Planning your First Bike Tour

Planning your first bike tour can be intimidating. Before deciding on gear, food, how you’re going to carry everything on your bike, or even how you’re going to sleep at night; you need to plan your route. Ideally, you base how much and what you bring on the temperature, terrain, and other climate and geographic factors.

For you fist overnight bike tour, you don’t need to go very far or be gone for very long. We read about the Race Across America (RAAM), and we think that “wow, that’s pretty awesome. Maybe I’ll do that someday”. And indeed, maybe we will. But just because you set your mind on running a marathon doesn’t mean that you should start your running career with one. In the same way, the Race Across America is an achievable and admirable goal, but shouldn’t be your first priority. Instead, I recommend a three day ride, with the following (flexible) criteria in mind:

  1. Never ride more than 75 miles away from home:You do this because should something happen to you or your equipment, it’s not too difficult for you to call a friend or family member and have them drive to where you are and pick you up.
  2. Remember the rule of threes: Even though you’re only going to be gone for three days, it’s always smart to bring three of every replacement part, whenever possible. This doesn’t necessarily apply to things like tires, but extra nuts, washers, patch kits, and tubes should be easy enough to pack extra. Remember: 2 is 1, and 1 is none. When you’re on the road, plan for the worst case scenario, and you won’t have a problem. Plan for the best case scenario, and Murphy’s Law will hit you like a ton of bricks.
  3. Avoid excessively difficult terrain: Try to plan your route to follow roads and topography that are similar to where you train. Because you’re only planning a three day ride you don’t need to worry about a drastic change in climate and temperature (for example, going from the mountains to the flat desert, or the other way around). However, If there’s an area near you that’s much hillier or more technical than what you’re used to, you won’t have as much fun as if you had planned less difficult riding conditions.
  4. Don’t skimp on the tires: This is the one gear specific point on the list. If you’re riding on a road bike that has 23mm or 25mm slicks, you’ll want to invest in a pair of at least 28mm or 32mm touring style tires. These can also be found on websites like Nashbar under the heading “City Bike Tires”. These tires might be found on a hybrid style bike, and their compromise between mountain bike knobs and road bike slicks make them ideal for touring, where you can encounter a variety of different kinds of paving, or even lack thereof. Investing in a spare folding bead tire to carry along with your three extra tubes will give you some peace of mind and the ability to get yourself back home if anything happens to one of your primary tires.

Finally, remember that it’s not a race. Many times, people start out on a tour planning to ride 10 hours and 130 miles per day. I promise you that in all likelyhood that if you had to you could do that, but you won’t want to. Touring isn’t about speed, but about being able to ride all day, enjoy the country side, and commune with yourself, the machine, and the road. Racing around at 35 km/hr stopped being an option when you added a rack and 40 pounds of gear to the back of your bike.

Wishing for Summer

How many of you find yourselves pining for the gentler summer months, with longer days, warmer breezes, and the fun and time with your family that it brings? I know I am. Winter in Wisconsin can be fun, but at times I find myself wishing for summer. Spring, summer and fall are all beautiful where I live, and while reminiscing for the warmer, gentler months I found myself looking through some photographs that I took last October down by the Lake Wingra boat house.

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I don’t know about everyone else, but warm and sunny days like that one in October seem pretty appealing right now. In contrast, the trees are bare and it’s so cold that the smoke from smokestacks rises briefly and then falls towards the ground.

Understanding the Recovery Process

If you’re having some trouble wrapping your mind around all of the parts of the recovery process, don’t worry. I’ve been thinking, and I came up with a good way to visualize how your body gets things done.

The main parts of your physical recovery are rest, rehabilitation, and nutrition. If you think of your recovery processes like a group of builders building a house, it’s a lot easier to understand.

The rest portion of your recovery is the number of hours the builders work. If you limit the number of hours that the builders can work, it will take them longer to build your house than if they were allowed to work longer days (go ahead and assume that these imaginary workers don’t get tired, don’t need workers comp, and don’t complain about consecutive 16 hour work days. After all, your body is truly an amazing system).

The physical therapy and exercise is the training that the workers receive, and also their foreman. With a good foreman and lots of training, the workers are more motivated to build the house well and make it strong, and they’re more competent to complete the job more efficiently and at a higher level of craftsmanship. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals that make it rebuild the part of your body that you worked out stronger and better while you rest.

