Friday, 29 May 2009


This is roughly what I said at the final rap session. Pretty much all my adult life I've wanted to do a cycling challenge of about 100 miles per day as I think this is the limit of my physical ability. Four years ago I started seriously looking into it and found Mike Monk's tour diary for this ride which was taking place at the time. Since then I've wanted to do this specific ride. Every time I've been out on the roads in those four years I was thinking about this trip. I expect when I go back to riding the roads of Oxfordshire I'll still be thinking about America.

I paid tribute to Mike, Barbara and Karen, who've done a great job throughout. There were several instances, like when I needed help on the first and second days, when my wheel bust in Albuquerque, that I really needed their support. Even if you followed exactly the same route, the logistics of finding or carrying enough water would make this a very different type of challenge if you were doing it without their assistance.

I was given several pieces of useful advice before starting, including "don't forget you know how to ride a bike" which has served me well. However perhaps the best was from Kate who said, "don't just survive it, go and enjoy it." I've certainly done that, each day has been a challenge and an adventure. The difference between those first uncertain days where I was starting to think that it was beyond me and the final few weeks where I was in no doubt that I would finish, was remarkable. I'm now in the best shape of my life and am a more skilled cyclist.

I’ve been asked by a few people if there’s any advice for anyone contemplating such a challenge. First I think you’ve got to choose something that you enjoy doing anyway. Of those who took on this challenge, not many were what you would call athletes, but all had a long history of riding bikes. You’ll need a very good bike. Only one person had a bike costing less than about £1500 and he had several bike problems. It’s a good idea to do some sort of practice tour, I learnt a lot from a week in Spain the year before. It says in the literature that you should be able to ride 100 miles in 6.5 hours. This is probably true, but that’s not to say you’ll need to do it every day. Some days, including the SAG stops we weren’t averaging much more than 12 mph. Most importantly you’ll need the support of friends and family. Training 5 or 6 days per week for 8 months and then using all your annual leave in one go is certainly something to be discussed well in advance.

One aspect that I've only briefly touched on in these posts is how dangerous this trip is. I found out yesterday that in forty five cross country trips there's only been three where everyone has made it across without anyone having to retire through accident or injury. We're the smallest group they've ever taken and therefore our chances as a group were reletively better, but it's still a remarkable feat and the most important thing that we all made it across safely. Linda's accident on day four was fortunately minor, but demonstrates how disaster can come out of nothing. I'm very glad that I managed to keep the rubber side down for the entire trip. I found out by chance about three days before leaving that on this equivalent trip last year a guy died. He was in his 50's and had been pushing hard for several days. Then one evening he met up with his family for some very gentle socialising. That night he had a heart attack and died in his sleep. Knowing that influenced my decision to get in the van on day two.

We were very lucky with the group we had, no massive egos or aggresive atheletes. (Bermuda) Mike, Jay, Paul, Robert, Andy and Linda, it was great riding with you. In my final speech I talked about team Kysirium (Tom, Ron and Sam) and how great it was working as a team. I probably didn’t mention Eric and Jack enough, I really enjoyed their company.

Writing the blog has also been a rewarding experience. I think (hope) that there are many people reading this and I hope you've enjoyed it. At times it's been a challenge to go beyond the 'got up, cycled a long way, felt very tired' repetition. I've been aware throughout that I'm writing for quite a diverse audience of friends and family.

So that’s it. What’s next? Well my enthusiasm for cycling has only increased so there will certainly be something. Next stop Asia?

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Day 33 Keene to Amesbury (112 miles)

I'm writing this at South station in Boston on Friday morning, so maybe it doesn't have the immediacy which I've tried to maintain throughout the ride. Hopefully me and my massive bike box will be boarding a train to New York soon where I'll spend a couple of days with Kate before flying back to England.

