Day 52 + 30 Closing this chapter

It’s taken me longer to decide what I wanted to write as closing thoughts to the blog.   It’s not for lack of ideas or inspiration — in fact, I’ve probably started four times.   But nothing felt right.   It’s not easy closing a chapter like this.

I’d like to close on three observations:

#1.   Adventure is important.   We fall into ruts, most of our own making.   We so fear losing the status quo that we miss out on a whole range of experiences and opportunities that would almost certainly enrich the current if not land us in a better place.   Obstacles that would not stop us if we embarked stop us from embarking.   I talked recently with an executive who spent a week in the Middle East pursuing his lifelong dream to drive a Formula One car.   His thrill of passing 300 kmh before a hard brake and a left hand turn were palpable.   I hope each of you can pursue that adventure that will help define your life’s passage.

#2.  I continue to believe the UWCSEA scholars are a highly worthwhile cause.   I had dinner with about 15 scholars late last week; what a pleasure it was once again to see the value each student places on having a UWC education.   Eli’s story of taking multiple 8-hour bus rides to and from the capital city to interview with UWC with no certainty that she would be successful.   The sheer joy of watching many of the students eat prawn and crabs for the first time, with complete gusto, I might add.   The knowledge that this is a gift that could pay off for generations, across communities, not just individuals.

#3.   I’m really grateful for the camaraderie and friendship of my “Bike Across America” colleagues.   It was a far more enriching, enjoyable and safe experience because of the group.   My curiosity about other people has been heightened; my desire to understand what makes them tick, why they make the choices they do, has increased.   Here’s to Father John, Dianne and Stacey in particular for making sure I became the last person to the hotel every day.   We started out thinking it was about the destination, but it was really about the journey.   And a shared journey is just a lot more fun than a lonely one.

So am I a changed person?   One has to put this little trip into context — I did not circumnavigate the world in a sailboat, climb Everest or cross Antarctica.   I do not think at any point I put my life at risk.   No blood or tears were shed.   It really just took tenacity and about 250,000 calories.   But there is a part of me that is less satisfied with the status quo.   I want to think bigger, push myself a bit harder, get closer to or even cross points of failure more often.   And I want to live each day with as much gusto as I can.




Day 52 +22 The final playlist

I’ve listened to this playlist at least 10 times; it serves its purpose — every song reminds me of a place along the way (Winnemucca) , or an event (check yo self), or maybe just a part of the trip (“silver machine”).   Some of the best song ideas came from others.   I’m still open to improvements 🙂 …. my teeth grate every time I have to listen to “One Bad Apple” for example.

Day # End Location State Song Artist
-3 SF California Going to California Led Zeppelin
-2 SF California California Joni Mitchell
-1 SF California Lights Journey
0 SF California Bicycle Race Queen
1 Vallejo California He Ain’t Heavy The Hollies
2 Sacramento California Folsom Prison Blues Johney Cash
3 Auburn California Take it Easy The Eagles
4 Truckee California Started from the Bottom Drake
5 Sparks Nevada Death or Glory The Clash
6 Lovelock Unknown Legend Neil Young
7 Winnemucca Nevada I’ve Been Everywhere Johney Cash
8 Battle Mountain Nevada Roll on down the Highway Bachman Turner Overdrive
9 Elko Nevada Rhinestone Cowboy Glenn Campbell
10 Wendover Utah Horse with no name America
11 Salt Lake City Utah Don’t Give up Peter Gabriel
12 Salt Lake City Utah One Bad Apple The Osmonds
13 Provo Utah Believer Imagine Dragons
14 Price Utah Born to be Wild Steppenwolf
15 Green River Utah A Horse with No Name America
16 Fruita Colorado Silver Machine Hawkwind
17 Montrose Colorado Truckin Grateful Dead
18 Gunnison Colorado Rocky Mountain High John Denver
19 Salida Colorado Ain’t no mountain high enough Marvin Gaye
20 Pueblo Colorado Because I got high Afroman
21 Pueblo Colorado Changes David Bowie
22 Lamar Colorado Against the Wind Bob Segar
23 Garden City Kansas End of the Line Roy Orbison
24 Dodge City Kansas Point of know return Kansas
25 Great Bend Kansas Small Town John Cougar
26 McPherson Kansas Halfway There Sheryl Crow
27 Abilene Kansas Somewhere over the rainboq Israel Kamaka…
28 Topeka Kansas Mr. Blue Sky ELO
29 St. Joseph Missouri Hard sun Eddie Vedder
30 St. Joseph Missouri Car Wash Rose Royce
31 Chillicothe Missouri Rolling in the Deep Adele
32 Kirksville Missouri This Land is your land Bruce Springsteen
33 Quincy Illinois River Deep / Mountain High Tina Turner
34 Springfield Illinois Check Yo Self Ice Cube
35 Champaign Illinois On the Road Again Willie Nelson
36 Crawfordsville Indiana Little Pink Houses John Cougar
37 Indianapolis Indiana Can’t find my way home Clapton / Winwood
38 Indianapolis Indiana Hometown Glory Adele
39 Richmond Indiana Who loves the sun The Velvet Underground
40 Marysville Ohio Ohio Crosby Stills & Nash
41 Wooster Ohio Blinded by the Light Manfred Mann
42 Niles Ohio Boys Round Here Blake Shenton
43 Erie Penn Love is a losing game Amy Winehouse
44 Buffalo NY What a Feeling Flashdance
45 Buffalo NY Downtown Macklemore
46 Cannandaigu NY Ramblin Man Allman Brothers
47 Liverpool NY Running on Empty Jackson Browne
48 Little Falls NY The River Springsteen
49 Latham NY Go your own Way Fleetwood Mac
50 Brattleboro Vermont The Final Countdown Europe
51 Manchester NH You’re going to miss this Trace Adkins
52 Portsmouth NH My Way Frank Sinatra
53 Boston MA Massachusetts Bee Gees
54 Boston MA Homeward Bound Simon & Garfunkel


Day 52 +7: Reflections on the Equipment

This blog won’t interest those of you who do not plan to take up bike touring in a serious way, but hopefully will be useful to those who do.   I don’t pretend to be definitive about my equipment choices; many bicyclists spend hours raging in debates on very small technical issues.    However, you do learn something with the rigors of a cross country trip and the benefit of observing experienced riders.

