When The Going Gets (Really) Tough

I am writing from Butte, Montana, some 600 miles west from where we last finished cycling, Rapid City. We have travelled here by bus in order to get back on schedule and avoid the Arctic conditions in South Dakota and Wyoming.

It wasn’t supposed to work out like this. It is incredibly difficult to hop on a bus after this level of commitment and close to 2000 miles on the clock. Unfortunately, we weren’t left with much of a choice.

In the first 12 days we had 1450 miles of very tough but manageable touring. The days were long and the trials were many (traffic, drivers, dirt roads, heat) but we were working through it and getting stronger by the day. Things changed for the worse when we encountered the wrath of nature in the form of a very strong western headwind on Day 13. Ever since the weather has played a big factor in our tour.

Day 13 started off well with a lovely conditions, a strong southerly tailwind and lightly undulating roads. We arrived in Sioux City in good spirits and crossed the Missouri with 55 miles left on the clock. In the time it took us to pass through Sioux City the wind had changed direction and was now coming straight at us from the West. It took us 5 hours to battle our way through that wind and was as an exhausting time that I can remember on a bike. It was black dark when we rolled home.

Day 14 was even worse. Again the wind was blowing hard from the West except unlike yesterday we now had 130 miles instead of 55 to cover. It was a long, frustrating day and the headwind took its toll and we ran out of juice and time 20 miles short of our destination.

Day 15 meant adding the 20 miles from the previous day to give a grand total of 155 miles. We departed pre-dawn and spent 13 hours on the bike and rolled into Martin, South Dakota post-dusk. Needless to say it was our longest ride ever undertaken but we were elated to have made up the lost time and distance. The last three days were incredibly tough but the fun was just starting.

Cruelly, Day 16 was the worst weather we had faced yet. Gael-force winds and freezing rain greeted us when we stepped outside our hotel. We could not believe it. On top of weather, our route dictated that we pass through one of the most desolate and under-populated areas anywhere in the country, the “badlands” of South Dakota. We needed to decide if we would risk getting stranded in the middle of nowhere or stay put until the weather cleared. We decided to aim for a tiny settlement in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation 45 miles away where they had a Motel. After that was 80 miles of nothingness to Rapid City. This was an incredibly tough 45 miles. The rain was coming at us sideways, it was freezing cold, we were doing well to stay on our bikes. We wore every stitch of clothes we had. We huddled and delayed for an age in a tiny store half way there and implored the Indian man to make us coffee to warm us up. He obliged thankfully. We got going again and we struggled on and eventually made it to the reservation and we were never as glad to unclip from the pedals. We were hopeful that the weather would clear by the morning. No such luck.

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Day 17 greeted us with winter-storm conditions, gale-force winds again and a new element, snow. We were dismayed at the scene that greeted us out the window. We were faced with another dilemma. We really did not want to spend another day on the reservation (cabin fever was setting in). On the other hand, it was 80 miles to Rapid City and there was not a place to stay between here and there if the weather got really ugly. Eventually, at 11am we decided to make a break for it. We both donned a massive amount of clothing, including plastic bags to keep the feet and hands warm. The weather was really awful, it was slow going and freezing but we managed well enough – though our feet were like blocks of ice. It never really warmed up on the way to Rapid City though the rain and snow did desist. We rolled into Rapid city in the dark, satisfied that we made it back to civilisation but very very tired.

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Day 18 was when we had our reality check and realised we weren’t going to make it to Seattle by pedal-power alone or indeed by our deadline of Friday October 25th. The previous 6 days had taken time and distance out of our tour, and a lot more out of us. We awoke to freezing conditions again and there was snow and ice on the ground. The plan was to cycle the 25 miles to Mount Rushmore and continue on into Wyoming. It was a 600 metre climb to Mount Rushmore from Rapid City. With that effort, the freezing weather and the toll from the previous days we quickly realised that we needed to come up with a plan B. We decided that we should return to Rapid City, take a couple of days out to recover, get a lift further west to reduce the distance and get past this awful weather.

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So there you have it. We start again tomorrow (Saturday) with 700 miles and plenty Rocky stuff remaining. Mentally it is tough to get going again but we are looking forward to the challenge all the same. Seattle is now almost within reach, just a couple of hundred thousand pedal strokes to go…

A lot done; A lot more to do.

