Not much, really. For the last 6 months of my PhD I was in front of the computer 10 or more hours each day. I’d also done very little physical activity in the 3 years of the PhD, and couldn’t remember when I’d last ridden my bike any appreciable distance. I’d gained about 8 pounds in these 3 years.
Route and Gear:
So the dream was to ride from Anderson, Indiana to Fort Collins, Colorado, averaging 50 miles a day with rest days once or week or whenever there was something interesting to see along the way.
I spent a lot of time on the Internet between 2003-2007 researching route possibilities. I checked out: 1) facilities in various towns; 2) ways I could link state parks together so I could camp a lot and do some hiking; and, 3) interesting things to see along the way. I also wanted to follow the Oregon Trail and the Lincoln Highway (first U.S. transcontinental highway) for a bit, so the proposed route needed to include them.
At some point in my trip planning, I decided to add a couple weeks on to the end of the trip so I could ride some Colorado mountain passes. I would head into the mountains at Colorado Springs, do a bit of a figure-8 and pop out of the mountains and end the ride in Fort Collins. My mom enthusiastically agreed to drive out to Colorado and be my SAG vehicle. Because I live overseas I don’t get to spend much time with her, so it was a real treat to have her join me for the mountains. I was also worried that if I were to ride alone with all my gear over the passes that I wouldn’t enjoy it all that much. I knew I could do it, even if I had to walk parts of the passes, but I didn’t think it would necessarily be fun. Cold, dry air and physical activity aggravate my asthma, but I thought it would be less of a problem if I didn’t have the gear weight to worry about.
6-9 months out from the ride I researched a few gear options for things I did not own. I had my mom order these for me and have them sent to her house so I didn’t have to pay international shipping just to bring the items back over to America with me. These items included a new sleeping bag, fenders, bike tires, front panniers and rack, handlebar bag and a few other bits and pieces. In the week before I flew to America I cut up the maps I’d collected – discarding parts of states and counties I did not need – and went through all my gear to decide what to take. I had less than a week to get everything together for the ride once I arrived in Indiana. I visited friends and family, my mom planned a huge surprise party, my Dad attached the front rack and handlebar bag to the bike, and Mom and I sourced all the bits and pieces I needed (e.g. cell phone, battery charger, diaper rash cream, insect repellent, pepper spray, etc). I finalised my gear and experimented with weight distribution on the floor of my parents’ sunroom. (Having done a lot of backpacking in my 20s, gear selection and packing was fairly straight-forward.)
Finally, recalling all of my wheeled trips down the driveway as a kid, I flung myself down the driveway fully-loaded for the first time and thought – ‘hmm, this isn’t so bad’. My dad then gave it a wobbling try, thought the bike pulled right and was certain that I’d never make it out of the county (or so the look on his face said). He and I travelled to a nearby town the next day for a 30-mile shakedown ride on a paved rail-trail. The bike and gear performed beautifully. The ‘weak link’ was me, not the bike or gear! I was a little sore, but confident that somehow it would all be okay. I was ready to push off in 48 hours!