Just Keep Pedaling

This is the seventh and final in a series of posts sharing lessons learned while bicycling more than 1,170 miles in preparation for the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa. You can see them all here.

In less than five months, Ashley and I have moved from thinking that our 10 mile training ride was quite an impressive feat to considering 25 miles a leisurely jaunt. It’s amazing how quickly your perspective can change!

  

Our progress was slow and simple. We found a training plan that was designed to build up to the RAGBRAI and followed along. Along the way we progressed to higher and higher mileages (culminating in a 75 mile ride) and learned more about how our bodies reacted to different situations and how to best overcome them.

You Can Do The Same!

What we have done was a challenge and physically demanding. However, we are confident that almost anyone could do the same thing.

So much of it is a matter of preparation – eating and drinking enough, finding routes to ride, and keeping your bicycle maintained.

Most importantly, you have to make the time to ride. Progress won’t come without practice. It’s a matter of getting out there and continuing to pedal until you’re done for the day.

  

What’s Next?

We worked hard to get into the condition that we have, so that we feel confident we can ride 450+ miles in a week. We are now at a place where 100 miles (a century ride) is definitely doable with the proper amount of food and water, and we aren’t going to let that slide.

After the RAGBRAI we will recover for a week, go on some short rides during the week, and then plan to go on a century ride. Following that we will continue riding each week, for fun.

Touring on our bicycles is a great way to explore locations around our RV. The slower speed allows us to really see what is around us while the self-propulsion helps us save gasoline.

  

Until it isn’t fun any more, we are going to continue bike riding. We like how it makes us feel and are proud of what we can accomplish by following the simple mantra:

Just keep pedaling.

Enjoy the Ride

This is the sixth in a series of posts sharing lessons learned while bicycling more than 1,170 miles in preparation for the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa. You can see them all here.

You’re probably riding your bicycle because you enjoy it. Whether you are seeking the thrill of a victorious race, trying to beat your personal best time, or simply pedaling because you like the feel of the wind in your face – it’s fun.

  

But it doesn’t always feel like fun, does it? Those days when the sun is beating down on you and the sweat is running into your eyes can be miserable. Just like the times when you get caught out in the rain and your shoes squish with each revolution of the pedals. Or when you have a flat tire and the flies are buzzing around your head while you change it. Or perhaps you didn’t bring enough water or can’t find a bathroom and are looking for somewhere to stop. No, it’s not always fun.

  

Ultimately, you will return another day to keep on pedaling. It is fun, though. You get a chance to really see the scenery that would just flash by if you were driving – as long as you remember to look up and take it in.


Who Knows What You Might See!

On different rides, Ashley and I have seen some beautiful views – rolling fields, blue skies filled with fluffy cotton clouds, and forests filled with green. Within just a few feet of us have been all sizes of bunny rabbits, a fawn, and a mother turkey with her 8 babies. In a field that we passed by have been numerous deer and even a flock of more than a dozen turkeys.

  

It’s easy to get caught up in the road just in front of your tire. You’re doing the work to be there. Don’t forget to take a few moments to look up every now and then and enjoy the view.

  
Ride Your Own Ride

Ashley and I aren’t racing, so it’s not about competing with anyone. Even so, we have to remind ourselves to enjoy ourselves. It’s easy to get caught up trying to keep up with the biker who just passed us, which can just tire us out.

Pay attention to how you are feeling and ride at a pace that you can sustain. This can definitely mean that you take days or sections of rides to push yourself faster or further than normal, but don’t let others performances be the motivating factor for how you ride. Unless you are racing, it is just you and the bike and you are your only competition.

Share Your Ride

Just because you aren’t competing with someone doesn’t mean that you need to be alone on the road. Having someone riding with you can help the ride go faster – a long ride can take hours – so it’s nice to have someone to chat with as you go, or just to share the ride with and know that you aren’t out there alone.

  

You can point out the views and appreciate the beauty of the scenery around you. Or just have someone ready to share an encouraging word when the hills loom in front of you.

As with so much else in life, it’s better when shared.

Hills Are In Your Head

This is the fifth in a series of posts sharing lessons learned while bicycling more than 1,170 miles in preparation for the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa. You can see them all here.

