I am a serious (but rather dumb) cyclist.

I promised you a cringe-worthy post and here it is.

So the 10th thing I realized on my bike trip?

I am a serious cyclist.

Before this trip I had a formula in my head of how I needed to be before I could consider myself a “serious cyclist”. It went like this…

BMI under 25+super speedy(lots of miles)=serious cyclist

So according to my formula I was not serious cyclist partly because I am still a good 20 pounds overweight if we use the BMI index as the gold standard. Then I used this flawless logic…

I am not a serious cyclist, therefore I should not spend money on cycling clothes.

I decided to put off buying proper cycling clothes until I got down to a certain magical number which would “poof!” turn me into a cyclist worthy of wearing cycling clothes. Which is really absurd because I spent a decent chunk of money on a road bike. If I was into cycling enough to buy a second bike-a road bike, I clearly needed the proper attire to ride that bike. Like I said, my logic is always flawless!

But on the third morning of my trip, when I paused to let a flock of turkeys cross the road, I finally realized what “serious” cycling really is.

It isn’t about achieving a particular physique, or maintaining a certain speed or getting a magical number of miles in each month.

A serious cyclist is someone who loves to bike. Someone who loves the speed, freedom and exhilaration of exploring the world on two wheels and is willing to put in effort, time and sweat to do so. It is not about measuring up to certain parameters, it is about being passionate about riding and having a desire to learn and grow.

The flock of turkeys finished crossing the path and I decided to be finished with my previous mindset. I am a serious cyclist and I can buy and wear whatever clothes I want and/or need to.

Which is a very, very good thing. And this is why…
I wore pants on my three day trip. Regular exercise pants. Which was fine until the last day when I biked all day long. By nightfall I was very sore. But that was not the worst part.

The worst part was when I woke up at 3:30 the next morning and tried to bike to work. I used the word “tried” in that sentence very intentionally, I did not actually bike to work. I used a bicycle to transport my body the ten miles to the restaurant but “biking” is not the right term for it. I don’t know if there is a correct term for it really. My body would not let me sit down on the saddle of my bike-it was too painful. So I rotated between several awkward, painful positions until the end of my journey.

Apparently, I like learning the hard way.

Ten Things I Realized on My First Bike Tour

DSC01197My mini three day tour to Rochester and back turned out to be so much more than I was expecting! Here are a few of the lessons I learned and thoughts I had on my journey.

1. I need to challenge myself.
Before I left on this trip, I was feeling stale: in my relationship with God, at work, in life in general-even in my biking the excitement was waning a bit. But I have come back from my three days of biking completely energized. The challenge and excitement of pushing myself out of my comfort zone to do something new got me out of the rut I was experiencing. I feel on fire!

2. The greatness of exploration.
I have been such a sheltered cyclist up to this point. Even when I biked down new roads, I was still in my local area and I had some idea of where I would end up. This trip, however, I had no clue where I was or what I would see next. Every new bend was its own adventure.

3. The importance of inspiration.
I was halfway through my first day of biking, having an absolute blast out in the countryside when it hit me full force-I would not have gone on this bike trip if it wasn’t for all of you. Even though I eventually wanted to go on some sort of bike tour I would have postponed it at least until next summer without the constant inspiration I get from the blogs I read. Rootchopper and his #nowrongplan expedition, the lovely account of touring out west on Chasing Mailboxes, Jim on his fast and fiery DALMAC ride, CapeJohn’s adventures, Carmel’s extraordinary mountain biking journey, Dan riding solo everywhere, anytime he has the chance…reading about those epic rides kept me thinking, “I have to do that.”

4. God is with me.
I saw evidence of God’s protection and care at every stage of this trip. But more than just protecting me, I knew that God was with me and I felt His presence and love.

5. Support teams are awesome.
My dad played the unofficial role of support team on this trip. I called him to get a new route home since my original route was accidentally illegal and for directions when I couldn’t find any people to ask. Since he and my mom met up with me for the concert, they also became a mid-ride SAG wagon, bringing me extra tubes and clean clothes. I owe him big time.

6. Smart people are smart.
This one is embarrassing. I have read many cycling blogs (written by folks who know way more about cycling than I ever will) which talk about the necessity of sport drinks on long or hard rides to keep electrolytes in balance. I completely ignored their wisdom and experience and went along my happy way, refusing to drink anything except for water. This trip I caved and tried out supplementing my water with an occasional Gatorade. Sadly, I could feel the difference and from now on I will use sports drinks on long or extremely hot rides.

