Worst Case Scenario

Well-meaning friends and family members have often asked us “What if…” questions while we were preparing for our trip.

  • What if the RV breaks down?
  • What if the RV breaks down and you can’t afford to fix it?
  • What if you run out of money?
  • What if Ashley gets pregnant? (this one seemed to come up a lot)
  • What if you get sick?
  • What if Ashley gets pregnant and has morning sickness while you’re driving?
  • What if you don’t like RVing?
  • What if you get tired of traveling?

While some of these struck us as humorous (morning sickness?) they were all valid questions and ones that we had taken into consideration when planning (well, maybe not the morning sickness one).

The 4 Hour Work Week includes an exercise called fear-setting. You define your absolute worse-case scenario and then work backward from there to figure out how you’d return to a comfortable position – to your current state. We followed this process while answering questions like those posed above.

Starting Point

Here’s what our life looked like, what we were leaving behind: We both had full-time jobs (nurse and computer guy) that provided a comfortable income. We were renting an apartment, had two cars and a couple of motorcycles. We had no debt. However, that’s more than we needed – we have happily and comfortably lived in a smaller place with less stuff and only a single vehicle (or just bicycles, if we were close enough to work).

So for us to return to our “status quo” means that we need a decent paying job or two, an apartment, and a couple of bicycles or maybe a car.

Tragedy has befallen

Our worse-case scenario means that some sort of accident has taken place and everything is destroyed. (Maybe we forgot to set the parking break and the RV has rolled off a cliff into a canyon. Perhaps the three bears move in and we just leave it to them. Or it was stolen/pillaged/burned while we’re off backpacking somewhere.) We’re all that’s left.

In that case we call the credit card company to send us replacements so that we can buy plane tickets home and live with one of our parents/siblings/friends until we can get a place of our own. Or we ask family/friends to buy us tickets. (Or we just use our savings and insurance to outfit another RV and continue along our journey.)

We get jobs – there are always places looking for nurses and IT professionals (or, heck, I can flip burgers, make pizza, or mow yards).

In less than a year we will have our own place, a new vehicle, and more stuff than we need.

Actually, the absolute worse case means that we’re in a wreck of some sort and all of the above happens, but also with injuries of some sort. In that case, the same things applies, but with the required waiting period for the physical healing to take place.

Broken RVs

One of the frequent concerns was about the RV breaking down. It is built on a vehicle, after all. In that case we will either pay to get it fixed and continue on our way or, if it is too expensive for us to fix immediately, we will simply stop and work.

It is our house, after all. We will find somewhere to park for a longer time, pay to be towed there (and that’s part of what the insurance is for) and then find jobs and live there until we have saved up enough to get the necessary repairs done. Then we’ll mosey along our way.

Broke and Penniless 

“How can you afford this?” always seems to be the question on everyone’s mind. What if you are traveling along, having a good old time, and run out of money?

Fortunately, there are a number of things that we can do to ensure this never happens. First of all, we can slow down. Slower is cheaper. Driving less saves gas, our biggest expense. Staying in one place longer gives us the option of long-term price breaks. So as our checking account dwindles we can plan ahead and stretch it out further.

We never planned on continuing along indefinitely without some sort of income. This could mean some sort of online business that we build. Or we could, and this is part of the plan either way, find jobs along the way. There is a whole field of jobs that are targeted toward RV full-timers. Campground hosts, harvest laborors, tourist guides, seasonal retail employees, and more. Some provide a free parking place and utilities while others offer some pretty decent pay.

Working along the way will not only provide us with some additional income but will also let us explore some positions that we’d have never taken at home when we were working full time. I want to learn to be a bicycle mechanic and think it would be fun to work at a vineyard during harvest (once). Ashley wants to learn to be a coffee barista. It’s hard to justify working at these jobs that paid less than our prior incomes, or to take away our free time to learn these hobbies. Now, though, they can serve the double purpose of offering both money and skill building.

Adding a third

“What if Ashley gets pregnant?” We’re not entirely sure why this was such a popular question. 7 years into our marriage and we’ve stayed a couple thus far. None-the-less, we know it’s a possibility. And, we know that parenting changes your lives.

If Ashley gets pregnant, we will…. continue on. More slowly, with longer pauses, and perhaps a bit less hiking. We would probably establish a home-base somewhere for a bit, circling around doctors so that Ashley and baby could receive the care and checkups they require. And we’d have to get our car out of storage and exchange it for the motorcycle.

However, this is our home. As an RV, it sleeps 6. I think we can find space for a peanut somewhere. We would remodel and add a space for the baby. And I’ve seen bassinets – they don’t have to take up that much room. Until a kiddo gets a few years into this living thing they don’t take up that much room. It’s their gadgets that require space. Those will have to be limited.

As a kid I loved being outdoors, exploring new places, learning new things. How lucky a kid we would have who got to do that as a way of life.
And, regarding the morning sickness? I guess if Ashley was feeling bad while I was going down the road, I’d stop, offer to make her some tea and, once she felt better, keep on going. We can travel later or earlier in the day.