We were reminded throughout yesterday that this really was the last day, the last morning load and sign in, the last lunchtime SAG etc but somehow it just didn't seem like it. It was another beautiful day, again clear blue skies and very warm, temperatures hit the 90's by the afternoon. We were also told that it wasn't uncommon to get a bit emotional as we neared the beach. My main emotion (if it is an emotion) was exhaustion. It was another tough day, long mileage and about 5000 feet of climbing. I hadn't been expecting that much and coming on the back of the hilly day before my legs were aching about as much as they have all trip.

For once we didn't ride as a four. One of our group, Tom, was also feeling tired so started out a little earlier. I was riding with Ron and Sam, but when they upped the pace, I didn't feel like responding and was content to go my own speed and soak in the atmosphere. It had been arranged that we'd all meet up about 5 miles from the beach and then ride down together, so as long as I stayed in front of, or near the last guy, there was no reason to push it along.

Again the ride was beautiful, tree tunnelled winding roads with dappelled light most of the way. There was also several lakes, many small ones when we were up in the hills and then a large one as we moved further down, all surrounded by trees. It seemed like just another day, but then we were out of the trees and on to a salt marsh with a row of beach houses just ahead of us. Riding the last few miles as an eight and relatively slowly was strange, it's the first time we've done that all trip. It was very busy, there'd been a car accident on the opposite side of the road and ambulances etc were still arriving.

Then suddenly we turned a corner and arrived at the beach. Everyone seemed a little stunned and didn't really know what to do. There were handshakes and congratulations all round, but no whoops of joy or out pouring of emotion. Mike, Barbara and Karen had just parked the vans and arrived to organise us for photos and the ceremonial dunking of wheels. It's a tradition that a bottle of water is collected in the Pacific and transported to the Atlantic. I was given the honour of pouring it in to the ocean.

Like the UK, we're coming up to a holiday weekend here, so the beach was fairly busy. I don't think the locals knew what to make of us, eight guys with very expensive bikes walking over the sand. It's quite likely that I won't be at the beach on a day as nice as this for quite some time, especially if this summer is anything like the last two, so had to take the opportunity for a dip. Strangely nobody followed me as I dived in and pretended to start swimming to England.

There was then the logistics of packing up all the bikes for transportation and returning to the hotel. We all went out for a meal at a noisy restaurant, which was pleasant but again a little muted. I think for me it hadn't (hasn't) sunk in yet and also I was absolutely knackered. At the hotel we had a private room for a final rap session. Everyone, staff and riders, were given the opportunity to speak about their thoughts on the ride and what it meant to them. After the downbeat celebrations earlier, this went much better than I expected, with several riders speaking eloquently and at length about everything that had happened in the last 5 weeks.

We've been keeping a map and displaying it in the hotel lobbies to chart our progress each day. It's another tradition that it's given to the rider who, in the opinion of the staff, most deserves it. Jack was the recipient and there were certainly no arguments with that decision. He's ridden at the back and mainly on his own pretty much the whole way, but like he said in his speech, he'd completed each of the last 19 consecutive days.

TLM then presented a slide show with 10 or so photos from each day. For anyone other than this group, it would be largely just a series of shots of cyclists travelling down very long highways. However for us it bought back lots of memories of 31 individual challenges. There was no late night drinking session, that's not what this trip's been about, it was off to bed in time for another early start.

I'll bring some final thoughts in the next few days.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Day 32 Amsterdam to Keene (124 miles horizontally and 1.4 miles vertically)

Yes, a lot of climbing today, over 7000 feet. That includes all the little ups and downs as well as one big climb of 2000 feet after we'd ridden about 70 miles. Couldn't have been more lucky with the weather in these final few days. It was another day of sunshine and temperatures in the seventies. Just right, not too hot on the ups, and not too cold on the downs.

Out of the farmland now and into wooded hillsides and lakes. All very beautiful, but maybe a little too perfect. A bit like the lake district in the UK, you know, absolutely beautiful, but everywhere selling crafts and maple syrup. Give me the hidden gems of New Mexico and Ohio. Maybe that's harsh, if you've only got two weeks, definately come and see it. Crossed the Hudson river, which I should be seeing again in a few days time in New York. Another three State day today, crossed into Vermont at about 60 miles and then into New Hampshire at 110. Tomorrow we cross very briefly into Massachusetts which I'm pretty sure makes 15 States in all.