7. Bathrooms are amazing.
I never realized before how incredible bathrooms are! I can refill my water bottles, wash my hands, check my appearance in the mirror to make sure I am still recognizable as a human and yeah…actually use the bathroom.

8. Bike touring is fun.
I came into this ride thinking it would be fun-but that it would also be filled with hardship. I imagined the ride being good overall, but I thought there would be a decent amount of some type of suffering. So I was shocked to find out my ride was a total blast! Other than two sections on the last day, everything was great and those tough moments were completely overshadowed by the bliss of exploring the world on my bike.

9. Interaction is cool.
I am a introvert. Interacting with random strangers is not my strong suit. For three days I talked to and greeted countless people and it was actually not half bad, in some cases it was really awesome.

And that only leaves #10, which turned out to be an entire blog post by itself which I will post tomorrow. Just to warn you it may be even more cringe-worthy than #6…

My Bike Adventure-Day Three

Like I said, I went to bed at 11:45 on Wednesday night but as I lay there I could not sleep. My body was way too keyed up-whether it was from the concert or the biking, I don’t know, but my heart was pounding. I could feel my blood thudding through my veins from my head to my toes and even after a few hours of laying there, trying to relax my mind and body, my pulse had not slowed much.

It was hard to not think discouraging thoughts as I felt the night slipping away. I needed sleep! I was going to attempt to bike from sunrise to sunset on Thursday, my longest ride ever and every moment of sleep I could get was vital to my success.

When my alarm went off at 4:45 am, I knew that at best I had only slept for 1.5 hours. Although that was slightly worrying, I got all my stuff together and headed off campus at 5:30.

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Umm…I am sure you can see the bats in the tree.

I stopped at a Tim Horton’s to get some breakfast. (Don’t worry, I didn’t buy coffee.) The best thing about Tim Horton’s? They had a bat tree outside. I found that out when I locked my bike up to a small tree and woke about 50 bats from their early morning nap. Sorry little guys!

In a few miles, I was back on the Erie Canal trail. Biking down the trail on Wednesday had been fun and the trail was pretty, but let’s get real. Erie Canal has many locks, making the water somewhat stagnant and muddy looking. It is not picturesque, like a flowing river, by any means.

But in the early morning?
The sunrise turned the surface brilliantly golden and there was fog rising out of the canal. It was spectacular. There were animals wandering around everywhere-rabbits, raccoons, turkeys, ducks and a fox. The trail was fairly deserted but I passed a few cyclist commuters and early morning exercisers and we exchanged cheerful “good mornings”.

Despite my fears about my physical capabilities to bike on such little sleep, my legs were strong and I kept up a fast pace. As I pedaled along there were many things that made me smile.

A heart drawn in the gravel of the trail-I imagined someone pausing mid-commute each morning to quickly scrawl a heart with her finger, knowing that in a few hours no trace of her action would remain.

A fisherman pulled fish out of the canal right as I was passing by so I called out across to him,

“Nice catch!”

He turned toward me, beaming, and gave me a thumbs up.

My bike trip had been great so far but these next 40ish miles on the Erie Canal trail were the highlight of the trip. It wasn’t the scenery, the tranquility, my legs feeling strong and sure on the pedals or the perfect cool chill in the air. It was the overwhelming presence of God. I began pouring out my heart to Him, there on the trail. My thoughts and hopes and fears and dreams and confusions and worries all started spilling out and we worked through some stuff together in the gray dawn of the early morning.

It gets me every time. God wants a personal relationship with me, little old me. He wants to be with me in all my troubles and joys-and bike adventures.

After a few hours of riding on the trail I was fired up. Emotionally, physically and spiritually. Eventually I bade a sad farewell to the Erie Canal and started heading north.

Two hours later I started to drag. I wasn’t feeling well. My shoulders were feeling strained. My butt was starting to get very sore. My mind began to go in the wrong direction.

“It is still morning and you are already in pain. It is only gonna get worse. There is no way you can keep biking all day. Look at the time and look at your mileage. You have stopped too many times and wasted precious minutes. By nightfall, you won’t be anywhere close to home and someone is going to have to drive for hours to pick you up.”

My speed had slowed to 13 mph. With a discouraged mind and complaining body, it was unclear how much longer I could persevere on my bike.

My mood continued to worsen and finally I realized I needed to do something or I was going to have a miserable day. So I went back to the basics.

Why was I out here on my bike?
To have a fun adventure.
What was my goal?
To bike all day long.

So I made the decision that the only important thing was to bike until dark. Mileage didn’t matter, speed didn’t matter. I stopped worrying about the stats on my bike computer and started focusing on the beautiful countryside around me.

