Week #3

I’ve completed my second full week of biking (and third overall). Here are this week’s totals:

  • 7 hours, 1 minute
  • 107.5 miles
  • 15.3 mi/h average
  • 34.0 mi/h max

I beat last week by two minutes!

Posted in General | 2 Comments

Gearing Up

It’s been an important couple of weeks for me.

A couple of years ago, as mentioned elsewhere on this blog, the company I work for was purchased by another company. As part of the integration of the two companies, the office building that I work in was recently closed, and we were moved from Cambridge to Waltham.

I was with the company fourteen and a half years ago when we moved into this building, and now I got to see us move out as well. An awful lot happened in that 14+ years. The new building we moved to in Waltham is very nice.

The biggest difference for me is the distance from home. The old building was less than two miles from my house, and typically I would bike about ten minutes to get to work, and then ten minutes again to get home.

I got spoiled by having such a short commute. Even before we moved into this home, I lived about three miles from the office, so my commute has always been very short.

However, now I bike about 11 miles to the new facility, and it is a rather hilly 11 miles at that.

I intend to bike most days, just like I did before. But this does come with some challenges. For some days, the weather will just be lousy for biking. Snow, heavy rain, gusty winds, extreme heat or cold, all could make biking unpleasant. Some days I can work from home (I have a computer-based job after all, which can be done from just about anywhere) but I need to have some alternate plans for getting to work if the need arises. It turns out there are several coworkers who live near me, so I can get a ride with one of them. And there is a shuttle bus that I can also take in a pinch. I can even commute with my wife, if I am willing to leave early enough in the morning.

For days when I ride my bicycle, there is the question of biking gear. With a ten minute commute, I could grit my teeth and bear just about any conditions. I have biked home in blizzard-like conditions before, for instance. Or I could just wear my work clothes while biking, as I didn’t have time to get too sweaty on my way to work. Plus, even in the case of a mechanical breakdown, I could simply walk the rest of the way to the office within a half hour.

But with a 45-minute ride each way now, I need to be more prepared. I had to increase my gear — biking shoes, biking pants, a biking jacket, a spare tire and pump, water-proof pannier packs to carry my work clothes, lights for my bike, etc.

Then there is the issue of time. Last week, my first full week of biking to the new location, I spent just about seven hours in the saddle commuting, not counting the time getting ready beforehand or cleaning up or cooling down afterwards.

Not to mention effort. Waltham is a rather hilly town, and as I bike there, I generally increase my elevation, but not in a gradual way. There are quite a few rolling hills, which make for some pretty sizable peaks and valleys going each way. I’d guess I’m burning somewhere between 1500 and 2000 calories a day just biking. I already find I get ravenously hungry at lunch time, and need to keep some snacks at my desk to munch on throughout the day.

On the positive side, I’ve made some pretty significant improvements in time already. The first day I biked to the new location, it took my 50 minutes in the morning, and 45 minutes in the afternoon. Exactly one week later, it was 43 minutes in the morning, and 43 minutes in the afternoon (normally it is faster going home, but there was a rather stiff headwind against me in the afternoon).

I biked four days the first week, and all five days the second week. The first full week’s totals:

  • 7 hours, 3 minutes
  • 107.5 miles
  • 15.3 mi/h average
  • 31.5 mi/h max

As it turns out, this is excellent training for my trip this summer. It forces me to increase my daily mileage, including the difficulty of the course. It forces me to prepare my gear appropriately, so to think in advance about what I might need if certain circumstances arise. It forces me to think about food management. It forces my to experience the differing, and not always pleasant biking conditions. Sometimes there will be a stiff headwind. Sometimes you’ll have hill after hill, or need to be increasing elevation for mile after mile. Sometimes the weather will not cooperate with your plans.

Of course, as the summer gets nearer I will need to ramp up my distances even more. Twenty two miles a day is a nice start, but I’m planning on doing several multiples of that each day during my trip. A hundred miles a week is good training, but I’ll be doing that on a good day, I imagine.

I had been wishing for a longer commute for awhile now, as I feel I haven’t been getting quite the amount of biking exercise that I could get. I was thinking it would be nice to, say, double my distance to four or five miles. I wouldn’t have chosen an 11 mile commute, but it certainly does have it’s advantages when it comes to conditioning.

Posted in Gear, General | 5 Comments

Those Miles Sure Do Add Up Quickly

I have mentioned before that I expect my trip to take about eight weeks to complete. How did I arrive at that number? What if something unexpected happens?

Well, the initial estimate was pretty easy to make. Using Google Maps, which has a nifty new travel by bicycle option, to track a trip with the approximate path that I am planning yields a trip distance of approximately 3300 miles.

I think I will be able to travel an average distance of 75 miles a day. Some days will be shorter than that (for example: going up the Rocky Mountains) and some days will be more (for example: going down the other side!) but I think 75 mile a day is pretty doable.

