From a personal standpoint the trip was a big success. In large part because my preparation took into account the lessons I learned from all of my past experiences including our 2012 France trip. Additionally fear was an effective and sobering motivator. Biting off more than one can chew is a tried and true technique.
We all took this trip seriously and pushed hard individually and as a group to get ready for it. The universal encouragement was good on both sides of the equation. Although fit, we all had creaks and groans that told the dual stories of our dedication and our age.
Training was essential to success and I am so grateful to Hottie for not only allowing me the time to train but for encouraging me to do so. My training reached a point where a three and a half hour ride was no longer considered a long ride. My four to six hour rides laid a foundation to allow my body to complete the ridiculous days we enjoyed in Italy.
Hottie and (An)Drew
Six hundred and fifty kilometers means little but the fact I climbed 18,000 meters does put the trip into perspective. For you that still trade in old money that is just under sixty thousand feet of climbing in seven rides (two of which would have been longer but were cut short by rain).
In addition to the physical training knowing the daily routine and preparing accordingly helped me get into the new rhythm quickly. Items such as having a travel fan to dry things out and a bringing my own clothesline and stuff sacks for my wanbags meant there was less to worry about day in and day out.
The story goes that in order to save his legs Bernard Hinault made people carry him upstairs in a chair during one of his Tour de France campaigns. This may be fact or it may be legend but it does illustrate the simple fact that anything that can reduce your physical or mental stress during one of these undertakings is a good thing.
The group was pretty special. During the trip I rode a lot with El Jefe’ and KB and Marco and The Cheetah. I also logged miles with Coz and Lutz and Jens. I sucked Brad’s when as long as I could and descended with Einmotron, McWoodie and Whiplaesch buffered by a fast moving and gap closing monster known as El Jefe’. Arndt rode with us a bit before politely dropping us when the road turned upward. If I had his strength I would do the same thing. I enjoying everyone I rode with and the group didn’t have any friction or outcasts or cliques. It was as if we were all lifelong buddies.
The biggest disappointment I had was not being able to ride alongside Horst. There are three reasons for this. One is that Horst is fast and I am not. The second is that the timing just didn’t work out on the day we rode into the rain. The third and worst reason is that Horst caught a bug and was sick for most of the trip. More than once Horst shot a long hard look at a certain man among us as the source of his virus and he may be right and he may be wrong - but regardless I am truly sad he didn’t get to ride with us as much as he and we would have liked. The plan was to have a group trip and for him to be part of the group.
Along the lines of a group trip we are shooting to host Horst and our newfound fast German friends for some serious gravel riding in the future. Stay tuned as that develops.
Okay back to the topic at hand which is lessons learned. Enough with the generalizations on training. On to specifics……
Bring the extra brake pads. I started with a fresh set and in three days they were shot. On those wet, gritty descents I could almost watch my pads wear down. 60,000 feet of climbing meant 60,000 feet of descending. Yeah, I should have known better.
I don’t know how Brawny Paper Towels managed to be the exclusive toilet paper supplier to Italy and Germany but they did. You don’t realize how coddled we are as Americans until you find yourself in a far off land praying you don’t get splinters from your TP. Kind of a non-cycling variation to “Shut up legs!”
Gear as low as you can and even so you will crave lower. I rode a 34:36 as my lowest gear. El Jefe’ was on a tricked out 34:40 and I was jealous. If he had an even lower gear he would have used it.
The top tube bag was awesome and it contributed to my success. It was easier to eat and so I am sure I ate more on the bike.
The blinking lights were good and it helped to be seen by cars and motos behind and ahead of me.
The charging tower was good and absolutely necessary with the plethora of electronics we each had.
My multi-pronged recovery regiment seemed to work. I used compression, recovery drink, electrolytes, water bottle leg massage, stretching and hydration and I’m not sure which aspect(s) worked and what was a waste but the net result was it worked and I will repeat it all next time.
If I were to do it again I think I would take my SEVEN and leave the coupled bike. It would cost me more in cash but I think the lighter weight, better performance on the road and the convenience of not having to basically build a bike whilst jet-lagged and then tear it down again when ride weary might be worth the extra money.
In the future I would take enough bibs that if I needed to go all the way to the rest day without washing I could. With the rain and humidity the bibs took a couple days to dry and so I always had two pairs airing out in the hotel. Bidness side out of course…….
Dr Bronners soap was a handy thing to have. I used it to wash bike clothes and get bike grease off my shirt and shorts. It was also good for really cleaning those areas where you put chamois cream. You never know what is in that hotel soap.
My lotions and potions were all effective:
Jack Black Sunscreen was terrific.
Morgan Blue Solid Chamois Cream is a flak jacket for your ass
Buttonhole remains the premier all-around chamois cream
Shea butter with Tea Tree Oil is a remedy for vacation-threatening skin damage
King of Shaves is the best stuff ever for shaving your face with a blade
A Nuun Tablet is a double bonus: electrolytes plus you drink more
By staying Z1-3 I can go all day; day after day. Z4 and Z5 are like being above 27,000 feet on Everest, you are only making withdrawals and are no longer making deposits.
“The same only bigger” was a good model. That is to say; don’t think you have to do everything different because it is Europe and the climbs are longer, steeper and higher. We relied on our experience riding in the rain and adapting to changing weather. I used the same clothing I have been using for months and years. In fact my BG gloves, Assos bibs, sunglasses and Craft base layer made the trip with me in 2012 and were back in action this time.
I am a lucky man. My training took me to the ragged edge of my physical limits but I made it. So many of our group had physical challenges during the trip ranging from fatigue to sore knees, claves, quads and arches, all the way to life-threatening saddle sores. I was not unscathed and there were days I had an ice bag on my knee. Nevertheless I count myself as lucky to have gone and partaken of this cyclists dream trip.
Final Lesson Learned is aimed at El Chefe and Big John. If you get the chance; take it. Life goes on with or without your daily attention.