My countdown is on.
There are so many things to do before I board the plane for the east coast, but I have such good energy with me right now. My departure is still so many weeks away, but I see the buds on the trees and the days are passing rather quickly at times.
At times I consider why I sit down and type out these thoughts, public for the world to read. Why? I'm not exactly a model of fitness right now, physically ready to ride many, many miles across the country. I haven't purchased a plane ticket or practiced changing a flat tire. My to-do list is long.
Basically, I'm a picture of someone that does not look ready to begin her adventure to Oregon.
With that said, there has been so much emotional preparation happening in my head and heart that I actually feel okay about my level of readiness.
Because for me, I see my challenge lying mostly with the mental strain of riding and the emotional pull to be back home in my comfort zone. Yes, my body will be physically stressed but if my head is in the right space, I believe I will overcome the physical challenges.
As I'm nearing my departure, I would like to reach out to my community for support. In May, I'll share the places you can send letters and care packages along my route, and I foresee finding much comfort in reading your words of support and encouragement.
And thank you for joining me on this journey! So much of what this ride is about is what's happening before I leave, so thank you.
I rode my bike last week and had plans to begin training but we have a large amount of snow and I'm not so interested in riding on streets with frozen snow covering the shoulders. So, here I sit, in my head again, planning how to get my body and mind ready for my summer adventures.
As I consider the challenges I may face, I find myself taking deep breaths and replacing the worries with how amazing it will feel to journey across the country.
The planner in me wants to revisit the details, but I am keeping myself in check, reminding myself that I can't really know how any of it will look, regardless of how many blogs and Instagram feeds I follow. I just don't know. Everything is up in the air, as there are so many variables- the weather, my physical strength, my emotional health, whether the ride brings me mostly joy or mostly stress?
And while I'm really open to not knowing, I'm also trying to steer my expectations that I will be successful and safe and healthy. I will balance my longing for my family and friends with the feelings of accomplishment and adventure along my ride. I will have moments where I just don't think I can go on but I will persevere and make the decisions that I need in the moment.
In many ways, I'm looking at my adventure with the same eyes I use when I'm supporting a laboring woman. I will be kind to myself, supportive and understanding during the times when it is so hard, so difficult. I will allow myself to be joyful and ecstatic during the times where I've met a goal or reached a milestone. I will not confuse the two very different feelings as signs of whether I should stop and return home or continue on; instead I will take each moment, each day at a time and look to my support team for the encouragement and reassurance I will need.
It's been months since I've ridden my bike.
I know, it's ridiculous to type that and realize I've yet to get back on the bicycle despite my plans to journey cross country next year.
"I'm sorry, what was that you said?"
Yes, I'm still planning to ride to Oregon next year. I'm planning to bicycle across the country even though I have not ridden my bike in over two months and I have no good reason why I'm not cycling regularly.
I'm changing my itinerary a bit from my earlier plans. And I'm really only five months away from leaving. So, I have a lot of work to do, and I want to feel ready when I head out in May.
My training schedule starts off with low mileage in January and February and picks up in March and April. I plan on mailing my bike off to where I'm beginning my ride, and I expect to do that at the start of May. So really, I have four months of riding before I pack 'er up and begin this adventure.
I can't wait to share as I prepare for my ride.
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!
Once I started searching for long distance cycling or touring information online, I was met with countless blogs, websites and videos. My Instagram feed is full of touring pictures, and they're some of my favorites to explore. It was so inspiring to learn from others' experiences, and it only fueled my enthusiasm in moving up my timeline.
The one thing about all these sites, however, is that it puts what I'm doing into perspective. Yes, I'm going to bicycle a long way from Kentucky to Oregon. Yes, it's going to be hard. Yes, I'm going to drink a lot of coffee. But what I'm doing is not anything that hasn't been accomplished before. In fact, many of the blogs and Instagram users I follow are that of solo or paired riders riding coast to coast, touring the lower 48 states or hopping from one country to another. What they're doing makes me feel my goal is so much more attainable, because at least I'm not riding for the next 9 months, cycling through foreign countries where I may not know how to communicate my needs, or racing from coast to coast in 40 days!
I feel a bit more settled and comforted knowing that I will be fairly close to home (as opposed to across the world!), I'm familiar with navigating my way through the U.S., and I'm going to be giving myself ALL day to ride 50-70 miles.
So, yes, riding to Oregon is crazy far. I will be really proud of my accomplishments when it's all said and done. I'm psyched to embark on what I anticipate will be the hardest thing I've ever done!
But I also find it very reassuring to know there are others out there doing bigger rides, and I'm not doing this all on my own. I have so many resources from which to pull, and I'm so looking forward to using this blog to share it all.
a pic of a loaded bike,
photo credit: Skyler_WA from a bikeforums.net thread
Our neighboring state to the south, Kentucky is the state from where I'll begin my bicycle tour. I've visited Louisville a handful of times and driven through on our way to Florida, but other than that, I can't say I've done much sight-seeing in Kentucky.
I'll be riding about 45 miles each day, as I figure out my stride and rhythm of touring. I anticipate my family driving me down to Berea, where I'll say my goodbyes and climb aboard my bike. From there, I'll be spending the following week riding the hills of Kentucky, heading west. And when I say hills, take a look at the picture of the elevation changes. It actually makes me a bit more nervous that the Rockies, where the inclines and declines are spread over a much longer stretch than the continuous stretch of hills I'll be encountering.