I have done several “centuries”, i.e. 100 mile bike rides, and I have even completed multiple back-to-back trips of 90 miles and more. For those trips I was able to maintain a relatively speedy pace (greater than 14 miles per hour), and given my experience, I know that slowing down can increase my potential distance.

I’ll have more than 14 hours of sunlight available to me on any given day (not counting rain, of course). Some of that will be taken up with stowing camping gear, stopping to eat, visiting with strangers, taking breaks, etc. But even at a leisurely pace of 10 mph, 75 miles will take seven-and-a-half-hours — about half the day.

I expect to actually do better than that, and I think I’ll be spending anywhere from five to six hours in the saddle most days.

All of which is to say, I think 75 miles a day is a reasonable amount.

Also, in any given week, I am planning to take one day off (a “zero day” as my thru-hiker friend Sheila would say) due to weather, or sight-seeing, or resting, or visiting with friends or family, or whatever.

So that’s 75 miles a day x 6 days a week = 450 miles per week. How many weeks at that distance would it take to go 3300 miles? About 7 and a half, so I rounded up to eight. At eight full weeks, I would expect to travel 750 m/d x 6 d/w x 8 w = 3600 miles.

So that leaves me with 300 miles, or four days at 75 miles per day, to absorb time lost due to any unexpected events, like severe weather, mechanical problems, etc.

That sounds about right to me!

Posted in Route | 1 Comment

Ferry #1: Lake Michigan

For bikers, this should say "days" and not "hours".

For bikers, this should say “days” and not “hours”

I’ve known from the very beginning that I didn’t want to bike through Chicago. I’ve never biked through Chicago before, but I have been with someone driving through Chicago, and it was a dreadful experience.

In addition, it has been my experience that biking into and out of big cities is usually complicated and stressful. Cities are usually designed for cars, and no matter how bike-friendly a city claims to be, the underlying infrastructure is usually automobile-based.

One of the worst biking experiences I have ever had came when I bicycled through Portland, Maine. I love Portland. It is a beautiful town, with some stunning views over the ocean, and there are some wonderful bike paths in and around town. It is obvious that there have been efforts to make the biking experience in Portland very nice.

However, getting into and out of Portland was remarkably complicated. The first time I did it, I got so turned around and lost, I had to backtrack a total of 10 miles (and I ended up biking 135 miles that day, so an extra 10 was most definitely not appreciated!) and much of that was spent on high bridges, with a lot of traffic going very fast, with me hugging the road’s shoulder, bouncing over grates in the road used for drainage. Great for driving, awful for biking.

I imagine Chicago is similar. I have some friends who have lived in Chicago, and they tell me it is quite lovely, with some very nice bike trails along the coast of Lake Michigan. I don’t doubt that at all. But I also imagine getting into and out of the city would be a nightmare.

I also knew I wanted to travel in the summer, which meant I would be going on a northerly route — who wants to bike through the desert in July? Well, I suppose some people want to, but not me.

Put those two facts together, and you’ve got a real problem. Chicago is pretty centrally located, and to go far enough south to avoid Chicago would easily add several hundred miles to my total. That didn’t have much appeal.

But north of Chicago is Lake Michigan, and the rest of the Great Lakes. The same thing applies there — I could bike through Minnesota and skirt Lake Michigan by going to the north, but I then I would probably have to go even further, up into Canada, to avoid Lake Superior. That would also be several hundred miles, and several days, out of my way.

What to do?

Well, if you can’t go around the Great Lakes, how about going over them? I realized other people (not necessarily bikers) must already have this problem, so I looked for ferries across Lake Michigan. Sure enough, there is one, Lake Express, that travels from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, across the lake to Muskegon, Michigan.

Of course, this adds some problems as well. The ferry costs money (the two-and-a-half hour trip costs $82), although that’s worth it. The website for the ferry even advertises: “When you chose Lake Express, you leave nearly 300 miles of driving behind.” Sounds good to me, particularly since it probably would be an unpleasant biking experience.

Another problem, though, is that the shuttle only travels at certain times of the day. Luckily, there is service every day, but only twice a day, once at 6AM and once around noon. So I have to time things well, or I’ll be spending the night in Milwaukee!

Milwaukee itself is a large enough city that there might well be some headaches biking into it. In fact, I think Milwaukee is the largest city I’ll be biking through on the entire route (not counting my home city of Boston, which I am very familiar with). But, of course, I only have to get into the city, and getting out won’t be a problem.

Some clever wags suggest that I’m not truly biking across the country if I’m taking a ferry, and that just sitting on a boat hardly counts as “biking”. They insist I spend the entire trip biking around the deck of the shuttle. I’m sure the crew would love that.

Posted in Route | Leave a comment

My cross-country bike trip is back on!

Thumbs up, we're doing great!

