v1 Lessons learned – American Southeast

  • Temperatures below the mid 20s will freeze normal water bottles in an hour or less. If you go with insulated bottles, you may have to sacrifice capacity. Fill your bottles with the hottest water you can drink. It will keep them liquid longer.
  • Cold weather isn’t as big an issue when it comes to riding as is snow and ice. If the streets or sidewalks along your route aren’t clean, stay home.
  • Regulating your body temperature on a cold weather tour is very difficult. You will sweat. And when you sweat and you stop, you’ll get cold. Take the opportunity to dry your layers as often as needed.
  • Even in single digit temps, I had a synthetic T-shirt, thicker, long sleeve synthetic shirt, vest, lightweight running style jacket, and wind/waterproof shell. It was too much. By the time the weather hit double digits, I dropped my shell and still stayed warm.
  • Due to limited daylight hours and necessary stops to warm up and thaw water bottles, assume you’ll only accomplish 80% of your typical warm weather daily miles.
  • Being cold is one thing. Being tired is another. Being cold and tired can kill you. As the day wears on and you wear out, you’ll be too tired to ride fast enough to generate enough body heat to stay warm. At this point, you’re probably already sweaty. This is a dangerous time. Stop cycling. Find shelter. Get warm and dry immediately.
  • Plan to end you day thirty minutes before sunset. Once the sun drops below the horizon (assuming there was sun to begin with) temps drop dramatically.

v1 Day 6 – Manchester, TN to Port Royal, SC

800 miles is a long way to drag your tail home. I did it. I’m not happy about it, but it happened.

I grabbed a kick-ass breakfast at the Sleep Inn: biscuits, gravy, scrambled eggs, waffles, and coffee. I filled fuel next door and was on the road about 7:30 AM. I had about 8 hours of asphalt to cover to make it home, and the day promised to be bright and clear.

I had a lot on my mind, namely the fact I had to quit this tour and go home. It was bullshit. At the surface, I quit. I threw in the towel. I gave up. Use any cliche you would like. It all adds up to the same thing: I didn’t accomplish what I set out to.

I have to make a physical effort to understand the decision I made was the right one. When I dwell on it, I get pissed off. I’m embarrassed. I’m ashamed. But there are very few in the world who know I did the right thing. After all the time I’ve spent in combat, imagine the irony if I died in some podunk ditch after getting hit in a snowstorm.

I could’ve fought the weather, the traffic. Taken my chances. But 1,000 miles through North Dakota winter has taught me distance cycling in below-freezing temps is disaster waiting to happen. I had to swallow a lot of pride to remember that.

Common sense and experience beats pride any day.

v1 Days 3, 4 – Harrisburg, IL

Saturday morning dawned snowy and wet. There was already a couple of inches of snow on the ground and flurries were whipping around the building. The forecast called for snow throughout the day, clear Sunday, and more snow Monday. I made the decision to stay through the weekend and take some course of action when the weekend was over.

I started analyzing weather forecasts as far as 300 miles south – using Weather Underground and Weather.com – and both were calling for 40%-80% scattered snow in temps hovering around freezing. These were the worst kind of conditions.

Cold rain is easy to handle by bundling up. Snow is even easier because you can stay dry. But with freezing rain – the kind that sticks to everything – it makes it difficult for cyclists and motorists alike. Visibility is limited and the roads are slick as snot.

My first thought was to rent a car and leapfrog the weather far enough south to get out of the storm system. It made sense – very brief sense – but I saw the weather clearing south of me was a narrow band with another, larger storm system south of it. If I decided to jump the storm I was in at the moment, I knew the next one would catch up to me a few days down the road. This weather looked like it was going to nickel and dime me to death, and if I chose to play the game I would inevitably end up driving most of my route. This was unacceptable.

I made the tough decision to call it quits and head home.

I spent the rest of the weekend researching ways home: renting a car, Amtrak, Greyhound, and U-Haul. Car rentals wouldn’t rent one-way and I had to jump through too many hoops for Amtrak and Greyhound, namely needing to have my gear boxed up before I could travel. U-Haul seemed like the best option, and the most expensive one, but at least I could get in and go if needed.

I spent a couple hours on Sunday wandering around Harrisburg, looking for a Super Bowl party I could hit up that evening. I didn’t even find a bar. I’m sure the bars were there somewhere, after all, there were plenty of people wearing mossy oak camo, I just didn’t find them.

I settled on grabbing some Miller Lite from a nearby grocery store and ordered Domino’s for the game. I caught bits and pieces – the most important ones I would guess – but got entirely too distracted by the magic picture box and it’s reality TV. I haven’t had cable TV since 2006, and I firmly believe it’s the devil.

v1 Day 2 – Waltonville, IL to Harrisburg, IL

Av – 10.1 mph
Dis – 57.3 miles
Tm – 05:41 hrs.
Asc – 844 ft.

I don’t want to write some bullshit tour journal. I want to sleep. I want a deep tissue massage and this trip to be over. But I also watched an hour of America’s Funniest Videos, so maybe I should fix my priorities before I start bitching.