Nine months left before I ride through nine states! Truly, I can't believe it.
Every time I look at this map, I think, what in the hell am I thinking?! And then a second later I'm thinking, THIS IS THE COOLEST THING EVER! I'm not even going to pretend that I'm super fast and fit and ready for my ride. Because I'm not ready...not yet at least.
My plan is to hop on the TransAmerica Trail, a series of mapped routes organized and updated by Adventure Cycling Association. This route, coast to coast, is over 4,200 miles. My trip, however, will begin in Berea, Kentucky and head west to Astoria, Oregon. So, I think I've calculated it's somewhere around 3,400 miles.
Looking through the maps and places to camp along the way, I've planned out about 60 riding days, averaging 60 miles a day. The start of my ride will be closer to 45 miles a day, to account for my inexperience and the hills. I also have rest days scheduled in, along with some extra days tagged on to accommodate any other scheduling needs.
Though looking at the map feels a bit overwhelming, I'm focusing on the many smaller maps that will assist me in my ride. Instead of this one map of the USA, I'll be focusing on riding through about 130 smaller sections, Because if I know I have just one or two sections to ride before camping for the night, I can break down the day into attainable goals. 18 miles until I stop for lunch...37 miles until I move to the next smaller section of mapped routes...2 miles until I'm done for the day. And maybe I'll reach a point where I'm telling myself, just ride one more mile...one more mile...one more mile. And I'm okay with that. I'm okay with taking it one small section at a time.
When I was 20 years old, I signed up for my first bicycle tour. I rode 180 miles, give or take, from northern Illinois to south-eastern Wisconsin over the course of three days. Benefitting the American Lung Association, I joined others early on a Saturday morning and set off, riding the longest I had ever ridden in one day. The ride, CowaLUNGa, was supported, which meant my sleeping bag, clothing, and other items were trucked from one small town to the next, leaving me to carry only my mapped route for the day, water bottles, and camera (this was back in 2000, so I don't even think I had a cell phone). My meals were provided (lunch was on my own), along with snacks and water along the way.
I had never participated in an organized run or tour, and so I didn't realize how energizing it was to be at the Start Line or how amazing it'd feel to pedal through the Finish Line. Truly, my eyes were opened to this new lifestyle of organized events and it was awesome.
I participated in the ride the following year with Jim by my side (Jim being my husband, but back then my high school and college sweetheart). Wanting to ride further and longer, I also rode across Wisconsin in an organized ride (GRABAAWR), this time riding closer to 500 miles over seven days. I spent my days riding, occasionally riding with fellow cyclists, but for the most part, alone with my thoughts and Trek hybrid. Riding into Prairie du Chien with a sore Achilles tendon, I was overwhelmed with emotion. It was by far the hardest thing I had ever accomplished, physically, mentally and emotionally.
I spent the following years finishing up my schooling, working as a school teacher, getting married, moving to Vermont. What was once a memory that had taken place only two or three years prior turned into that story that stayed tucked away, as most of us carry from our youth and younger days.
Being raised in a family that valued cross country travel, I appreciated the experiences one could only have seeing the world traveling at 60 mph. After I got married, my husband and I continued to do most of our traveling via car, flying only if airfare was affordable and schedule required it. With small children, we continued to drive around the country- to Vermont, NYC, Florida, D.C., and Oregon- as we visited friends and family, stopping along the way.
Combining this appreciation for cross country travel with the adventure of cycling long distances, I started thinking about what I wanted to see and do after my children were grown. I held onto this thought of adventure and assumed it would all have to wait until my children were living their own lives and I was much older. At first I thought I might want to hike the Appalachian Trail, but the time to complete the trail in one go combined with the fact that I've never hiked longer than three miles made me reconsider.
This brought me to touring (cycling longer distances, often times carrying one's gear using panniers or bicycle trailer). With a shorter time away from my family, I started considering moving my adventure to 2017, giving myself time to train and acquire gear. I checked out supported rides, where I'd sign up with a company that would provide my mapped route, accommodations and meals, along with carrying my gear from point A to point B (to point C...). The options felt too expensive and too restrictive (i.e., the dates didn't line up with what would work with my family's needs, I'd be riding with a group of riders that may be faster and more skilled, I would be unable to make decisions without consulting the group, etc.). After looking at blogs, Instagram feeds, and the Adventure Cycling Association site, I made a decision...
I WILL RIDE MY BIKE TO OREGON IN 2017!
I bought a bike, rode a handful of training rides (+15 miles) and made another big decision...
I WILL RIDE MY BIKE TO OREGON IN 2016!
2017 felt too far away, and the more I thought about it and planning I did, the more I realized that holding onto my dream for close to two years felt so far away. I was worried I'd lose steam, and from what I have read, you can only train so much to prepare for long-distance touring. It's only the long days of cycling, day after day, that truly get you "ready".
So, here I am, nearly nine months away from leaving on my adventure.
Join me as I prepare and embark on a cross-country cycling tour.
Amy spends her days caring for her children, keeping up with the interweb, drinking coffee and talking about birth and babies.