Day 26: Halfway there!

There are different ways to measure “halfway there.”   By distance we won’t be there until tomorrow at some point in the ride.   By climbing we were probably there a couple of days ago.   By days, it is today.   26 days complete, 26 to go.

I revisited my reasons for doing this for some mid-term reflection.

  • 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?  In the end, the most important reason is to take on a challenge where I am not sure I can succeed.   I believe I can do this, but the obstacles have been greater than I expected.   I knew my right knee was my “Achilles tendon”;  I should not have started the trip without the lower gearing.   It has been a very long time since I had to plug away, without respite, for 52 days straight.   Weather and other conditions are unpredictable.
  • 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.  $125,501 has been committed — WOW!   I’m very humbled by that level of support for the UWCSEA scholarship program.   From this money alone one hopeful kid from somewhere in the world will graduate UWCSEA with an IB and a different life trajectory.   I think about these kids just about every day I ride, and how lucky I have been to have this opportunity.   Thank you.
  • 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 are many great memories, although none quite yet match Steve Reynolds attempting to tear gas John Garman and me as we raided his food stash out of desperation on a night with no dinner option.   The cartridge was a dud.
  • 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.  Most of the people I am riding with are retired; some have no interest in returning to work; some long for the meaning that comes from the continuing challenges and sense of accomplishment work can provide.   I feel very fortunate my employer provides the flexibility to work below full-time.
  • 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 Plains, Indianapolis, the Appalachian Mountains, the New Hampshire coast.    Definitely fulfilling this goal.   At “handlebar level.”
  • 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.   Not clear I will succeed at this one.   As Father John queried, “when ARE you going to have that knee replaced?”
  • 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.  What I am relearning is that setting the goal is 25% of the challenge, but preparation is as important as execution.   My biggest regret is not doing a week “trial” about a year ago to really wrap my head around what this would take.   But I did 80% of what is ideal, and that should be enough.
  • 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.   Definitely seeing improvement here — in physical condition, in technique, in equipment, in mindset.  
  • 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.   Definitely.   And very different people than I am used to spending time with.   Our organizers have commented that this is one of the most cohesive groups they have worked with.   There is significant interaction between all members of the group.
  • To not fall off of my bicycle.  Literally and metaphorically, so far so good.

Day 26 Ride Summary (Great Bend KS to McPherson KS:    I listened to five songs with “halfway” in the title or lyrics, and the winner is Sheryl Crow’s Halfway There   (2017).

Song of the Day:    I listened to five songs with “halfway” in the title or lyrics, and the winner is Sheryl Crow’s Halfway There.   (2017).

 

 

Day 24-25 Cruising across Kansas

Favorable winds have meant spirits are high after two days of low mileage / wonderful tailwinds.   My knee is feeling better although not yet normal.   My butt wound is steadily clearing up — it’s a combination of many, many things that would be too much detail for most of you.

I hope you can see the windmills in the pictures — there were hundreds of them, it seems.   99% seemed to be twirling.

The area where Dodge City was settled has a sad and bloody history; it is hard to describe it as anything other than genocide.   Hunters were paid for Bison skins — the goal being to wipe out the American Bison and deprive the Native Americans of their traditional food source.   At the same time wars were waged between the local tribes and the US Army.

After the area, which is along the “Santa Fe Trail,” became more settled, the railroads started to expand westward to this territory.   Dodge City was the “end of the line” for the trains at a point; cowboys from as far away as Texas would drive their herds to Dodge City, where they would be auctioned, slaughtered and shipped East.   Dodge City was in many people’s imagination “the Wild, Wild West;” the show “Gunsmoke” is set in Dodge City.

I was curious what kind of calories I am consuming.   I put yesterday into a spreadsheet; I was expecting between 4,000 – 5,000 calories a day; what do you know?   We were in Dodge City, so Father John and I tried to find the best steak house in Dodge and were hoping to order a Tomahawk.   After passing tens of thousands of head of cattle on their way to slaughter, some had lost their appetite for beef (either pity or because of the smell), but John and I both had plenty of appetite.

 

Breakfast Yoplait Yoghurt 90
  Cinnamon Spice Oatmeal 160
  Raisin Bran with 2% milk 230
  Coffee 2
SAG 1 1/2 peanut butter jelly on whole wheat bread 145
  Scoop of “gorp” (raisins, nuts, M&M’s, other 150
  Small apple 55
  Grapes 30
  Pineapple 50
Snack Strawberry milkshake 400
Lunch 4 blueberry pancakes 600
  2 eggs over easy 175
Snack 1/2 cup cashews 320
  1 pound cherries 270
Dinner loaded quesadilla 400
  12 oz ribeye 800
  mashed potatos 120
  corn 70
  2 lemonades 380
    4447

I qualified for the senior discount at the International House of Pancakes (IHOP); yes, it was a day of reckoning.   Yesterday I was too hungry to accept only 2 pancakes, but the day before I had chirpily demanded my $1.50 discount on the senior portion.

