Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Oh, my aching legs

Food. Who would have thought it would be food?

"Oh, don't worry," I said, laughing at E's suggestion, "we've thought a lot about what we're planning on bringing on this trip. We've got it pared down to the basics. There's no way we're bringing more than we need."

"I'm telling you, man, you're going to regret every extra pound you strap on your bike. trust me!"

E had, himself, done an extensive tour of the US on bike, and knew what he was talking about. So, given that I was about to set off on a 600-mile, self-supported, bike-camping trip through the Adirondacks, this was the kind of advice I should have paid attention to.

And I thought I had. I_tried and I put a lot of thought into our bags. After all, we knew we were biking in the mountains. We're not stupid. (We didn't, however, know that we were biking during the rainiest part of the year -- whoops). We budgeted or biking well, and gave ourselves plenty of time for days off.

But how could we know that routes 3 and 30 weren't the same road? It's an honest mistake. It could happen to anyone. By the time we thought to ask a local for directions, though, we were already 25 miles in the wrong direction. In most circumstances, this would be a frustrating but not-especially-unbearable setback. As it was, we had only a few, already-long days ahead of us to meet up with D, who would be joining us for the remainder of the trip.

So we went crazy and started throwing away our food.

Oh, it made sense at the time. We had a lot of weight. Food weighs a lot. We can always buy more food. Ergo, throw out the food. Also, the umbrella. And the gas for our stove. And the petroleum jelly. And the earplugs. It felt like the right thing to do, at the time. I'm sure we saved ourselves a little bit of effort, and eating at restaurants is certainly easier than preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. And the fact that we threw out a full bottle of honey, only to re-buy honey a day or so later, only made me feel the slightest bit silly.

And when a raccoon (?) stole our garbage in the middle of the night, and we ran into a bear at the camp showers the next morning, I became convinced that it was only through divine intervention and our complete unwillingness to pay attention to road signs that we had managed to avoid a horrendous mauling death in the middle of the night. From that night forward, we followed a strict policy of buying every meal, at a restaurant or grocery store, and immediately throwing away everything we ate, so as to provide a distraction from the rabid animals of Tupper Lake and surrounding cities.

It worked. We weren't mauled in the middle of the night. We also won a stare-down with a moose. And I believe our sacrifice to the gods was the only thing that kept us from having a single flat tire over the course of 1500 (!) combined miles of biking. So go, team.

Directional problems aside, biking the Adirondacks was great. There aren't many big anecdotes to relate here, so I shall relate a few in bulleted form, because I'm not a good enough narrator to tie these together in any sort of cohesive whole. And on:

* Lakes in the Adirondacks are warm enough for swimming, but not enough for midnight skinny-dipping.

* There is no more satisfying feeling than witnessing the bewildered expression on someone's face as you tell them you just finished biking 60 miles, with thousands of feet of elevation gain, with 50 pounds of gear on your bike, in the pouring rain.

* Corollary: it rained every day of our trip, except one.

* Wilmington, NY, has the world's nicest bartender. A long-haired, Phish-loving bartender who introduced me to many glorious, low-priced, local microbrews.

* Lake Placid, NY has the world's nicest, cutest bike mechanic. This is more I_tried's thing than mine, and I can't believe she didn't ask for his number. Boyfriend be damned.

* Indian Lake has a lovely little coffeeshop. On the front door was a sign saying welcome, with, underneath, some words in what we were assumed Sanskrit. After perusing the store, seeing the enormous sword hanging above the counter, and glancing at the bookshelf full of Lord of the Rings memorabilia, we looked again. It was actually Elvish.

* Many other small annecdotes and observations of varying levels of interest, which I may or may not divulge, as suits my fancy.

Definitely, definitely a worthwhile experience. I don't think I'll ever match my sister's accomplishment of biking all the way across the US, but I'm definitely looking forward to a longer bike-camping trip before I get too much older.

For someone who needs constant, constant mental stimulation to save me from boredom, I was never -- not once -- bored during our 6-8 hours of daily biking. Oh, sure, the scenery's gorgeous (pictures fortchoming in a future post), but just clearing my mind and pedalling for hours on end was a weirdly fulfilling experience. I suppose it helps that I had an excellent conversational partner, as well.

And that's all I have, for now. I'll post pictures in a bit. You may be able to eke out some more information from I_tried's blog (linked above), if you're lucky.

And now I'm back in the real world, dealing with real life issues, and trying to get some research done. Perhaps something interesting will come of that, as well.


  1. Pick somewhere very flat next time and I am totally there with you. Bike Iowa! Maybe oneathem middle Canadian provinces...I'm assuming I'll get better, as I've only been biking a week, but I'm having some trouble with the inclines.
    Also, who knew there were mooses in the Adirondacks? That's crazypants.

  2. How much training did you guys do before hand? Doing sixty miles, uphill, in the rain, with bags is no mean feat. What kind of prep work did you do.

    Reading about what your trip make me want to bike more, which is a good thing. Silly work, interfering with that.

  3. You rock.

    but really... what did you expect the petroleum jelly to come in handy for?

  4. My friend E doubted that there are meese in the Adirondacks. Whatever we saw, however, was large, ungulate, and antlered, and look very moose-like to me. So believe what you will. Are there other animals that look moose-like that one might expect to see in that region? But hey, Rip, if you wanna bike down to LA, there's a futon all a-waitin' for ya...

    I can't speak for I_tried, but I didn't do any especial training for the bike-ride. My daily commute used to involve about 10 miles of biking (with textbooks and a change of clothes as luggage), and that got me into good enough shape.

    And Kori, well... it gets lonely out in the forest. There's nothing like a game of "hide the jelly" to keep you occupied on those cold, cold nights...

  5. dude.
    it was a serious question. as I would not have considered to pack oil based jelly on my solo ride... should I reconsider?

  6. :-) I actually have no idea what the petroleum jelly was for. It was in I_tried's baggage, and I forgot what she told me she brought it for.

  7. Chaffing on those, oh, so very special parts.