Titanium versus carbon bike frame.   Titanium is more expensive and slightly heavier.   However, Titanium has a number of advantages over carbon; I believe for a ride like this I would invest in a titanium framed bike if you can afford it:

  • Absorbs road stress better.   We spent a lot of time on the side of roads; these are often not well maintained.   In fact, many time you have to ride through these “rumble strips” designed to wake automobile drivers who have dozed off (or are messaging) but which are nightmares for bicyclists.   The bike feels more solid
  • Handle lateral stress better.   Particularly if you are “unsupported” and using panniers, you will need a metal frame.   Carbon frames absorb the stress in the direction intended, but not from unexpected directions (say falling off a bike rack)
  • Breakaway mount for the rear derailleur on carbon.   To avoid damaging the derailleur and the frame, a carbon bike has a breakaway mount that snaps if the bike is in an accident (could be as simple as falling over when pumping the tires).   One guy had two of these.   Each time he missed a day of cycling.  The three titanium bikes have their derailleur attached directly and no problems
  • Certainty after an accident.   With titanium, you will see a bend if the frame is damaged.   With carbon, it may be hidden

Bike helmet.   I just bought a new GIRO Vanquish helmet based on what one of the support team was wearing (It is a more recent version).   I’m really fired up about this thing.    Four advantages:   1)  it has this magnetic visor that can be put in the up or down position.   This means I no longer have to carry sunglasses on my early morning rides; I simply flip down the visor when the sun comes up.   2)  it keeps the water off of my glasses during rain 3) I can wear my bifocals, so I can more easily see both the bike computer and the road 4) it has the new MIPS technology, which is considered a big advance in helmet safety.   It is not proprietary to any one helmet maker — they license it from an institute in Sweden which is developing the technology.

Power meter.   My power meters are embedded in the cranks (Infocrank).   They give both left and right information.   They give you the flexibility to use whatever cleats you want.   They worked well, with only one battery change in the whole trip.   It is still unclear whether my different length pedal arms caused torque differences that disrupted the readings.

If I had to do it all over again, I’d probably get the Garmin Vector 3 pedals.   I had an earlier version (Vector 2) which I didn’t like — they were hard to set up, had this funny gizmo between the pedal and the crank that I could never get attached right; I finally gave up.   Apparently, based on reviews from DC Rainmaker (who is just about every amateur cyclists’ go to person for bicycle equipment reviews)  They fixed all of the problems.   The advantage of the Garmin Vectors are multiple — they can be a bit cheaper as you don’t have to replace your crankset  2) they can move between bikes, so you don’t need multiple power meters  3)  they “talk” in both ANT+ and Bluetooth, which means they will work with a lot of bike computers.

Cleats.   I liked the paper advantages of my Speedplay — easier to adjust, two-sided, look very clean on the bike.   But twice they got dirty (sometimes you end up stepping in mud) and I wasn’t even on mountain bike trails.   At that point, they are basically not usable.   I also find the cleats that attach to the shoe quite fragile — there are a lot of plastic parts that seem to break versus just wear down.    There were times were I really struggled to clip in and out — creating stress on my leg and a safety hazard.   So these are coming off soon.

Bike computer.   I have agonized over this more than almost every other decision.   Get a standalone Garmin unit or use my phone with Wahoo Fitness and Ride with GPS applications enabled.   If I had it to do all over again I would pick the Garmin 1030.    The Ride with GPS application is really top notch — easy to use, easy to read and navigate by, and basically free (I think I paid $9.99).   I was able to download all 48 maps for the trip in one go.   But there were three major problems:  1)  battery life was only 2-3 hours, so I had to buy a heavy battery extender and a little top bar pouch to hold it  2) it just didn’t work well in the rain.   Even though I put it in a waterproof container, it is constantly locking, and I can’t unlock it with a waterlogged fingerprint  3)  the sun burned numbers into my phone screen (its permanent, I’m sure).   The Garmin is not as easy to use — a lot of people spent time in “the wrong mode”; maps had to be downloaded every 10 segments (not enough memory I guess); the screen isn’t as large or clear; the user interface is complicated; the interface with Garmin Connect and Strava takes time to learn.   But it works in the rain, has great battery life, is more rugged and has better interfaces for bike sensors.

One new Garmin product that everyone loved was a new Garmin “radar” which is a rear LED flashing light that detects approcahing automobiles within 150 meters.   The unit alerts you of an approaching car/truck on your Garmin and the intensity of the LED flashing goes up 2-3x.   On roads where you are not expecting cars, having this alert is really useful — maybe you are riding double file and you shift to single file, or maybe you just move over closer to the side.   At a minimum you aren’t taken by surprise.   They’re expensive (almost $200) but the I loved riding behind people who had them because I could also see when a truck was coming without turning around.

Wheels.   I picked wheels that have probably 36 spokes in each; some people seemed to have half of this.   I had no regrets — when you hit a pothole or a rail track or a rumble strip or a large chunk of wood or fall off the side of the shoulder, you do not want any uncertainty that the wheel will hold — particularly screaming down a hill at 50 mph.

Tires.   Everyone had difficulty with flats — 80% seemed to be in the areas with the blown truck radial tires littering the sides of the road.   The tire of choice ended up being Continental Gatorskin — but we saw a lot of flats on these.   My sister’s friend recommended Schwalbe, but there were so many sub-brands that I didn’t know which one to buy.   I just came across this website, which seems to take a good approach:    When you combine puncture resistance (sidewall and tread) and rolling resistance, the top two products were Schwalbe Marathon Almotion and Schwalbe Marathon.   So I will try these next time I go on a long ride.