I’m the second youngest in my group of 11; somehow I expected to be in the middle but 52 days is a long time for most working folks.   Only the four youngest (53, 55, 56) are still working; the others are all retired.   Actually, there is one guy  from Belorussia that is of unknown age and avocation.   He might be younger than me.   He never rides with the group and if he joins us for dinner seems to have urgent calls in Russian at every meal.   The median age is probably about 59 or 60 — hey Michael, you could do this!   Or I hear there are trips across Canada.   You might have to stay at a few farmhouses across the great expanse, but what a trip that would be!

Tomorrow we will be halfway!

Day 24 ride summary (Garden City to Dodge City, Kansas).   50.7 miles, 600 feet of climbing.   Nice tailwind.   Easiest day yet.   I rode mainly with Carl at the start and then joined the larger group.   They had a couple of flats but I now have been spared for over a week.

Day 25 ride summary (Dodge City to Great Bend, Kansas).   84.2 miles, 411 feet of climbing.   Very flat terrain.   Moderate tailwind, but with the nice road conditions it was as easy as yesterday.   What a relief to have a couple of days of “spinning.”   There are now two main groups, the “fast group” (3 people) and the “main group” (7 people).   One person always rides on his own.

 

Day 22-23 Small Town America

As we begin our wander across Eastern Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, it has already hit us how different communities seem to be “prosperous,” “struggling,” or “dying” only a few miles apart.   We’ve gone through towns in the last few days that half of the houses are abandoned, many of the hotels, restaurants, gas stations and strip malls are boarded up and collapsing; we’ve also been in towns that look spruced up, with new high schools, attractive main streets and trendy new bars and coffee shops.

Unlike a place like Singapore, when a dying industry is replaced by a prospering one — shop houses that once housed mobile phone distributors now have tutoring outlets; a components factory is replaced by a drone software startup — in small town America the loss of a local factory or mine or chicken processing facility can just mean death to the town.   Pueblo was affected by the shutdown of the steel mills; in this part of Kansas there seem to be a lot of jobs associated with agriculture, meat processing, natural gas pipelines, etc.   It’s a lens into “Trump’s America” — when people have to leave their communities to pursue employment they may just give up.   Or the elderly watch the young drift to the larger cities and see their communities die.   It doesn’t seem fair to them, even though the forces driving it are simply part of a growing, dynamic, more service-oriented, globalizing economy.

These towns don’t feel “dangerous”, but they are as depressing as a ghetto in Manila or India.   There is just no life in them.   You can sense the lack of opportunity and the rot of desperation.

Day 22 Ride:   Very, very tough.   One look at the group and you would have seen pure exhaustion.   121 miles / 1170 feet of climbing into a mix of crosswinds and head winds.   Forced to work in a pace line.   Rained for two hours — a cold, relatively heavy rain that wasn’t in the forecast.   Almost 10 hours on the bicycle.   Ended with the worst meal of the trip — a local American food place where the steak looked (and tasted) like shoe leather and when one person ordered macaroni and cheese it was Kraft — not even remotely “home made.”   The brown gravy was threatening.

Day 23 Ride:   A perfect day; 12/12.   102 miles with a wonderful tailwind, sunny but cool temperatures, nice shoulders on the road, only 971 feet of climbing (which is 10 feet per mile).   I was able to spin at a high cadence (ignore the data on Strava — first I always forget to turn it off during breaks and I think I need to change the batteries — there is NO WAY my L/R balance is 67/33.     I couldn’t bear another American meal (Golden Corral — a relatively low end American buffet) so Father John and I headed for Vietnamese food.   Between us we ate three appetizers and three main courses.

Day 20-21 Goodbye Rockies and Hello Great Plains

A 94.4 mile day is nothing to be sniffed at, but the descent was greater than the ascent, and we knew we had a rest day at the end.   So with the exception of the massive thunderclouds to the north west of us, the journey was fairly uneventful.   We said goodbye to 10 people in Pueblo; our group shrinks to 11 for the final push across the USA.   All should be there by the end.