Quietly, I began to sing one of the songs from last night’s concert.

Every giant will fall, the mountains will move
Every chain of the past, You’ve broken in two
Over fear, over lies, we’re singing the truth
That nothing is impossible with You”

I soon realized that mentally and physically, I was back on my game. I had found my second wind. The rest of the day went by fast and without any major mishaps or flat tires, although I did miss my turns a few times and was forced to stop and ask people for directions. They were all super helpful and got me right back on track.

It was early evening when I made it to the most physically daunting part of my trip. While there had been rolling hills to climb throughout the day, the overall elevation stayed the same. Now I was leaving the lower elevation of the area around Lake Ontario and climbing up into the Adirondack foothills. For the first time for the entire trip the weather was not kind to me and decided to give me a strong headwind to fight against.

For a ten mile stretch I went directly into the headwind up an endless array of climbs.

“All speed is good speed.” I kept saying to myself. I tried to distract myself by talking to cows but it wasn’t really working to soothe the pain I was experiencing in my shoulders, neck, feet and butt.

I was climbing yet another hill, when out of nowhere a cyclist on a recumbent, pulling a trailer came sailing by. He long gray hair was secured underneath a headband and he had a flowing, wispy beard. As he flew down the hill he yelled across the road to me in a jubilant, lilting, tone,

“The wind is on my side today!”

“I know!” I yelled back.

It was so unexpected.  Hands down the most humorous moment of the entire trip. I recounted this moment to my brother and sister and they didn’t find it that amusing. Maybe you had to be there. But the way he sailed down the hill and delivered his line was perfection and his gentle, humorous taunt kept me smiling for miles. It was exactly what I needed to get me through the next series of hills.

Dusk was falling. My phone battery was dying and I wasn’t sure how long my headlights would last, so I called my dad and asked him to pick me up between 8:30 and 9. At 9 I saw his headlights and pulled off of the road. It was perfect timing, my last headlight was about to die.

I climbed off my bike, triumphant. I had just made it to the 150 mile mark for the day, 320 miles for the 3 day trip.

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I was tired, hungry and sore but I made it!

My Bike Adventure-Day Two

I woke up Wednesday morning feeling great. I dawdled around my hotel room getting my directions for the return trip all set to go, patching tires and repacking my bags. By 11:00 I was on the road again.

The route for the day was simple-stay on the Erie Canal Heritage Trail until I got a bit past Rochester. For the first twenty miles the trail was gravel and followed the Erie Canal as it wended  its way through the woods. It was a pretty trail and very quiet, only three cyclists met me going the other way.DSC01215

As I biked the trail I sang the mandatory trail song.

Every few miles or so the trail would be interrupted by a road to cross and after crossing one road, I was confused as to how to get back on the trail. There was a small park right on the canal, was I supposed to bike through it? So when a man said hello to me as he was walking by, I asked him if the trail went right through the park.

He told me yes, I could bike on the sidewalk and straight through the park to the trail. I thanked him but he was not finished talking to me. He proceeded to give me a rambling lecture about being careful about strangers “grabbing me” as I went along the trail. But his conclusion lacked conviction.

“Now, I don’t know if there are any people around here that would do that…but there are people out there…that do that.”

Got it.

A few miles later I caught up to a group of three cyclists who were obviously on a bike camping tour and from their many bulging panniers, I would guess it was a long one. I was about to pull up beside the cyclist who was trailing the other two but as I went down a slope I hit a huge bump and from the thud, thud, thud of my rear tire I knew I had got another flat.  Sadly, I watched them pedal out of sight.

Here is what I have realized in hindsight, however. All of my other flats on this ride were strategically placed. Therefore, this puncture must have had some purpose. The only thing I can come up with is that these three cyclists were not cyclists at all. They were really murderers posing as cyclists. Had I pulled up to them and started talking to them, I would have been instantly dispatched and then stuffed into a random pannier, never to be seen again. Yup. Having a flat tire clearly saved my life.

I took my time through the afternoon, pedaling slowly, and stopping to take pictures. I passed many folks out walking on the trail. It was a total reversal of roles, for once I was the fast moving vehicle on the “road”, having to watch out for and safely pass the slower moving pedestrians.DSC01231 DSC01227 DSC01218 DSC01239

In the late afternoon, as I neared Rochester, the trail became paved and there were more and more  cyclists, many on nice road bikes in full team kit. They looked ever so pro. I was enjoying the ride but the miles were ticking by pretty fast and I started to worry that I would go too far on the trail and miss my exit off.

