Today we rode 172 miles from Forest, Mississippi to Camden, Alabama. I wish I could say something deep and meaningful about the roads or the terrain, but to be perfectly honest, Arkansas, Mississippi and now Alabama all look about the same to me. My brother Jody, who has a Phd in range management, could probably tell me all about how the trees and vegetation are quite different in these states - but I just can' t really tell. I guess the really big difference about today's ride was the heat. Now two weeks into this ride we've been pretty lucky with the heat. But early this afternoon it got up to 99 degrees and really humid. I was drinking as much as I could at every rest stop.
Since the terrain hasn't seemed to change much in my eyes, I thought I'd share some of the things that go through my mind on a daily basis during this tour. The alarm goes off at 5:30 in the morning, and as I swing my legs out of bed and onto the floor to stand up, I think - "how on earth am I going to get on the bike". But as I put on my sunscreen and dress in my cycling clothes, I gradually begin to feel a little better. It's all about peer pressure - because I know every other guy is having the same thoughts. I take my bike to the parking lot where they have racks set up for us, I pump up my tires, and fill my bottles, and have breakfast. Every day on this tour we've had breakfast in the parking lot. And the menu is always the same. Orange juice, oatmeal, bananas, and bagels. I can't complain, however, because that's exactly what I'd be having for breakfast if I was riding at home. Susan and the crew do a great job having our breakfast ready that early in the morning. After loading my duffel bag on the truck, it's almost time to start the ride at 6:30. My saddle sores are so bad now that I'm not anxious about the ride itself- or the long day- I just fear how my bottom is going to feel the first time I sit on the seat. I usually pedal out of the parking lot of the hotel standing up and for the last three or four days, I sit on the seat for the first time and almost scream out loud (!) The pain is incredible. But each day - somehow - after pedaling a few strokes standing, and then pedaling a few strokes sitting, I just get used to it. By early afternoon it's not so bad. These last few days, if there was one thing I thought would keep me from completing the ride, it wouldn't be my leg muscles, or my knees, or my conditioning. It would be these darn saddle sores. I've tried all the recommended tricks - like alternating seats every other day, and alternating brand of cycling shorts every other day - but I guess I've just had some bad luck with them.
The first hour of riding is always the toughest for me mentally. I look down at the odometer and know there's so far to go. But I try to break the day up into segments. The first rest stop is usually around 30 miles, the second around 60, and lunch is somewhere between 90 and 100. I'm constantly doing math in my head ("I'm a 10th of the way, I'm a quarter of the way, I'm a third of the way") and before I know it, I'm half way. I always know that if I can make it half way, I can make it the rest of the way. The last hour is always tough. I look down at the odometer and see that I've ridden (160, 170 or 180 miles), but I'm just so anxious to get off the bike, get into an air condiditoned room and take a shower, that sometimes those last 15 or 20 miles seem to drag by.
Down-time in the evening is precious because there's not much of it. After getting all my gear organized, getting cleaned up, and getting some dinner, it's nearly time to go to sleep. Just as I'm falling asleep, I'm having those same thoughts of "how am I going to get back on the bike in the morning". All too soon, the alarm goes off and it's another day.
I had been told by veteran riders that there are three big emotional stages during a tour like this. The first few days are the excitement of the beginning of the tour and meeting new people. Somewhere during the middle of the tour there's a real down time emotionally as the body is being broken down and feeling exhausted, and realizing how far there still is to go. The final emotional stage is where the spirits are back up again because you're getting close to the end. I certainly have experience all three of these stages. Right now I'm pretty happy that there are only three days left. I think I'll be happy when the tour is over just so I can rest and let my body heal. I know I'm going to miss the wonderful guys and the great comraderie, but I'm going to be thrilled to not have to sit on a bicycle seat for a while. Tomorrow we go right to the Alabama / Georgia border. I just changed bicycle seats, so I'm hoping for a little more comfort in the morning.