Monday, 5/21/12) Hudson, Ohio.
INTRO: Well, here we go, my fourth blog for the fourth and final trans-continental trip across North America – at least my final trip for the foreseeable future. I’ve had so many amazing experiences, and I really look forward to this American Dirt trip and all that Judy and I will see and do… but I’ll have to say that after this I’m ready to explore some other avenues for adventure in life. I came to that conclusion on my umpteenth 6+ hr fixie training ride this spring. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m very excited about this summer, and the thing I really like about this upcoming trip is the fact that I can share some of my experiences with Judy, this opposed to ME being the only one to really feel, touch, taste and see the people and places along the journey – that as I had in the two previous trips across the USA. So sharing will be a real joy each and every day.
What’s more I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to even be able to do these trips. This is really what I’ve worked towards my entire life, and I hope through this blog that I can bring all of you along with us for this crazy ride so you to can share our experiences - albeit vicariously.
For this first blog, what with the trip looming less than 2 wks away, I’m going to try to go through some of the issues that we’ve been facing, and what I think we will face in American Dirt 2012. So let’s start with the question I almost always field when talking about American Dirt….WHY?
THE VISION: Over the past 12 years my riding has kind taken a turn in a completely different direction than the roadie/triathlete track that I was living in for the previous 20 yrs. During my 20’s and 30’s I was a racing and training adrenaline junkie who craved speed and competition on the asphalt. I loved pushing the envelope on those two thin tires, and I loved each and every day where I got the opp to either test myself against others …or test me against myself. I craved that suffering feeling you get biking at your AT…and I grew to love it in running and swimming to. That was so fulfilling. And I had a blast with all those sports back then. But in 2000 I had a switch go off in my head that pretty much put an end to the whole competitive thing. I guess I was really ready to go in some different directions in life – not only with respect to cycling, but really with any kind of competition in general. That’s about the time when I discovered mt biking. And I grew to love the solitude of biking on dirt, gravel, and woodland single-track, through secluded backcountry and across mt meadows for mile after endless mile. It was both mystical, spiritual and therapeutic, and it gave me a real sense of peace and solitude that I think I lacked in life up until then. It was like “church on a bike,” where I could completely loose myself in the moment, where I could just get away from it all, feel a total sense of peace, yet still be connected to riding a bicycle – to me it was a cycling utopia! So I ended up just doing this 180 in life, leaving the racing in the past and moving towards adventure and new horizons in the future. And I ended up traveling all over the world in those first 9 years post-competition, where I was mt biking, backpacking, climbing and exploring this big beautiful planet.
Anyway…I kind of conceived of this ludicrous Am Dirt thing back in 2009 in a cycling adventure across Canada. On that trip Ryan and I used 29er mt bikes and were able to get off the beaten track (hard surface roads) and onto gravel and trail for small stretches here and there – and it was just an incredible experience. I guess that’s when the Am Dirt thing kind of popped into my mind…like “wouldn’t it be something to actually ride all the way across the country on stuff like this – day in and day way out - away from the traffic bustle on concrete and asphalt roads?” It was conceived then, and after that trip I began working on the route in the winter of 2009-2010. But really at that time I was just way, way off of actually coming up with a viable route to even think about trying. My subsequent 2010 ride across the USA was one where I kind of checked out Am Dirt options. It pretty much showed me that Am Dirt was just not going to happen on the Northern Tier Route – Maine to Washington State. So back to the drawing board for a 2011 trip.
That 2010-2011 winter is when my two buds – Jared and Pete – teamed up with me. Together we came up with the idea of trying to not only be the first to ride across the US all on soft surfaces, but to shoot for a Race Across American style undertaking. We were hoping that with the help of sponsorship, we’d see if we could pull off the Am Dirt thing as a premier cycling endurance challenge and an American first – a US crossing of this style has never been attempted thus far, let alone completed. But let me tell you no matter what we did, that sponsorship stuff was just a total beat-down – probably more on my psyche than on theirs. And I have to admit to you that I just don’t have it in my blood to press people, businesses and corporations for money to ride a bike! From a practical standpoint it just comes off as asinine to think that others will pay for you to do something you just love to do – but don’t have the money to do! Are you kidding me? Well as it turned out we tried for some 4 months to get Am Dirt up as a sponsored event, but it just didn’t appeal to anyone.
Unfortunately, we needed sponsors WAY more for my
companions to do this trip of than for me to do it. I mean I can work and make a living while on the road – just give me wifi, my computer and a cell phone and I’m good to go. But for the guys, well, their situation is different – “gone from work-no pay” - as it is for most everyone today. Boil it down anyway you want to and we still discovered that sponsorship was really the only viable way to make the racing team attempt concept a reality. And it flopped! So I was back to square one – solo or no-go? And believe me, if I had my druthers, I’d take those guys suffering with me anytime vs me doing this thing solo. But those are the cards I’ve been dealt – so I’ve got to play them as is.
