Summer’s Last Stand

The windows are open and a cool breeze wafts in as I write this morning.   Sunrise is still an hour or so away and so perhaps it will warm up later but maybe not so much that we’ll have to turn the air conditioner back on.  Fall is coming.   It won’t be long now.

It has been a summer of endless blooms along the Raccoon River Valley Trail.
Roundup time.

It has been an amazing summer.  I’ve ridden more miles than ever before and I’ve seen the most incredible things.  On the wildlife front, I’ve ridden with the bulls.  Okay, technically they were cows but you get the idea.  Most people never get to see cattle run.  It’s quite a sight…all that weight charging forward.  I’ve also seen copious deer, eagles, beaver, one curious gray fox and even a bobcat.

I’ve added Montana, Oregon and Washington to the list of states I’ve now cycled in.   I’d been to all of these places before, but seeing them on a bike is different and better and I have a new appreciation of just how special they all are.   Portland was everything I heard it was.  Billings and Missoula are completely different, but both delighted me in ways I didn’t expect.   If you ever find yourself heading to Billings and are looking for suggestions, let me know and I’ll share with you where to stay and where to eat.  It has blossomed from the gritty little oil town I remember into a nice smaller city.

Downtown Billings. I like it here.
I liked Missoula even more.
I crossed both the Mississippi and Columbia by bike for the first time this summer.

Closer to home, I crossed the Mississippi River in Davenport and rode the Hennepin Canal towpath in Illinois as well as the Three Rivers Trail in Hampton Iowa.   We also visited Cedar Falls for the first time.  If I was young and just starting out and looking for an affordable Midwestern “mountain” town, I  might consider moving there.  It reminds me of Boulder way back when.

The passing of summer doesn’t mean that cycling season is over.  Minnesota beckons.  The Root River Trail is one of America’s best and this month they’re having a Taste of the Trail.  That’s a good excuse to head north before the snow flies.

I’m also heading to Nebraska in a few weeks to ride the Omaha Jackrabbit, a 125 mile gravel grinder.   Like Seattle to Portland earlier this year, I have absolutely no idea what this entails.  It’ll be fun to find out.

The Loess Hills…another one of my “happy places.”

I plan to ride through the winter again this year.  I probably won’t go as many miles as last year, especially on those below zero days, but you never know.  I do plan to get out in it regardless.   I’ve even found myself looking wistfully at my Surly Wednesday fat bike these last few weeks.

That’s a good thing.

Ride on.

Thirty Minutes a Day Changes Everything

Yesterday was a milestone day for me. It was my 600th straight day on the bike without a miss. I’ve cycled five miles or more every day since December, 2016. I’ve covered a lot of ground over these 600 days…20,195 miles to be exact. That’s a little over 33 miles per day. Not bad for an old man.

The streak was just a crazy thought back in early 2017. I’d ridden more miles than I thought possible the previous year and didn’t want to fall into the trap where I felt like I constantly had to ride more so I changed my focus  instead. Why not just try to ride five miles or more every single day for the whole year? At the time, I thought it would be fun to see if I could stick with it for 365 days.

Day 20, Ogden Utah.  Snow is mostly an excuse.  It doesn’t have to stop you.

I almost didn’t. Eight days in we were still living in Ogden Utah and I woke up to eight inches of wet, slippery snow. It was nothing like the Utah powder the ski people love to brag about.  It was more like wet cement.  I headed out and couldn’t get any traction at all. I didn’t know how I was going to get five miles in that day.  I was almost ready to give up and then a snowplow came by. I stuck to plowed streets and managed to cover seven miles. This was my shortest day…so far at least.

Day 72: The trails above Ogden finally dried out and so I climbed.
Day 200: I begin to explore Iowa’s B Road kingdom.
Day 362: The wildlife I’ve seen has been such a treat.
Day 365. It was the wind more than the snow…
Day 513: Crossing the Mighty Mississippi at Davenport Iowa

When I was starting out, I had people tell me that I couldn’t ride every day. They told me I’d need to take days off to rest, probably because I’m not as young as I used to be.  I don’t hear that sort of thing any more.

So how does an old guy pull this off?   Well, I think part of it is luck.  I’ve been relatively healthy over this period.  But maybe I’m healthy because I ride everyday.   There’s also the challenge of finding a bike when you’re traveling but even that’s not as difficult as it used to be.  I’ve used bikeshare on several business trips. It’s not ideal, but we’re only talking about thirty minutes so it works.

Day 600: Pure blue sky ahead.

I think that another reason this has worked is that I don’t take it too seriously.  I often go long and hard, but if I feel like backing off that’s what I do. Some days I ride shorter or slower. I’m not training for glory, so it doesn’t really matter.   I’m cycling because I enjoy cycling and how it makes me feel.  When the day eventually comes that I don’t feel like heading out, I won’t and that will be that. The streak will end and that will be fine. I have no idea when that day will be. It might be tomorrow. It might be sometime later.  I suspect that whenever it happens a new streak will start the next day.

The streak has changed me and how I view cycling. Now it’s no big deal to go out and ride five miles.  This is true no matter what the weather.  I can do it in about 20 minutes. That’s important, because you get most of the benefits from cycling in the early miles. I still think five miles is the magic number. Most people can do it and that’s where the magic happens.

If you haven’t exercised in years, you should see your doctor and get a checkup.  That’s the first step.  Then, if he or she tells you to incorporate physical exercise and you decide that cycling is the way to go, just go for it. Go as long or as short as you want.  If you need a benchmark, I think thirty minutes a day is about right.   You’ll know.  It all starts with one ride.  You just might be surprised at where it takes you.