Pedaling up a hill is hard, even if knowing that the other side provides an enjoyable downhill respite. The absolute hardest part of a hill, though, is the mountain that grows in your head.

  

It’s amazing what happens when you let your mind add fertilizer to a hill in front of you. Suddenly that little incline becomes a nearly inpenatrable earthen fortress that you must fight your way up. Gravity battles against you and each stroke of the pedal barely moves you forward.

Yet, the same hill, when appoached with a mindset of “this isn’t so bad, once I get to the top I get to take a nice break while coasting down the backside” seems to be little more than a slight incline that you shift into and pedal up, quickly summiting it and leaving it behind you.

Though they are physical obstacles, hills really are a mental challenge. If you can approach them with an optimistic attitude then you will find that you will successfully rise up and pedal on past them. Let them loom in your mind, however, and they will keep you down, sapping your energy and forcing you to walk even though, physically, you are more than capable of riding all over them.

The Wind Always Faces You

Similar to hills, the wind presents mental challenges. It can sound so loud as it passes by your ears, giving you the sense that it’s blowing far harder than it is. This can trick you into thinking you aren’t making as much progress as you are.

Of course, wind also presents physical challenges. It pushes you back, or sideways, causing you to struggle to make progress or keep on a straight path.

Air Conditioning, Literally

The wind helps cool you down on a hot day’s ride, so it can be an appreciated companion while pedaling. Appreciate it, instead of focusing on the challenges that it presents, whether mental or physical.

  

While riding, Ashley and I have noticed that the wind always seems to be facing us, no mater which way we are traveling. In part, this has to do with the fact that we have put so many miles on our bikes – eventually the wind has to face us. We comfort ourselves with the idea that we are riding so fast that even if there is no wind, we are rushing past the stationary air so quickly that it sounds like wind in our ears and we can feel its resistance as we push through it.

So much of riding is a mental challenge. Being forearmed with this knowledge can turn a miserable ride into quite an enjoyable one that provides a great sense of accomplishment.

Eat Today, Ride Tomorrow

This is the fourth in a series of posts sharing lessons learned while bicycling more than 1,170 miles in preparation for the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa. You can see them all here.

It simply amazes me how much of a difference food and water make on a bike ride.

You can be struggling along, with barely the energy to push the pedal one more time, fighting against the wind and barely beating gravity on the hills. Then you stop for water and maybe a snack. Suddenly the pedals seem to push themselves, the wind is merely refeshing and you realize that the mountain you were fighting was merely a molehill.

Food Is Fuel

Pedaling is a lot of work, especially over long distances. The energy to do that work has to come from somewhere. The human body is amazing in its capability to turn food and water into energy and produce work. You have to do your part, though. Your body can’t provide energy if you don’t give it enough fuel to burn. (I’m sure this same principle works with physical labor, backpacking, hiking, and generally going about daily life.)

  

While preparing for the RAGBRAI and reading about long-distance bicycle rides, a commonly heard phrase has been “eat today for tomorrow’s ride.” After finishing a long ride Ashley and I have found ourselves famished and happy to devour everything in sight. Even though we snacked during the ride we still depleted our energy reserves and need more food. Those huge meals after riding help our bodies to recover from the day’s activity and let it rest. If we didn’t eat, the next day we had no energy available.

  

Eat As You Go

Even with a solid breakfast before riding and a huge meal after we still have to eat more during the ride. We have to stop and snack every 15-20 miles otherwise we find ourself out of energy even though we aren’t tired. Sometimes this means that we eat when we aren’t hungry.

One of the tenants of long-distance bike riding is to eat before you’re hungry and drink before you’re thirsty. If you have allowed yourself to get hungry and/or thirsty, it is too late. You have to drink and eat frequently.

I have looked at a couple of different estimates on calories burnt on a long (50+ mile) bike ride. For my age, height, and weight the estimates vary widely, anywhere from 4-7,000 calories. No matter what the real number, a regular day’s worth of food just won’t cut it. I feel like a teenager again, a bottomless pit that just vacuums in food. But when I can get through a ride without being exhausted at the end it’s all worth it.