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Hello and greetings from Denison, Iowa. We have just completed our 12th continuous day of cycling since Boston. Today we rode 123 miles from East of Des Moines to Denison. We have covered 1330 miles in 12 days across Massachusetts, New York, Ontario, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. Tomorrow we enter our 7th state, Nebraska.

It has been a fantastic experience so far. We have seen so many places and met so many people. We are treated like minor celebrities in some of the small towns we have stayed in who have never met or spoken to people from Ireland before. It can be a little unnervingšŸ˜‰

Some of the highlights so far:

  • Beautiful hills and forests of Western Massachusetts
  • Niagara Falls
  • Lovely scenery, farmland and quiet roads of Ontario
  • A great welcome in Union City, Michigan and also Wilton, Iowa.
  • Cycling across the Mississippi at Davenport, Iowa.
  • The rolling hills of Iowan farmland are very pleasing on the eye
  • At the same time this has been a very challenging trip so far. By any measure we are taking on massive mileage on a daily basis on difficult and unfamiliar terrain. We feel we are just about acclimatised to the punishment now but we thought that after the first two days we weren’t going to make it. 12 days in and we are still going though we are showing signs of wear and tear with painful joints and muscles. We have covered a lot of ground but we need to keep it up with some very big days coming thick and fast over the coming days. At the same time we are excited to see Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone Park.

    A little summary of how things have gone so far.

    The Good

  • My trusty companion and I are still going strong with no illnesses or major injury.
  • The weather has been fantastic so far with just a morning of (freezing) rain in Michigan.
  • The scenery has been amazing.
  • Everyone we meet are really friendly and helpful.
  • Frequent places to get food and drink everywhere. Overdosing on Powerade/Gatorade.
  • The Bad

  • Road kill, and lots of it.
  • We are encountering very bad roads more often than we would have expected. Roadworks and dirt roads are met frequently.
  • Navigation is an issue. We always seem to have to do a few miles more than expected and can be led astray by our navigation device. Using a Garmin, 810 which isn’t the most reliable.
  • Traffic is very often very heavy. It takes a lot of energy and concentration to stay safe (not to mention cycling in the gutter)
  • Urban sprawl. Towns and cities go on for ever in the States and a morning can be wasted going from traffic light to traffic light (America! Embrace the roundabout!)
  • The Ugly

  • Drivers. Clearly not used to seeing cyclists on the road. A mix of aggression with overcautiousness. E.g. They need a massive amount of space to overtake even though we are cycling on the hard shoulder. And if they can’t get by right away out comes the horn…and worse.
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    Showtime

    Well the wait is over. After planning this caper on a whim months ago, its all getting a little bit too real for my liking. I think I have everything together, All I need to do is pack it away and hope that everything fits.

    What am I bringing with me for 4 weeks of continuous cycling?

    Clothing

    Almost everything here is kindly supplied by Michelle andĀ Endura. Needless to say this has saved me a small fortune.

    • 1 pair of SPD cycling shoes
    • 1 pair of overshoes (to keep the feet warm and dry)
    • 1 pair of flip-flops
    • 1 pair of cheap trainers to be discarded in Boston
    • 3 pairs of cashmere socks
    • 1 pair of compression socks
    • 1 pair of casual shorts
    • 1 pair of casual trousers
    • 2 pairs of bib-shorts (yes, that means Lycra)
    • 1 pair of bib-knickers (yes, really)
    • 2 base layers (1 short-sleeve and 1 long-sleeve)
    • 2 short sleeved jerseys
    • 1 long-sleeve jersey
    • 1 pair of arm warmers
    • 1 headband
    • 1 classic bicycle cap
    • 2 skull caps (to keep my noggin warm)
    • 2 rain jackets (one light, one heavy)
    • 2 pairs of cycling mitts
    • 1 pair of heavy gloves
    • 1 pair of sunglasses
    • 1 cycling helmet

    Bicycle

    Chris at Bikelove, Glasgow sourced the frame and all the components, panniers, built the wheels himself and stuck it all together. He did a great job.