Pueblo has become one of the centers of Colorado’s marijuana industry.   It’s quite a shock coming from Singapore and seeing grass weed pot cannabis openly grown, sold and consumed.   There are no restrictions here other than you need to be 21 years of age.   The dispensary near our Pueblo hotel is probably 15,000 square feet, and has a much larger greenhouse adjacent to the property.   The one in the picture is a small (but busy) place in front of a church.

I talked to a couple of Uber drivers as I went to and from lunches and Walmart; when I asked each the question what is Pueblo known for they said “steel and pot.”   Apparently the steel industry has had major ups and downs as mills expand and contract, open and close.   I overheard a conversation at lunch by someone who seemed connected with the cannabis industry that “marijuana prices have fallen from $2000 / pound to $800 in just a couple of years.   One of the Uber drivers had set up a small farm but now couldn’t make ends meet so was supplementing his income with Uber driving.

I haven’t been into one of the dispensaries yet, but our group is fascinated by them.   Chocolates, brownies, gummy bears, extracts, glass jars of weed like an old-fashioned country store.

The Uber drivers I spoke to all seemed non-plussed about the legalization of marijuana — 2 of the 3 said it causes less problems than alcohol, and most seemed to think “of course people can become dependent on it, but they can become dependent on other things as well.”   Debate about marijuana has far less emotion attached to it than debate about gun control.

I had a couple of dinners with Father John over the last two days.   He is going on a 6 month half-world sailing trip after this bike ride is over.   Doesn’t feel that appealing to me; I guess everyone’s bucket list is different.  22 people on a 70 foot boat crashing through waves and not getting enough sleep?

Ride Summary.   Nice steady decent for about 50 miles, interrupted by one big climb and then a shift from mountains to prairie.   94 miles, 2515 feet of climbing.    L/R balance still 60-40, but felt stronger Friday.

Day 19: The Continental Divide and Father John

I probably had two key concerns about this trip — would I be able to conquer the Rockies and could my knee handle 52 days of riding with 5 breaks?   The first has been answered.   It was another great day weather wise.  The summit was not an anticlimax; it just felt terrific to climb for 41 straight miles, the last 10 being almost 3500 feet, and reaching the top.   The first 31 were just lovely, riding next to the Gunnison River pretty much to its source.   The last 10 were tough — relentless up, sometimes 5, sometimes up to 8 or 9% grades.   After 10,000 feet, I could really feel the altitude and lack of oxygen.   Most of the time the road had no guardrail, and it looked straight down.   We all made it.

In the picture with me is one of the most popular members of the group, affectionately now known as Father John.   John lost 76 pounds in the run-up to the trip (from December to May).   He has taken off two years to have adventures, and lives life with quite a gusto.

His method was to go three times to a fitness camp in Spain run by a former boxer (3 weeks each visit).   He said it is 5-6 hours of exercise and 1000 calories a day.   You lose about a pound a day.   He’s still not the lightest guy on the trip, but he can zip up hills while chatting away.

So back to one of my key objectives for the blog (as opposed to the trip) — it is to motivate each of my subscribers to pick a big goal and really go for it.   Something that you will look back on 30,40,50 years from now and say “that was a real highlight in my life”.

Ride Summary:   Gunnison Colorado to Salida Colorado.   63.6 miles, 4345 vertical feet of climbing.   Temperature still relatively low, but that is about to end — looks like it will be in the high 90’s/30’s once we hit Kansas.   My butt is getting better but my right  knee is still quite stiff — my L/R balance was 60-40 today.   So my left leg is contributing 50% more than my right.   I’m going to try taking  ~4 Advil a day for the next few days and see if that helps (I’ve been taking 2 every other day; trying to avoid too much medication).   At this stage I don’t think I have much choice.

Song of the Day.   It has to be “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough.”   Marvin Gaye 1967.   The average is getting worse.

Day 18: Heckuva climb and peach pie

Today was a spectacular day.   Beautiful weather, tailwind, unbelievable scenery.   After one pretty tough climb and before the next one we popped into this little country store that specializes in pie.   She makes 10-12 a day, and then as they sell out the pieces they have a little whiteboard that shows what remains.   Most of the pies were already sold out by 10:00 am.   I will say the peach pie was as good as my Mom’s, which is saying a lot.

One thing I am struck by in the poorer parts of the US is the lack of entrepreneurship.   Here was this lady cooking 10 pies a day.   8 pieces per pie, 4.50/ piece, $36 per pie, $360 in income/ day.   Plus coffee and all the other things they sell there.   That’s a decent income.   But there is so little of this kind of activity.   It’s all a malaise.