A similar answer applies for sickness. When one of us gets sick we’ll do the same thing we did at our various apartments – take care of each other. We’ll probably stay stationary for a bit, or drive shorter distances. There would likely be less hiking. But, ultimately, it would just be a story along the journey.

Wrong choices!

Oh no! What if we don’t like living in an RV, or don’t like traveling as much as we anticipate. (Neither of which are true thus far. Quite the opposite, in fact. We love it more as we go along.)
Financially speaking, if we live in our RV (whether parked or moving) for 2 years, we will have broken even. Basically, we paid 25 months worth of rent at our last apartment to buy our RV (and rent was about to go up). So if we don’t like it but can stick it out for two years and then just decide to walk away from it, we’ve broken even. If we sold it then, it could be considered pure profit. Of course, that doesn’t take into account utilities, which are lower in the RV, so we can accelerate the financial savings. And at the end of 2 years, we’d have a great story to tell.

But, since we love our home and can’t imagine selling it, let’s say that we ended up not liking traveling as much as we expected. We were fairly certain, considering that we’d already visited about 1/3 of the states and lived out of the country at least once, that we would love traveling. But maybe we would grow tired of it.

In that case, the answer is simple. If we grow tired of traveling, we will stop! Vehicles, including RVs, come with parking brakes. We could buy a plot of land, rent a long-term camp site, or move in next to family/friends on a piece of property. Just because it can move doesn’t mean that it has to. And one of the purposes of our journey is to find where we want to live next.

Easing worries

Tim’s point with the Fear-Setting exercise is to show that our worst-case scenarios often aren’t as bad as we expect. Fear itself is fear inducing. By thinking through possible outcomes we empower ourselves to work through them.
We’re aware that things could go wrong on this trip, that wrenches could be tossed into our plans. More importantly, we know that we have options and that we can work through whatever might come up.

Though it might look like this adventure was hastily undertaken, there were actually years of research and dreaming that lead up to it. We know it’s possible and, based on our dreams, desires, and experiences, that it would be an excellent fit for us. So far that’s proven to be the case, we’re loving it more every day. Knowing what our worst case scenarios are and having a plan prepared for how to deal with them eases our worries and lets us focus on the here and now, enjoying our current adventures.

Touristy vs Tourist Towns


We’ve said before, numerous time, that we aren’t touristy people. And that holds true. Apparently, however, we can be tourists.

The distinction? We are prepared to leave Red Lodge, Montana, where we have spent the last 3 and a half weeks (that’s not only the longest we’ve been in any one area since hitting the road, but the longest we’ve been in a single state!) We have thoroughly enjoyed the town and the mountains surrounding it. With no phone signal outside of town, in any of the three places we’ve been calling home we have had to come into town regularly.

Red Lodge feels like a small mountain town that caters to tourists. Without tourists there might not be much here, but there would be something. It does not exist for tourists, though it does thrive because of them. We have yet to notice a chain store here, except the True Value Hardware, Beartooth Grocers IGA, and Conoco Gas station. The book store, coffee shops, restaurants, and everything else seems to be local versions that only exist here – often with the owner working behind the cash register and personally greeting the regulars who come in every day.

As a tourist town, it seems to have been made for us – two coffee shops, a book store/tea shop, two camping gear stores, a custom motorcycle shop – all set at the foot of mountains with some beautiful motorcycle rides and plenty of hiking trails.

We have loved our time here, but it feels past time to be on the road. No, we haven’t tried every restaurant or gone into every store, but we visited the art show in the park, checked out the farmers’ market, and are comfortable on the back roads. Now, if only the USPS will deliver the package that its tracking website says has arrived, we will be on our way. Autumn seems to have arrived, with cold nights and very brisk mornings. We are ready for new scenery and warmer temperatures.

Tourists? Yes, I suppose we are. Webster defines a tourist as “one who tours, especially for pleasure.” We are not interested in touristy destinations, however, and will continue our quest to explore natural locations about the US.

Red Lodge, stay yourself – welcoming, friendly (even at the gas station and post office!), and unique. We will return – there are still trails to hike, lakes to visit, and bison burgers to eat. Until that time, don’t fall for the touristy trap. Cater to visitors, take good care of them, but don’t succumb to them. While it’s time for us to head on our way, we have enjoyed our time here and are sad to leave.

(And if you happen to visit, the coffee and sandwiches at Honey’s are superb, the views from the Beartooth National Highway are magnificent, and we might even know a thing or two about some great free campsites and a couple of the hiking trails. :)

Silver Linings

During yesterday’s hike, it rained on us. Cold rain. Fortunately, we had our rain gear with us, and we knew that the rain was coming – just couldn’t hike fast enough to beat it (and if we had, it would have rained on us as we rode the motorcycle.)

Even taking the rain into account, it was a fabulous hike. We traveled though a variety of environments, ate lunch sitting next to a beautiful alpine lake, and met a delightful gentleman enjoying his vacation.

