Friday, September 19, 2014

Sept 18 (Day 261) - More distance south, how I really feel about bike touring at this time

This morning started off stormy and very windy. This delayed my departure from the Best Western Plus Orchard Inn in Ukiah, CA. This was not a big deal though as I had "only" 67 miles to cover to Sebastopol, CA today. Once the southern headwinds died down to less than 10 MPH, I hit the road a few hours ahead of Sonia. We had agreed to meet in Cloverdale 30 miles down the route for lunch. When I spotted the Owl Cafe, I immediately knew where lunch would happen. This place is a serious throwback to the diner days of yester-year. I felt like I was at Arnold's from Happy Days! The food was decent and the owl theme was a lot of fun.

The 30 pre-lunch miles were all made on Highway 101. After lunch, I stuck to side roads that ran me through some really beautiful Sonoma wine country. The majority of the miles for the rest of the afternoon were through this same scenery. It was really pretty, but it got very old quickly as I went up and down very short , very steep hills over and over and over. I really started thinking about how my perception of biking changes of the course of the day as the mileage total climbs.

A midday downpour foced me take shelter!

67 miles south!

Generally, given my fully loaded bike, good road surface, no wind, flat terrain, and the condition in which my body currently finds itself (always tired), I can bike indefinitely at 15 MPH. What I have determined is that I have about a 3-hour tolerance for biking given how beat up I am at the moment. So, given the ideal conditions listed in above, in 3 hours I could travel ~45 miles.  The variables listed above act to either increase or decrease the distance I can ride in those 3 hours, and generally I have had my fill after those 3 hours. Anything beyond the initial three hours is no longer enjoyable and feels more like work than enjoyment. Once I get beyond about 5-6 hours, every minute feels like torture. 3 hours might not seem that long, but consider that I have averaged just slightly less than 50 miles a day.....for 261 days in a row. My body has been so fatigued for so long, that 3 hours is about what it takes before I start strongly, strongly disliking the bike. If I could take a week off, or get into a car for a few miles, or call for help when conditions start to deteriorate, then my tolerance threshold would clearly go back up. However, there isn't much rest in sight....for 104 more days. I will get a nice stretch of low-mile days in Monterey, so we'll see how this helps my mindset.

Let's look at my last 3 days. 87 miles over ~7 hours, 89 miles over ~9 hours (lots of hills), and 67 miles over ~6 hours (headwind all day). What you can see is that once you take the 3 hours out of each of these rides, I end up less-than-thrilled with more than 1/2 of my time on the bike (sometimes with only 1/3 of it!). Biking is awesome, just not on the scale and pace at which I am currently doing it. I am also racing against time; this is something few other cyclists experience. I would love nothing more than to spend a week in San Francisco visiting the many college friends I have in the city. Not gonna happen. I will spend one night max before I race south towards Monterey. While I am far from the hardest core biker out there, what I have generally observed is that people carrying the same weight as me are covering fewer miles. Those that are covering the same number of miles are carrying less or taking much longer to bike those miles. I can't bike too slowly or I won't get any birding done. In fact, I have not been passed on the road by another fully-loaded cyclist this year while I myself have passed plenty. Again, bike touring, if done under different circumstances than mine, is completely enjoyable. This is why so many people do it! The other thing folks have to remember is that for me biking would come WAY behind birding and photographing as how I would like to spend my free time. I haven't taken my binoculars out since noon on the 16th. That was 2.5 days and ~230 miles ago! For most bike tourists, biking is the focus. For me, it's just a means to get from bird to bird. Nothing wrong with either perspective. They're just really different.

I am just trying to paint a realistic picture of how I feel on any given day. Bike-birding on the local level is great; On the national/continent level it is a completely different animal. There is no comparison that can be drawn between the two. The biggest thing that I must continue to remember is that although this year is going to be incredibly challenging and I will be unspeakably uncomfortable for much of it, I will reap countless years of memories, joy, and friendships from it. It will be so nice to step back and examine the body of work from a completely healthy standpoint rather than dissecting it day-by-day in my current battered state.

