The Barn Door Guide to Week Long Tours

Here I am on Border Raiders in 2006, JC Wise photo.

Here I am on Border Raiders in 2006, JC Wise photo.

It’s that time of year again, the time when cyclists across the country head out to meet with other like minded individuals to ride their bikes across or around a state for the week, in essence to create a week long cycling party.  There are dozens of well attended week long cycling tours around America where the support staff carry your luggage, mark out a route and provide camping or other accomodations each  night.  Most of these rides are known by their Acronym, such as RAGBRAI, or Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, the biggest tour in the nation, and worlds largest rolling party.

I’ve been on a wide variety of week long tours including

  • BRAN, Bike Ride Across Nebraska
  • Border Raiders
  • Tour de Kota
  • Bicycle Tour of Colorado
  • GOBA, Great Ohio Bike Adventure
  • BRAG.  Bike Ride Across Georgia

I haven’t been able to do a ride in the last few years, and its not looking good this year either, but I wish I could, they are amazing fun.  If you’re thinking about doing one in the future, or maybe you’re about to I thought I’d offer some handy advice.

I'm smiling but I was near passing out from lack of O2.

Colorado in 2007.  I’m smiling but I was near passing out from lack of O2.

Know your limits:  Tours can range from ultra difficult to ultra easy, they can cover 700 miles or 250 miles in a week.  Pick one that’s right for you.  I went to the Bicycle Tour of Colorado overweight and undertrained.  I couldn’t ride 70 miles a day on flatland so 70 miles with 15,000 feet of climbing at elevation turned me into a slug.  I’m all for a challenge but these things should be fun, not torture.

Big ride or little ride:  I’ve done tours with 2500 people and about 125.  Some rides have an almost cult like following while others are just a collection of people on a  bike ride.  Research the tours and pick one that suits your style.  Big crowds make for a huge presence on the road and in the towns, making it seem as if the world revolves around the tour, they also mean huge lines every time you need to use the bathroom.  Small rides don’t have the atmosphere and gusto of the big tours but you may never have to wait in line, and by the end you may have talked to every single rider on the tour.

BRAN started with a pep rally led by

BRAN started with a pep rally led by “BRAN MAN” some of these people had been in the corn field too long.

My first and only drum circle.

My first and only drum circle.

Fix your Bike:  You want to focus on having a good time, not dealing with bike issues.  Some tours have excellent mechanical support, others don’t.  Make sure you’ve got good tires and tubes, your drive train isn’t about to fail, and your wheels are in good shape.  If you brake a standard J bend spoke you likely won’t have any issues getting it fixed, if you break a Mavic spoke, good luck.  While you’re at it new bar tape will make your hands happier.

Pack what you need:  Most rides allow two bags of 40 pounds.  I’ve spent enough time helping to unload the baggage truck to know that no one is weighing these bags.  Don’t be a jerk and bring a 60 pound bag.  Hikers can survive for a week with a 25 pound backpack, you don’t 100 pounds of crap.  You need a few shorts, a few jerseys, street clothes and a minimal amount of camping gear.  One luxury I would suggest is a small and light folding chair.  Your back will thank you for it.

GOBA draws alot of cycling families, there were several family tandems.

GOBA draws alot of cycling families, there were several family tandems.

Mark your bag:  When the baggage truck, or trucks, arrive at the next town they will be unloaded in a long line, or maybe a big pile.  Finding a green duffle bag will be like finding a needle in a haystack.  Try painting poka dots, tying ribbons, or writing your name in huge letters, do something to make your bag stand out.

Gym floor or tent floor:  There are people who go on tours and stay in motels every night, I’m not sure why since the campground is where the fun is at.  Most tours offer you the choice of sleeping in a gym or in your tent.  The tent offers privacy and the outdoors may be  better for sleeping, but the hassle of putting a tent up and taking it down along  with the additional weight can be avoided if you sleep inside.  I’ve done both and enjoyed both but I usually take a smallish tent.

Near Ridgeway Colorado.

Near Ridgeway Colorado.

Make friends:  I’ve had the good fortune to do several rides with a guy who is excellent at making friends.  There are tons of people who go to these things by themselves and many of them would be glad to have a pal for the ride.  Friendships made on tours can last a lifetime, and who knows, you may be meeting up with these people every year.

No one is going to steal from you:  On my first tour I was amazed by the fact that extremely high dollar bicycles were laying around everywhere.  You had to really watch out that you didn’t step on a Pinarello or a Cologno someone had left in the grass.  When my Dad went on a tour with me he insisted on locking his bike up all the time, I tried to point our that his locked bike was literally surrounded by bikes that were worth several thousand dollars more then his and none of them were locked.