Finally, your nutrition is materials that your house is built from. If you don’t eat well or enough while you’re recovering, your body won’t have enough or proper materials to build it’s house. If you feed your body lean protein, plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as all of the other vitamins, minerals, and nutrients it wants, your builders will have plenty of the strongest bricks and mortar. You don’t want your new house to be built out of Dr. Pepper and Fritos, do you? It’s completely ok to eat and drink a little bit of junk food, but the key word there is a LITTLE bit. Not a 2 liter and a family sized bag for breakfast before you go out and seize the day.

I hope that you’ve developed a bit of a better of an understanding of what’s going on behind the scenes during your recovery. If you give your builders enough time to work, enough training and a good foreman, and all of the best building materials; your house will be framed and finished before you know it, and you’ll be independent and lead a healthier lifestyle than you did before because of it.

The Importance of Rest (aka, your excuse to take a nap)

All over my site, I espouse the benefits of sticking with a physical therapy regimen and how much of a difference it will make on your fitness and overall physical and mental well-being. The other end of the fitness commitment spectrum from slacking off and not trying hard enough is trying too hard, and putting in too much time and effort.

“But John!” you say. “Haven’t you said over and over that you need to dedicate yourself 110% to your recovery, and that you should work as hard as you can?”

Well, yes. However, working as hard as you can and dedicating yourself 110% to your recovery process are very different from overworking yourself. Part of Having an optimal recovery plan is having optimal rest. It might seem cray or even counterintuitive to some, but it’s not out of line and not even uncommon to be sleeping upwards of 16 or even 18 hours per day when your body is trying to heal.

Why do you need to sleep so much? Your body does most of its work repairing tissue, muscle, and bone damage as well as growing new cells to replace old ones while you sleep. When you exercise vigorously or have a serious injury to recover from, your body signals that you need to sleep so that it can adequately repair itself. After my accident, I slept or rested almost nonstop for the first two weeks. I didn’t do this because I’m lazy (I’m not saying I’m not); I did this because it was the best thing I could do for myself.

During your recovery process, don’t ever forget how important it is to rest. Resting is on equal footing with your physical therapy, and if you forget the importance of rest and don’t sleep enough your physical therapy won’t be able to have as great an effect as it could if you had properly given your body everything that it needed to heal.

Starting Physical Therapy

Starting physical therapy is both daunting and exciting. It signals a level of well being such that you are again able to exercise and work on increasing your strength, but also signals that you must begin to work hard to become as strong and as independent as you hope to be. Not all of your recovery will be easy. There will be times when you’re hurting, or stretching farther than you’d like to, or unable to lift something that you thought you could. But don’t give up. By giving up, you forsake your inner spirit that drives you onward and pushes you to succeed. By focusing, pushing through your misgivings, and working as hard as you can you can do all that you set out to.

You must, must, must do what your physical therapist tells you to do. Starting physical therapy is no easy thing, but finishing it can be even more difficult if you don’t give your exercises 110% effort. If you skimp and cheat, and tell yourself that “You’ll just do it tomorrow” or “It’s ok, I’ve already gotten so far”, you aren’t only cheating yourself. Remember that your trainer, your family, and your friends all want you to do well and all want you to become as healthy as you can be, and that by slacking off you’re denying yourself a level of health that you could have achieved along with contributing to the stress of others who want the best for you. Don’t give up. You’re strong, you’re capable, and you’re able to push through whatever life throws at you.

When I broke my spine, I shattered my C7 vertebrae. Small slivers of bone exploded outwards, and some of them stabbed into a large nerve that runs down my left arm. For weeks I could barely feel my hand, and could barely lift my arm. I started physical therapy as soon as I could by simply squeezing a stress ball and playing with something called air putty. By doing these exercises, I was able to strengthen my hand much quicker than I could have had I just left my body to heal itself without any help from me.

Now after just 6 weeks, I have full feeling in my hand and most of my grip has returned. I’m getting stronger every day, and I believe that starting physical therapy had a major impact on the speed of my recovery. Although I still have issues raising my left arm much past parallel to the ground, as soon as my doctor clears me to do exercises to improve my strength, mobility, and range of motion I will exercise with a passion.

