Monday, May 4, 2015


Yikes, has it really been almost a year since I promised to publish final thoughts?!  I guess it has. Our XC2014 ride started at the Pacific Ocean (Manhattan Beach Pier, El Segundo, CA) on May 11, 2014 and ended at at the Atlantic Ocean (Revere Beach, Boston) on Jun 30, 2014.  Re-reading this blog in preparation for following this year's CrossRoads Cycling Adventures riders (XC2015) brings the miles and the smiles back into memory once again.
For anyone reading this now, here are some final thoughts about this trip:

On Preparation

1.  Physical

The 542 miles I rode in 40-50 F temperatures on flat terrain were inadequate to prepare me physically for XC2014, at least the first two weeks anyway.  Believe me, riding yourself into shape during the first two weeks of this trip is not the smart way to go.  The strongest riders on XC2014 generally had at least 2000 base miles during the months leading to the tour's start that included good doses of climbing, consecutive days of riding, and warmer temperatures. So I think the more miles, the more heat, the more hills, the more riding days you can experience in the months leading to the start of your trip....the more better.  The physical preparation strategy CrossRoads described in their welcome packet is a good one. If you have the freedom and wherewithal to follow such a plan, your cycling journey cross country will be much more enjoyable.

2.  Mental

Know yourself and know what you want to experience during this trip.  Re-read the previous sentence.  Read it again.  It's not an insignificant cost in terms of time or money, so you better ride your ride.  Normally I like to ride faster than I did on tour and blast through occasional sections of road or hills, but I knew long before I arrived in El Segundo that I wanted to deeply experience every inch of this trip, and that included using my eyes, ear, nose, mouth, and skin.  So, riding in and essentially being governed by a group for long periods of time each day was generally not going to work for me. I'm also not one to draft or otherwise socialize while on the bike. I don't mind a little chit chat while passing or being passed, but I'm not all that keen on having a conversation while riding.  I prefer to defer socializing until we're stopped and I can feel free to concentrate on the conversation and not at all on the road.  However, everyone is different, so if the pack experience is what you want, then go for it with other like-minded riders.   Or you might like to mix it up and let each day reveal the type of ride you want that day.  Whatever the flavor, ride your ride and you will have no regrets.

On Equipment

1.  Bike 

My ride was built for function and durability; speed and weight considerations were secondary.  I simply ordered all new parts for a 2001 Litespeed Arenberg titanium frame, one that takes the pounding and says "Thank you Sir, may I have another!".  The Mavic Open Pro wheels built on Ultegra hubs and full 10-spd Shimano Ultegra drivetrain group are no-nonsense reliable parts.  After 3400 miles, both wheels were still true, both derailleurs shifted crisply and cleanly, the bike was ninja silent, and only the chain needed replacing.  I took my own mini torque wrench and only used it to re-check torque occasionally on the stem cap and left crank arm bolts every 500 -1000 miles.  Although there were a number of expensive, lightweight, high-end carbon bikes on this tour, they also were in Rick's mechanic's wagon more often than the conventional ones with few exceptions.  Titanium or steel frame bikes with conventional parts that require conventional tools are the way to go on this tour. 

And this section cannot be complete without mentioning Lord Geoffrey Sales's secret weapon for protection against flats.  As I recall, Geoffrey was the only one who did not experience a tyre puncture (see what I did there Geoff?) during the entire trip.  He credits the use of a tire saver -- a device rarely seen on bikes since the late 1970s.  Essentially, it's a small device mounted over the front and rear tires that lightly positions a flattened wire atop the tire surface.  It weighs almost nothing, adds negligible rolling resistance, and ostensibly scrapes off any foreign object before it embeds itself deeply into the tire.  If I were to do this tour again, I would have tire savers on my bike at least during the routes along Arizona and New Mexico freeways.  The metal shards there went through my Continental Gatorskin tires and Mr. Tuffy tire liners.  I'm convinced tire savers would have flipped those little metal assassins off before they could do their dirty work.

2.  Clothing

White leg and arm coverings were required and essential for the desert days.  They really do work and it's worth looking like you're wearing long underwear to beat the heat. HOWEVER, a few of us suffered severe burns, friction rubs, or a severe skin hypersensitivity reaction to whatever the grippy sticky substance that DeSoto uses in their leg and arm cooler products.  My underarms and upper thighs blistered within 24 hours of using them.  These blisters ulcerated causing lots of irritation and pain the next few days.  I had to use Compeed ("Blister block") bandages during that time to prevent my clothes from rubbing them more raw.  One year later I still have hyperpigmented areas on my inner upper arms and inner thighs where the most serious lesions were located.