Day 2 was better than Day 1, but as long as I wasn’t ganged raped by hillbillies wearing too much cologne, it’s not too tough to beat.

I left Mike’s place later than my standard 07:00 departure, knowing full well I wasn’t making another 93 miles to Sturgis, KY but dark fall. The temperature hung in the low 20s with promises of sunshine and much weather weather around noon. I wasn’t disappointed.

My first stop was Sessner, about 10 miles down the road. I ran the typical drill of thawing my water bottles, receiving inquisitive stares, and fielding the occasional question. Most comments focused on the recent weather and how I “picked a good time to start” my trip. I tried to explain that my bike was already shipped, plane tickets already purchased, and liaisons already made when the storm had hit. No one really cared. They just bought their beer/chewing tobacco/junk food and moved on about their day.

By 1030 it was warming up considerably – almost 30 degrees. My water bottles were no longer forming ice chunks and cheeks weren’t going numb. Just after 11:00 I stopped at Hardees in Benton (with the intent of typing some journals and some R&R) and pushed a gut bomb down my throat. I spent an additional half hour drying various clothing items at the hot air dryer in the bathroom, including my cycling shorts and all parts thereunto pertaining.

I pushed out of Hardees with temps fluctuating in the low to mid 30s, enjoying the “warm streak.” I even dropped my full balaclava and goggles in favor of my skull cap, neck gaiter, and sunglasses. It was glorious.

I used my iPod for the first time today and actually rode without gloves for awhile. I had forgotten how valuable music is on a tour. It helped me take my mind of the agony of, well, whatever was agonizing me at the moment.

Despite the warmer weather and apparent rosy outlook on the day’s progress, my Hardees burger was working diligently to come back up and see for itself how the ride was going. I spent the rest of the ride trying not to throw it up. Between my gag reflex acting up and snot slapping across my shoulders with every blow, I was a hot mess.

The last 12 miles to this Super 8 were painful indeed. My body is breaking down and I hope an adjustment to shorter days and more recovery time allows it to build back up soon, because I’m hurting.

v1 Day 1 – Ferguson, MO to Waltonville, IL

Av – 8.9 mph
Dis – 51.8 miles
Tm – 05:50 hrs.

Maybe I should have taken the fact that I had to shovel snow to get my bike out of the back yard as a bad omen. But I was pleasant and plump with a good breakfast in my stomach and didn’t think that much into it. It only took a few minutes before my bike was on the driveway and I was poised to peddle away in single digit weather.

The street in front of me was clean – as clean as you could ask for on a four lane road, and I was pleased I wouldn’t have to worry about the accumulated snow as I worked my way out of the city.

I pedaled off like an everyday happy asshole, realizing seconds later that godDAMN is was cold. My breath immediately began fogging up my goggles (a piece of gear I literally threw in at the last minute). Traffic was picking up and the first road I turned on narrowed considerably. I was slowly realizing I was in for a fight.

Time passed without notice. My GPS screen was showing my route so miles per hour and moving time was beyond my view. I felt good, despite the ice, snow, and traffic, but history shows that I always feel good early on in a tour.

As I made my way closer to a bridge that separated St. Louis and East St. Louis (the MO/IL border), I saw my water bottles had frozen almost solid. A couple of blocks later I pulled into a McDonald’s and began the thaw out process.

I had been sweating pretty profusely – when I pulled my water/windproof shell off, water poured out of the sleeves. It wasn’t breathing like I thought it would. I started pulling layers off and rotating them under the bathroom air dryer, knowing full well I couldn’t go back outside in those temps with wet clothes.

Since I was fresh, my legs weren’t jello when I got back on the bike almost an hour later and pedaled away – first the wrong direction, then the right one, then smack into construction, then around the construction the wrong way, and finally down far enough to see bright detour signs to follow.

I was a couple blocks from the border bridge and crossed without issues, even though I had to take the road because the bicycle path was snowed over. The St Louis arch was just off my starboard side. It would’ve made a nice picture but I was already entirely too miserable to fish out my camera and play tourist.

In minutes I was across the Mississippi River and into East St Louis. My sources had implied that East St Louis was where crack conventions were held, muggers were mugged by muggers, and cannibalism was rampant. None of the above appeared true, of course, but it could have been the single digits that kept the monsters at bay. In total, I saw less than ten people walking around. East St Louis was my bitch.

As soon as I cleared the city I stopped at the first gas station I came across to thaw out my water bottles and reconfigure my gear. It was 14 degrees by then and the sun was shining. I stripped off my waterproof shell and pushed down the road.

Hours later, after the phone call to Mike and subsequent, shameful pick up, we grabbed Chinese buffet and retired for the evening. The house was blessedly warm – I was chilled to the bone. I took as hot a shower as my skin would allow and plopped on the couch. There wasn’t a lot of activity after that. I threw my damp clothes in the dryer and fell asleep sitting straight up.

It was most wondrous.

v1 Day 0 – Mvmnt frm Port Royal, SC to Ferguson, MO

Good times don’t make good stories. They don’t sell books or movie tickets, because regardless of how much you’re rooting for the hero, you still want to see shit go wrong. I wanted to spin a tale of midget Nazis, and suitcase full of money, and a love triangle, but unfortunately none of that occurred today.