Thumbs up, we’re doing great!

Two years after originally scheduled, I finally decided to go ahead with my trip. The trek has never been far from my mind over the last two years, and I have always been looking for the right time to go.

That time is finally here.

After nearly two years with the new company, I am confident that I have made my value and skill set obvious, so I don’t fear I will lose my job.

In fact, I mentioned the trip to my new boss, and he was enthusiastic about the idea. I have yet to formally propose any specific dates, but he didn’t balk or hesitate when I told him of the eight week time frame. As long as I provide plenty of advance time, and take care to make sure all my critical duties will be handled by someone in my absence, there seem to be no major obstacles to going.

Of course, I do not have enough vacation time to take the entire eight week trip solely on vacation time. The current plan is to take two weeks vacation time, and six weeks unpaid leave.

But I’m excited for the trip to get underway! I’m officially re-launching this blog, and in the days and weeks ahead I’ll be updating with more details about the route, my training, equipment, where I plan to stay, etc.

I look forward to chronicling my adventure, and I’m enjoying going back and reading my previous posts! Hopefully you will, too.

Image | Posted on by | 6 Comments

Update: Mystery Solved!

This is what I felt like for the last couple of days.

This is what I felt like for the last couple of days.

The mystery was: what happened to my bicycle helmet after I wore it for a ride with friends on Saturday afternoon? It had vanished by the time I wanted to go for a ride on Sunday morning.

On Saturday after my ride, I guess I left the helmet outside near the steps. The people who share the two-unit condo with us, and have the downstairs unit near where the bicycles are stored, returned from a bicycle trip of their own. Upon unpacking, they mistakenly thought the helmet belonged with their stuff, and they took it with them when they went for another trip on Sunday.

The old helmet, complete with bicycle gloves, is now back safe and sound in my possession, albeit jealous of the shiny new helmet that has now seemingly replaced it.

Posted in Gear | Leave a comment

The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Helmet

Where have you gone?

Where have you gone?

On Saturday, I went biking with some friends along the Minuteman Trail, a ten mile paved-over former railroad track near my home that is heavily used by bicyclists, pedestrians, inline skaters, and other recreationists.

I biked the entire length, to Bedford, as fast as I could and then met up with my friends for a picnic lunch in Lexington Center, where we played a little frisbee after eating. My friends pointed out that I had some gunk on my head, where one of the pads inside my helmet had come off, and there was glue residue stuck to my scalp. Ha ha.

Later, we biked back along Mass Ave, and we along the way we stopped at Ixtapa, a Mexican restaurant along the Lexington/Arlington border, for some chips and margaritas, before finally making our way home for the day after a quick stop at a hardware store. More goo on my head.

It was a beautiful way to spend a beautiful day, as it was a warm (but not hot!) and sunny day to kick off a long Fourth of July weekend.

But here’s where things start to get a little strange.

I woke up the next morning, and because the weather forecast was predicting a hot day with scattered thunderstorms in the afternoon, I thought I would get in a quick bike ride in the morning. I put on my jersey, heart monitor, bike shorts, some sun block, sunglasses and my bike shoes and went outside. I went to get my helmet, and it wasn’t where I normally put it.

I had it the day before, so I knew it had to be around somewhere. Did I take it in the house? I went inside, and looked everywhere I thought it could be. No sign of the helmet. Did I leave it outside? I checked, and rechecked. No luck. I went back inside and turned the house upside down. In addition to all the normal places, I looked in the crazy spots: did I put it in the oven? The washing machine? Under the bed? Did it fall behind the couch? No, no, no, and no.

I made my way back outside. I looked through the bushes near our makeshift garden — I had watered a couple of plants after the ride on Saturday. I checked the raspberry patch behind the house, near our rain barrel. I looked in our shed where we store our recycling and our garbage, as well as our gardening tools. Nothing doing.

I was totally stumped.

So I went to a nearby bike shop and bought a new helmet, but by that time the skies looked a bit threatening, so I didn’t go for my planned ride. Oh well, there is always tomorrow. I had had that helmet for many years and I was planning to get a new one before my trip anyway, so it wasn’t that bad. But I can’t help but wonder what happened to it?

As I see it, here are the possibilities:

1) It is somewhere in or around the house, and I just haven’t found it yet. It’ll turn up at some point.
2) I left it behind, either in Lexington Center, Ixtapa, or at the hardware store on the way back.
3) After the ride, I left the helmet outside, and a random passerby saw it and swiped it.

I looked around pretty thoroughly, so I don’t think it is option 1. And as a regular cyclist, I think I would feel naked without my helmet (and attached biking gloves), so I don’t think it is option 2. So that just leaves option 3, which seems unlikely to me. Why would someone steal a sweaty helmet, particularly if they had to go out of their way to get it? Can anyone think of anything else I might have missed?

Posted in Gear | 3 Comments