We had several very rainy days.  I wish I had brought lightweight shoe covers/booties.  It wasn't comfortable to have cold wet feet early in the ride and have them remain that way for another 80 miles.  

I took arm warmers and leg warmers.  I used them several times and was glad I had them.

I bought a helmet with a plastic snap-on visor for this ride.  I'm used to seeing this type of accessory only on mountain bikers, but rarely on road riders.  If you don't like to wear a cycling cap under your helmet, then this visor does the trick to protect against high sun glare.  The perfect set-up for me during the early desert days was to wear a HeadSweat skull cap to keep wet and to protect my shiny bits, and let the visor protect my eyes from the glare of the bright sun above.  Sunglasses certainly don't provide protection from a high sun very well.  Once we were in the Midwest, I opted to remove the visor from helmet.  I didn't miss it then.

3.  Lights

Buy the best flashing red tail light you can find.  Most of the lights you will buy for less than $100 are bright enough to make you feel secure, but in reality are not bright enough to make drivers sit up and take notice.  And that's what you want, to be noticed.  As a group, we all had various makes and models of the tail lights that all the usual bike stores sell.  And even if you remembered to re-charge them every night -- which you must do -- they just weren't that effective in low visibility conditions.  One rider on XC2014, Speedy Dr. Alan, had a tail light made by DiNotte.  It was orders of magnitude brighter than anything else on tour. On on particularly foggy day on a two-lane road with no paved shoulder, his light was the only one visible to cars.  Don't waste your time or your life with anything less than the best. Because of what I saw during XC2014, I bought DiNotte lights for me and my wife and we ride with them even in broad daylight now because the light is so bright and effective.  In fact, if your light is not prompting other riders to ask "Where did you get that light?!  I want one!", then it probably is still not bright enough.  I even had a driver pull his car next to me in during a clear sunny Saturday afternoon ride last fall to tell me that's the brightest light he's ever seen on a bike and that all cyclists should have one.  

On the Experience

As I said in the Prologue, cycling cross country has been a dream of mine since I was 17 years old -- that is, 42 years ago.  So yes, cliche' or not, it was a dream come true.  I also knew before the ride started that this experience would forever change the way I view my usual local routes.  Unfortunately, and as expected, one change was that the topography and general scenery of my southeast Michigan routes are now more mundane than ever. 
But I've found that's only true if I view my surroundings with the same lens that I used before XC2014.  What I've found is by trying to experience my local surroundings in the way that I tried to experience the entire country, I'm now stopping at local historic markers, noticing changes in architecture and farm crops, appreciating local folk art, and pondering the passage of time in old marketing signage -- all stuff I previously ignored.  Sure, I might still blast through on some days, but I've realized that many of the small features I loved experiencing on tour have always been on my local routes as well.  This revelation was quite unexpected and actually makes my tried and true routes newer and fresher.  Hooda thunkit?

Well, I guess that's it for this XC2014 blog.  Besides, no time to write now anyway, XC2015 is starting this coming weekend and I want to use my free time by having my morning coffee while opening up XC2015 blog pages and virtually reliving this ride of a lifetime!  

Safe rides everyone!  And always remember "You can always tell where the top of the bloody hill is because that's where they always place the bloody cell phone tower!"


Monday, June 30, 2014

Day 48: Ride to Revere Beach

Our final ride of the cross country trip -- a short 17 miles to Revere Beach and the Atlantic Ocean -- started this morning (Fri, Jun 27) at 7:15am.  The sky was sunny and clear, the temperature was in the mid 60Fs, and there was no discernible wind.  In fewer words, a perfect morning.  Groups consisting of 2-3 riders each were sent off every 3 minutes to create space (at least initially) for facilitating travel along narrow, somewhat busy, residential and business district streets.

Our group rode slowing and with vigilance through the neighborhoods between our hotel in Burlington and Revere Beach.  The last thing any of us wanted was a tire puncture or an accident.  In order for all riders on the tour to group up before riding the final miles together, all groups were asked to stop and wait at a community pool approximately 4 miles from the beach.

Mrs Herm (Doreen the Dream) was at the start to see me off.

Leading the way to Revere Beach were (L to R) Joanne (Mrs Stuart), Stuart, and Geoffrey.
Pierre and Mrs Pierre (Sharon) in foreground.

Michael and Michelle (Mrs Michael) start their ride in style.