Tent City

Tent City

Take walking shoes:  After several days of riding your bike you’ll be looking forward to putting on some trainers and walking.   One year I brought some horrible sandals that broke leaving me hobbling around town looking for a pair of shoes.

Have fun:  Enjoy the scenery, take pictures, stop and check things out, its a bike tour and one of the coolest vacations you can take.

If you have any tour stories or tips please post them in the comments.  Thanks!

typical baggage unloading.

typical baggage unloading.

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Galatia Post and Ferne Clyffe

Drew, Joe, and I had a great ride Tuesday, we rode the entire Galatia Post Road, then Saraville and back through demon waters.  Conditions were excellent and we had a 17 mph average without killing ourselves.  I would have taken more photos but full fingers gloves made using the camera tricky.

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Shauna and I also got in a camping trip last night.  We slept out at Ferne Clyffe, one of the most excellent areas in Southern Illinois.  This morning I got up early and took a photo that I really like.

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Hiking at Natural Bridge State Park Kentucky

IMG_3498edit IMG_3508edit IMG_3516This week Shauna and I took a short camping trip to Natural Bridge State Park in Eastern Kentucky.  We camped and had a mostly enjoyable time.  While the area is beautiful and the hiking fantastic its also challenging.  Shaundo has been dealing with knee injury for a year and while she is plenty fast moving on most trails she doesn’t do so well in real rough or steep terrain.  The trails at Natural Bridge are steep, not too rough, but very steep, there are many stairways, some carved or crafted stone, others from wood; climbing all these stairs was hard on her knee and limited the amount of hiking we were able to do.

The Natural Bridge it’s self is an awesome sight and I had a great time checking out the overlooks and trails.  We only stayed one night, but the Red River Gorge area offers lots of other trails and sights to see.  We also took advantage of the Park Lodge, which had a great restaurant, comfortable chairs and wi-fi.

Miguels Pizza is a local hotspot and apparently a world famous location.  We didn’t go there.  We drove by and the place appeared to be overrun with hipsters.

One of the more interesting groups we encountered were walking up to  the overlook with some photographic gear.  There was a girl with them wearing a white medieval looking dress with a ring of ivy and wild flowers around her head.  She was walking barefoot.  I think she was going for the most dramatic senior portrait imaginable.  I got a neat photo of the group from an adjacent overlook.

So in conclusion, Natural Bridge is a pretty neat place with lots of hiking and some interesting people and stuff.  Worth checking out.

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Backpacking through Garden of the Gods on the River to River Trail

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The idea of backpacking has always intrigued me.  To carry around on ones backs all the things they need to survive for a number of days in the wilderness seems incredulous or at least really hard.  I decided to give it a try.  I sent emails to a couple of friends asking for advice and they both warned against packing too much stuff, I took that under consideration.

I originally planned a more ambitious hiking trip of a at least 3 or 4 days but Shauna, always the voice of wisdom, urged me to try something shorter and close to home.  I decided to do a very popular section of the Illinois River to River trail, from Garden of the Gods to Lusk Creek.  I found some gpx files that reported it to be a 26 mile trip.  I would divide that into two days and have Shauna come and get me the second day.  I would only be camping out one night, but that would at least give me a feel for the activity.

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I borrowed Luke’s big pack and filled it up with my stuff, tent, sleeping bag, cooking stuff, food, water, and lots of other stuff.  When I left the house it was weighing in at 30 pounds.  We stopped off at Wal-Mart and I added more food and a few other odds and ends.  My packed weighed 35 pounds when I got home.

When I first strapped the pack on I was sort of stunned, it wasn’t just uncomfortable, it kind of hurt.  When I started walking I was beginning to have second thoughts.  I suppose that I adapted to the pain, or maybe it wasn’t so bad, but I just kept going.  I developed a 2 mile marching plan, walk two miles then remove the pack and have a small snack and and a drink.  2 miles was an hour of walking so it seemed to be a good plan.

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I arrived at One Horse Gap Lake around 5:30, dead tired and stumbling.  16 miles of hiking in for the day had reduced me to a zombie like stride.  The first tent sized clearing I found became my campsite and I threw down my pack.  Walking without the pack was the strangest sensation.  I felt like an Apollo astronaut, I was nearly leaving the ground with every step.  It took over an hour to get my camp set up, I could barely lift my arms and after spending some time resting it was a strain just to get up.

