cycling adventures and beyond

Category: Training (page 2 of 2)

Four more months…

The last time I counted down months was a year ago, when we were traveling the world. A year ago today, we were en route to Valparaíso in Chile (which is what you see in the picture above), crossing the Andes and even catching a glimpse of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas. It was one of the last places we visited in South America, before flying to the Cook Islands and ultimately New Zealand where I celebrated my birthday on the beach, flying kites, eating fresh strawberries and drinking excellent wine on a picnic blanket. It was perfect.

This year, I’m sure the weather for my birthday in a few weeks will be as dreary as ever, and there will be no beach in sight. I’ve been in serious weather denial these days. Yesterday I dragged myself out of bed early in the morning to go for a 2 hour cycle before spending the day baking, winning 2nd place at our stable’s “tournament” and carving pumpkins. It was cold, it was raining, and I looked like I had done downhill afterwards. But what can you do? When the weather’s bad all days, you still need to go out and train. It takes some determination, but I’m learning that I actually HAVE the determination to do it.

Now I’m counting down months again. On November 1st, I was very aware of the fact that I am only four months away from flying to London with all my kit and setting off into the unknown.
People around me are starting to understand that I’m actually doing it and that it isn’t some very distant plan. I’ve been asked about my route plenty of times and while I’m still working on the details and the individual days, I do have a plan in place, aided by the gigantic map of the world that we happen to have hanging on the wall here anyway. It is laminated, so it is perfect for drawing routes and trying out stuff.

Since I’m going low-budget, I have to maximize the time I get out of each continent. I won’t have enough cash to fly to South America or stop over at some fun island (I’d love to add the 30km of Rarotonga..). Going with the seasons I will be going eastward.

Leg 1: London-Istanbul via Eastern Europe
Leg 2: Mumbai-Calcutta
Leg 3: Bangkok-Singapore
Leg 4: Perth-Brisbane
Leg 5: Dunedin-Auckland
Leg 6: Vancouver-Boston via Denver, Chicago and Charleston
Leg 7: Lisbon/Porto (depends on flights)-London

So, pretty standard. As a woman I won’t be going through the Middle East, and I don’t feel like crossing Kazachstan or China with a road bike and limited options for storing food and water. In the US, I’ll try to cover some new ground by going with the north route after cycling down to Arizona and New Mexico. There are only a few states left that I haven’t been to and this is a good opportunity to see them. Obviously I want to visit my Colorado friends, too, if only for a night. And I’ve been dying to go back to Charleston, South Carolina ever since I first visited there in January 2010. I already know where I’ll eat at and pack sandwiches from – five loaves café!

Tomorrow I’m packing up Blitzi and taking him a couple hundred kilometers north, from where I’ll cycle to Hamburg. The weather forecast says rain, rain and wind, good thing I have some waterproofs…

Fall is awesome sometimes.

Since I felt much better over the weekend I went for a long training ride yesterday. It was a fine fall day, the red leaves fluttering around in gentle breezes, the sun warming my back, my sights set on the beautiful Alps. I love mountains so much, I couldn’t imagine not living near them anymore. When I spent a few months in Boulder, Colorado, I took up hiking and just loved seeing the Flatirons from any point in town. Nowadays I know that Boulder is a favorite spot for many athletes’ summer training, but back then, I had no idea that I could have been sipping my OZO latte next to the likes of Scott Jurek. 

Anyway, it was a good day to get out and about and cycle from Munich to Rosenheim, about 85km and 600 meters of elevation gain. I’m not particularly fond of cycling hills, but it’s not like I can avoid them here in Bavaria – or in the world. Tried out my new bag setup, too – works like a charm and fits my bike perfectly! 

The Ortho gave me the “almost-clear”, there’s some upset in the AC joint, pointing to a partial tear of one of the ligaments, but it is stable for now and I’m allowed to cycle as much as I want, as long as it doesn’t get worse. No lifting above shoulder height though, so I had to delegate all of the stable work to colleagues. I get to do some physiotherapy for a few weeks and then I’ll meet back with the doctor to see whether it has improved. Unfortunately, the pain is said to last for at least another four to six weeks, maybe even more, meaning sleeping on my side is still out of the question, as is putting ANYTHING on the shoulder. Oh well. I can live with that, it just makes everyday life a tiny bit harder. 

Today, the rain came back and brought some wind with it. Just the right weather for a long ride – on horseback, mind you. Same thing tomorrow, but I’m sure this week still has some great cycling days in store. 

What do you train for?

My research has found that there are two camps when it comes to training philosophy for long cycling adventures. The first say you don’t need to do any specific training, you’ll get fit on the fly, but the first weeks may be harder. The second emphasize that you should be able to maintain your planned daily mileage a few weeks before you set off.

I tend to agree with the second camp, for multiple reasons.

1. Knowing that you can do what you’re planning makes you feel secure and boots your confidence. Remember the first time you drove on the Autobahn/Highway and had to enter it with all the trucks and crap? Well, you obviously survived and made it somehow, but nowadays you’re much more relaxed driving on that ramp because you KNOW you’ll find your place.

