First of all, to those who made a donation to NARFE Alzheimer's Research, thank you so much. While I was typing this, I was halfway listening to National Public Radio and it was discussing the coming health care crisis that Alzheimer's poses. It is frightening. We need to solve this disease and solve it soon. If you haven't made a donation, please read the profile under my picture at the left side of this blog and send a check to that address.
To Horseshoes: Went through one tire, two tubes, didn't wear out any shorts, scraped left elbow twice, right calf twice (both times while trying to walk with my left bike shoe still locked into the pedal -- don't recommend that). Yes, the bran worked!
This final posting is primarily addressed to those who might want to ride the Southern Tier ride with WomanTours or have already signed up for the ride. If you're thinking about it but aren't sure, my advice is just do it. You won't be disappointed.
Tips for future riders: Before I get to my own tips, I highly recommend that you read, re-read, and continue to re-read everything WomanTours sends you about the ride. After the ride, and before I started my critique of the ride, I re-read everything I was sent or given at the pre-ride meeting. Most of my comments were already addressed in their literature. WomanTours really knows what it is talking about with this ride!
Now, on to my personal comments:
1. Although the sag wagon is available for assistance, be self-reliant. Through most of the West (including the hill country of Texas) there was no cell phone service. This means that the sag driver won't know you need help unless word gets to her through other riders or when you don't show up at a sag stop. It easily may be over an hour before the sag driver can get to you to help you.
2. Be familiar with your bike and especially know at the very least how to fix a flat on your bike. Bring tire irons and allen wrenches that match your bike as a minimum. We had a few riders whose wheels were next to impossible to fix when they had flats. It took an act of God to get the tire back on the rim. Bontrager rims were the most difficult. That said, the riders with Bontrager rims fortunately had fewer flats. If you can't fix a flat on your own bike, work with your bike shop to find a wheel you can work with. If you can fix your own flat you won't have to wait for the sag wagon to come back to you to help. One day it took three of us to get a tire back on a difficult rim after replacing the tube. On another day we had two pinch flats trying to get the tire back on one of these difficult rims. At that point, the bike and rider went into the sag wagon for the rest of the day. If you want to spend more time riding, know how to fix your own flat.
3. Cell phones are great where they work. It is a great way to get information to the sag driver -- like information on road problems (dogs, wrong directions, etc.) and calls for help. Unfortunately, cell phone coverage was sparse to non-existent west of Louisiana. Don't rely on being able to contact the sag wagon with your cell phone.
4. Remember that the good sag driver will be looking for you. If you don't show up at a sag stop, she will backtrack (hopefully) to find you. So, it is important that you stay on the route. If you need to go off the route, if you have cell phone service call the sag driver to let her know. If you are lost and can't find your way back onto the route, call the sag driver. If you go into a store, or into the woods, leave your bike in a place visible to the sag driver. One day I drove 40 extra miles (which took an hour) because a rider went off route to ask for assistance finding the route. Had she called me I could have told her where she could pick up the route. Had she left her bike where I could see it, I could have helped her on the spot.
5. If you get off route, call the sag driver to let them know you are not on the route. Then try to backtrack onto the route. Believe it or not, in most instances the sag driver has never been in that area and doesn't know the roads. The only maps in the sag wagon don't have back roads on them. If you ask the sag driver how to get from where you mistakenly are to where you need to be, she probably won't be able to tell you other than to say backtrack to where you made the wrong turn. One day some riders made a wrong turn and asked a local resident how to get to the overnight town. I was the sag driver that day. They called and left a message letting me know that they were riding the rest of the way off-route. It was one of those days when cell coverage was hit or miss. I knew they were off-route when they didn't show at a sag stop. I figured out where they had made a wrong turn, and drove 15 miles down that road, at which point I got some cell service and retrieved their message. Around that time, one of those riders, having arrived at the overnight town, called and asked me which way she should turn to go to the hotel, because she was tired and didn't want to make a wrong turn. I had never been to the town, didn't know what road they had been on, and didn't know where the hotel was myself (other than where the cue sheet said it would be). Needless to say, I couldn't help. (After she had something at a nearby Dairy Queen she was able to find the hotel just fine.)
6. If you don't have a rear view mirror, get one and get accustomed to using it. We were often on busy roads with no shoulder and it is important to know where traffic is and whether it is making room for you! Especially use one if you want to ride two abreast (which WomanTours discourages). Sometimes we were on lightly traveled roads and could ride two abreast for a while. Having a rear view mirror and regularly checking it helped to know when to go back to single file to let traffic pass.