Tire-changing.   I have a Lezyne pump which I love — it held up under many circumstances.   Very cool design, with a flexible hose hidden inside.   The hose is key to make it easier to get a good angle to pump.   You also have to have a tweezers (to pull out the wires) and tire levers.

Bike components.   I’m basically shifting my drive train to Shimano Ultegra from Shimano Dura Ace.   Ultegra seems to better handle the gear range I need; in addition, mechanics are far more familiar with Ultegra then Dura Ace (and have parts in stock), which is critical when you are not biking in your home town with a familiar bike mechanic.   Two people had problems with side pull brakes that were too close to their tires — when little pebbles got stuck in their tires (which happens whenever we rode on gravel, which was every 3-5 days it seems) they basically couldn’t ride and had to walk their bikes.   Steve R had recommended these fancy center pull breaks (Paul) that worked far better.   Something I didn’t know was important until I saw the problems of others.

Bike bags:   I ended up shifting to the medium-sized Ortlieb saddle bag.   This is a German made bag that worked very well — it held the quantity I needed — two spare tire tubes, tire pump, tire irons, some food, and room for a rain jacket.   It’s easy to get on and off.   It’s secure (you do not want these falling off unexpectedly).   At first I thought the way it “rolled up” a bit awkward, but I later realized it was smart design — I could always keep it tight which means the contents don’t shift around.

Bike carrying case:   I use the Thule Roundtrip Transition.   You need to watch a couple of YouTube videos to figure out how to use it, but after going on at least 5 trips it still looks brand new.   I bought several meters of bubble wrap and just stuff it in between disassembled parts so they don’t move them around – -much easier than trying to tape bubble wrap or insulating phone to key pieces.   The only challenge is some disassembly I required — specifically the seat, the headset/handlebars and the pedals.

Day 52 +2: Reflections on the Journey

I’m giving myself a week to close out the blog; there is a lot on my mind and putting it down “on paper” is a helpful discipline to structure and archive thoughts.   This is Part I.   I’ll finish on the flight home to Singapore.

I should start by again thanking my wife Jenny for allowing me to take the trip.   With the pre- and post- trip time, I’ve been away 2 months, and she has had some challenges while I’ve been gone that it would have been better if I was around to help with.

I get a few hundred visits to every blog post; I deeply appreciate the support that everyone has provided through engaging and commenting on the blog.

Ole once again captured in a few words some ideas that had been swirling around in my head — we started out thinking this trip was about the destination, but it turned out to be much more about the journey.   And the journey was more about people than it was the physical challenges of the trip — talking, laughing, supporting, challenging and learning from each other.   52 days with 10 others who I had never met before and now will never forget.

If I go back to the question Ole posed in the first few days, “what do I know now that I didn’t know then?”   Really a difficult question; frankly a lot of the “learnings” are “re-learning something I had forgotten”.

  • I have renewed confidence in my ability to navigate the “unknown unknowns.”   Most people are risk averse;  a consequence is that they stop trying new things and get stuck in a rut.   As my friend Ravi put it this morning, they mistake uncertainty for risk.  They avoid situations where they are not certain of success.   They stick to people they know (and can predict) so that they avoid the risk of rejection.
  • We start out life with no responsibilities (in fact someone takes care of us); then over time we assume full responsibility for ourselves (does this make us an adult?).   Then, as adults, we start assuming responsibility for others — it might be employees, our spouse, our children, our parents, our patients (if we are doctors), etc.   These responsibilities explode, they provide us with deep satisfaction and meaning, but they also wear at us.   The trip was a temporary shift to a “selfish state” where I was primarily responsible for myself.   There  is more time for reflection and less stress, but of course, it ultimately involves avoiding many adult responsibilities.
  • The US is a massive, highly diverse country.   Of course, I only scratched the surface, but one can see the immense social challenges facing the US in most of the towns we visited.   It does not feel like we have a political system that is really grappling with these challenges in the systematic and rational way that I see the Singapore government undertaking.   The biggest challenge I see is that the Republicans are taking a populist route while the Democrats are more focused on criticizing what the Republicans are doing (and how they are doing it) versus proposing well-thought out, practical alternatives.   If I had to choose between Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, I am really not sure which way I would go.
  • Pretty much anyone could do the cross-country challenge with six months of training.   Of course there will be pain; there was pain even for our fittest, strongest riders.   There will be hard climbs, flat tires, unfailing headwinds, hot sun, rain (and maybe snow), angry drivers, broken derailleurs, potholes, dead possums, kids who throw rocks, fog, traffic, gravel and bad food, but anyone can do this if they are willing to turn pedals for 7-10 hours a day.
  • We need to set challenges for ourselves to find our boundaries, to break routines, to develop new skills, to meet new people, to learn new skills, to have fun in a different way.   Life is not a dress rehearsal

Reflecting on my original objectives, I feel great:

  1. I am not sure I can do it.   Isn’t that the nature of a real challenge?   Am I in good enough physical condition?   Will I get hit by a truck?   Do I have the mental stamina when I’m climbing 8,000 feet in a hard, cold rain? 8 100 mile plus days?   Are there any people in that part of Nevada?  When I started, I thought the main challenge was the distance and climbing.   Turns out the challenges were more varied:   headwinds, heat, rain and bad roads were as important as distance and climbing.   But all were surmountable.
  2. To raise awareness of the UWCSEA scholar program and begin raising money for a new endowed scholarship.   Every one of these kids has a story; most have come from very difficult situations.   To give them the gift of a UWCSEA IB education is life-changing.  We’re 91% of the way there — $191,373 has been committed — WOW!  I’m sure we’ll pass the 200k mark in the next week.   Thank you.
  3. To have another great memory.  My transition from high school to college was marked by a bicycle trip from Mexico to Canada on the California coast.   It was one of the most memorable trips I have ever taken — two good friends, a map of the Pacific Coast Highway (route 101) and a rusty old bike that broke at least 5 spokes on the trip.   There is no doubt this is one of the best memories of my already memorable life.
  4. To mark a transition to in my working life.   My father hiked the Appalachian trail when he turned 55; I turned 55 this year.   He retired that year;  I need to think about the next stage at Bain — focusing full time on being a coach and mentor to the next generation rather than taking the hills from the front.  I’m feeling quite energized and invigorated by this trip, but I will approach consulting work with a renewed emphasis on my clients really challenging themselves to accomplish things they are not sure are possible.
  5. To see America.   I have lived in Asia now for 27 years;   it feels important to reconnect with the US that I only hold now as images — San Francisco, the Sierra Madres, the Utah and Nevada desert, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plaines, Indianapolis, the Appalachian Mountains, the New Hampshire coast.    I have more questions than answers at this stage.
  6. To put my knee injury behind me.   After I shattered my patella (kneecap) in college, I never thought I could do a long bike trip again.   I tried training for a triathlon and had to give up — I haven’t run since.   Overcoming that injury is a major hurdle.   My knee is sore, but I don’t think any worse for wear.   Will try physical rehabilitation before I go to any surgery.
  7. To re-learn what it takes to achieve a tough physical challenge.  Tackling a tough physical goal that requires a very different kind of discipline and approach to achievement.   I have never been a great athlete — I was on a team led by a terrific coach (Chuck Koeppen) that won 7 straight Indiana state championships in cross country running.   But let’s be clear, I never made it to varsity.   It was a really important experience to know my best was not good enough.  Achieved.
  8. To become a better cyclist.   On my last race (the D2R2 in Massachusetts/Vermont/New York), which was a 145 kilometer mountain race (some trail, some dirt road, some paved road  with almost 10,000 feet of climbing) I barely made it, and my old cycling mates couldn’t believe how pathetic my condition was.   I had to walk part of several hills.   My next goal is to be more self-reliant as a mechanic — go to a 2-3 day workshop on the basics, doing all of the basic maintenance.   I need to do more hill training; maybe go to a climbing camp in Europe.      
  9. To make some new friends.  Many people ask “who are you riding with?”   The honest answer is I don’t know.   I just found a group on the internet that organizes tours and signed up.   They seem very professional.   About 12 people are going.   A real highlight — the full group, our small group of four that rode pretty much every mile from Indianapolis to Portsmouth together (Roadkill and the Fillies) and a number of pretty deep conversations with Father John.   These are my best memories.
  10. To not fall off of my bicycle.   52 days, no accidents!   Surprised myself 🙂

What is next?   I don’t plan another big adventure like this for a few years.   I do want to do a lot of 1-2 week trips, similar to my Dad’s fishing trips — Sicily, Corsica, Croatia, Japan, Cambodia/Laos, Dolomites…   I’d like to do something for the UWCSEA scholarship program every year, maybe organize an annual SE Asia group trip and ask each participant to raise a little money.   I’d like to get my daughter riding, so that we can do trips together.   But I’ll leave climbing Everest and crossing Antarctica to others.



Day 50-52: Rain, rain, sun

For days 50 and 51 we were drowned rats getting into Brattleboro Vermont and Manchester New Hampshire.   Probably the best days for heavy rain as nothing was going to stop the building anticipation of the finish.   We are all in good shape, so even when Mother Nature threw everything at us — rain, headwinds, steep climbs, even cold — it no longer seemed to have much psychological or physical impact.   It is interesting to note how 80 mile days with 5000 feet of climbing seem like a “normal day”.   Certainly wouldn’t have been 40-50 days ago.

At the beginning of day 52 Ole called me over and said he had noticed something funny on my rear tire.   The tire is a softer Vittorio Rubino Pro that I had put on as a spare when my gator skin kept having flats.   At first I thought it was sand stuck to my tire, but it turned out I had completely worn through the tread to the next layer, a fabric layer, on about 1/3 of the circumference.   Pretty amazing the tire had not punctured.   So we left a bit late as I changed over to the Gator Skin tire that I had as a spare; it had suffered two flats after riding through a bad semitrailer tire blowout.   Gene and I had both carefully inspected for wires; we had found three but thought we had them all.

The final day looked threatening at the start, but as we closed in on the Atlantic Ocean the clouds started to disperse.   We were promised a police escort to the beach for the last three miles, but the policeman who started out with us suddenly turned on his blue flashing lights, did a U-turn and drove off — presumably an emergency.   We didn’t need a police escort to feel an increasing thrill as first the sight and then the smell of the ocean overwhelmed us.

Matt, who lives in Boston, had arranged for his family and a few friends to personally greet us with signs and a very nice picnic lunch — really a nice gesture on the part of the family.  Diane had bought a bottle of champagne in Exeter and we shared it on the rocks next to the beach.   Dozens of people who were on the beach came up to talk to us to find out what we had done, why we had done it, how we felt, etc.   It was a memorable finish.

We rode our bikes to the hotel, and just for fun, rode a few extra miles to cross a bridge and touch Maine, the 14th state.   As I got back on the bike, the back tire looked squishy, and sure enough, it was going flat.   I made it to the hotel with one Gator Skin headed to the trashcan.

The last night we had a wonderful dinner at a seafood place in Portsmouth New Hampshire, which I must say is one of the nicest little seaside towns I have visited.   It was a perfect way to end – wonderful seafood and conversation.   We played through the X-America playlist and talked well into the evening.   The 11 people who had committed to the full crossing had all made it, only a little worse for wear.   There was less exuberance and more a deep but quiet sense of achievement.  Realistically we all knew we would not see each other again, certainly as a group.

Playlist.   On the second to last night Matt adapted the song “You’re Gonna Miss This” by Trace Adkins; it’s a country song that most of us had never heard before, but on the final night we played it a couple of times.   It captured the sentiment very well — there was a sense of melancholy that it was all over; that we would all have to return to our complicated lives and adult responsibilities.

