“The impossible often has a kind of integrity, which the merely improbable lacks.”
– Douglas Adams
2015 was such a great year for me in terms of biking. Oh, and that whole marriage to my wife thing I suppose was ok too. After biking to my wedding and replicating RTYD II in reverse, I needed a new goal for the year. I landed on the easy option of extending my personal best distance, which would be a ride of over 200 miles. Instead of just biking around Ohio for 200 miles, I wanted a destination that would be fun to bike to.
I remember when I started to plan the trip from Kent, OH, to Rochester, NY. It made sense, really. The whole ridiculous distance thing started with RTYD I from Rochester to Jamestown, NY, and that was followed up with riding from Jamestown to Kent. Why not just do them both at the same time in reverse? Better still, I could bike to Rochester and help D move. My wife could meet me there and it would be a sweet time.
Feeling the Strain
Well, things did not go according to plan at all. My wife couldn’t make the trip, which was one part of the issue. Instead, I actually shipped my clothes to D’s house ahead of my trip so I would have things to wear that weren’t sweaty and limited to tight bike shorts. I had actually done this method one time the previous year when I was planning on biking home to attend a wedding, but I broke my wrist the day before.
The second issue was that during training for the ride, I strained my calf. I felt the pull as I was pushing through a 50-mile ride. I nursed it home and headed out the next day for a 30-mile lunch trip to see how bad it was. It was bad enough to not be good. It was not a terrible injury or setback by any means, but it was definitely having an impact on my ability to pedal. I couldn’t put a heavy amount of force behind the strokes because I would pull the calf even more.
I had about nine days between the pull and the trip and I was freaking out.
I was getting so nervous that I was getting 2014’d again with a big trip because I was so hyped while also being crushed by an annoying injury.
I literally had my wife use a kitchen rolling pin to roll my calf.
She would get to the trouble spot on the upper calf on the outside of the leg and it would be so sore that it triggered tears in my eyes. I bought Beast Tape with no idea if it actually did anything at all. I just remember watching my dad, well into his fifties, playing flag football with a taped knee that had no cartilage in it and a surgically repaired wrist with tape on it. I asked him once if the tape helped and he responded that it might stabilize it a bit, but it was almost exclusively psychological #icyhoteffect.
I set up contingency plans to have people available to pick me up if I couldn’t finish. I planned to bike two hours and then call my wife to report whether or not biking with the calf was even possible or if she needed to come get me.
Prepping For Departure
My timing for leaving on these long rides has progressively moved back earlier and earlier. Our first RTYD I had a 6:22 am departure time. RTYD II had a 4:17 am departure time. The wedding ride and other rides had a midnight departure time.
Leaving at night like this has its benefits. First, the traffic is reduced when you leave at night. Second, although the trip can feel more isolated at night, doing this at the beginning of the trip instead of the end results in the darkness not feeling quite as oppressive and foreboding. Many of those early long trips, the darkness at the end seemed to drive the spirit out of me and riding companions. At the beginning of the trip, you are jazzed up, adrenaline’d to the brink and ready to go.
Given all of these variables, I decided to push the start time even earlier. For this solo RTYD, I left around 8:15 pm.
The day before these rides with the weird start time is an interesting experience. You eat lots of low glycemic carbs and try to stay up as late as possible. I attempted to stay up as late as possible the day before. I watched the movie Gravity to try to pass the time. I think around 2 am, I went outside and walked for at least an hour. I went to bed at 5 am that day and slept for as long as I could. Of course your body does not really care about any of this and wakes you up after seven hours of sleep. I tried to relax by staying in bed for another two hours and that was not great either. Then it’s up and getting busy.
I ate some more, trying to time the last meal so it’s not too close to departure time. I remember eating eggs about two hours before leaving and being too jacked up to really want to eat at all.
Then it’s time to pack up the bike.
This is something that I am really focused on getting right for the Big Ride this month. How to pack for a solo trip with no support for multiple days? I will need to really think about how to pack enough for one leg of the trip and be able to fuel up for each leg at a store near my stopping point for the day.
