Saturday, 14 May 2011

Going camping

So with some training under my belt (30 miles of empty roads on the morning of the Royal Wedding was nice), we decided to do a practice camping trip to see how things went, and also to see if anything important had been forgotten.
I loaded up the bike with the back panniers on (clothes in one, camping stuff in the other) and my tent strapped to the back, and set off down the A30 from Woking to Wellington country park. Located just off the main road between Reading and Basingstoke, it was somewhere I went to many times as a kid, and even camped there with the Scouts once many years ago.
The extra weight on the bike was noticeable, and meant that the high gears weren’t really able to be used even on flat roads. The route was reasonably flat, with no proper hills, so I was able to maintain a reasonable average speed of around 14mph. At that pace, 50miles could be done in around 4 hours, so hopefully it should be attainable. Quite how I will cope when faced with a climb up a proper mountain is anyone’s guess though!

I met Clare at the campsite (she drove), and we put the tent up reasonably quickly. Our tiny tent was dwarfed by all the others on the site, and our cooking facilities of one small solid fuel stove was slightly more primitive than many others, but overall we did pretty well.

One thing I definitely learnt was that some sort of sleeping mat was essential. I wasn’t sure whether to take one due to the size of them, but thankfully technology has moved on and you can now get self inflating ones which roll up very small.
Possibly the most disturbing aspect of the weekend occurred once we were back home in Bromley. I was having a shower the next morning and noticed a tick had attached itself to my hip. After getting a bit freaked out, I removed (hopefully all of) it! Probably have to get used to that sort of thing really!

Getting ready

So with the challenge accepted, it was time to get on with planning how I would actually carry out this undertaking.
Of course, back in June 2010 when I decided this is what I was going to do, I had plenty of time to get ready. Didn’t I…?
As I saw it, there were three main areas I needed to work on
·         Fitness
·         Kit and equipment
·         Documents and logistics
In many ways, the fitness one was probably the easiest.
The Adventure cycling association of America suggest that the Transamerica route should take between 10 and 12 weeks to complete. The full route from Yorktown, VA to Astoria, OR takes in 10 different states and is a little under 4,300miles. So if I aimed to complete it in 12 weeks, I would need to average just over 50miles a day, every day. Searching online, many other people had written blogs of their time doing the route with some finishing in as little as 60 days. I decided I would rather take my time and not feel under any pressure to finish in a certain time.
Even so, 50miles a day would still require a good level of fitness (and some decent cycling shorts!). As mentioned before, I do a lot of running. Last summer, I was training to run the Royal parks half marathon and then after finishing I bumped into one of the charity team from Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital, who I had run for before. Me and Clare then signed up to run the Brighton marathon in April 2011, and so that was fitness training sorted!
Despite some niggly injuries, training went ok and we both finished the marathon. It was a very hot day, and a hilly course, so I didn’t beat my time from London last year. Clare also did very well in finishing her first marathon.

After Brighton, I transferred to two wheels and started doing some longer rides. Whilst I wanted to have a reasonable level of fitness when beginning the ride, I also realised that I had 3 months of ‘on the job’ training once I got out to America, so didn’t need to turn up at the start line feeling like Lance Armstrong!
So with training taken care of, it was on to the fun stuff – getting kitted out!
First I needed to sort out one very important bit of gear – a bike! I did (still do) own a bike, but not the right kind of one. I had a Specialized road bike – pretty light, built for speed rather than comfort, nowhere to hang any equipment. So basically, not an ideal one for carting everything I needed to survive!
So after doing a bit of research, I went for the Ridgeback World Panorama. A proper touring bike, hewn from solid lumps of steel and with lots of racks to hang my bags off of. It does weigh quite a bit though!
With a bike sorted, I started to think about the rest of my kit. And you quickly realise that there is a lot of equipment you think you will need and, simultaneously, that you don’t want to take too much!
The one word I was using when buying stuff was ‘lightweight’. When you are having to transport everything yourself, every kilo counts. This is especially true with clothes. Whilst it might be nice to have an extensive wardrobe to choose from, its simply not feasible.
My clothing bag is going to have more synthetic fabrics than a 70’s revival night! They weigh less, they wash easily and they dry quickly. And seeing as how most of my time will be spent in the saddle, looking good is not that important! I’ll take a couple of t shirts and a pair of jeans, but everything else will be very much a case of function over aesthetics.
Once all the camping equipment, clothes and bike stuff come together, it looks like quite a lot!