7. Ride responsibly and courteously. Yell out to let someone know you are passing them BEFORE you start to pass them. Don't pass other riders on the right!!! One windy day a group of riders came up behind me. I wear a rear view mirror on the left side of my sunglasses so that I can see traffic coming up behind me. (Most people only have a rear view mirror on the left, because that is the side traffic is usually traveling past them.) I could see the two who were passing me on the left, but didn't know there were two passing me on the right. None of those riders on either side said a word to let me know they were passing. I started moving over to the right to give the riders on the left some room, and fortunately another person behind me yelled that there were riders passing on the right. If she hadn't yelled that, we would have had a 3-bike pileup.
8. Don't be in a rush to get to the next overnight town. We had one rider who would always be the last one out in the morning and last one in at night. She wasn't a particularly slow rider. In fact, she was a pretty good rider. She would take into account the daily conditions (weather, terrain, distance, suppertime) and would take the full day riding. She took lots of pictures and stopped in places along the way. She made the days a little more involved for the sag drivers, who sometimes had to backtrack long distances to make sure she was okay, but that's just part of the sag job. In retrospect, I think she had the right attitude. Even taking the sightseeing attitude, you will still have plenty of time to shower regardless of when you get in; you'll be able to do laundry; and you will be in before supper.
9. Don't hesitate to take a ride in the van or sag wagon for all or part of the day. The trip is long. There is no need to bicycle when you are sick or hurt if a day or two of rest will help you. There is no need to endanger yourself if the weather conditions are atrocious. There is no need to miss something you want to spend extra time seeing along the way -- just get a bump up so that you don't have as many miles on the route to ride that day. There will be those who have the drive to bicycle every mile, and that's fine. If you're not one of them, don't worry about taking a bump or sitting out a day.
10. Your crotch and butt will hurt - really hurt in some cases - at some point along the way. You will have areas where friction and pressure cause problems. There are lots of things which riders use -- Chamois butter, Udder butter, Bag balm. Most people managed to get through it and after a few weeks they were okay. It's just part of the ride.
11. If you have favorite snacks or energy tabs or recovery drinks, check with WomanTours to see if they will be providing them. The stuff the sag wagon carried included water, Gatorade powder, V8 juice, Payday bars, PowerBar Protein bars, Kashi bars, granola bars, Oreo cookies, Fig newtons, Doritos, potato chips, Cheetos, M&M's (plain and peanut), fruit chews, cashew nuts, almonds, mixed nuts, bananas, oranges, tangerines, apples. In general, the sag wagon carried stuff available at Sam's Club or WalMart on the way. If you want anything more expensive or elaborate, you'll probably have to bring it or buy it along the way yourself.
12. Use lots of sunscreen multiple times during sunny days and carry a small amount of it on the bike with you (in the event the sag wagon isn't around when you need it). The sag wagon carried a couple of types of sunscreen. Again, if you insist on using a particular type of sunscreen which is more expensive than a generic type found at Sam's Club or WalMart, you should bring it yourself.
13. Unless you really like peanut butter sandwhiches for lunch, plan on buying lunch on the road.
14. Plan on spending roughly $12 per day if you buy your lunch on the road. There are also some places where previous WomanTours bicyclists found great stuff to eat -- like root beer floats, apple turnovers, ice cream, whatever. You may also want to get postcards or gifts or t-shirts or books or whatever along the way -- $12 per day should give you enough for that depending on your shopping proclivities.
15. You will have days when your emotional energy is low. You will be cranky, tired, and just want to go home. Recognize this and just let it go, or warn others that you're feeling this way!
16. Keep a journal or blog, take pictures, because the ride will be over before you know it and it will seem like a dream.
17. Really pay attention to the WomanTours recommended list of things to bring and minimize. Notwithstanding WomanTours requests to motels for ground-floor rooms, you will have some places that put you on the second floor and you may have to haul your luggage and bike up stairs. No one seemed to care whether you wore the same 2 t-shirt and shorts for 7 weeks. Most motels had laundry facilities and riders would combine laundry loads. (WomanTours provided the laundry detergent.) Mark your clothes so your stuff won't get mixed up with someone else's. You may also be one of those early departing/ early arriving riders who has to unload everyone else's bags to get to yours. You'll appreciate lighter luggage as you unload, then reload bags!
18. There were some riders who didn't have a bike bag, and instead had a very small saddle bag or put stuff in their pockets. I really recommend a back rack and bag so that you can carry at least two tubes, tire irons, allen wrenches that can be used to tighten the seat post and saddle and other important connector points, a basic first aid kid, lots of snacks/lunch, extra water bottle (if you don't use a Camelbak), sunscreen, crotch/butt relief cream of choice. You may not need to use these things, but if you do need them you have them and don't have to wait forever for the sag wagon to show up to provide them.
I'm sure there are lots more things I'm forgetting, but if I'm forgetting them they can't be that important. I also apologize if all this sounds daunting. The ride really was great and not a worry at all. But, I tend to err on the side of caution.
If you want to contact me with questions about the ride, please feel free to do so. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ride well, live life.