The climbing all took place in the first 33 miles; most of the second half was in some beautiful canyons and around a reservoir (that was drying out — down by at least 15 meters (my guess) from peak).   It’s sad to see these effects of global warming.

About half of the group will drop off in two days, so we go from 21 to 11 (these only wanted to go from San Francisco to the far side of the Rockies).   It’s nice to have different groups to hang out with and ride with; it will be a real change in pace with only 11 of us.

Tomorrow we cross the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass — 11,312 feet.   We were told that today is tougher than tomorrow; I certainly hope that is the case!    I didn’t have to stop on the rides up today, so I guess I’ve got a few more red blood cells than before.

Ride Summary.   Today was 63.6 miles, 5829 feet of climbing.   We are off the interstates, so the inclines tend to be a bit steeper.   I did use my lowest gear several times; thank goodness for the cartridge / derailleur shift in Salt Lake City.   I tried to keep my cadence above 88; my coach and Tony May both felt it would help with the sore right knee.   60-40 balance today; yesterday was 56-44.   We will have gone 20 days with only 1 rest day — probably a bit too tough on this old man’s knee.

Song of the day.   I had two suggestions today — Rocky Mountain High by John Denver, and the Colorado Song by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.   I’m afraid if I picked either of those Steve would give up his subscription, so I’m going to wait until Pueblo to do a one week retrospective.

Days 16-17 Double Shorting; and an 11/12 day

I mentioned several days ago I found the 118 mile ride on day 11 particularly arduous.   That was also the day that I stepped into the mud and had a great deal of trouble clipping in and out.   My right leg started to freeze up after the second SAG stop; this is the leg that has suffered a few bad injuries over the years — broken femur, broken patella, etc.   It wasn’t joint pain, but the muscles on the right side of the knee just grew very stiff.

The problem did not go away after the one day break in Salt Lake City — I found myself having to stretch more, take ibuprofen, and go slower.   It was getting better very slowly, but at the end of each ride I could barely walk.   People in my group were concerned.   On Day 15 my Left/Right balance on my wattage meters was 61/39 — it shows how little my right leg was contributing.   And we’re now in Colorado; the big hills are coming.

In addition, despite all of the efforts, the saddle sore was not getting better.   The zinc oxide seemed to contribute more friction — it’s more of a paste than a gel.

Yesterday I tried double shorting.   It’s a simple thing — wear two pairs of bike shorts, you get extra padding but more heat and it can be a bit tight.   It worked a charm.   As day 16 wore on, my right leg gradually loosened up a bit.   Today I did it again — it is even better; I even felt comfortable walking about 2 miles from the grocery store to the hotel.   So there seems to be some connection between the saddle sore on my left leg and the tightness in my right leg.   I must have been doing some shift in my body weight to try to keep the saddle sore less painful that was creating problems in my knee.  Ankle bone connected to the leg bone, ….

My main lesson from all of this is you have to keep trying new things.   The second lesson is that people who are experienced in biking often have much better advise than very smart people who are not familiar with biking.   They just don’t understand what stresses we are putting our bodies through.   I spin the pedals about 70x / minute x 7 hours a day equals 29,400 revolutions a day.   That’s a lot of friction on a place that is already sore.

Tomorrow, at Tony May’s suggestion, I’m going to put on one of these expensive rubbery “blister pack” Band-Aids that should provide some additional cushioning.   We are now in the big assault on the Rockies — we’ll get close to 9,000 feet tomorrow, and 11,200 feet on Thursday (the Continental Divide).   These are the days I have been most worried about since I began training for the trip.   They say the oxygen problems start at about 8,000 feet.   Heck, I felt them at 2,000 feet.

Ride Summaries.   Day 16 was 89.2 miles; 3867 feet of climbing.   Day 17 was 73.8 miles, 2942 feet of climbing.   Day 16 was almost a “perfect day” except that between Carl, Julia and I (my riding buddies that day) we had 5 flats.   So we were the last group into the hotel, and I just didn’t have enough time to blog.   My hierarchy of 12 “factors for a perfect ride” held nicely as we had a terrific tail wind all day.  So even with all of the flat tires we felt good about the day.    During the day our group of 21 suffered 19 flat tires.   Glad we are off of I-70.

Picture:   Carl, Julia and I waiting in the shade under a highway overpass while the bike mechanic Scott worked on our tires.

Song of the Day:   From Easy Rider, Born to be Wild (Steppenwolf, 1968).   Road by a motorcycle shop that had an Easy Rider like chopper mounted on a pole.

 

Get your motor runnin’

Head out on the highway

Lookin’ for adventure

And whatever comes our way

 

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