For this particular ride, I definitely overpacked. The theory then was to bring a wide variety of items so that I wouldn’t get mouth-bored over the course of the ride.
After packing, my wife was home from work and after a shower, she strapped some Beast Tape onto my calf #psychologicalbenefits and I drank caffeine for the first time in two weeks in the form of a V8 Energy and immediately regretted it because my hands started shaking and my nerves got even worse.
I had never been more nervous for a ride than I was for this one. I wonder in hindsight if the nerves would have been as dramatic if I did not have the calf to worry about. How much of my concern was due to the unprecedented personal distance required and how much was a concern that my leg physically could not perform the task at hand?
Memories… All Alone in the Moonlight
Then I headed out. The backpack sat heavy, my leg all jagged with tape, I made it to the corner of the main street in Kent, about a mile from my house and stopped. Not a good sign, right? No, everything was fine-ish, it was just colder than expected so I got out a windbreaker, hefted the massively heavy backpack back on and headed out again.
Two hours into the trip, I called my wife. I remember hesitantly saying “I think I’m ok. I think I can do this.” She asked if I was sure and I went into detail about how the calf was definitely sensitive, but I was taking my time, paying attention to each pedal stroke, and not pushing myself too much at all. She said alright and be careful. I then called D and gave him a similar spiel.
The ride was on and even though I was already two hours in, I felt like it had finally really started as I powered up a small hill in the dead of night in the middle of rural Ohio.
I had finally accepted the task and committed to the idea of doing the entire trip. Up to that point, I really wasn’t sure. I still had safety nets in place, people to come get me if something flared up with the calf, but I had gotten past the first safeguard, the hurdle of being able to do the ride at all.
The best part about these rides from Ohio to New York is the Western Reserve Trail. More specifically, the best part is riding that trail well after astronomical twilight has past. I believe this trail goes for some 34 miles up through Ohio towards Ashtabula. The flat terrain, the tree cover, and the quiet all lend to a feeling that no miles are really passing by.
Night riding in general can have that effect, allowing the miles to just flow past without a true recognition of the distance travelled. Having this at the beginning of the ride serves a similar function as the massive stretch of the Erie Canal Trail during RTYD I in that it allows you to think you can indeed finish the trip because you were able to do 12% of the trip without really noticing.
Once past Ashtabula, my time on bike trails was done and my time on Route 20 was forever. I brought enough fluid to get me 80 miles into the trip and made my first stop at a Country Fair to get more water and Gatorade. From this point on, I was in “20-Mile Mode” in which I would get enough fluid to make it 20 more miles to the next designated stop. Well before the trip, I looked up gas stations or other convenience stores in 20-mile increments so I would always have a fresh supply of water on the trip. This becomes extremely important when temperatures get up into the 80s and 90s and you hit midday pedaling through rural New York on open terrain with no tree cover.
Drizzle Fo Shizzle
The only thing of note that happened while on the Western Reserve Trail was that right before the sun came up, the rain started. A light drizzling that had no real effect on me at the time. However, as the miles racked up and the temperature stayed low, waiting for daybreak to take full shape, the cold seeped into my bones.
By the early morning, I was shivering uncontrollably.
I stopped at another Country Fair, went to the bathroom, and tried to think what to do because I didn’t have spare clothes with me. I went to a McDonald’s and got a hot chocolate, hoping that would do something to alleviate the chill.
For the record, I hate hot drinks. I find them completely useless. Once every 3.7 years, I have a hot chocolate, trying to fool myself into thinking that the drink is a worthwhile endeavor, only to be thoroughly disappointed #learningfrommymistakes. Desperate times, though. I realized as I sipped the obnoxiously hot concoction that it wouldn’t help because I remained in my annoying shiver-state and my clothes were still wet, shoes and socks soaked through.
I needed to try something else so I walked over to a K-Mart and bought windbreaker pants that were far too big because that’s all they had, a shirt, and a pack of socks. I put every pair of socks on, throwing out the old, soaked pair. I had to wear all 3 pairs to avoid my wet shoes from soaking the new socks all the way. The change of clothes provided much needed relief by providing a new barrier between my wet skin and the wind.