  

Really, Drink More Water

Just like food, water makes a huge difference in performance. Without it, energy dips and it feels like you’re pedaling through molasses. Stopping for a quick break and a few sips from my water bottle have me feeling refreshed and ready to go again in no time.

I’m not sure that I can drink too much water while bike riding. Too little leaves me slogging away without any energy. Drinking too much just means that I get to tour a few extra bathrooms along the route. And a bathroom break is still a break, so it’s win-win!

The amount of work that the human body can do is amazing, as long as it receives the proper amount of food and water to keep it going. Food may be fuel and I might have to eat and drink when I’m not hungry or thirsty, but the sense of accomplishment that they provide me is well worth it. None of those miles would be possible otherwise!

Proper Equipment Is Important

This is the third in a series of posts sharing lessons learned while bicycling more than 1,170 miles in preparation for the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa. You can see them all here.

Without equipment (like, say, a bicycle) you won’t get very far. Without proper equipment, you will get there but you might not enjoy the ride.

  

Road bikes are made for the road. Their skinny tires and longer wheelbases provide less rolling resistance and more stability. With no suspension they’re not designed to be cushy rides, but since they live on (theoretically) smooth blacktop they don’t need a lot of springs to take up huge bumps and holes.

  

Mountain bikes are made for off-road. Their wide, knobby tires are made to provide grip. Lower gears mean they won’t win any speed trials but they will allow you to get up those hills and over any obstacle you encounter. Modern suspension systems help smooth out the rocks, roots, logs and holes you’ll inevitably encounter.

They Make A Bike Just For You

No matter what type of riding, in what type of setting, you want to do, there is probably a bicycle made for it. Road touring, mountain, BMX tricks, sprint racing, recumbent, and even one-wheeled unicycles! Don’t sell yourself short by just buying the cheapest set of wheels you can find. Research, talk to knowledgeable people at local bicycle shops, try out a variety of bike styles and sizes, and learn what will best fit you and do what you want to do. Then get the best bike.

Yes, this might mean that you need more than one bicycle. Personally, I have two – a mountain bike for off-road and a touring bike for on-road. Both have their places and are appreciated when I use them. They are not interchangeable – I have ridden the mountain bike long distances and was exhausted the next day. Likewise I have tried to ride the road bike through sand trails, without any luck. 

It’s Not All About The Bike

There are hundreds of bicycle accessories. And all of them have thousands of varieties. Once you start riding, if you’re anything like me, you will feel downright out-of-place when you don’t have all of the gear. So many other riders look like professionals in their clothes and with their accessories – you’ll feel like you stick out like a sore thumb.

After 1,170+ miles, I still don’t have a jersey, spandex shorts, or bicycle gloves. While I can’t tell you what you do and don’t need, I can share what I find invaluable from the gear that I have.

  

If you saw me ride past, you might notice that I’m wearing a wicking short-sleeved sport shirt from WalMart. Or spot the running shorts that I’ve had for years. Maybe you’d notice that I have on ye-olde running shoes sitting flat on my stock pedals – no fancy clipless pedals for this guy.

Some Things You Just Have to Have

You would see that I have on a helmet, at all times. Likewise, I hate riding without my clip-on rear-view mirror (due to my handlebar configuration the only place for me to put a mirror is on either my helmet or glasses.) Unseen would be the padded bicycle shorts that are underneath my shorts – these things make world of difference and were less than $20 on Amazon.

  

The water bottles in my two bottle holders are the same 23.7 oz SmartWaters that I picked up on a road trip months ago. They fit well in the holder and have an easily accessible flip-top lid that I can use while riding. Refill after each ride and I’m ready to go.

Maybe They Make A Difference

I hear good things about riding gloves. And everyone seems to be wearing a jersey. What kind of a cave-man doesn’t use clipless pedals?

Maybe there are benefits to all of the other accessories that I am simply unaware of. One day, I’m sure that I will test them out. Until that time, I am a biker because I pedal.

Start with the bicycle and helmet, have fun, and build from there!

Always Have A Spare

This is the second in a series of posts sharing lessons learned while bicycling more than 1,170 miles in preparation for the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa. You can see them all here.