Tim (left), Chuck (right), and I are ready to roll.
Riding through neighborhoods to Revere Beach (2 photos)

Everyone gathered a second time at a community pool before riding in solidarity
to Revere Beach for the ceremonial completion of our 7-week ride across America.
L to R:  Darrell, Ross, Pierre, Alan, Richard, Barry, Michael, Joanne, Stuart, Geoffrey, Tim, me.
Missing from photo are Michelle and Chuck.
Randy - an original XC2014 rider who was injured  and could not complete the tour this year --
is considered to be with us in spirit.
Leaving the community pool for Revere Beach 
Cresting the hill near Revere Beach

Arriving at Revere Beach

Ceremonial dipping of the front wheel in the Atlantic Ocean.
I rode Every F---king Inch (EFI) of XC2014 .....

...but not without the love and support of Doreen the Dream.
(Thanks Stuart and Joanne!)

Tim (far left), Michael (second from left), and Chuck (far right) are great guys
who were frequent riding buddies
I sure hope I can connect with Tim (left), Geoffrey (right), and Richard (with family in photo below)
in an event in their home country England.  Their humor, comradeship, and intelligent perspectives on America
and American life made me laugh often, caused me to think in a different way, or made me realize that I can sometimes take for granted the tremendous bounty that is America.  
Benevolent, strong-legged King Richard with his family.
(L to R: Future son-in-law Chris, Princess Sophie, Queen Jane, His Excellency, and Prince Edward)

To all the CrossRoads XC2014 riders and staff......I SALUTE YOU!
Whether we rode together a little or a lot, I learned much from you about cycling and life.
I am a better and stronger person for knowing you.

That's it.  I'm tired, but very content.  In a few days, I'll publish my final thoughts and even previous random ones that I never worked into a post.  Thanks to all of you who rode along virtually for a day, a week, or for the whole trip.  Thanks too for all of your well wishes and words of encouragement.  I hope this blog provided a little light entertainment along the way at least, if not an inspiration for you to live your dreams.

Happy and safe rides always,


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Day 47: Brattleboro VT to Burlington MA

We had thunderstorms and lightning for hours last night, and the sky was still overcast when we started our final full day's ride.  The temperature was in the high 60Fs once again, and it was still very humid.   Most of us were feeling worn out from the latest series of rides, but especially after the climbing from yesterday.  I know I was.  Still, it was our last real ride (90 miles) before the ceremonial 17 miles to Revere Beach on Friday, so that thought and the resultant resolve to experience this day fully provided the extra spark we all needed.

Our 13th state line

The dam in Hinsdale NH (around Mile 7) was overflowing with
all the rain pouring down on the mountain last night.

Hinsdale was a player in the early days of the automobile.

Site of the Holman and Merriman Machine Shop cited on the historical plaque above.

Ashuelot Covered Bridge (1864) at Mile 15
Note evidence of flooding last night that has been cleared for travel by this time..
After passing through Ashuelot, the terrain becomes more difficult for tired legs -- steep hills that were long enough to have you winded or to make you wince when you could see the next one ahead.  
I occasionally suffer from Cyclist Tourette Syndrome and I had several attacks on these hills today.

Chuck and I were riding at the same overall speed today
and pretty  much kept each other in site after Hinsdale.

14th (and final) state line.
Bringing  Bell's Oberon to the MASSes at Lite Speed.

Another beautiful roadside lake -- this time in Massachusetts.

Church and monument in Ashby, MA
We met Doug - an Ashby resident - who told us this is the most beautiful
town in Massachusetts. 
Another reason to like Ashby!

Quiet tree-lined rolling descent on the way to the second SAG stop at Mile 60.

CrossRoads staff member Robin and  me at the Mile 60 SAG stop,
Robin runs a great SAG stop, but she's always a welcome sight wherever she is!
(Thanks Chuck!)

It was fairly easy terrain for the final 30 miles to Burlington MA.  Oh, there might have been a few small hills, but no one really cares at this point.  I was having a little trouble determining distance between successive turns since my Garmin was dead in the water and the traffic increased as we entered Concord around 3pm, but our pace was slow and we generally wanted to savor this final day of real riding. 

Our ceremonial ride to Revere Beach tomorrow only 17 miles.  The final sprinkling of Pacific Ocean beach sand and the dipping of the front wheel in the Atlantic Ocean will take place.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Day 46: Albany NY to Brattleboro VT

It was warm (64F) and overcast this morning.  Rain was possible, but there would be no guarantees either way.  I felt fairly strong early, but was in no particular hurry because Brick Susko (XC2013 rider) and writer of a very influential blog for our group was joining us for the ride today and I wanted to get a chance to ride with him a little bit.  I'm also starting to feel the beginning of the end of this journey, and that it causing more than the usual amount of introspection.

Within the first few miles we entered Watervliet after a wake-up climb
After quickly passing through Watervliet, we crossed the Hudson River to arrive in Troy.