2. The body is both immensely strong and incredibly fragile. While it can take a lot of abuse in terms of exercise, nutrition and general care, it is the small things that will bring you to your knees. A niggle in a tendon somewhere that doesn’t stop. A pulled muscle. Chances are, if your body is accustomed to daily exercise – and strong enough for it, it won’t develop those niggles as quickly. If you experience (harmless) problems while training, even better, you’ll learn how to deal with them.

3. Training isn’t just about physical fitness. It is about a myriad of other things: navigation, finding the right foods and drink that suit you on long rides, your most comfortable break rhythm, determining your most comfortable and efficient riding position, testing materials like pants, gloves and the likes, getting used to the silence and solitude,…. The list goes on.

So while I’m sure you COULD just jump into the saddle on a whim and go for it, I feel better knowing I’ll at least have put in 6 months of honest-to-god training time.
Though winter is approaching, I’ll be doing an overnighter to Hamburg in two weeks, keep you fingers crossed that snow and cold don’t arrive in the meantime!

Fall off, get back on

Four days after hitting the pavement, I feel ready to get back to business. The first two days were spent in a painful stupor, and slightly infected wounds didn’t help. After a trip to the local doctor and much better wound dressings (and powerful pain meds for the night) I improved dramatically. Still, I’ll be seeing an ortho guy next week to make sure I don’t damage anything by racking up my training again.

While I’m practically ready, my bike is still in the shop getting a makeover (after riding it three times!) – new handlebars, bar tape, saddle and straightened wheels. It won’t have the pretty white bar tape anymore, but an even more comfortable compact bar drop, also the new components are quite a bit lighter than the old ones. It is somewhat sad to change a bike I’ve only owned for less than a week, since I fell in love with it right when I unpacked it for the first time. But I’m sure I’ll fall in love with it all over again when I go pick it up.
As a bonus for being a profitable customer, the shop is giving me a free fitting session on my own bike, fine-tuning my position and the contact points for optimum performance.

In the meantime, I’ll dust off the old Alf and take it for a slow and easy spin around the block, 20km of reminding myself that I can still ride. On Sunday, I didn’t get the 80km in that I had planned. But the accident only sidelined me for three whole days. Here’s to getting back in the saddle.

Scrapin’ that smile off my face…


Two days ago, I wrote on Facebook that I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face on the first ride on my new, shiny, red bike. As a friend kindly pointed out, I probably shouldn’t have been so brash, because yesterday, it got scraped right off (along with a bit of skin).

I didn’t lose consciousness, but the exact chronology of the accident is a bit woozy. I remember shifting into a higher gear to go down a small hill (after having asked my boyfriend whether he wants to have coffee at our usual spot or in the next town), checking the road to make sure there aren’t any cars in front of me or behind me, and swinging a meter into the road in order to pass my boyfriend on the left.

Next thing I know, a kid is going back and forth in the road (it wasn’t a pedestrian crossing), undecided whether to stay put or cross, but right when I was going to fly past, it started into my way again. I remember yelling and I can see the ground coming at me while screaming. Lovely. But I don’t remember the impact itself, which is probably better anyway, since I dove head-on at a pretty respectable (but tame for a road bike) speed. In case you’re wondering now: the kid is fine, her bike wasn’t so lucky I heard, but as far as I’m concerned, she shouldn’t have been in the road and she shouldn’t have been wavering back and forth. I was clearly unable to slam the breaks down in time, and in any case, had I done that I’m pretty sure I’d have dived as well. Whether I did brake or not, I cannot tell you. My hands were ON the brakes when I started down that hill, as they always are.

Well, I sat by the side of the road (don’t ask me how I got there), told the parents I’m fine (bit of an overstatement) and just focused on breathing. I soon heard both the ambulance sirens and the police talking to my boyfriend and the child with her parents. Apparently, as soon as I was on the gurney (with a stifneck and everything), I asked about my bike three times. My bike was fine – amazingly. I was so worried that I’d mangled it after owning it for all of three days! It has a few scratches on the front brake and the left bar drop seems to be a bit bent, but that is it. Nothing else.

I was almost as lucky. With this speed and the type of fall, I could have broken all kinds of things. Instead: a bit of road rash on my hands and the right arm, a big patch of it on my face, a couple of small bruises on my fingers, a pretty bashed up knee (nothing in the joint itself though, luckily) which has swollen quite respectably, and worst of all a really bruised shoulder which is giving me most of my pain. No broken bones, no obvious tears, and nothing on or in my head or my c-spine.
They sent me home with a couple of pain killers, the strong recommendation to stay on the sofa for two or three days, and the warning to come back if I feel faint or nauseous. Luckily the ambulance had taken me not to the nearest hospital but to the one closest to my home (1 mile) when they heard where I live.