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It began raining at 8 PM but I really didn’t care, my tent didn’t leak and I was having a hard time staying awake.  I was so tired I didn’t even bother getting my sleeping bag out of the tent.  Crazy bird and animal noises woke me up throughout the night.  A young man had died by driving a car into the lake a few months ago and I had briefly considered that maybe his spirit would haunt the area, but I was too tired to really care.

It wasn’t raining in the morning and I was able to get started.  I was surprised by how alive and awake I felt, and how much the pain had subsided, thought it could have been the 800 mg of Ibuprofen.  4 miles later I was moving like a zombie again, then the rain began.  I called Shauna and asked for a ride home, which she gladly gave.

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I did some research after my overnight adventure.  The pack weighs 7 pounds and is expedition sized, my tent weighs 6 pounds, my sleeping bag 5 pounds, I carried twice the water and food I needed, an entire bottle of poison ivy wash when a few ounces would do, and several items that never even came out of the pack, like a spare flashlight or my 5 POUND SLEEPING BAG!  Most backpacking resources I read recommend a 3 pound pack, 3 pound tent, and 2 pound sleeping bag.  I could have saved ten pounds alone if I had gear of that weight.

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I’m definitely going to try backpacking again, but I hopefully not alone.  I began to talk to myself after only a few hours, In a few days I’m certain I’d be looking for a soccer ball to be my new best friend.  I’m also going to shot for a 25 pound load next time I try.  In the past I have scoffed at lightweight titanium camping gear, but after lugging nearly 40 pounds on my back for 16 miles I can totally see the point of a 60 dollar titanium cookware set.  Every gram counts!

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Shaundo Graduates

Congratulations to Shauna for completing her Medical Office Associates degree.

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Looking for a Few Good Pages

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I’ve got a little side project in the works.  The other day I was thinking about the kind of bike magazine I’d like to read, and then I thought, why don’t I just make one I’d like to read.  Back in the days before the internet was in your pocket I was interested in the ‘zines, or self published magazines.  In the next couple of years digital publishing will overtake paper publishing in the book world and it’s already killing off newspapers and magaiznes so now seems like a perfect time to revive my interest in paper published zines.

That blank page could be yours!

That blank page could be yours!

If you’d like to write something for the ‘zine send me an email  The zine is about professional amateur cycling or essentially anyone who puts far to much focus and energy into their non-competitive cycling hobby.  Contributors will get a paper copy of the book emailed to them.  That’s unintentional joke, I’ll actually send mail the paper copy not email it!

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Harmonie Hundred 2015

IMG_20150503_084836The Harmonie Hundred is a 2 day ride in New Harmony Indiana.  I last made it to this ride in 2011 and was fired up to go this year since I don’t get many chances to make these charity tours any more.  Luke was in for the ride, along with my Mom and Dad, so Harrisburg had a good showing, my friends Shon and Joe were there was well.

IMG_20150503_084847The Harmonie doesn’t have a mass start, but a departure between 8 and 10 AM.  Our group was planning to leave at the official start time of 8 AM, some riders had left out before even. There didn’t seem to be a very big crowd when we arrived around 7:30, but when we returned the parking lot was full.

The last time I did this ride it was a hammer fest right from the start with several really fast groups all forming up.  I was able to keep the pace until the first rest stop just barely.  This year there didn’t seem to be fast groups all launching off the front.  Several riders of similar fitness all formed a group and we pretty much rode the entire thing together, I’m glad to say that I felt really good for the whole ride, not to say it was easy, but I never felt like I was about to die.

IMG_20150503_090324Luke was impressed by the level of support, there was 3 Sag stops for a 53 mile ride and they all were well stocked.  The first sag stop offered breakfast foods and the second offered subway sandwiches.  They all had your typical cookies and bananas.  We, of course, stopped at everyone.  We saw multiple sag vehicles driving around so I’m sure people were able to get help if they needed it.

I have done the Saturday route a few times in the past but this was my first Sunday route day.  The route was fantastic, it was smooth pavement, no oil and chip.  It was never completely flat, it was almost non stop rolling hills, but they were the perfect type of hill for keeping speed up.  The loop around New Harmony State Park was awesome.  The route was well marked, but had a couple of confusing places where route marks were conflicting or in case had been paved over.  Still it was an easy to follow course.

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Too tired to do a thumbs up after the ride.

The Harmony Hundred is a great early season charity family fun ride.  You’re almost sure to find riders with a pace similar to yours, and New Harmony is a cool little town to visit.  I highly recommend it.

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