For the last night, we all agreed that Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” captured our sentiment.   It was the end, but each of us had travelled each and every highway, and done it our way.


I’ll write about the final three days on Thursday; the celebrations have already begun and I’m sure Dear Reader that you will allow me the luxury of delaying my writing duties until those are complete.

Thank you for all of your support these last two months — it has meant more to me than you can imagine.

Image:   Portsmouth New Hampshire.   The Atlantic Ocean is in the background.   First blue sky in three days.

Day 46-49 The Final Countdown and Roadkill Charlie

It’s the last week of the Cross America Challenge.   The first four days have been pretty, leisurely and fun.   However, rain, headwinds, climbing (the Appalachians) and cold will make the next two days pretty challenging.   So the mood is a bit intense right now with the group.

We’ve been talking a lot about the Tour de France; for those of you who do not follow, Team Sky (a largely British team) has been dominating the event in recent years, and this year looks to build on that.   The mastermind behind Team Sky is a man named David Brailsford.   He started by building a team that ended up dominating indoor cycling events; he then added professional road cycling to his focus with equally impressive outcomes.

Sir David believed success often comes from the  “the aggregation of marginal gains” — or in other words, dozens of tiny improvements that might add 0.1% to the probability of success, but in aggregate raise it by 10-20%.   They started with obvious things like how high the bike seat should be, nutrition before, during and after the ride, etc.   But they went way, way beyond that.   How much sleep do you need?   What pillow and mattress provides the most sleep?   What kind of massage is best?   In every possible area of performance they tried to find another 1%.   They did not look for “breakthrough ideas” — they just aggregated a lot of small, simple ideas which had been carefully tested.   And at this point they have both the #1 and #2 rider in the Tour de France.

This article captures his key thinking pretty well.    It’s an interesting challenge to the “80-20” thinking that pervades business — just focus on the 20% that gets 80% of the value.   While that is the right way to approach many tasks, when you need to be #1, you have to get that final 20% (or more).

On this trip, I am really glad I did a lot of tinkering through the trip — changing the cassette, changing the pace at which I rode, adding a coffee stop at the 20 mile point, treating the swelling in my knee, double-shorting, trying new lotions to reduce the friction in the seat area, etc.   Not all of the experiments work, but I can say in the final week that the summation of what did work certainly made the trip more enjoyable.

I have been planning to write about Donald Trump for the whole ride.   This Op-Ed piece by Martin Wolf in the Financial Times captured just about everything I have been thinking about.   He is a stellar writer — fact-driven, clear, direct.   I’m probably breaking copyright, but you should subscribe to the FT:

Who lost China? This cry went up in the US after Mao Zedong’s victory in China’s civil war in 1949. It was a strange question. When did the US own China? Strange or not, this cry helped Republicans win power in 1952. It promoted the rise of Joseph McCarthy, whose politics had similarities to those of Donald Trump — above all, in the charge that traitors infest the US government. In the senator’s case, the target was the state department; for Mr Trump, it is the FBI. The question today is: who lost America? And is it lost for good? Nobody of course owns the US, apart from Americans. Yet, for westerners and many others, the US stood for something so attractive that it seemed to be “ours” — the guarantor not just of its own freedom and prosperity, but that of hundreds of millions of others. My father, a refugee to the UK from pre-second-world-war Austria, had no doubt. The US was the bastion of democracy. It had saved Europe from falling to Nazi or communist dictatorships. As a journalist and documentary film-maker, he knew about its mistakes. But the US was not just any great power. It embodied the causes of democracy, freedom and the rule of law. This made him fiercely pro-American. I inherited this attitude. In the postwar world, US policy had four attractive features: it had appealing core values; it was loyal to allies who shared those values; it believed in open and competitive markets; and it underpinned those markets with institutionalized rules. This system was always incomplete and imperfect. But it was a highly original and attractive approach to the business of running the world. For those who believe humanity must transcend its petty differences, these principles were a start. Yet today the US president appears hostile to core American values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law; he feels no loyalty to allies; he rejects open markets; and he despises international institutions. He believes that might makes right. The Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russian president Vladimir Putin have might. He admires them. German chancellor Angela Merkel and UK prime minister Theresa May are decent women trying to lead democracies. He abuses them. So why is Mr Trump in power? The answer lies with a political failure that the US might be unable to overcome. Mr Trump’s accession to power is partly an accident, but not only an accident. The rise of China and the unanticipated impact of globalisation have profoundly affected the US view of itself and its global role. An anxiety that spreads from left to right has replaced the hubristic euphoria of the post-cold-war “unipolar moment”. The US no longer sees itself as so dominant and the world as so friendly. Mr Trump may be an outspoken protectionist. But Hillary Clinton was no defender of liberal trade. Mr Trump’s view that the rest of the world has taken the US for a ride is widely shared. In a country that has succumbed to protectionist ideas, it is not so surprising that the protectionist won. Again, once anxiety over China arrived, a nationalist was a natural choice. Yet something still more important is happening. The striking feature of the US economy is that, despite its unique virtues, it has recently served the majority of its people so ill. The distribution of income is exceptionally unequal. Labour force participation rates of prime-aged adults are exceptionally low. Real median household disposable incomes are the same as they were two decades ago, while mean incomes are much higher. Uniquely, mortality rates of middle-aged white (non-Hispanic) adults have risen since 2000 in the US. Mr Trump loves to tweet his shock over every high-profile terrorist outrage in Europe. But, in 2016, there were just 5,000 murders in the EU, a rate of one per 100,000 people (including terrorist attacks). There were 17,250 murders in the US, a rate five times greater. Mr Trump might start to worry about that. The poor state of so many Americans is in part the product of plutocratic politics: a relentless and systematic devotion to the interests of the very rich. As I have argued before, a politics of low taxes, low social spending and high inequality is sustainable in a universal suffrage democracy only with a mixture of propaganda in favour of “trickle down” economics, splitting the less well off on cultural and racial lines, ruthless gerrymandering and outright voter suppression. All this has indeed happened. These are the politics of “pluto-populism” or of “greed and grievance”. They have been stunningly successful in making Republicans attractive to many in the white working class. The structural biases in voting are also remarkable. In the past three elections for the House of Representatives, it took 20 per cent more voters for the Democrats to win a seat than for the Republicans, on average. Republicans have also won the presidency twice in the last two decades despite losing the popular vote. Mr Trump is the logical outcome of a politics that serves the interests of the plutocracy. He gives the rich what they desire, while offering the nationalism and protectionism wanted by the Republican base. It is a brilliant (albeit unplanned) combination, embodied in a charismatic personality that offers validation to his most passionate supporters. Will Trump’s protectionism do many in his base any good? No. But, in their eyes, he is a real leader, at last. Who lost “our” America? The American elite, especially the Republican elite. Mr Trump is the price of tax cuts for billionaires. They sowed the wind; the world is reaping the whirlwind. Should we expect the old America back? Not until someone finds a more politically successful way of meeting the needs and anxieties of ordinary people.