So anyway, my ride across the US in 2011 turned into another solo, and it was somewhat of a prologue, in that I was trying to find the best collection of trails and roads to connect for the real attempt when that time came. I did that 2011 crossing on a 29er, pulling another whopping 75-80 lbs of gear in a Bob Ibex trailer – and it was a total killer on dirt and gravel! I found that no matter how bloody strong I was, there were just some roads and grades where I couldn’t even walk the bike up. And these were gravel roads for God’s sake – not even single track or foot trail!! That was a humbling trip indeed. But I did find that there’s a network of Rail Trails and Hiking/Cycling trails that just might form a line across the country when hooked together with backroads, jeep track, ATC trails and RR lines. So I was onto the very good possibility for stitching a route together from the 2011 trip. And that brings us to this summer – where I’ll have support, plenty of time, and as much logistical research and equipment as I could hope to have mustered in a year’s time. I mean it’s totally silly to be quite honest, but to me just trying this goofy thing is going to provide me with a life’s worth of personal satisfaction – to have what appears to be an insurmountable vision, and then pursue it with all I have to give.
Now to be honest I think the odds are stacked against me with respect to the route, but I’m anxious as hell to really see if it’s possible. I equate the plan to find a dirt route across the USA to playing the lottery: there are probably a thousand million potential combinations, but finding the right one or two that actually hit – that’s striking it rich. That’s one in a million.
THE TRAINING: I think having Pete and Jared last year working on the team concept really got me going again as far as some kind of organized training for myself. I mean I’d gone for about 10 plus years just being Mr. Tempo – Z3 Cruise tempo. Just couldn’t stomach the thought of doing reps for years. So there were no reps of Z4-5 (high intensity training that all competitive cyclist do) stuff to speak of for me – unless I had to keep from getting my arse kicked by one of my clients or friends on a group ride!! But this year I buckled down and really decided to put in some serious training again – reps stuff included. Started out with 3 months of fixed gear riding, where I eventually got up to a 7-hr fixie ride. Had weeks of fixie riding in the winter that were up in the 25-30 hr range. Also did Z4 and 5 reps on the fixie on hills – that was a smack in the face to a guy who was nothing but Mr. Tempo for a decade! I continued my resistance regime where I’d do body wt resistance (push-ups, pull-ups, handstand push-ups) and all sorts of balance exercises throughout the winter and spring – this to be able to maneuver the bike in sketchy situations off-road.
Then once I got off the fixie I incorporated hike-a-bike workouts and hiking into the workout program (with backpack on) – because there’s going to be some long and painful days where I’ll have to shoulder the bike on foot trails and through woodlands, across streams and rivers, and God knows where else. Managed to get in some crazy good workouts over the spring, with bizarre rides of 3-5 hrs on railroad ballast, hikes of 6-7 hrs, and combination workouts of bike/hike/bike/hike…and EAT! So at this point I really feel I’m ready to take on whatever challenge awaits me. My musculo-skeletal system is ready for long days on bike and foot.
One big IF is going to be my nutrition and hydration. Now I’ve had some great consultations Lee Ann DiBaise, Clinical Dietition at the Summa Wellness Institute, where I teach a couple of fitness classes. And she’s given me some great information to consider for this trip. But still, trying to pump out 6-12-hr days each and every day, that’s going to take some learning on my part as to just what is really working and what isn’t – especially if the heat is as bad as it was last year. I’ve been experimenting on my rides, and I know that at about the 6-hr point I’m just totally sick of bars, gu’s and jells and I loose my appetite. I need protein. I crave protein. So I’m going to have to carry some kind of beef jerky or the like in my pack each day.
THE BACKPACK: I’m going to be wearing a backpack for this trip where I’ll be carrying: a cell phone, a Kindle Fire notebook with digitized 1:24,000 topo maps for each state, a walkie talkie, a handheld ham radio transceiver with an extension antenna, food, water, a helmet cam, a small digital camera, hiking shoes and extra clothing. And I’m hoping I can keep the thing down to about 20-25 lbs! Obviously the load will change each day based on what the terrain dictates I need.
THE LOGISTICS: Yea, this is the tough one. I’ve been buying and digitizing maps for the past 2 years. Now the collection is just amazing. I had to purchase a 750 GB external drive for my computer just to store all the maps, and the expected flow of photos and video that will be coming in during the trip. So I will download map sets off of my external drive and onto the Kindle as needed. At last count I have 12 state gazetteers and a pile of county maps – and GB’s of digitized maps.
