Well, I’ve done it.
I set out to cycle 500 miles. I was able to accomplish the goal in 9 days.
Here are the most important 12 things I learned on the road:
1. Cycling isn’t hard. To be honest, I like running but I haven’t run more than 8 miles in a couple of years. Why? Because after 5 miles I am a sweaty horse, gasping for air. Cycling isn’t like that. It’s a feat of persistence, more than a physical challenge (unless you’re trying to make some crazy good time, which…err, I definitely wasn’t. I was moving at turtle’s pace.). If you can bike (and chances are you learned that at 5), cycling 500 miles is totally doable without much training. For example, while I’m relatively physically active (my workout routine here) and in the summer I bike 10 miles a couple of times a week, I’ve only biked 45 miles once in my life prior to this trip.
2. Safety is an issue, but not in a way you think. My biggest safety issue was not the curious creep I met along the way. Instead, it was the drivers. It wasn’t even the truckers! Truckers are actually quite understanding of cyclists and always try to make space between the rider and their monstrous vehicle. For some reason, it was always the assholes in pickup trucks. I lost count of the times they passed inches away from my body. They could have easily killed me if I had lost my balance for a second, and it was incredibly scary. (side note: if you’re wondering why cyclists ride on the road even if the road has a shoulder, it’s because there’s a ton of glass and debris on the side of the road. It’s easy to get your tire punctured, and then, you may be stranded. Stranded is better than dead, but it’s a hard choice to make since the odds of getting a tear in your tire are very much against you).
3. Relatively low pain/risk of injury. Now, I’m not a doctor, and I’m fortunate enough to be very healthy, so take this with a grain of salt. But, the only dangerous pain I felt was knee pain, and frequent stretching helped to eliminate it. Of course, because cycling is not physically difficult (read no. 1) it’s also easy to overdo it. I had a few days where I cycled nearly 70 miles, and at the end of the day, I was like ‘meh, push comes to shove, I think I could do another 30’. In reality, even if I could, that definitely wouldn’t be healthy for my knees.
4. Good gear matters, but it isn’t everything. I honestly hate experts. My life dream is to create a movement of anti-purists that just prove experts wrong all the time. Experts are entitled and close-minded because they’ve spent $500 bajillion on gear and 500 bajillion hours in the gym and they’ll tell you that’s the way to do it. Fuck that. Get out there and just do it. I did my 500 mile bike in my 3-year old $30 sneakers from Marshalls. Sure, it may have been easier with proper shoes, better seat and an ultra-light bike. But nobody can tell me that it isn’t possible to do this without those things. If you wait for just the right moment, when you have just the right equipment and lots of money in the bank, you’ll never do it. Those are self-imposed barriers. Ignore them. Crush them.
5. Google for bikes sucks. American Cycling Association maps are expensive, can be outdated and the route doesn’t pass through cities. The Greenway site/navigation SUCKS. As a side project in the next few months, I’m planning to do more research on other options. If nothing better exists, I’ll build an app where route information is crowdsourced.
6. You become a minimalist, appreciating life more than ever. I’m not sure what it is – maybe the 2 pairs of underwear you wear over and over, the rain that soaks your only change of clothes, or maybe the countless carcasses you see on the road- but cycling makes you reflect on your life a lot. You quickly realize that you don’t need much to live and be happy, and as the miles pass, you realize that everything is temporary, and the present moment is really all that you have. For me, long-distance cycling was a shortcut to meditation.
7. Your enemy number 1 is the wind. There were times when it felt like I was climbing a steep hill, grinding with all the power of my legs, when in reality, I was actually going downhill. It was a total mindfuck. Side wind is arguably even worse, especially when you’re on a bridge. It legit feels like you’re gonna tip over, fall in the river and become food for Nemo. 😉
8. Take it day by day. At first, the 500 miles seemed so damn daunting. Part of me thought I’d fail. Then, I just started planning one day at a time- just 60 miles I have to get through, that’s it. I’d split those 60 miles into 3 pieces where I’d have longer breaks for meals. So, all I had to do at any given time was just 20 miles. I’d stop approximately 3 times for a water break, so 20 miles became only 7 miles. In the last 20 miles, I’d be so tired that I only wanted to go to the next sign on the road. I can thank my 12-year old nephew for that tip. He runs with me sometimes (he’s on a bike, I run) and he always says ‘just make it to the next mailbox, that’s all you gotta do, Magda!’ 🙂
9. Practical tip 1: Always carry more water than you think you’ll need. There were at least a couple of times I ran out and one of these times resulted in severe dehydration.
10. Practical tip 2: You’ll need lots of batteries. Aside from water, spare battery packs to charge your phone are a must, even if they weigh a ton.
11. Practical tip 3: Keep your backpack light. If it’s heavy, your shoulders and back will hurt like hell. I made that mistake in the first couple of days, then, I moved heavier stuff to my saddlebags. You don’t really feel the weight when it’s on your bike, but you do feel it when it’s on your back.
12. Lastly, when I finished, the first thing I felt was this weird emptiness. I didn’t feel happiness or a sense of accomplishment. I totally forgot to take a triumphant photo as I was handing off my bike to be flown back home. I legit didn’t know what to do with myself for the rest of the day, and the next day I got up at 6 AM ready to cycle again. Once I reminded myself that I was done, my second thought was: okay, so… how about a new challenge? 1,000 miles, anyone?
I think the only thing I would change is that I wouldn’t go solo next time.
Going with a buddy would be much more pleasant and much safer. So, if you want to do a 1,000-mile cycling challenge and are looking for a partner…. you know what to do! Hit me up in comments 🙂
I posted this originally on urbansuburban.life, my old blog. I chatted about it on reddit and other cyclists had some amazing tips, so if you’re a beginner considering a longer trip, make sure you check out the comments here: https://redd.it/7xqkqg