In 4 days Ashley and I had 3 flats on our bicycles. None of them were conveniently located right next to our RV. If we hadn’t had patch kits and/or spare innertubes with us, we would have had a long walk waiting us.

  
If you spend any time on a bicycle I recommend you carry a patch kit or a spare tube and any necessary tools. Taking a 30 minute break to fix a flat results in a much more enjoyable day than a multi-hour walk back home would.

Learn At Home

Trust me, learning how to do maintenance on the trail side is not very fun. And some places don’t have cell signal, so you won’t have the option of learning from YouTube like I did (and did you know that you can take tires and tube off of a wheel without tire irons? Me neither, until I realized that I had left mine at home.)

Familiarize yourself with the tools and skills while in the comfort of home, when you don’t need them yet. Future you will be immensely grateful.

An Ounce Of Prevention

There’s something to that old saying. Like cars, bicycles have a recommended maintenance schedule. Every time you go out, for example, you need to check that you have plenty of air pressure in your tires. Not oiling your chain every so often not only shortens the life of your chain and sprockets, but makes it harder to pedal!

  

There are a lot of bicycle maintenance checklists out there (like this one). Bikes aren’t complicated systems. You can learn to work on them yourself and save lots of headache later by ensuring that your routine maintenance is kept up.

Master Your Ride

Your bicycle is a vehicle. In order to keep it running optimally you need to be familiar with how it works, how to keep it working, and how to fix it when something goes wrong – and know that there are some things that will go wrong. Fortunately, parts and tools are relatively cheap and easily stored. And it’s easy to learn.

Here’s What I Carry (in case you’re curious)

Pedal Smart, Not Hard

This is the first in a series of posts sharing lessons learned while bicycling more than 1,170 miles in preparation for the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa.

This piece of advice distills what might be the most importance information that I have learned along the road. It is what made it possible for Ashley and I to ride 75 miles in a day and feel confident that we could do more (and, indeed, we plan on doing a “century ride” a week or two after the RAGBRAI – riding 100 miles in a single day).

If you look into bicycling you will notice that there are frequent mentions of pedaling cadence. Basically, the rate in which you are pedaling, measured in revolutions per minute (RPM) of the pedal. Generally speaking, 90 RPM is recommended as an average optimum speed to maximize speed while minimizing leg fatigue, and some racers aim for closer to 110 RPM. A beginner biker is commonly guessed to pedal at 70 RPM.

  

The way to learn your bicycling cadence is by using a cadence monitor (which is yet another piece of equipment that I have yet to feel the need for) so I have no idea what my pedaling speed is.

Pedal with your lungs

The theory is that when you use higher gears (harder to pedal) and pedal slower you are primarily using your leg muscles. While that might help you go faster or power up a hill quickly it also tires your muscles and, in the long term, slows you down.

  

By using lower gears (making it easier to pedal) your leg muscles don’t have to work as hard. In fact, your heart and lungs will be the limiting factor, so long as you have energy to pedal.

Pedal Fast, Not Hard

Keeping this concept in mind I experimented with different gears and discovered that, though I have no idea how fast I am pedaling, I am able to keep up my speed yet finish my ride with energy reserves by pedaling fast, not hard. 

Without a cadence monitor, my guideline is to stay in the lowest gear (easiest to pedal) that allows me to pedal without my body bouncing with each revolution.

This keeps me pedaling quickly without exhausting my legs, allowing me to maintain speed while reserving energy. This works uphill, downhill, and on flat ground. It can mean shifting more than I would like to as I stay in my ideal range, especially on slightly rolling hills.

Matthew tested, Matthew approved

This is by no means scientificly researched. Prior to learning about pedaling cadence I primarily used 3 gears of the 21 availble on my bicycle. I could ride 10 miles on my lunch break but was exhausted with wobbly legs afterward. Learning to use the entire range of gears on my bicycle allowed me to ride 10 miles on my lunch break but be energetic and ready for more at the end.

Pedal fast and use your gears, even if it means shifting more frequently than you might prefer. Your legs will thank you!

