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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!"