Thursday, March 29, 2007

My First Cross County Ride

I have been at PAC Tour Training Camp in Arizona the past five weeks. Many riders have been asking about training for the a cross country tour, or the Elite Tour or even RAAM. Thinking about what it takes to get ready to cross the country made me remember some of the training rides Susan and I used to do to prepare for transcontinental rides.

My first cross country ride was in June of 1981. To get ready I wasn’t just preparing for a coast to coast ride, but for a 6,000 mile adventure from New York City to Los Angeles and back to New York. The record was 36 days set by Victor Vincente in 1974. I was hoping to do it in 28 days. I was naive about what it took to cross the country. Being naive was probably a good thing. I would not have attempted the Double Transcontinental Record had I known what I was getting into.

I grew up in Illinois. I had been to Colorado, but not any further west than the Rocky Mountains and not any further east than Ohio. I visualized riding the mountains of Pennsylvania by training on the 50 foot high rolling hills near my home. Most of them could be climbed in 20 pedal stokes. I didn’t have any idea of what it took to climb a mountain for miles at a time at a 9 percent grade.

I started the Double Transcontinental from the New York City Hall at 3:00 AM. I rode through Harlem and remembered there was a song about a Rose from Spanish Harlem. That was all I knew about Harlem. I hummed the song as I rode out of Manhattan with a fair amount of excitement and anticipation about the next 6,000 miles.

Good bike lights were rare in 1981. I needed a bike light even though I had a support my Dodge Omni car following me. For a bike light I had a large plastic camping flashlight taped to my top tube that used six D-cell batteries. Within a few blocks from the start of the ride I hit a manhole cover. The lens popped off the headlight and all the batteries spilled on the street. Within two seconds I could hear the crunch of the support car tires smashing the lens and batteries to pieces. So much for having a headlight.

I rode for about an hour through Brooklyn and came to the Varazano Bridge crossing into Staten Island. It was still plenty dark when I reached the start of the bridge. I could not ride my bike on the bridge because of the six foot wide expansion joints. My support car said they would meet me on the other side of the bridge and I could walk on the sidewalk. The Varazano Bridge is a huge mile long bridge over the New York Bay similar to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fransico. I started walking and pushing my bike along the guardrail. I would have ridden on the sidewalk but it was really dark and I wasn’t sure what other curbs and joints were hidden in the shadows. I missed my big camping headlight. A few homeless people slept under the massive towers and beams and didn’t notice me walking by. I remember looking at the lights of city and oil refineries in the distance. It was really a beautiful night for a walk. I thought how strange it was to start a 6,000 mile bike ride with a 20 minute hike.

Finally I arrived on the other side of the bridge in Staten Island. I met my support car and we continued into New Jersey. The sky was getting lighter as we headed into the first of the eastern hills. I was riding my bike with 13-21 six speed Suntour freewheel and 52 tooth single front chainring. This was my favorite bike back home in flat Illinois. I had ridden it on a sub nine hour double century a few weeks earlier. It wasn’t so fast in the hills of New Jersey. I remember stalling out on one of the first of many climbs that day. I had a spare TREK bike on the support van roof with 42-52 chainrings and 13-21 freewheel. I got on the TREK and rode all the mountains in a 42 x 21 low gear. I was learning what mountain grades really were. I asked the crew to go to a bike shop and buy some lower gear freewheels with a 13-26 combination.

I made pretty good time riding through Allentown and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. By the end of the first day I had ridden 275 miles before sundown. Our motor home went to a campground to park for the night. I ate dinner in the RV and went to bed. I would start riding again at sunrise. It never occurred to me our our crew to ride into the night. We were all naive about lay ahead for the next 5,700 miles.

To be continued....


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