My ride to the airport showed up on time, 16 minutes early in fact. U.S Airways comp’d the $25 baggage fee. I breezed through Savannah airport security without any additional scrutiny of my handlebar bag contents (the first time ever). My flight even left on time. With the exception of a case of bubble guts on the first flight to Charlotte, the day’s events were shaping up nicely.

The layover was perfectly timed. I made my necessary head call and stepped next door to my gate that began boarding when I showed up. In line were a half dozen new Marines on their way from MCT (Marine Combat Training) in Camp Lejuene, NC to their MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) school at Fort Leonard Wood, MO. When faced with young Marines and limited time in which to impart my vast sea of Marine Corps knowledge, I’m forced to condense it to this: Stay single and go embassy duty. Cut and dried, plain and simple. They were better for it.
My arrival in St. Louis was uneventful as well. I followed the flock of Marines to the USO and grabbed a couple of chili cheese dogs and a pepsi before snatching my baggage off belt. I walked outside – the 20 degree air giving me a solid five-fingered slap across the face – and cabbed it to today’s destination.

Blue and Craig from Warmshowers.org put me up for the night. They host a lot of bicycle tourists throughout the year – Adventure Cycling Association’s TransAmerica Trail runs right through their town. I was the first in the winter though, Blue pointed out. What made them extra special was I shipped my bike and trailer to their address three days earlier. That’s looking out.

Blue and Craig run a pair of Surley Long Haul Truckers, built for touring. We spent a considerable amount of time comparing notes on gear, time on the road, and even military careers (Craig did a stint in the Navy), and soon settled in to some local microbrews and ridiculously delicious homemade pizza. Periodically, Blue kept reminding me of the next day’s temperatures as if to hint of my lunacy. At my projected departure time of 07:00, it was forecasted 0 degrees. ZERO degrees. The WNW winds at 7 mph pull that down from 14-20 below zero, and my dumb ass is on a bike. To complicated matters more, the streets are choked with snow and East St. Louis is on way out of town – yet another “warning” Blue so kindly informed me.

So, assuming I can survive the initial shock of subzero temps right out the door, I might still get jacked in the hood and end this trip before it actually begins.

Craaaaap.

v1 Prologue – American Southeast

I heart bicyclesThis is a tour of convenience. Let me put that straight.

I thought I was done with my bicycle touring upon completion of the Lewis and Clark bicycle trail in 2005, but apparently I was wrong.

Three and a half years in South Carolina, spent with the Atlantic Ocean practically in my back yard, and only recently did it occur to me that I could push one last leg and successfully complete a coast-to-coast bicycle ride. Sometimes, I’m not the brightest.

All weather forecasts point towards a variation “balls cold” during my trip, but I remain undaunted. Assuming I don’t literally freeze to death in some freak winter storm, I find comfort in the fact my cycling skills were tested in April of 1997 in -50 degrees. Add the wind chill and make it -75. I’m golden.

I’m physically unprepared; I didn’t do any riding since my South Carolina Lowcountry tour last Thanksgiving. But this doesn’t worry me too much either. I’ve got 27 gears for a reason.

If I was a religious man, I’m sure I’d be praying right now. But I’m not. I’m a hungry man with my gear packed and movies to watch. So it’s pizza and beer for me tonight – for awhile.

Wish me luck.

Lessons learned – South Carolina Lowcountry

Total Trip Statistics:
Distance: 237.3 miles
Saddle time: 19.6 hrs
Average speed: 12.18 mph

  • Somewhere along the way, you’re going to hit the wall. Accept that as fact and prepare to deal with it.
  • Having a rear view mirror on tight roads is a must. Even the small swerve caused by looking over my left shoulder was enough to throw me into traffic. Buy a mirror of any variety to get eyes in the back of your head.
  • Train… in any way, shape, or form you can. It may help you avoid the wall I mentioned earlier.
  • Buy a state map. Trim it to fit your route leaving some room to adjust. It helps with the bigger picture even if you’re rolling with a GPS.
  • Get, and use, a handlebar bag. Anything with a reputable mounting system. You’ll find yourself needing little things throughout the day more than you thought. And you don’t want to have to dig in your trailer bag/panniers.
  • Keep the volume low on your mp3 player. It’ll prolong battery life and give you a better sense of your surroundings (like banjos playing).
  • Keep a reflective vest or belt on hand. You never know when you’ll be riding early or late.
  • Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. You don’t want to – literally – be the only happy asshole on the road.
  • Inform everyone you know of your route, plan, itinerary, etc. You’re not good enough to do it alone if something goes go wrong.
  • If you’re riding a mountain bike, get a riser stem. The more upright riding position will save wear and tear on your shoulders and back.
  • If you have chaffing issues, try a nose less saddle. It worked wonders for me. Give yourself about 50 miles before the tour to adjust to the way it feels.
  • There’s some space under a bicycle trailer too. See if your tarp/tent/mat/ will fit. It might help from looking like a gypsy caravan with a bunch of crap strapped on the top of your trailer bag.