Today’s image.   I’ve been riding mainly with Father John, Diane and Stacy.   My new nickname is “Roadkill Charlie” because Stacy rode right through the middle of a recently killed opossum on the road.   It’s guts had been spilled out, and her tire flung them all over me, including a nice chunk right in the middle of my sunglasses.   Hence Roadkill Charlie.

Day 46 ride summary (Buffalo NY to Canandaigua NY).  86.4 miles, 3411 feet of climbing.   The route was so straight one Strava subscriber questioned the integrity of the data.   Leisurely ride; mild headwinds.   It is starting to get easier.

Day 47 ride summary (Canandaigua NY to Liverpool NY).  69.1 miles, 2304 feet of climbing.   Had one of our best coffee stops of the trip in Seneca Falls (Opus).   Beautiful part of NY — known as the Finger Lakes region.   I had a couple of glasses of the local Riesling and immediately paid a price (I get headaches from alcohol).   Some boundaries shouldn’t be crossed.

Day 48 ride summary (Liverpool NY to Little Falls NY).  78.4 miles, 1753 feet of climbing.   Continued our new tradition of having a coffee and bagel/muffin/pastry/breakfast sandwich at the 25 mile mark or so.   Today was the Toast in Canastota NY.   Just putting in the miles in beautiful country.   Unfortunately, we also passed through several devastated towns — for example, Little Falls had gone from a population of something like 40,000 down to 4819.   One city had signs to a downtown — we followed them to find some lunch, and found not a single restaurant in the mostly boarded up “downtown.”   It’s not just the flyover states that have wiped out cities.

Day 49 ride summary (Little Falls, NY to Latham NY).  76.9 miles, 2172 feet of climbing.   Today was a great day and a terrible day.   Diane had a bad flat — completely blew a tire out running over some kind of spiked steel bar, so we had to wait for a support van to provide a backup tire (we carry 1-2 spare tubes each, but not tires).  While waiting a very friendly local told us we were crazy to be on the road — the bike paths along the Eerie canal had been fully paved (he said) all the way to Latham.  Despite being late we stopped a couple of miles later for a wonderful coffee in St. Johnsville at the Bridge Street Café.   After we went off-piste to the bike path.   At a point the nice asphalt gave way to a dirt path, but we were fine.   At good Father John’s urging we went back on the groomed path to sign in to the SAG, only to learn the SAG had packed up and left.   We then dealt with hills and bad traffic for most of the rest of the trip — instead of the bike path.   The last few miles we finally went back, and cruised through some beautiful country that included GE’s famous global research center.





Day 40-45: Finishing the third lap

Almost any track runner will tell you (and I’ve been told it is similar for rowing and other sports) that the third lap in a one mile race is the hardest.   The first lap feeds off the adrenaline of the start; in the second lap there is still plenty of energy to “stick to plan”.   The third lap is the grind.   Maybe self-doubt kicks in; maybe self-pity.   You start to assess the other runners — are they pulling away (stronger than me) or do they seem to be tiring?   Then the fourth (bell lap) starts.   You know the end is coming.   Pain, if anything, is higher than the third lap, but it becomes more tolerable.   You recommit to the original goal, or maybe set an objective based on another runner. You find a reserve of energy.  You kick.

When I started the trip, I thought the hardest segment by far was going to be the Rocky Mountains.   It turns out it was the easiest of the five segments we have done.   I underestimated the first segment, which involved a climb over the Sierra Nevada mountains to Salt Lake City.   I did not have the cardiovascular fitness for the Sierras (which were higher than I thought) and my bike was not geared for the five hour climbs.   The long desert days into headwinds were real tests of stamina.   The third segment, from Pueblo Colorado to St. Josephs Missouri, was moderately high heat and headwinds on several days.   From St. Josephs Missouri to Indianapolis we tackled high heat and the rolling hills of Missouri.   From Indianapolis to Buffalo NY (segment 5) we averaged close to 100 miles a day — sometimes on the bike 8-9 hours a day.   If I go back to a phrase made famous by Donald Rumsfeld, there were known knowns (52 day trip, 3850 miles), known unknowns (could I handle the mountains; would there be rain?) and unknown unknowns.   The obstacles were more varied then just distance, climbing and precipitation — the inverse of the “perfect ride” is all of the challenges that can crop up that physically and mentally you have to overcome — often without preparation.

Maybe this is a very obvious reflection, but as you set big goals — maybe achieving something important at work, getting to a single digit golf handicap, losing 20% of your body weight or even riding your bicycle across America, it is not just critical to break the achievement process into phases but to recognize the unique challenges of each phase.   In addition, we often put our greatest mental energy into the first phase, when in fact the greatest obstacles are probably in the third lap — when commitment wavers, stamina is under threat, the pain is greatest and re-basing the goal might appear to be a desirable option.