7 Lessons Learned While Riding 1,171 Miles

Since March 16, Ashley and I have ridden at least 1,170.96 miles in training for the RAGBRAI, a 7-day cross-state touring ride across Iowa that starts this Sunday (July 19th). A year and a half ago we weren’t really bike riders. I enjoyed riding casually, for fun and Ashley didn’t care for it at all.

  
A little more than a year ago she borrowed a mountain bike from my mom and realized she greatly enjoyed it. While planning our round-the-country RV trip we realized that there was neither a National Park nor a National Forest in Iowa and remembered a link that Mom had sent about a cross-state bicycle ride. After researching further, Ashley decided that she wanted to do it.

  
So we began riding with a purpose and purchased road bikes. I tracked mileage ridden on my new-to-me bicycle. Along the way, we learned a few things. Some from others, some from reading, and some the hard way.

  
In honor of our ride across Iowa, here are some of the lessons we’ve learned, which will be posted one per day during our ride:

  • Pedal Smart, Not Hard
  • Always Have A Spare
  • Proper Equipment Is Important
  • Eat Today, Ride Tomorrow
  • Hills Are In Your Head
  • Enjoy the Ride
  • Just Keep Pedaling

It’s not all puppies, rainbows, and butterflies

Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.

Have you noticed how fabulous some people’s lives look? You check Facebook, Instagram, etc to see what friends are up to and their lives look amazing! Boating, grilling out with friends, playing with their beautiful children, and still finding time to whip up some amazing meals and creating beautiful crafts. How can you ever compare?

  
The answer, of course, is that you can’t. Without thinking, we only use social media, those tools of public projection, to show the highlights of our lives. The bad pictures, mistakes and boring sections are edited out. At a glance, it would appear that everyone’s life is perfect and amazing from these curated displays.

  
You might think that of my wife and I, if you are following along on our journey around the U.S. in our motorhome. It is an amazing adventure and we are having a wonderful time and know that we’re blessed to have the opportunity, but we still have boring, frustrating, and bad moments, that you won’t find captured on our Facebook stream.

  
Even looking at our journal entries, you only see the highlights. Yes, we have visited 5 states and seen a lot of neat things. But here are a few of the things that we don’t mention:

  • hours and hours and hours of driving
  • so many bugs that we don’t go outside except to leave and go somewhere else
  • the challenge and frustration of finding somewhere to park for the night
  • getting annoyed and tired as a day goes on too long
  • gas station stops and watching the meter spin as the fuel pump flows
  • the challenges of having a good time while budgeting
  • the pictures that don’t turn out so well

   
   
Life is pretty darn good. We really don’t have anything to complain about. But if you looked at it only through the filter of social media you might think that we do nothing more than relax between adventures.

  
Whenever you look at someone else’s life, whether in person or online, keep in mind that it has been curated only to show the best parts, the highlights. Everyone has lows to offset the highs, stretches of boredom punctuated by excitement, and adventures tucked in between the day-to-day routines.

Journal entry – 16 July 2015, Thurs

Journal entries are just that – the digital copy of my hand-written entries in my journal. If you aren’t interested in the daily details of our adventure, feel free to skip on to the next “regular” post.

Started raining during the night. Glad we did most of our prep yesterday as it’s rained most of the morning.

Big breakfast as we have more food than time.

I finish writing the bicycle lessons posts for Adventure-Some and draft an email for the list.

Ashley does a load of laundry in the bucket washer and packs her clothes. I pull mine out and pack them. Other than a last few things that we’ll use tonight and a couple of items from the store we are ready to go.

Ashley proofs my blog posts and ok’s the email. Content is ready for all of next week.

  

I tie a 4-strand braid to attach to my duffel bag. Hopefully it will stand out and not be too hard to spot in the semi along the road next week. Ashley’s is hunter orange. That should help us spot it.

  

More sausages for lunch, and leftover soup. Freezer is empty with the ribeye thawed for tonight.

I still need to oil the bikes. Maybe it will stay sunny long enough to get that done after supper.

Supper is the ribeye, grilled beets, salad, and mashed potatoes. So much food, and all of it is delicious!

  

After supper we pack up things outside and prep for tomorrow’s departure. Planning on hitting the road by 11. Then reading and writing before heading to bed.