Our 3700-mile seven-week Portland to Portland cycling odyssey ended about two weeks ago…and I’ve been thinking about it ever since as I return to “normal life”. My friends ask, “What was the hardest day, the best day, the worst weather, etc.?” For a trip of this magnitude there were many bests and worsts.
Words by David Kindler, Trek Travel Guest
Among the toughest standout for me was the challenge of climbing Big Horn Pass, hour after hour, at steep grade and high elevation with wind and cold temperatures. The nothing-left-in-the-tank day after Big Horn. The hail pummeling at the top of Lolo Pass. The strength-sapping winds across South Dakota and Iowa, with that morning of I-can’t-see-but-six-inches-in-front-of-my-face stinging rain. The three days of cold rain in New York. And, how could I forget to mention baking in the sun for hours on end as we rode the flat-tire-producing interstate shoulders out West! Or those early smoky rides in Idaho? Or the days when I blew it with poor layering decisions on the day’s clothing! The list goes on, but these are rides that build character!
Then there’s the subject of how your mind and body hold up to the day-after-day grind. Some days great and some days not-so-great. Now that all the miles are done it’s easy to forget the hamstring twinges, the sore left calf that-I-hope-won’t-get-worse, the overcompensation with the right leg shifting the pain to that knee, the inevitable sore-butt days, the burning quads, and so on. Fortunately, some of us had Tara–the miracle worker masseuse (we nicknamed Tiramisu) who tended to our knotted-up muscles, patching us up well enough to keep going! Of course there were mental challenges too. Probably everyone on the trip at some point asked themselves, “What have I gotten myself into?” I certainly did. Possibly somewhere on a highway shoulder scorched by the sun, pushing just a little harder than I should have early in the trip. For the first couple of weeks I lived with the worry that a twinge or muscle pain would escalate and threaten the trip. I was extremely lucky to work through the aches and pains without facing the decision about whether to rest or ride. My roommate Jay’s mantra–just keep pedaling–applied in many situations. Many days became test of wills. Facing and overcoming these challenges has made the achievement that much sweeter!
There were so many outstanding routes it’s hard to single them out. Among the favorite moments that I recall are riding from Hood River along the Columbia River Gorge, the screaming 54.4 mph downhill from the continental divide at MacDonald Pass into Helena, the views from Big Horn, the surreal landscape of Badlands National Park, the windless day after being battling it for four days, then crossing the Mississippi River into Wisconsin, riding miles of gravel wherever that was, riding the rollers in wooded Pennsylvania and the feeling of getting closer to home, and meeting my Monster friends at the summit of Moosilauke then riding the Kancamangus pass together. Kudos to the guides for their research to get us onto fabulous roads, and bike paths, often skirting traffic in and out of the larger cities.
Our group was exceptionally strong – in both determination and physical stamina. On any given day a different mix of smaller groupettos formed, so in short order everyone had cycled together, and got to know one another. I’d often ride with a different group, depending on desired pace, the alluring call of a good coffee shop, weather, flat-tire occurrence, etc. Every morning without exception the group was anxious to get on the road by sunrise. One of the tougher jobs for the guides was reigning in the early birds! We quickly fell into a daily routine: up at 5-something, repack your bags and drag them to the luggage van at 6:00, eat breakfast, finish dressing and bring your day bag to the van, get your bike ready loading course routes into your Garmin (or three Garmins in my case), grabbing blinkies (Flare R taillights), and setting off on the daily ride. Usually the group stayed together for the first 20 or 30 miles up to the first van stop, where we refueled as needed with Clif bars, peanut M&M’s, bananas, etc. We’d take a short break, and hit the road again.
The line of cyclists stretched out as the morning passed. Usually we’d have another van stop and then on to lunch, around the halfway mark for the day. Lunch was typically an assortment of stuff for sandwiches, salads, fruit, and desserts. Despite burning a lot of calories, overeating was entirely possible. Learning what and how much to eat took some trial-and-error. Frequent re-application of sunscreen became ritual for at least the first half of the trip. After lunch the push was on to complete the day’s ride, especially during the hot-weather days. More van stops, lots of Coke and Gatorade as the day wore on. If we were lucky we found a milkshake “recovery drink” near the end of the day’s ride. Finally we rolled in to the next hotel. On to a hot shower, daily washing of the cycling kit, hanging it to dry, plugging in the rechargeables, resting a bit, or getting a massage, and then to dinner. Meals were most often buffet style, which catered best, since we sometimes acted like an uncivilized flock of vultures. After dinner I usually caught up on email, wrote my daily blog entry, and crawled into bed later than I’d hoped, and slept until it was time to do it all over again. And that was the cycle…for 45 days, performing 1.1 million pedal strokes and 1.6 million heartbeats to span the USA. An adventure of a lifetime!