We're in such a routine now. There's always the morning piss break which comes between 20 and 30 miles. The shout goes up 'STOP' and we all dive in the bushes. Then between the last SAG and the hotel with about 20 miles to go there'll be a stop at a service station for a final energy drink or chocolate bar. This is one of the nicest parts of the day, the hard work is generally done and we've got about an hour to roll into the finish. It's usually about 15 minutes of chilling in the afternoon sun.

Like I said, a lot of climbing, but also of course a lot of decents. We were on a two lane highway, but quite a main road most of the day, which meant wide open turns. It's not my favourite type of decent, I prefer the sharp hairpins where you have to get heavy on to the breaks and then accelerate out of the corners, keeping pace with the traffic. This was basically point it downhill and hang on. Some of the guys got over 50 mph. My top was 42, because I'm not that confident. Top speed for this trip was 46.7 mph, down a long straight hill into Albuquerque. That's it, I'm never going that fast again.

Photo shows Barbara talking to a guy who's doing a solo trek across the US, then down to the bottom of Argentina. Now that really is completely nuts, I've got no wish to do anything like that. Fully supported is the only way to go.

Bike started to make one or two complaining noises today, but should be OK for tomorrow. I imagine it will be like the car at the end of The Blues Brothers, it'll get to the ocean perfectly and then just fall apart completely. Obviously a very long day, but I felt fine throughout. A bit tired after 90 miles, but who wouldn't be, before I got a second wind.

Seven of us went out for dinner again. We're such a bonded group, but it's probably time for this thing to end now. If we rode for another 33 days I imagine it would be the same group of four riding every day and the same group of seven eating out every night.

Doubt I'll have time to write anything tomorrow. It's another long day, 110 miles with a fair amount of hills. Then we get to the ocean! Then we get shuttled by van back to the hotel, then there's the bikes etc to pack, then a final meal, speeches etc. I'll try to write up the final day and provide some final thoughts very soon, by the end of next week at the latest.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Day 31 Liverpool to Amsterdam (120 miles)

So we followed the M6 down to Birmingham, headed east to Lowestoft, got the ferry across the North Sea, headed inland. Nnnnnnooooo, not that Liverpool, not that Amsterdam. There are a lot of place names one would recognise in this part of the country, yesterday we went through Geneva, which even had a gorgeous lake, there's a Naples, a Rochester even a Wallingford around here somewhere.

Another really lovely day today. Temperature was meant to be 2 degrees C when we started out at 7am, but it felt warmer than on the previous two days. Shorts or longs, shorts or longs. In the end went with shorts and was glad I did, it soon warmed up and everyone was shedding clothing at the first SAG. Clear blue skies, little wind and OK temperature all day, perfect. Looks like we're also set fair for the final two days.

It's a really beautiful part of the country as well, which for once the photo does some justice to. We followed either the Erie canal or the Mohawk river (shown) for most of the day. It's a lot of wooded hillsides which turn amazing colours during the fall (or autumn as it's correctly called.) Roads were again very good, large, smooth, clean shoulders. One or two hills but nothing too bad. Worst hill of the day was an extra one we did because we missed the final turn into the hotel. We start out with that tomorrow, it's a tough one.

In these last few days I must try not to get complacent and let my concentration slip. Nearly headed off to breakfast (about 200 yards up the road) without wearing my helmet, which is a cardinal sin. Fortunately Karen reminded me before I got on the bike. Also forgot to but the bum cream on this morning for the first time in 31 days, but there are only the most minor consequences. Went to pump up the tyres and got the hose jammed on the valve. Ripped the tube whilst trying to get it off. That's technically puncture six, but I'm not counting it.