Remember: You are the one with ultimate control over your recovery. Starting physical therapy is one of the best ways to improve your health, your independence, and your motivation level. One of my most potent motivators has been seeing my successes and my improvements every day, which are all thanks to starting physical therapy.

Why You Should Focus on Improvement

Often, I feel broken down emotionally as well as physically. The difference in fitness between where I was, where I am now, and where I would like to be, general fatigue, and the day to day struggles that I and everyone else most assuredly face all conspire to keep me from feeling my best. I deal with this by focusing on how much I’ve improved, not how far I have to go.

Instead of picking a goal that seems at times unattainable, make note of how much stronger, faster, and more energetic you are each week that you train. With my focus on improvement instead of my failures and my weaknesses, I feel encouraged to continue on and to work harder than ever.

At the end of the week, I take a moment to reflect and think to myself “Wow. I’ve done things that a week, two weeks, even two days ago would have seemed improbably difficult. I’m amazed at how quick the human body can recover and improve.”. Right now, I feel like writing down what I’ve done, my plans, and setting goals for myself. All of this, because I focus on improvement.

Success Stories

Before I begin this post, I just want to let everyone know that I took the story from SpinalCordRecovery.org, the website of the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. All credit is due to them and their writers, and if you’d like to learn more and visit their general site, click here.

Success Stories

The International Center for Spinal Cord Injury offers more than just the hope of recovery from what was once thought to be an irreversible and life altering injury. Through the use of Activity Based Restorative Therapies (RT) great promise has been shown helping adults and children with chronic spinal cord injuries recover sensation, movement, independence, and overall improved quality of life even many months or years after an injury.

Santa Marie Wallace

Despite her disability, Santa Marie Wallace finished her BA in May 2011 and is currently pursuing her MA in Disability Policy while working part-time. Although her C3-C5 incomplete spinal cord injury and limitations of movement caused her body to be stiff as a board at first, her muscles are now being re-educated through activity-based restorative therapy at the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury. The innovative, aggressive nature of treatment has augmented her flexibility and movement. Santa continues to make strides in strength and recovery of function. She is able to stand from her wheelchair and walk limited distances using a rolling walker, something doctors told her she would never do.

Patrick Rummerfield

Patrick Rummerfield lives a life that can only be deemed miraculous. A 1974 car accident left Pat with little hope of survival. Today, this triathlete, racecar driver and motivational speaker spends each day ensuring that he makes the most of his body’s renewed power. As the world’s first fully functional spinal cord injury quadraplegic, Pat is living proof that with the right combination of quality medical care, intensive physical therapy and personal will, recovery from devastating injuries is possible.

Lily Wilkinson

Lily was just three when her neck was broken in an automobile accident. A moment of folding metal, and her new life appeared etched in stone before she had ever entered kindergarten. After months of intensive care, her parents were told she would never be able to use or feel her legs again.

Matt Courson

Matt climbed on his four-wheeler to make the short trip to visit a friend. He never made it. He can’t remember much about the ride, but he knows he went over a 20-foot embankment. When he came to after the crash, he couldn’t move.

MacKenzie Clare

MacKenzie was just ten years old and looking forward to a day of fun at Port Discovery in Baltimore with her parents and two friends on April 2, 2005. That rainy day took a different turn when a pick-up truck traveling on the opposite side of the highway lost control and veered into their lane, hitting their car, and injuring all five occupants.

Van Brooks

“I remember everything,” Brooks said the other day. “I remember making the tackle. I remember laying there and not being able to feel anything. I remember talking to the trainer, who was asking me different questions. I remember getting into an ambulance. They cut all my equipment off, then they waited for the MedEvac [medical helicopter] to come. They transferred me to the MedEvac. I remember the ride down to Shock Trauma, but once I landed at Shock Trauma, I don’t remember anything.”

Loretta McRae

In the months since the 15-year-old struck her head on an ocean sandbar in Australia, sustaining a C6-level spinal cord injury, virtually every expert said she’s already gotten her miracle. She was alive, she could wiggle her toes, she was regaing sensation in her limbs. But she would probably need to use a wheelchair for the rest of her life.