But let me tell you, communication is the biggest issue for us, and Judy is deathly worried about us/me/her getting lost out in the hinterlands of America where we cannot communicate. As we found out last year – cell phones are pretty useless in the hills and hollows of rural America. And through a ton of research I discovered that even good…even GREAT… walkie talkies have severe limitations with respect to distance and obstacles (mts, valleys, ridges, buildings). So I was left with two choices for emergency communication: Satellite Phone and/or hand held ham radios. Sat phones are just now at a tolerable pricepoint – cheapest are about 5 Franklins each. Best are about 2 G’s each! But what kills you are the minutes. If you don’t purchase a yearly plan then you have to purchase your minutes on cards of 200, 500, 1000 and 5000 minutes each – and the minutes are about a buck apiece. So add up the two Sat phones and a minimum of two 500-minute cards and you’re at an easy 2 G’s right off the bat. Ouch!! More phone and more minutes puts it at 3 G’s.
So I started looking into ham radios, and I liked the possibilities they’d give us, because by learning to use the repeater system that is in place in the US you have a very good possibility of communicating in some pretty remote areas with the hams (the repeaters bounce signals). Couple that with the fact that the air time is …FREE! Yup, no cost in air time on the hams. BUT – you need an FCC license to operate them. To transmit on public airwaves you MUST have at least what’s called a Technician’s license. We both had to have them to transmit. To get that license you must pass a test. The study book is about 150-200 pages, and then you’re given 396 questions - of which 35 are on the test. So I bought the book and showed it to Judy and she about flipped when she started reading it. I mean it’s a lot of numbers, electrical concepts, equipment system concepts, antenna concepts, and a gazillion other concepts.
Tell you what, here’s a sample question: Which of the following is a common effect of “skip” reflections between the Earth and the ionosphere? A. The sidebands become reversed at each reflection, B. The polarization of the original signal is randomized, C. The apparent frequency of the received signal is shifted by a random amount, D. Signals at frequencies above 30 MHz become stronger with each reflection. Answer is B!!
So Judy saw these and just went bonkers. Hell, I was wondering if I could even pass the damn thing given just a week and a half to study for it. Yea, we only had one opp. before we left for the trip to take a test in our local area. So the heat was on. But amazingly enough we both studied up and passed the test, and are now official ham radio operators. So I bought two handhelds and some antenna extensions. Don’t really know if I can do any more in that dept. so enough said.
THE ROUTE: I can only say that it’s tentative, and I’m sure things will ebb and flow throughout this trip. But I have roughed it out. We’ll start again on the C&O canal towpath in DC and take that all the way to Cumberland, MD. From there onto a rail trail to Ohiopyle, PA. And from there to Morgantown, WV to Clarksville, WV, to Parkersburg, WV, through Southern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and MO. Then up to the Katy Trail in MO to KS. Across KS into NE, into Southern WY or Northern Co, into Southern ID and finally into OR where we hope to finish. Sounds pretty good right? But I can only guess that that will get blown right out the door at some point, so I’ll just say that I want to reach the West Coast.
THE RULES: HEY, it’s my gig…I get to create my own rules here right? Ideally I’d love to do this whole thing on soft surfaces from east to west. But realistically, that’s a bloody big long shot if you take it in the truest sense of the statement. Like take for instance when a trail, path or gravel road crosses an asphalt road? Do I ride across it, stop and carry bike across it, hop across it, or not cross it? Well, I’m going to ride over these and say I’m good and incur no foul – remember: my rules! How about like a bridge over the Ohio or Mississippi River? I’m sure as hell not going to swim it with a bike on belly. Nor am I going to inflate a dingy and paddle across it. I will opt for a ferry if possible, but riding a bridge is my very last resort, and kind of a no-no in a true east-west Am Dirt ride. But if I’m in a pickle, that one I may have to consider.
Now how about if I get stuck in an area and there’s just no way to connect two dirt sections but to ride on the gravel berm of a paved road? I’m going to call this my “bailout” and ride to a place where I can get back on true soft surfaces. So yes, short connectors on gravel berms are fair game in my rulebook. What I will not do is just give up and ride gravel berms all the way out west. That I think is pretty much cashing it in and copping out.
Now I will ride on hard surfaces if I’m heading back to a campground or motel after a hard day’s ride on dirt, again as long as I’m not using pavement to progress forward on my trip. I will also ride on pavement if an intended route goes sour and I have to return back to a specific start point where the route was last true to the nature of the trip. Yup, I’ll short-cut back on pavement to where I think I can go off pavement in a different direction and begin the route again. It’s going to be a real mind game going over these scenarios, but I’ll deal with them as they come.
THE START DATE: We’re driving to MD to stay with my cousin for a day or so. The trip will begin in Washington DC on Saturday 6/2 or Sunday 6/3.
There you are. So hope you have something to chew on for a bit before we get this gig going. I do want to thank everyone who’s encouraged me in this endeavor – that truly means a lot to me. All the best and talk to you soon………Pete