It was the gang of four on the road again today. We're even riding in the same order now. I always seem to follow Sam. I think this is a ploy by the other two, Sam's the skinniest and therefore provides the least wind resistance. Again, I hope this doesn't come back to haunt me, but we're riding really well as a team. All doing fair turns without really keeping score, matching each other's pace well, giving clear signals for debris and other hazards. We haven't touched wheels or had any sort of near miss for many days now.

Tomorrow has one big climb going up about 2000 feet. I'm looking forward to it, think I'm a relatively good climber and enjoyed the hills earlier in the ride and in Spain last year, but there's 65 miles of flat before we get to it.

PS - loft watch has been updated.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Day 30 Batavia to Liverpool (122 miles)

So fortunately managed to get the winter stuff dried over night because it was effing freezing this morning. It was 36 degrees (F) that's only 2 degrees C. That's means we've had almost a 70 degree temperature range this trip, from 36, to 104 in the desert. Needless to say it was hat and big gloves time again.

Photo is a kind of typical shot of what it was like all day. Blue cloudless skies fortunately, which meant that whilst we were moving things were fine, but could get very cold very fast if we stopped or were out of the sun. The roads here in New York are about the best in the country, wide, smooth, clean shoulders meant that it was easy to ride in any formation (one behind the other when we're into the wind, or two or three abreast when it's from another direction.)

I know this is probably starting to sound repetative, but hey, give me a break, I've been churning this stuff out for 30 days now. Rode as a four again today at a perfect pace all day, i.e. one that we could all live with but which did get the job done. Passed the 3000 mile mark today, as of this evening there's only 350 ish to go. One thing that's continually intrigued me is what images I will remember from this trip. I see flashes of various scenery, SAG stops, hotels etc, but it's difficult to remember where it's all from. The support team continue to take lots of photos, so hopefully that will form a complete record.

We got in about 4:15 which meant it was quite a quick turn around to make the RAP meeting at 5. Like everything, there's a routine to when I get in. First it's a load of warm down stretches. I can't say whether they do any good or not, but I've been remarkably free of neck, shoulder, those kind of annoying aches and it could be down to that. Next it's drink a large recovery drink from some powder I bought with me. This has also helped mark my progress, I bought three big tubs of the stuff and am now down to the bottom of the last one. Then of course it's get in the shower. Apparently in previous years there's been complaints from hotels. When we use a face cloth to get clean it looks like we've been cleaning the bike with it. All that road muck certainly leaves it's mark.

Jack, who I've mentioned a few times, rode strongly again today, we criss crossed with him several times, then the five of us went out to dinner. You'd think that 5 or 6 eating out together would present a problem with the bill (or cheque as they say here). How to split, what to tip etc. But it seems asking for an individual bill is routine here, not a problem at all. Does it work like that in the UK, I've never tried?

The challenge of riding 120 miles does not diminish and I think everyone was tired this evening, three more days with similar distances but apparently more climbing. So many confused thoughts about the final three days, want it to end, don't want it to end.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Day 29 Dunkirk to Batavia (85 miles)

I was expecting to get a poor night's sleep. Our hotel seems the centre of the social scene in Dunkirk and there were a lot of graduation parties being hosted at our place. I'm not sure why or how they work, but it's something along the lines of parents paying for their kids to whope it up in a hotel for the evening. However there didn't seem to be much whoping going on, it was all quiet from about 9 oclock.

Apologies for the poor photo today, it's our hotel and the shores of Lake Erie. Main thing I wanted to capture was how bitterly cold it was today. At departure time is was about 8 degrees C and didn't rise above about 12 all day, so apart from anything else I didn't take my big gloves off long enough to take many other photos. I was wearing my full winter gear, hat, sexy tights etc.

The day was divided in to two halves. First a 40 mile ride, then a stop at a bicycle museum and then the remaining 45 miles. The museum was kind of cool, showed the history of the bicycle from the earliest push along jobs, through the penny farthing, then innovations like the chain and the pneumatic tyre, through to quirky stuff like field guns and radios being added to bikes. The guy who ran it opened up early just for us and was full of enthusiasm, even through he must have given that tour hundreds of times. He's trying to retire and sell the place, but doesn't want the collection to be split up, which would be a shame. Only one SAG today, lunch at the museum. It was bright sunshine, but you had to stay out of the wind and even then it was still cold.

