Life Goal Posts

Since I left my job to prepare for my trip, people have been almost universally happy and excited for me. The reaction of many of my colleagues, particularly coworkers, has often been one of envy. “I wish I could do that!” or “If only I had your courage!” seem to be common refrains.

I guess the fact that I left my job not just for another, potentially more lucrative, position with another firm is what stands out. Almost without fail, the first question from coworkers was, “Where are you going?” because it was just assumed I had another gig lined up.

Which is certainly understandable. We live in a society that is centered around money and influence. We need money to survive — or at least, it seems that way. From our earliest days, the importance of money and wealth is constantly reinforced in our minds. Athletes are revered for their multi-million dollar contracts as much as for their performance on the field. Celebrities are adored as much for their lavish lifestyles of red carpets and gift bagsĀ  as for their beauty and fame. The ultra wealthy, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, are famous just for being rich. Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers use their money to influence and control politics. If you are not fighting to get ahead, you are falling behind.

But I’m just not that motivated by money. I mean, I want to lead a comfortable life. I want to know where my next meal is coming from. But I feel that I, and I imagine this is going to seem alien to some people, have enough money.

Someone asked me, “How can you afford to do this?” and my response was, “How can I afford not to?”

When we are born, most of us have 80 years or so worth of time in front of us. We start out with an abundance of time. So we trade that time for money and stability. After moving out on our own, we get a job, and we spend time, and often overtime, at a job to get a salary, and then get the house, the wife, the kids, the car, the second home in the country, the boat, etc. There’s no end to the things you can get — the number of houses you can have, the property you can own, the stocks you can invest in, the high-tech gadgets you can get.

But then at some point, the time-money balance shifts the other way. From the loss of a loved one, or a health scare we ourselves have, or just a simple realization of the facts of life, we realize that the number of days that we have to walk on this earth are limited, and we need to take advantage of the days we have to do the things we want to do. For most of us, that thing we want to do doesn’t involve commuting to the office or sitting in meetings.

So that’s where I am at. Financially, I am very fortunate, because my wife Marsha and I have managed to be debt free at this stage of our lives. We own our home, we have paid off all our school debt, Marsha owns her car (I own my bikes, for that matter), and we don’t have any kids that require new clothes and braces and tuition and everything else that children need.

So while I could certainly stay employed and continue to make money and earn stock options and build up my 401K and buy the lake house with the jet skis, I want to do more with my life. My time is more valuable to me than that.

I certainly don’t make the claim that my cross-county bicycle trip is some sort of noble effort. It doesn’t really help anyone but me. It will help me to set and reach a goal, and it will help me to see the countryside and meet interesting people from coast to coast, and it will help me to get an idea of what I can accomplish if I set my mind to it.

My trip won’t last forever, and once I get back I’ll have to figure out what is next for me, where I will choose to put my time and effort and skills. Right now, I don’t really have any clear idea what that will be, but then again, I’ll have plenty of time this summer to think about it while I am pedaling along.

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Full-Time Bike Rider

A lot has happened since the last time I wrote a blog post. I postponed my trip yet again; I did a two week trial ride over more than 500 miles; and I was in an accident where I ended up breaking both of my knees. I plan to write in more detail about each of these events, but that’s not the reason for writing today.

Instead, I’m committing to this blog once again, because I’ve rescheduled my trip for this summer, starting sometime in June of 2015. In fact, I’m so serious about actually completing my quest this time around I have left my job of 16+ years, and I am going to use my time over the next several months to plan, prepare, and train full-time. And I plan to document that right here.

It’s cold and snowy this time of year, so I’m not getting much riding done outside (although I have some cold weather gear and I’ll try to get out when the conditions allow) so most of the early stage preparations will be looking at the route, organizing my thoughts, reading up on others’ similar trips, and riding a stationary bike indoors. This is not the most exciting part of the prep work, granted, but I do have time to think and, hopefully, share some of those thoughts here.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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