Although it is a risk, I do draw a number of parallels between what I have learned undertaking what is primarily a physical challenge to my more traditional world of work challenges.   There is no doubt I am fitter, but most of the time it does not feel that way — without significant rest periods, I feel my muscles are more “broken down” versus “built up.”   I start out each day needing almost 10 miles to warm up (and this is after my 35 minutes of stretching).   This is in sharp contrast to the training schedule my coach drew up, which alternated 1-2 days of intense workout with a day of measured exercise or rest.   I felt I grew stronger, faster with these training periods of alternating intensity versus grinding towards near exhaustion.   I have no doubt that even mentally demanding tasks require periods of rest and recovery to maintain concentration and an ability to be innovative.

Secondly, people like me who like to plan extensively are often very prepared for “known knowns” but get thrown off by “unknown unknowns.”   The preparation is important, but the building of mental and physical reserves to deal with unexpected challenges is equally important.

A third overlap is with the importance of routines.   I found the first few days were a bit more stressful because I was always afraid I would forget something — suntan lotion, energy bars, leaving something behind in the room.   While we have the luxury of staying in hotels, every morning still involves stretching, prepping the bike, getting nutrition (food and liquids) for the day sorted, packing up all of the gear and gadgets and maintenance supplies and pills and lotions and dirty laundry.   I learned that I had to wake up exactly 2 hours before the stated departure time; if I tried to cut it to 1:45 I felt rushed and might not have enough time to pump up my tires before leaving.    Routines help us to get all of the critical activities done without using a lot of brainpower; I think they also give us the discipline to do the things “we know we should do but we sometimes really don’t want to.”   For example, every person I know who exercises 5-6 days a week does so in the morning; it seems impossible to stick to routines if they involve exercising after work (unless you have a 9-5 job).

The fourth overlap I am having trouble describing, but it is that high performing groups that are either individually or collectively seeking to achieve an important mission form “bubbles” — behavioral norms, shared routines, decision-making processes — that both promote achievement but to a certain extent help maintain concentration and commitment by removing alternative or competing demands on your attention.   In a led / supported ride like Bicycle Across America I don’t have to think about what city to get to every evening, where to stay, what I am going to eat during the ride (if the SAG wagons are frequent enough) or even whether a broken spoke is going to be a catastrophic event.   There is safety in the group.   On the other hand, it is easy to then insulate yourself from the broader world, with competing information, opportunities and threats.

The danger of course is that these bubbles insulate us from the broader world, and the vast range of new ideas, alternative points of view, etc.   As we know, one major impact of social media and highly focused news media is that they allow individuals and communities to never venture outside their preferred way of thinking.   As an aside, I have been one of the few riders to “leave the bubble” every few days — visiting with my sister, the Stringhams, the Stringers, my friend Mark Koulogeorge, my parents, my old cycling buddies in Indianapolis.   I think they all felt I was a bit distracted when I met with them — I could not completely leave the bubble.

One of the biggest divides in the US is over gun safety.    Some of you know that one reason I relocated to Singapore in 1993 was that in 1992 a very angry ex-serviceman came in and killed two human resources personnel in a client I was working with — they were administering the layoffs that the work I had led indicated were necessary   I had received two death threats while working in this unionized facility — I had taken them seriously enough  that I only went out on the plant floor under escort.   But not seriously enough that I thought somebody would be killed.

Countless rational Americans have laid out the case for reducing gun violence (e.g.  or   One major challenge is that the US constitution does protect a citizen’s right to own a gun.   Yet we have gone to countless convenience stores or delis or small restaurants where posters/placards/bumper stickers etc. all shrilly declare not just the right but the necessity to own guns “to protect your family.”

Will Trump be reelected?   I’ll say it here — he has a very strong chance.   I didn’t want to think that before I started the trip.   But it is clear that many Americans believe Trump is the first President in a long time to “fight for their interests.”   Like any populist, he can point to real problems or inequities.   EU tariffs on cars are 10%; US is 2.5%   Americans who have seen major losses in jobs in their steel and automotive industry are livid that past American presidents have accepted this outcome.   There are a lot of illegal immigrants into the US — Singapore and Japan would never accept this outcome; why should the US?   Europe has relied on heavy US defense spending to protect them from threats from Russia, and meanwhile increased their dependence on Russia by buying more and more of their natural gas from this low cost source.    Legitimate grievances, populist responses.

Don’t for a moment believe I would support Trump.   But I’m trying to get outside of my bubble and understand why he has so much support.   And I am starting to get it.

We have 7 riding days to go.   One week.   Hard to believe.  I’m in the fourth lap.

Day 40 ride summary (Richmond, IN to Marysville, OH).  106 miles, 2269 feet of climbing.   Long hard day.   Steady headwinds, not too strong.   Riding with a new group — Stacy, Dianne and John (Stacy and Diane joined us in Indianapolis; they had previously ridden from SF to Pueblo).   We just ran out of gas at the end — I had my first “gel” — a mixture of calories, amino acids, caffeine and electrolytes.   It gives you a lift for about 10 miles, and then you need another one.   Road quality was excellent — best of the trip.

Day 41 ride summary (Marysville, OH to Wooster, OH).   103 miles, 4583 feet of climbing.   Another tough day.   Winds were a bit lower, but some of the climbing grades were very steep — 10-12%.   We tried a new tactic of stopping for coffee after 24 miles and for some food / rest between the SAGs.   No need for gels; finished with some energy in the tank.   Very beautiful country.

Day 42 ride summary ( Wooster, OH to Youngstown, OH).   88.7 miles, 2968 feet of climbing.   Road quality and affluence seems to decline as we go from the agricultural west to the beginnings of the “rust belt.”

Day 43 ride summary (Youngstown, OH to Erie, PA).   92.7 miles, 1912 feet of climbing.   Starting to get a bit easier, although 92+ miles is never “easy.”   Wind is neutral to slightly favorable; hot at 89-90 degrees, but not 100 degrees.   Less climbing — we had one 40 mile stretch that was on a nice road, almost perfectly flat, and no towns.