So, what do I take from this? First off, this could have happened to anyone. Road biking is, by definition, a dangerous sport. I hadn’t ever crashed a bike before, the last time I properly fell off one was at around 6, when I was going around the block and a car pulled out of the driveway backwards, pushing me over. Yesterday was nothing like back then. I didn’t get ice cream, either. 😉
As a biker you have to know and accept the risk of falling. It could have been a branch in the bike lane, someone in front of me driving erratically, or a concealed pothole. As it happened it was another person getting in my way at a really bad time in a place where you’re not supposed to stand on the road. It didn’t matter either that I was in the road and not the bike lane, the day before we were riding quite slowly on a bike lane and two people simply stepped into the lane in front of us without looking. That could’ve gone south, too, but it didn’t.

Second, I was really lucky with the injuries that I got away with. Since my mother died of a previously undetected brain aneurysm, I was unbelievably worried that I’d crashed my head so hard. The type of aneurysm she had is inheritable. I told the doctors, of course, and they said they wouldn’t do a contract CT unless I had a severe headache or other signs of distress, which luckily I did not. I got a regular CT of the head and the c-spine though. I shall praise this day as the day I didn’t die the way I’m most afraid of, then.

And finally, praise for the health system of Germany. Living here is a privilege. I have health insurance, of course, which covers, well everything (of course), but it really wasn’t a hassle at all. The paramedics asked me about my insurance information, that is it. They didn’t need the card or my ID to confirm it. They didn’t have to ask me about the brand of hospital I need to go to, but took me to the one most convenient for me (had my injuries been worse they’d have taken me to the closest one of course). And finally, all sorts of tests, from blood work to CT, were just done as they were deemed necessary, and I did not worry for a second about the cost of all this.
While you’re required to have insurance in Germany – if you’re unemployed or for another reason not able to pay it, the state will pay it for you – they would have treated me exactly the same if I didn’t have insurance or didn’t know the name of it. And I’d have never seen a bill. What a blessing to be so worry-free in situations of distress.

So all in all, I now know that falling off my bike isn’t necessarily fatal, it just hurts a bit. I will be back on the bike as soon as my shoulder works sufficiently, until then, no lifting of things, no horseback riding or stablework, no nothing, just TV series, icepacks, easy food and rest. My boyfriend doesn’t come home until Thursday, but if I get worse, he’d be here in a couple of hours.
Oh, and I’ll be buying really good insurance for the WCR. Of that I’m painfully certain.

Share the road?

In Germany, bike lanes parallel many of the bigger roads and some drivers do think that cyclists are required to use them. * Alas, they are not. There have been court rulings that state very clearly that the roads are there to be shared (with the exception of the Autobahn and some other high-speed roads, of course) but that doesn’t save you from road rage.

I’m guessing that every cyclist who’s out and about a lot experiences these drivers once in a while. Even here, where I am out of the city within minutes, where the roads are wide enough to pass me easily in traffic, some people choose to annoy me – or in some cases, endanger me.
Take, for example, this past Tuesday. I’m cycling on the hard shoulder, there isn’t much traffic at all. The bike lane doesn’t start for another couple hundred meters and it is on the left side of the road, meaning I’ll have to turn. Now, I’m still on the hard shoulder, not even indicating that I’ll be swinging into the center in a while, when a car passes me by centimeters, blaring its horn the whole time. This was a small car which fit into the lane with tons of space to spare. The driver, a young guy, was clearly not happy about having to share one second with a cyclist on the same road.
Obviously my adrenalin kicked in when he passed me this close, had I swerved even a tiny bit in this moment, it could have been a serious accident as I was going about 30km/h. When he had finally passed me, I motioned my anger and carried on. This prompted the guy to pull over. Lucky for me, I was finally at the turn-off for the bike lane and proceeded to the other side of the road. There’s no telling what he would have done if I had passed him. Would he have pushed me off the road? Yelled at me? Flipped me the bird? No idea. There was no reason for him to be upset as I didn’t hinder him in any way.

In less extreme ways, this happens quite a lot. I happily chose the bike lanes as long as they are wide, flat and don’t go up and down the sidewalk. However, fall brings a new set of problems: leaves and harvest debris. Corn fields are being harvested right now, and the bike lanes next to them are full of pieces of corn, leaves and dirt from the truck tires. This is dangerous when you’re on 23C wheels and going fast. Same story on tree-lined roads: while the road itself is usually free of leaves and branches, the bike lane is full of it. Not fun! Luckily, I just saw the road service cleaning one of the worst offenders, so here’s to hoping that they’ll stay on top of things as fall progresses. Otherwise, I’ll just keep on annoying cars with my incessant hard shoulder-riding. (really big trucks to have to wait until they can pass me sometimes, even though they tend to be happy with doing a really close pass if they’re in a hurry, too…)

Considering that I will be riding on roads most of the way around the world, I am building up both calm and ignorance on the road. I always stick to the rules that apply to cars, signal for turns super-early and very visibly, use the bike lanes whenever possible and safe for me, and I don’t swerve into the lane. This makes me confident that even when someone honks and yells at me, it’s not because I am doing something wrong, it is because that person is, pardon, an idiot.

* Another popular error is that “cyclists aren’t allowed to listen to music”. False. In Germany at least, you’re allowed to have earplugs in, so long as the music isn’t too loud to hear traffic and sirens.

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