I spotted a friendly-looking cyclist by the side of the trail and he didn’t seem in a rush so I stopped to ask him if he knew where 33A West was. He said he didn’t and I was about to go down the trail again but he stopped me and said he had a smartphone, if we went over to the shade he would look it up for me. I thanked him gratefully.

After a few minutes we found out that I still had about ten miles left on the trail before my turnoff. I thanked him again and then asked if I could ride with him. So we went along together chit-chatting a bit about our lives. After a few miles it was time for him to go home but when we stopped, in a wonderful gesture of kindness, he gave me his phone number and told me to call if I had any navigational problems.

I did mention my blog to him so he could find out how my trip went if he wanted to, so Irwin if you are reading, thank you so much, you are a wonderful person!

After Irwin and I parted ways, I paused to take some pictures of cool graffiti. I was clipping in when a cyclist went whizzing by me. And that is when I made a reckless decision-to follow him. This is gonna sound whiney, but I never get to try to keep up with speedy cyclists and here was my chance to do so. In hindsight, even though I stayed far enough back so that if he had to brake suddenly I wouldn’t crash into him, my choice to speed along the path with pedestrians around was not a wise one.

But it was exhilarating. He and I charged down the trail going 22-24 mph. I realized how bad I am at cornering. While he took each turn with ease, I lost time slowing down on each one. But I was kinda amazed at how easy I was keeping up with him, no heavy breathing, no pain. Ha. Just as I became proud of myself for keeping up, I felt a sharp pain in my side. For an instant I thought my side was cramping, but no, it was a bee buzzing under my shirt.

At that moment I had a choice: free the bee and lose the cyclist or keep the bee and keep up with the cyclist. My choice was clear and a few seconds later the bee stung again on the other side of my abdomen. I could feel it buzzing angrily as it started crawling toward my upper back. It was the ultimate suspense waiting for another flash of pain to strike , all the while pedaling like mad to keep the pace of the cyclist ahead of me.

After another mile or so the cyclist veered off the trail to a parking lot and I watched him go rather mournfully. I was happy to stop and release my trapped bee friend though!

Soon I was off the bike trail and on proper roads again, only a few miles from my destination. As I turned the corner onto the last road my tire once again went flat. And no wonder, two little pieces of metal were jammed right into the tire. Cool.

Twenty minutes later I had made it to Roberts Wesleyan College, where the concert was being held. My parents were coming down to Rochester for the concert as well so I called them to find out their status. They were still a distance away so I went off to get some supper. When I returned to campus I realized my front tire was very soft-the first time I have ever had a puncture in my front tire. Good thing I had asked my dad to bring some more tubes!

My mom and dad arrived and we went to the concert together. The band, Rend Collective, was amazing live! They are a group from Northern Ireland with joyful and triumphant songs about life we share in Christ. It was a wonderful experience, worshipping God together with hundreds of other Christians. DSC01241

I was able to stay with a family friend who attends college here and I was able to slip into bed at 11:45, ready to get some rest for the return trip home.

My Bike Adventure-Day One

Let’s rewind a bit. Monday night was a night of excitement and but also nervous stomach butterflies. Tomorrow was the big day and I felt unprepared for the trip to Rochester. In the past week I had tapered off my mileage a bit so I could have super-fresh legs for my journey, but it didn’t seem to be helping.  I was feeling less energized on my bike than I had felt for a while. My confidence in my ability to pull this thing off was ebbing.

But I remembered what John had told me on Sunday.

“We all have those “what if” worries before our first tour. I can tell you from experience that within a quarter mile of your ride, all those heebie jeebies will be replaced by a huge smile. It’s only a bike ride fercryingoutloud.”

So I held tight to those words of experience, not knowing  how startlingly accurate they would turn out to be.

I left the house just before dawn, feeling very shakey and jittery. From the moment I pulled out of the driveway, I knew that something was wrong. My front wheel was clicking with every revolution. Oh dear. I went into full-panic mode and pulled onto the grass, searching desperately in my mind for what the problem could be. Maybe it was the brakes? Sure enough they were slightly off-center and thanks to my bike professor I know how to fix that. But when I spun the wheel after centering them the click was still there.  Was my bike tour was over before it had even begun?

Then my jittery self calmed down enough to actually think. A smile spread across my face. I knew that click! It was the click of the computer’s sensor against the fork, I hadn’t straightened it after washing my bike the night before. I rolled my eyes at myself for panicking so easily. With a laugh, I hopped on my bike and sure enough the heebie jeebies were gone within a quarter of a mile.

The weather was perfect, low 50s with a light wind. I climbed out of the river valley and onto a plateu. I passed a few kids waiting outside for the school bus and they waved and said hello.