Kind of strange day today. It don't know whether I've mentioned this before, but I'd only done a hundred mile ride twice before this trip. So almost every day has been an adventure, going beyond what I know I can achieve. But today was just a couple of morning rides back to back, there was no sense of achievement at having completed another marathon. Everyone seemed a little down after the euphoria of the big ride yesterday. It's 120 miles tomorrow so we should be back up for it. Did have another excellent meal though. Six of us went to a steak house near the hotel. The place was jammed, but they managed to find a table for us quickly and the service and food were great. Only another 3 or so days of eating what I like and not worrying about the consequences.

I was very pleased to get all the washing done last night and now have 4 sets of shorts and tops for the 4 remaining days. Only problem is, it's so freezing that I could be wearing my one set of winter stuff for the rest of the trip, so it's back to hand washing each night. I've learned a top tip for getting stuff dried in a hotel room. First wring the item out as best you can, then spread a towel on the floor and lay the garment on top of it. Then roll the whole thing up like a swiss roll and stand on it. Works a treat, the rest should dry overnight.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Day 28 Niles to Dunkirk (139 miles)

Dodgy internet connection last night, that was the only reason for the delay in posting.

139 miles, one hundred and thirty nine miles. ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY NINE MILES. Easiest 139 miles I ever rode.

It was meant to be raining this morning, but started out overcast, warm and with a good wind in our direction. Usual team of 4 started out at a brisk 20 mph along flat roads. Again with this sort of distance it's important not too think about it for the first several miles, otherwise it just gets overwhelming. For example when you reach 30 miles, try not to think that you're still less than a quarter of the way.

First SAG was next to one of those covered bridges. Another three state day today. At about mile 65 we entered Pennsylvania, then at about mile 110 we entered New York, The Empire State. There are the usual photos of the four of us lined up underneath the sign. I haven't bothered posting these, but look back a few days, swap say Kansas or Ohio for New York and you get the idea.

All going very well until mile 90 when it started to rain. That continued for about an hour and got heavy at times. When it stopped the roads were still wet so got filthy with road muck. Even the rain didn't slow us down and our total ride time for the 139 miles was 6 hours 52 minutes, which is an average of just over 20 miles an hour. That included having to stop frequently at stop signs in the country and then negotiating our way through a few towns, so when we were travelling it was generally at 22-25 mph. That's testament to how good the wind was, but also how well we're still riding. The main problem at those continuous high speeds is avoiding pot holes, bits of debris and mainly each other for such a long time. That time doesn't include SAG stops, photo opportunities, toilet breaks and punctures. Yes I got my fifth today, just 5 miles from the finish. The guys stopped with me and fortunately the van was only a couple of minutes behind so we had it fixed in no time. It was a small sharp piece of stone and it's quite a big rip, so it means another finished tyre.

A lot of the afternoon was spent near the shores of Lake Erie. A bit foggy so couldn't see very far, but Canada is out there somewhere.

Very busy this evening. There was a new tyre to put on. Also the bike needed a wash and as the hotel couldn't provide a hose you can see from the photo that I had to improvise. Also we've been without any laundry facilities for the past few days. I'm doing better than most due to the nice man at the Motel 8, but even I needed to get some done. There's only one washer and one dryer, so a strict rota system was quickly set up with notification going to the next person on the list. Yes it is a bit over the top, but these things take on huge importance out here.

I wrote about Jack yesterday. This morning he left 40 minutes before us and we didn't see him all day, he must have been really flying and quick through the two SAGs.

I said in the prologue to this blog that there's a joy to riding a bike, fast. That was it all over today, a great day, but you've really got to love riding that bike. Can imagine that for most the idea of putting the hammer down for 7 hours would be a nightmare, but I'm really going to miss riding at these speeds in these pacelines. Only 5 days to go and everyone is starting to realise that our adventure is nearly at an end.