    • 1 Surly Long Haul Trucker (steel-framed touring bike with 26 inch wheels)
    • Shimano Deore running gear with STI shifters
    • SPD pedals
    • 1 Ortleib Bar Bag
    • 1 Tubus rear carrier
    • 1 Endura saddle bag with light
    • 2 Ortleib Pannier Bags
    • 3 bottle cages with 3 bottles (its thirsty work)

    Technology

    • 2 Garmin GPS Bicycle computers with navigation (will give the old one to Ciaran)
    • 1 heart rate monitor
    • 1 cadence and speed sensor
    • 1 Canon IXUS camera
    • 1 iPad Mini
    • 1 mobile phone
    • A whole bunch of wires, cables and chargers

    And here it all is with the LHT packed into the box:

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    I’ll still be a couple of hours yet packing everything away and probably discarding a few things. Tomorrow we board a plane to Boston and the real challenge begins.

    Thanks to all who have sponsored Marie Curie so far. You have been very generous.

    See you on the other side.

    Fergal

    Dedicated to Shane

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    I very recently lost my first cousin Shane O’Neill in tragic circumstances. I had the pleasure of living alongside Shane in Edinburgh for several years as well as knowing him as my friend and cousin for as long as I can remember.

    As a small token towards Shane I want to dedicate my cross America cycle to his memory and to the O’Neill family.

    Shane’s family have setup a charity page in honour of Shane for theĀ Pieta House –Ā The Centre for the Prevention of Self-Harm or Suicide. I have also added a link to the homepage of this blog.

    Please support this very worthy cause.

    Thanks,

    Fergal

    Loads of no training

    I knew I was embarking on this trip since the beginning of the year. I therefore promised myself I would get super fit. I set myself a goal of 5000 miles of training before boarding the plane to the States. The reality was somewhat different. I managed only 1100 miles in 9 months. Pretty poor going. I would only be making excuses if I blamed anyone but myself.

    I started out with a couple of rides in February. The weather was wet, cold and miserable. I remember a particularly awful day where it was driving snow and I was struggling to see anything in front of me.

    Heavy snow leaving Edinburgh in February

    Heavy snow leaving Edinburgh in February

    Wintery but beautiful conditions.

    Wintery but beautiful conditions.

    In March, my good friend Colm Collins came over for a weekend of training. We left Edinburgh on a very cold morning at about 8am and we returned many hours and 80 miles later. We were hungry, chilled to the bone and with blocks of ice for feet. We went down south past Peebles in the hope of cycling up through Talla Reservoir but alas, the road was impassible due to snow. It did make for some nice pictures though.

    End of the road at Talla Reservoir

    End of the road at Talla Reservoir

    Good times all the same

    Good times all the same

    In Ā June I decided to jump on my bike and cycle to Inverness, some 160 miles from Edinburgh. Over two days, I put in 81 and 88 miles respectively and did my fitness no harm at all. It was great to cover a decent distance and see some new countryside along the way.

    Heading into wild country.

    Heading into wild country.

    Slochd Summit (405 m)

    Slochd SummitĀ – highest point on the route

    Inverness

    Inverness

    In August, I traveled to the Isle of Skye for a day’s cycing on the Saturday. Skye has some amazing scenery but we awoke on the Saturday to wet, cloudy and gale force conditions. We ploughed on regardless and did a loop of the island in around 6 hours. The wind made the final 30 miles some of the most difficult I have ever encountered on a bike. The crosswinds were particularly lethal, several times we were almost blown into the path of oncoming cars or into walls. We were absolutely drained when we got back home.

    A tough day's work ahead

    A tough day’s work ahead

    Skye would remind you of South Kerry

    Skye reminds me of South Kerry

    The worst was yet to come.

    The worst was yet to come.

    Since Skye, I have done a couple of hundred miles, including trips to and from Glasgow – 50 miles each way. I also clocked-up a decentĀ 63 miles to Innerleithen and Peebles with Stephen Le Masney.

    Le Maz in the slip stream

    Le Maz in the slip stream

    On the way to Innerleithen

    On the way to Innerleithen

    On the way to Glasgow

    On the way to Glasgow

    I have also gone spinning at LifeCycle in Edinburgh many times throughout the year which I can thoroughly recommend for fitness and enjoyment. With that said, that is about it in terms of training. The next four weeks will see 3 times more cycling than the rest of the year put together. Ouch.

    With only 4 days to go until departure, I won’t get any fitter between now and then. I am in decent enough shape but will definitely need to dig deep in the first week to get through. After that I hope to start getting a bit fitter with each passing day.

    That’s all for now. Don’t forget that you can do a lot of good by sending some funds the way of Marie Curie Cancer Care on my fundraising page. People have been very generous already.