn my head and see the flames reaching skyward. I fell asleep
I woke up this morning, later than I had expected. I wasn't on the road until 11am, after taking the morning slow and thinking about what I wanted my day to bring. Did I want to push myself and ride 40-50-60 miles? Did I want to really take this weekend to be what I had built it up to be? I was very much fine with my shorter day on Saturday, enjoying it for what it brought and feeling alive and happy and whole. I was pushed to my limit on Sunday, but I completed the longer route and felt really good after having rested for a bit at camp. Now, Monday, I had a choice. And I wondered if the answer somehow dictated how I would do on a cross-country journey.
I decided to load up my bike and ride home.
With only 20 miles under my belt today, I averaged 40 miles a day for my trial ride. Not exactly my 60 mile a day challenge, that I had planned. But I arrived at home at peace for what my trial ride was.
I remind myself that I accomplished more cycling in three days than I have in many, many years. I rode for the first time with a loaded bike. No, I didn't ride what I had wanted, but I am not holding onto that, either.
I'm thinking a lot about what this experience means for my cycling next summer. In my head I have this really big goal and in my mind, I really still believe I can accomplish that goal. I really do believe I can ride my bike to Oregon. But, I also know that it will be really hard. It will be challenging. I will miss my family and my friends so much. I will push myself further than I've ever done before.
All of this is going through my head, and I know that it's my choice whether I embark on this challenge. It's not something I have to do, but instead something I would be choosing. Knowing that makes me think about what I need in order to feel solid in the decision I make. I don't know if it's something I need to do to ready my body or more of a mindset I need to find. I don't know.
I'm feeling energized by the possibilities and I'm really curious where the coming months will take me.
I'm a day away from my trial ride, and I'm really so ready to head out. When I say ready, I really mean more mentally than physically. I've been spending so much energy just thinking about cycling many miles over three days, anticipating what it may feel like to be riding for weeks and weeks at a time. Now I feel like I just need to get out there on my bike so I can put my energy into actually riding as opposed to just thinking and planning for it.
Because my 2016 ride will consist of upward of 60 miles a day, my goal is to reach that mileage during my trial ride. I'll be riding fully loaded, setting up and break down camp, even though I'll be returning to the same site. I could lighten my load and leave my camping gear, but if I'm going to use this weekend as a way to practice and test out my gear, stamina, and routine, then I really do want to pack back up just as I would on the ride.
Over the last couple months, I've been researching and buying gear as time and budget allows. My cycling shoes arrived today and I just finished installing my clipless pedals. My panniers are on the bike and I have piles of gear to load into them. I'm familiar with my tent and camp stove. I invested in a backpackers French press, a collapsible camp sink, and a pretty rad knife.
I can't wait to pull it all together and head off, trying on the title of touring cyclist.
Seeing images of cyclists and the incredible places they travel is so energizing. I'm a week away from my trial ride, and I'm far from well-trained. I became sick with a respiratory illness, making it incredibly difficult to breathe deeply, so I took time off. I also find that life is just getting in the way of a regular training schedule, including my work as a birth doula. So, with my +180-mile ride coming up, I am prepared to work really hard as I cycle for a few days and camp for a couple nights.
I've been thinking about how often I'd like to ride and how I'm going to improve my health and stamina, but so far I haven't really pushed myself to meet what goals I have set. With the ride eight months away, it feels like I'll have time to get there, when really, I should be in the process now. If not to ready my body for the challenge, but because I really do enjoy being on my bike and riding longer distances.
As the weather gets cooler, I'll also be figuring out how to stay warm enough during rides, staying safe on slick roads, and finding motivation to get outside instead of staying curled up with my family. With all that said, this is a process, a journey. I don't think there's one right way to do it, and I'm certain when I'm finished, I'll see all the ways I could've done better. But for now, my focus is on my ride coming up, and that feels like a good place to be.
Also, this is one of the films I've enjoyed about long-distance cycling. I hope you do, too!
Amy spends her days caring for her children, keeping up with the interweb, drinking coffee and talking about birth and babies.