I completed an overnight tour from Austin to Somerville in east Texas and back yesterday. The tour was a success in terms of its nominal goals—making sure that I had all the equipment I need, and that it would stay secure on the bike. But it was a sobering eye-opener in terms of my own ability.
I’ve done a little bit of bike touring before, although not in a very long time. And I’ve ridden extremely long distances, although again, not in a long time. Still, I feel fit, I feel like I know what I’m capable of and what I’m not. My goals for riding the Southern Tier were ambitious but realistic, I felt: I wanted to be able to average around 100 miles per day. If I could maintain a rolling average of 15 mph, that would be about 7 hours in the saddle per day. I know that I can maintain an average of 15 mph over 4 hours unladen and still feel pretty fresh at the end. I’ll admit it is less clear that I could extend that to 7 hours, but what is now crystal-clear is that I cannot extend it to 7 hours with a full cargo load. I had some GPS hiccups—you can see some unrealistic elevations and track wandering early in the ride, and disappears entirely for about 5 miles later. In any case, in each direction the ride was about 85 miles, and took me about 8:50 door-to-door, including stopped time; actual rolling time was perhaps 6:20. It was hard. I felt wiped out after the first day, slept poorly, and still felt wiped out when I started the second day, with a lot of aches, pains, and stiff muscles. Even at a distance 15 miles short of my daily goal, I would not be able to sustain that level of output for long: I would injure myself, and even if I didn’t, I would not enjoy myself. I’m ready to challenge myself. Not ready to go on a death march.
Right now, I see a few possible options:
- Start with relatively low daily mileage and build up my mileage as I get acclimated. I know that many bike tourists get stronger during the course of a tour, so this isn’t completely unrealistic.
- Start with relatively low daily mileage and never really get beyond that. There’s no guarantee that I’d get much stronger. This would cause the venture to telescope out to as much as two months, which is unacceptable. I would need to abort when I hit Austin, roughly the halfway mark.
- Go credit-card style. I know a number of bike tourists have crossed the Southern Tier completely credit-card style—carrying no food or shelter, just a change of clothes. I am confident that if I did this, I could hold close to my original goals, but there’s always the chance that I could find myself stranded at the end of the day with no place to stay.
Random observations from the ride
Gwen drove out to meet me at the state park that was my destination for the ride; she also brought dinner and spent the night out there. This made it a vastly more pleasant experience for me, though with the benefit of hindsight she might have preferred to stay home. I am sure that some part of Lake Somerville State Park is a nice place to be at some time of the year. However, the part that we saw was not pleasant during the time we were there. It was filled with mosquitoes, no-see-ums, and centipedes. It was hot and dank—the inside of our tent was almost intolerable (though less intolerable than being eaten alive outside of it).
I didn’t have a lot of trouble being chased by dogs. There were two places where dogs did chase me; in one of those places, the dogs were dachshunds and not much of a threat; in the other, the dogs were more of a potential threat, but backed off when I hollered BACK at them. One funny moment came when a couple of big dogs saw me coming well in advance, and sat down right in the middle of my path; there was oncoming traffic in the other lane, so even if I had the moxie to outsprint them (I did not), it would have been impractical. Instead, I stopped completely and called out to them in my “good doggie” voice. It immediately became obvious that they really wanted someone to play with. I didn’t feel like getting off the bike to play. Instead, I rode along slowly, with them trotting at my side, until they lost interest.
On my ride out, I was feeling really strong up until roughly mile 18—I was maintaining a solid average above 15 mph (ignoring the GPS wackiness—it took me less than an hour to get to a point I know is 15 miles away). Then I suddenly felt an unaccustomed cramp on my shin, and had to work that out. I had to take several breaks during the rest of the day to work out cramps and hotfoot, and ended the ride with a tender spot on the bottom of my left foot. I’m hoping that adjusting my cleats will fix that, because it made riding pretty unpleasant. My average speed gradually declined during the day
On the return ride, my average speed started low and held steady. I didn’t suffer any acute cramps or pains, but had a lot of low-level pain and stiffness in my legs. I stopped for gatorade right around the midpoint, and after I started back up, was puzzled to see a sign for a church that I was certain I had seen a few miles before. I thought that perhaps there were two signs pointing to the church down two separate roads. Then I got to a construction site where a new water crossing was being built adjacent to an old one. I had passed one of those before, too—the first time, the new crossing was on the left, and this time it was on the right. Now I had to pull over and stop, because I was really worried I had somehow gotten turned around and ridden ten miles in the wrong direction after that gatorade stop. I checked my bearings, checked them again, found that I really was heading the right way, and continued.