Troy claims as they are the founding city of the US mascot "Uncle Sam".

Impressive stone church with slate roof in Troy.
Road view near Mile 20

We had our first SAG stop at the Big Moose Deli and Country Store -- fun place with great food and novelty items.
(Thanks for the coffee tip, Brick!  I'll let you know if it lives up to its label).
Does every middle age guy love a place like this?

12th state line
A few miles past the Vermont state line, we began a 7.1 mile climb.  The first 3-4 miles were at an increasing grade that peaked near 5%.  The final 3-4 miles ratched quickly to 8% that was sustained to the top. Because of the increasing temperature and high humidity, it took every gear I had and all of my strength and focus to ascend that hill without stopping.  My jersey was soaked with sweat when I reached the top.  A CrossRoads van waited for us at the top to resupply fluids or energy foods, or just to heap on some praise for climbing such a tough hill (Thanks Larry!).

The other side of pain.
There was another one of these signs about a mile down the hill.

Vermont has a way of making run-off look beautiful.

Typical roadside lake in Vermont.
Around Mile 60 we had another climb of 3-4 miles to the top of Hogback Mountain.  It wasn't as gut-wrenching or sweat-stenching as the climb at Mile 36,  but it more than got my attention.  Unfortunately, my Garmin unit crapped out earlier in the day, so I wasn't able to record any of this.  However, the final 100 feet were the easiest because I saw Mrs. Herm at the top.  She had driven from Michigan to arrive in Boston for our arrival celebration and knew to look for me along this route.

Michael and me at the crest of Hogback Mountain on SR 9E.
No rain yet, but threatening.
Leaving the peak of Hogback Mountain was not fun or funny.  At the beginning of the descent, the rain started and visibility was decreased immediately as a result.  We quickly learned the traffic lanes were narrow and road surface crumbled at the edges such that there was no effective paved shoulder.  The descent itself was very steep and winding.  Finally, the drivers seemed to give us less room than drivers in previous states.  It was almost a "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen" attitude on their part.  And this attitude seemed to be proportional to the size of the vehicle.  It was a wet, dirty, hair-raising, spine-chilling, death-defying scare ride to the bottom. 

Getting closer to the bottom of the descent from Hogback Mountain, the rain eased up and skies seemed a little brighter.
It's not that this scene or photo is so great, but it is a glimpse of paradise relative to the dark, wet, noisy  hell that was the upper part of the descent.
Creamery Bridge  in Brattleboro
One more full day of riding tomorrow -- 90 miles to Burlington MA -- before the final short ride on Fri, Jun 27, to the Atlantic Ocean.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Day 45: Herkimer to Albany NY

It was overcast with a temperature of 61F when we left Herkimer NY at 7am.  We were told to expect rain this morning and that expectation was met within the first two blocks of the ride.   And then the rain stopped. And then it started again.  It would repeat this pattern for most of the early morning.  The overcast sky and wet conditions made for dreary ride mentally, but because the rain was only a light drizzle at its worst and the 79-mile route contained only 2300 feet of climbing, it wasn't tough day physically.

Along SR 5E near Mile 5

SR 5E around Mile 10
In this area of the Mohawk Valley in 1720, settlements were established by Palatine Germans who fled their homeland in 1709 for the Netherlands and eventually England.

Nellis Tavern (under restoration)
Built in 1747 and one of the few wooden structures that survived Revolutionary War battles in this area.

Palatine Church (2 photos)

Closer view of Palatine Church

Palatine Church Farm
The sun came out by mid-morning, at least for a little while.

Our route paralleled the rail line and the Mohawk River for most of the day.

Drive-In movie theaters (3 photos) used to be all over America, but most have disappeared. 

Drive-in movie theater screen (road view)

Drive-in movie theater screen (side view)

Old mill on the west side of Fonda, NY

History plaque at Mile 41 roadside park SAG stop between Fonda and Scotia, NY

View from the road
Rocky water cascade contributing to the Mohawk River

Old coal-burning power plan on the Mohawk River

Raining again on SR 5E west of Scotia, NY

Eponymous (sort of) music store in Schenectady, NY
( I was called "Hermie" up to age 12 -- never did I find anything with my name on it, so this is special)

CrossRoads Day 45 Google Earth image and Elevation Profile
Herkimer to Albany NY

I missed one of the best photo ops of the day at a great little neighborhood pub in Scotia directly across the street from the fire station.  It was called the Mohawk Taproom and Grill.  Stuart, Joanne, Geoffrey, Michael, Michelle, Tim, and I all stopped there for a nice lunch before moving on to Schenectady.

Next we're off to Brattleboro VT.