Day 44 ride summary (Erie, PA to Buffalo NY).    94.7 miles, 1994 feet of climbing.   Beautiful ride along Lake Erie and all of the grape vineyards that contribute to the Welch’s grape juice franchise.   Wind was definitely “at our back” — probably the third day of serious tailwind the whole trip.   Buffalo itself is a great example of a rust belt city — several massive grain elevators built to store grain brought by ship across the Great lakes which are now rusting, falling down, never to be used again.   A huge integrated steel mill that had no smoke.   Mile after mile of failed industrial sites.   A downtown with excellent planning and attempts at rejuvenation that seems to have no people in it after 5 pm.

Day 45 rest day!

Day 36-39: Back Home Again in Indiana

The place I spent most of my childhood is the state of Indiana, specifically Carmel, a suburb of Indianapolis.   My parents retired to a small town near Bloomington, home of Indiana University.   We have a family farm from 1871 located in northwest Indiana, about 20 miles from the Purdue  University campus.   So to arrive in the “Crossroads of America” by bicycle had a certain nostalgia.

Three friends — John Garman, Jim Plant and Steve Reynolds — drove out to Crawfordsville Indiana to ride with me on Day 37 from Crawfordsville to Indianapolis.   Of course they picked our easiest ride of the 37 days – 62 miles, flat, low temperature, with a tailwind — but they entertained themselves by sprinting at every town sign.   I had accumulated 37 days of tiredness and watched them with a mix of humor and awe — these guys are pretty fit.   I think their assumption was that I would be “very fit by now” — but the truth is most of the group are a funny mix of fitter and a bit broken down.   No one sprints anymore — we just put our head down and get each day’s job done.

Indianapolis has done a great deal to make the city more exciting, fun and livable than most cities we have been through — they have dozens of miles of bike trails on old canal paths, former railroad lines, sides of roads, etc. for example.   They’ve attracted a couple of big sports teams (the Colts and the Pacers).   There are key areas that have been spruced up and gentrified, with new apartments and eating areas.   And yet.   There are so many parts of the city that still feel abandoned, failing, unsafe, dirty.   The roads in much of the city are perilous to bikers due to potholes and patches and a lack of sweeping.   This sense of an America in decline, decaying, giving up, is pervasive in half of the city.   And half is growing, bustling, innovating and thriving.   Two Americas.

I had a fantastic mechanic take a hard look at my bike for the final two weeks.   He tightened some cables, made some adjustments, re-lubed the chain and key parts and said I was good to go.   So barring the unexpected the Firefly will soon touch the Atlantic.

It feels we are over the hump after Indianapolis.   12 days of biking to go; 13 total.   Our longest days and biggest climbing days are all behind us.   Now we just have to see it through.   The injured bicyclist came right back the next day, but you can still see this 2-3″ bump on the side of his hip where he landed.   The broken bicycle was repaired.   So all 11 of us are going strong, with two cyclists who stopped in Pueblo deciding to rejoin us for the final two weeks   Even the headwinds, which have returned, seem to only slightly dampen the mood.   We’ll cross into Ohio tomorrow, and then head Northeast towards the Niagara Falls.   Next days are both over 100 miles, but my butt can handle it 🙂

Day 36 Ride Summary (Champaign, IL to Crawfordsville, IN).   82 miles, 1770 feet of climbing.   Steady headwind of 10-12 mph, but we only faced into it about 2/3rds of the time.  The mood was good because both climbers had rejoined us.

Day 37 Ride Summary (Crawfordsville, IN to Indianapolis, IN).   63 miles, 1160 feet of climbing.   Easiest day of the trip.

Day 38:  Rest Day

Day 29 Ride Summary (Indianapolis, IN to Richmond, IN).   74 miles, 1720 feet of climbing.   Steady headwind of 8-10  mph, but temperature and climbing quite moderate.  We rode with a bit more pace for the second half — 17 mph versus 15 mph.   Watched England lose to Croatia.

Day 35: Accident in the Group

The warning signs were in my blog yesterday — people are getting tired, thinking less clearly, losing concentration, occasionally disoriented.   Today our little peloton was again fairly closely bunched up as we faced headwinds most of the day.   At some point one wheel touched another, somebody reacted, and in the end two cyclists in our group went tumbling.   Fortunately it was on a country road with almost no traffic; unfortunately one cyclist was hurt and one bicycle was damaged.   I was able to swerve around the accident; just lucky.

I’m hopeful the rider who was hurt will be on his feet again soon; the bike has already been repaired.   It shows one of the advantages of being on a “supported ride” — the support van was with us within 10 minutes.

I worry a lot about safety; there are no guarantees.   I will say every day in Singapore I have more close calls than a week on this ride, but that doesn’t make this ride “safe.”   The headwinds are the major problem — we have to ride together just to finish the days (most of us couldn’t ride 100 miles a day into a headwind solo), but riding in a pace line means keeping 6-18 inches off of someone’s wheel; a chain reaction is possible at any moment.   Is the risk acceptable?   It seemed more acceptable before today.

I feel terrible for the riders involved — they’re hurt, they want badly to finish the trip, it feels like something that shouldn’t have happened.   But as with the wind conditions, the heat, the road conditions, etc., it is part of the experience.

So what will I do differently?   I pushed the group to take more breaks today, to improve concentration, but in the end it didn’t make a difference.   Possibly we need to break into two smaller groups.   We need to communicate more when we are going slower.   Being 18-36 inches off the wheel will give less benefit, but probably lower the risk commensurately.

Day 35 Ride Summary (Springfield to Champaign, IL).   97 miles, 1590  feet of climbing.   Steady headwind of 10-12 mph is my guess.   About 1/4 of the ride was north (just a crosswind), but most of the ride was directly in.   A lot of corn and soybean fields.   Roads in Illinois are hands down the worst of the trip (so far).