“Have a good day at school!” I called out to them.

“You too!” One of them replied, ever so sincerely.

Chuckle.
I knew I was about to have a great day at school.

The paved back roads turned into gravel, which made for slower biking but I didn’t mind. My bike and I were going through a quiet forest together in the chill of the morning and there were deer and owls and pretty colorful leaves. As I went on the state of the roads got worse and worse. The fine gravel turned to chunks and potholes and random huge rocks were everywhere. Why, oh why had I trusted Google Maps?DSC01187

But then my heart sunk. Glaring at me from the side of the road was a dead end sign. No, it couldn’t be! I was on the right road it was supposed to take me through to another road in six miles! I decided I didn’t care, I was gonna make it through this forest somehow. Dead end, ha!

We continued on.
Sure enough the road soon ended with a huge locked gate with a giant NO TRESSPASSING sign. Gulp. I didn’t have a choice so I went up and over the fence and pulled my bike underneath. If anyone yelled at me I would just explain the situation and apologize profusely, somehow it would work out okay.

I went down the trail gingerly for three reasons. First, I was breaking the law. Second, this route was ideal…for a mountain bike. I kept praying that my road bike would not be ripped to shreds on the rough terrain. Third, there were lots of weird signs everywhere.

“ABSOLUTELY NO RACING”
So I didn’t race.

“USE OF THIS TRAIL IS A PRIVILEDGE NOT A RIGHT”
Oh, I know!

“STAY ON MAIN TRAIL”
Okay.

“PLEASE TREAD LIGHTLY”
I am, I promise.

For 4.5 miles I treaded very carefully, without racing, down the main trail past campers and RV’s. It was extremely eerie. I began to breathe again when I didn’t see any cars or signs of current activity. No one was around to stop me. And I didn’t even get a flat tire until I walked my bike around the locked gate on the other side. The joy of being on a public road once more was so overwhelming I didn’t mind the few minutes it took to swap out tubes.

Within a quarter mile, I saw a glorious sight. Paved road! To top it off the next ten miles were downhill. I flew down those hills, elated to have made it through the most remote area of the forest.

I went on through morning, stopping now and then to eat and take bathroom breaks. In the early afternoon I went through Oswego and once I made it across the city, I found myself on the SUNY Oswego campus. Oh Google, what have you done to me now?

But the road on the campus took me directly to Lake Ontario. I have only been to the Lake a few times but it is a true friend. Most of our snow every winter is lake-effect snow. And what would I do without snow? So I hung out and got wet and stared out into the water and watched the gentle waves for a while.DSC01201DSC01194DSC01204

Then I said goodbye. I biked south down twisting country roads, my favorite kind of road. A sense of complete elation came over me. Every new turn in the road felt like an adventure, or an important discovery. There were fields of corn, apple orchards, lines of grape vines everywhere I went. I spotted all kinds of birds: ospreys, kestrels and falcons. I felt alive and young and free and bold and strong but mostly just happy.DSC01210

The afternoon sped by and before I knew I only had fifteen miles left to get to the hotel. My body was getting a bit sore from biking all day, but my legs, which I was so worried about stayed strong to the very end.

I pulled into the hotel parking lot at 5:02 with 116 miles on my odometer and a rather flat tire. All my flats have impeccable timing.

Time for an adventure.

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Look at the pumpkins! Fall actually is here!

Lately, a slight ache has been tugging at heart. I am on my bike every day but it isn’t quite enough. When go for a ride in the morning, by the end of the day it feels like a huge chunk of time has passed since my bike and I have been out on the road. But if I postpone my ride until later in the day-I have problems with the “you should be out pedaling” nudge.

The time I do spend biking is great but inevitably I have to turn back and go home. I love my home, I love my local area, but I want to explore a bit more and push myself a little farther.

Rend Collective, one of my favorite bands, is playing in Rochester next week. I think it the perfect opportunity for my first ever overnight bike trip. It is a 160 mile trip one way so my plan is to bike down Tuesday and Wednesday (the concert is Wednesday night). Then, I will  spend the night in Rochester and bike back as far as I can on Thursday. I work early Friday morning so I will call someone to pick me up once I am done biking on Thursday.

My emotions about the upcoming trip are a volatile mix of excitement and raw nerves. Mostly, I am afraid of getting lost or having my bike or body break down. With every little weird pain I feel or every strange sound I hear while biking, I get jittery and wonder if I can actually make it to Rochester. This is new territory and I don’t know how the trip will go. What if something happens? But then I straighten my thinking out and my excitement returns.

My bike and I get to spend three days discovering new roads together. Watch out world!