Tick Tock Tanked
I took up the bike again and kept pedaling, losing nearly 40 minutes of time on the I’m-too-cold-to-keep-biking detour. Such a detour can be demoralizing.
I find myself often paralyzed by time calculations. If I don’t get a certain time in, if a break takes too long, I calculate my estimated arrival and fall into a sense of worry or despair depending on how long it’s going to take to finish the ride.
This detour had an impact but that impact was mediated partially by the fact that I had thrown time out the window right at the beginning. The worrisome calf meant I was never going to attempt to make a certain time, push myself to get that coveted 15 mph average that I usually strive for (and fall woefully short of almost always). Given my disregard for the clock at the beginning of the ride, the detour did not have as dramatic an impact as it might have.
Most of the rest of the trip only had a few memorable moments sprinkled in. It was just miles and miles. A few things to note include the following:
- By the time I made it to Buffalo, I was no longer paying much attention to the calf and it was holding up just fine. I do not know what changed or if it was just fatigue that caused me to pay less and less attention as the ride continued.
- My wife called me around mid afternoon, which is only noteworthy because at the time she called, I had been awake for over 26 hours. She wanted to make sure I was not too tired. I thought this an odd question at the time because of course I was tired, but I was not sleep tired. I assured her I was fine in that department.
- I do not remember the time or distance when I started to notice my tongue hurting. The ridiculous amount of eating I was doing with such high contents of sugar was causing sores on my tongue. I had never experienced such a thing on any previous ride before. Granted, I was pedaling for nearly 70 more miles than my longest trip to dats, but still.
- At one store, I stopped to get a smoothie and use the bathroom. In the bathroom, I noticed that my eyes were completely bloodshot. They looked like a vessel had burst in my eye, in fact. More than 20 hours of contacts and wind apparently does not sit well with my eyes.
- As twilight began to set in again for the second time since I had started biking, I realized that I could certainly make it the entire way to Rochester, but I would not make it there for at least another 3 or 4 hours. I called D and told him he had better come get me instead. Just outside of Batavia, he picked me up with the tripometer reading 264 miles. I climbed into his car after 26 hours and 20 minutes of biking. Of those 26 hours, nearly 23 of them were spent moving.
- I burned just under 8,000 calories in that time according to Strava. By my calculations, I ate about 6,000 calories, which means that with my regular metabolic calorie burn, I ended the day over 4,000 calories in debt.
- The symptoms afterward were profoundly noticeable. My quads were unable to truly bend for about three days. My hands felt tingly and numb for at least the same amount of time.
In classic Puppy and D fashion, the adventure did not end at the bike ride. 33% of the reason I came to Rochester was to help him and his fiancee move across town, which turned into an insane whirlwind of the next five days.
Day 1: I spent most of the day packing up their kitchen and living room.
Day 2 & 3: The three of us drove across the state to Boston to visit D’s sister who is also like a sister to me even though she probably hates that (the other 33% of the reason I came to visit). We spent a day and half there before I drove us back while D worked on some chemistry problems in the backseat.
Day 4: I finished packing in the morning while D went to his lab for a few hours, then we went out and rented a U-Haul and packed that before D went back to lab to work on a reaction and I worked on writing my Dissertation Prospectus, which was due in a few days.
Day 5: This day was mostly running back and forth with the U-Haul and then the car while D went to lab and class. He got out of school around 6pm and he drove me to Erie, PA, where we were again racing against the clock.
This time, the clock was due to Texas Roadhouse closing at a certain time and we wanted to make sure we were in the doors before that time. We made it with a few minutes to spare and met my wife who would drive me the rest of the way back to Kent.
My final thoughts about the trip as a whole is that I will always wonder how the trip would have gone if I hadn’t messed up my calf beforehand. Would the extra training have helped? Would I have been more confident in the trip? Would I have made it in better time? Also, would I have made it at all? Perhaps the hurt calf allowed me to complete the ride because I was going slower than I would normally, conserving enough energy to finish the ride in the time that I did. Someday, I would like to attempt another 250+ mile trip to see what the answer to some of those questions are.