Tomorrow there will be some actual birding - Woo Hoo!!! 

Lastly, I saw this on the roadside today and could only think of Michael Bolton going crazy on the fax/printer!


  1. I'm with you, man! Day after day after day and mind and body fatigue take over and life gets depressing. But isn't it amazing how great you feel again after just one full day off the bike? The human psyche and muscles have an incredible ability to recover given the slightest opportunity. And it's realizing the progression-vs.-recovery balance that adds such a tremendous dimension to your journey. Remember your college physics: energy can be neither created nor destroyed.

  2. Dorian,

    In response to your number-crunching of the past, I would like to suggest you crunch a few numbers about your future.

    Not knowing what you plan as a route I guessed and measured the distance from Sebastopol to San Francisco, to LA, to San Diego, to El Centro, (figuring you will want to make a swing by the Salton Sea) to Indio, to Phoenix, to El Paso, to San Antonio, to Laredo, to Brownsville. This gives us a distance of 2,349 miles left for you in the year. Even if I happen to have called the GENERAL route right, Google Maps almost certainly picked a shorter route than YOU will actually go, so we will figure several HIGHER numbers than that to have a safety margin.

    On the assumption (unlikely!) that you can maintain your pace from the past three days all the way to Brownsville, you will do 81 miles per day. If we assume (again, unlikely!) no rest days in there, you will travel the following distances by these dates:

    2500 10/19
    3000 10/26
    3500 11/01
    4000 11/07
    4500 11/13
    5000 11/19

    In other words, if you could keep up the pace you have maintained for the past three days that long, you could reach Brownsville with almost 6 weeks of the year remaining to you, if the distance you have to travel is TWICE AS FAR as my estimate.

    As I said, it's highly unlikely that you can keep up the same pace you have for the past three days that long. Let's assume that you can keep up the average pace that you have for the whole year. This should be quite easy as that average pace has included quite a few rest days. At 48 miles per day, you will travel the following distances by THESE dates:

    2500 11/10
    3000 11/20
    3500 11/30
    4000 12/11
    4500 12/21
    5000 01/01

    In other words, unless my estimate is truly HALF the distance you have to travel, you are not in any hurry. If the distance is as much as 4,500 miles, you have A FULL WEEK of rest time available to you if you average only the same as you have all year.

    I suspect that the distance you will be traveling will be more on the order of the 3,500 to 4,000 more miles. Further that your speed (on traveling days!!!) will not stay as high as it has the past three days, but will not drop to as low as your annual average. Under these assumptions, you have between three and four weeks of rest time available to you. In other words, you could have spent the extra day at Eel River or any of the earlier spots and had nearly 0 effect on your chances of seeing any particular species.

    You might argue that, had you not hurried, you would have missed the Tufted Puffin at Haystack Rock. That's so, but as you yourself pointed out, when you headed for Haystack you were already betting against the odds at finding one AT ALL. You might have stayed at Aberdeen/Westport and gotten the Golden-Plover in its place. There's no way to know.

    What I'm suggesting is that you HAVE the spare time to take off. You literally COULD spend the week in Frisco with your college friends AND spend the week near Monterey with Sonya's people and still make it to the Lower Rio Grande Valley in time to end your year there. Further, that such a pair of rest breaks will not materially affect your odds at seeing any particular species along the way. Still further, that such a pair of rest breaks WILL materially and positively affect your mood and outlook. (Which, by the way, will dramatically affect the speed and length of time you can stay riding in a GOOD mood :-)

    Best of luck to you!!!

  3. Hey Dorian, you're almost in the home stretch man. Looking at your proposed route a month ago, I knew that coastal Oregon and northern California were going to be a total slog. You'll be having more fun again around SFO/Monterrey and in SoCal. And you'll be back on flat, predictable ground again after Cali. Hang in there!