Finally, I needed to get a few logistical issues resolved. Firstly, and very much the most important, was sorting out a visa. Since I would almost certainly be in the US for more than 90 days, I couldn’t go over on my passport alone using the visa-waiver program. So I had to pay a visit to the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, and plead my case for entry! Thankfully, it was fairly straight forward, albeit very boring. Two hours of sitting around waiting to be called for my interview, followed by 5 minutes of questions before being approved.
After that it was full steam ahead. Flights booked, arranged with a bike shop in Yorktown to accept and rebuild my bike and booked a hotel to stay in for a couple of days whilst I get things together and get over the jet lag.
Just need a practice run now…

In the beginning

Thanks for visiting my blog!
I’m Michael, I’m 31 years old, and I live in London. I work in an office, I like to go running, watch films at the cinema and going out for drinks with my friends and family. So, all in all, pretty ordinary!
However, over the summer of 2011 I’m planning on doing something a little less ordinary. I will be attempting to cycle over 4,000 miles across America from sea to shining sea, along the Transamerica Bike Trail. The route was first ridden en-masse in 1976, in celebration of America’s bicentennial – the tour was dubbed Bikecentennial – with over 4000 riders taking part and over 2000 covering the full distance. These days it is a popular cycle touring route, and I am aiming to join the band of those who have completed it.
About now, you are probably asking (quite sensibly) “Why on earth would you want to cycle over 4,000 miles?” and perhaps for good measure adding, “Are you crazy?”
The genesis for this quest started last summer. After 5 years at University, followed immediately by another 6 years in work, I was beginning to feel like I needed something a bit different. I had never had the time, nor the money, to go travelling whilst a student (mainly because all my ‘spare’ time was spent working to earn money to pay for uni!) but was beginning to wish I could see some of the world in a different way.
One thing to make clear though: this was never about going on some mystic journey to ‘find myself’ by joining the hordes on a backpacking trip around SE Asia. Nothing wrong with doing that, but it just isn’t my thing. I just fancied doing something which would be a bit of a challenge, and that I could look back on with a sense of pride.
So the search began for something that might grab my enthusiasm. After a bit of searching online I came across the Adventure Cycling Association of America. An organisation designed to encourage and facilitate cycle touring in the USA. They have maps for a number of routes, including the coast to coast Transamerica trail.
The idea of doing this definitely pricked my interest for a number of reasons
  • It would be a tough, but rewarding challenge. I like to keep fit as much as possible – I have now finished 2 marathons and around 10 half marathons. So despite having a weakness for cheesecakes, I have a reasonable level of fitness!
  • I enjoy cycling. Not in a lycra-clad, “must have the latest gear” kind of way. But as an enjoyable activity and a great way to get some fresh air.
  • I really like America as a country, and especially some of the amazing scenery it has to offer. Recently my girlfriend Clare and I have had a couple of amazing holidays in the States. In the first we did a three week tour of California (and Vegas), taking in SF, LV, LA and Yosemite national park. Then last year we went to Yellowstone and back to Yosemite.
When in San Francisco, we did a fantastic cycle tour over the Golden gate bridge, and around the Bay area. So I feel I have plenty of experience of what cycling in America will entail!

In a happy co-incidence, the Transamerica goes through Yellowstone, so I can go back and see this amazing place again. And  also see many, many more Bison!
So the decision was made, and it was on to trying to turn the idea into reality!