The rain only lasted for a few minutes, and it highlighted the beauty in the environment we were hiking through. There is a large swath of land that was burnt down some years ago. We were passing through a section of that burn. The trees are nothing but blackened poles and many have fallen to the ground. The undergrowth is mostly small bushes and new pines, little is more than a couple of feet tall. The boulders are the highlights of the hike, great white and swirled gray mounds resting on the ground.

As the clouds overtook us, though, and the sun was hidden, the landscape changed. The variation of the light made everything richer, more vibrant. The colors were saturated. What had been off-white and dark gray trees turned into pillars that included colors like silver, white, shiny ebony black, buttery gold, iron red, and everything in between. The dark stems of the undergrowth almost glowed with a maroon hue, contrasted with their emerald leaves. The world took on nuances of color that we would have otherwise missed.

We had plenty of warning that the rain was coming, so we were ready to stop and put on our rain gear once it started. While doing so I spotted wild raspberries growing along the trail – a favorite treat. Ashley saw a double-rainbow that looked like it was just down at the bottom of the hill. Never have we been so close to a rainbow, much less two of them. They were perfectly formed, the bottom one very clear – we could distinctly see each of the individual colors.

The rainbows didn’t last long. Nor did the rain. We snacked on freshly washed raspberries straight from the bush while making our way down the trail. Before reaching the end the sun was shining again, the rainbows were gone, and the motorcycle had pretty well dried off. The hillside had hidden its vibrant colors once more, returning to muted, almost dusty shades of green, gray and brown. But we know the truth. Hidden in there, brought out by rain clouds and their accompanying rain, is a whole range of vibrant colors and even a rainbow or two.

The value of hindsight

It’s easy to talk about silver linings, the delights that a raincloud can bring, in the literal sense. Harder to see are the silver linings that come about in our lives, in the figurative sense. If we get wet in a bit of rain it might be chilly for a few minutes, or take us some time to dry out, but that’s just part of the experience. The rain clouds in our lives touch us more deeply. It takes longer to recover from a loved one lost than to dry our dampened clothes. Yet, the blessings that we receive, the clouds’ linings, can be that much richer.

This came up on a recent hike. Ashley and I were reflecting on how different our lives would be today if they hadn’t been touched by tragedy in the past.

Relationship foundations

One of the inspirations for this adventure was Ashley’s dad. He had great plans for his retirement (including exploring the country in an RV) and didn’t get to live them out after battling cancer. He is missed greatly, yet without his tragic passing, our lives would be nothing like they are today.

Ashley’s oldest sister was able to come and work locally for a few months to be near him. She and I were old friends and spent time together while she was in town. That lead to me spending time with Ashley and up to where we are today. Without him being sick, Ashley and I would not have run into each other and wouldn’t be married! None of our adventures together would have happened.

(Likewise, our beloved Jim wouldn’t have been able to enter the picture.)

Marriage passion

Though I have a solid foundation of a happy childhood, my parents went through a nasty divorce when I was a young teen. That experience taught me that I would never go through something similar. Having seen both sides of what a family can be like – happy and supportive or crumbling and broken – I know what I want and what to avoid. This experience is one that has lead up to my passion for strong marriages. Sticky-note Love, Ready-to-go Dates, and my other writings about marriage and romance are part of how I fight for strong marriages.

I’ve learned from my mistakes and others’ errors and strive to ensure that Ashley and I have a long and happy marriage. Continual reading and researching help me to have a strong base of knowledge toward that goal. I will continue to fight for our fabulous marriage and help others do the same for theirs. A passion which wouldn’t be as strong if I hadn’t seen what the other side looks like.

Other positives

We came up with more examples in our lives. The upsides from a broken back, youthful stupidity, other cancer victims, broken motorcycles and more. Not every negative event seems to have a silver lining (maybe we just aren’t yet far enough removed to see it) but so many of them do. And the effect of the positive seems to be in direct correlation to the hurt of the negative.

It’s easy to say “look for the positives” or “this happens for a reason”, but that isn’t the purpose I have in mind. I merely intend to share some of our trail musings – to try and convey some of the wonder that we felt at realizing how deeply different events have affected our lives, in ways we would have never expected. We didn’t, couldn’t, see it at the time, however. It took hindsight, distance, to see the ripples that occur from the events that take place in our lives.

Clouds don’t have to be bad

Of course, silver linings always seems to convey the idea that clouds are a bad thing. As with our rain clouds yesterday, they were not negative. The change they brought to the light really highlighted the colors in the world around us. The raspberries were freshly washed. What started out as a hot day ended up being delightfully cool as we wrapped up our hike. With our rain gear on, the few minutes of water falling on us was not a bad thing, it was just a part of the experience.

Everything causes ripples. We are greatly enjoying our lives as we travel in our new home, exploring. This experience will affect the rest of our lives in ways that we cannot imagine. Perhaps it will help us launch our next career, one that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Maybe we’ll find the perfect place for us to settle down. Who knows, we could stumble across a hidden treasure!

The silver linings of this adventure will, as they have been in past experiences, be in proportion to the inputs. They will be huge, stunning us in the effects on our lives. And while we can point to some immediate benefits, the true changes have yet to be seen.

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!

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