Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Hardest Part

The hardest part of doing an extreme trip like this is buying the airline ticket.  Or in other words, COMMITTING to the attempt.  I guess you could buy the airline ticket without mentally committing to your goal and then giving up along the way.  But you know what I'm trying to say.  Talk is cheap. Its easy to say you'll do something completely nuts, but it is something entirely different to follow through with it. My brother Mark learned this the hard way, perhaps.

When I announced that I was starting in Anchorage, the plan was that I would ride solo until I reached Vancouver where I would meet up with Mark and my dad, but Mark wouldn’t have that. There is always a bit of rivalry between brothers, and in some way, me starting in Anchorage was a way of “one-upping” my dad and brother’s trip. Mark volunteered to start in Anchorage with me but my dad had no interest in that kind of trip. For one thing, we knew it would be much more difficult than our previous trips. My dad doesn’t do well with cold or wet weather, so Alaska and Northern Canada wasn’t his idea of a good time. For me, it was more than that. The fun would come in the challenge.

We made a theoretical plan in which Mark and I would ride down from Anchorage to Vancouver and meet up with our dad for the rest of the ride down to Mexico. We did some token training rides, but nothing serious. We started telling people we were going to attempt the trip, but everything was still theoretical.

Sometime in April I decided that if we were really going to do the trip, then it was time to start looking at airfare and making solid plans. One night I called up my dad and let him what I was up to. We looked at some prices online and then found some good tickets through his credit card rewards program. We slept on it, and in the morning I told him to book the tickets. I didn’t consult Mark beforehand assuming that he was 100% on board, but when he found out via text message at school, he quite nearly panicked. It was easy enough to talk about, but once we had the tickets, it became our reality and Mark probably wasn’t really prepared for it. Fortunately, it wasn’t a problem, and he warmed up to it really quick when he saw how enthusiastic I was about it.

Most of Mark’s peers still didn’t believe he had done his previous trip from Canada to Mexico, and they certainly didn’t believe him when he said he was going to do this one. He wasn’t taken seriously at all and was often mocked, even by his friends.

Meanwhile, I was busy researching routes and making a plan. When we scheduled our flight to Anchorage, my dad had also scheduled his flight into Vancouver—roughly thirty three days after we would arrive in Anchorage. When we had talked about how long I wanted to take to get down to Vancouver, I had said I thought we could do it in about a month, but I thought we probably needed a little extra time just in case. I guess he missed the part about needing “extra time.” Thirty three days was going to cut things extremely close for us. After doing the math, I figured that we would have to average about 75 miles per day—much faster than we were used to. On our past trips, we generally averaged about 30 miles per day. Mark and I wanted to up our pace for the Northern section anyway, but 75 miles a day had us both a little tense.

Over the next two months we trained a bit, but we didn’t do any rides over 45 miles or so. Training can be very tedious when you know that however far you ride, you just have to turn around and come back. A lot of my training rides were actually to test the effectiveness of my gear. I would ride deliberately on rainy or snowy days because I figured that would be close to what we would encounter in the North. Before this, I hadn’t done any cold weather riding, so I had to invest in all sorts of new cycling clothes such as neoprene weather-resistant pants and jacket. I bought some water-proofing spray to reinforce my tent and parka, and bought several pairs of SmartWool cycling socks. I seemed to do well enough riding in heavy rain, so Mark and I decided not to get any bike shoe covers.
In 2007 a guy about my age rode his bike from Anchorage down to Panama, and he had a blog that he kept along the way ( I started fine tuning our route and schedule by studying the Alaska and Canada sections of his blog and by asking for advice on Aside from those two sources, I couldn’t really find any good information that would be relevant to a cyclist, as it is not too common for people to tour through Alaska. I wanted to know what kind of elevation changes we would be dealing with, what kind of headwinds we could expect, and which routes are the best, but that information is not really readily available, so a lot of it was left to chance. The route and schedule I had planned was never set in stone. It was more of a reference guide to show me what was realistic. We already knew what to expect from the lower 48 states, so it wasn’t necessary to plot any of that out, but up north, I broke it down into 75 mile stretches that I called “Days.” We knew we wouldn’t really do exactly 75 miles every single day, but the goal was to make it average out; we would have much longer days to make up for the short days that were inevitable. The true plan was to expect “Plan A” to fail due to unforeseen circumstances, and constantly adjust accordingly. Breaking things down to 75 mile “days” made it a lot easier to see exactly when and where we would need to buy food, especially once we were out on the road.

Time was ticking down, and I made sure that everything was in order to run smoothly at home while I was away, but I was still nervous that something would go wrong. I really didn’t want to come home after my trip to find that I had been evicted or something. My dad runs a piano store, and we do these big piano road-show sales events all over Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Wyoming. May is the most important of the string of sales events we do, so our family was particularly busy in May just weeks and days before the trip. How much money I made would also make or break my ability to do the trip, so it was a little nerve racking.

Back in March, I had rolled one of our pickup trucks at 55 mile per hour on my way back to Salt Lake City after one of our sales events. My first thought was, “Please, not another crippling injury—I have to do this trip.” When the truck stopped moving, it was upright and out of the way of speeding traffic, and I was just happy to be alive. My luggage that was in the passenger seat had flown all around the inside of the cab like we were in a laundry dryer, and it ended up hitting me hard enough to tear up the cartilage in my right shoulder pretty bad. After seeing a specialist, it was decided that it needed to be repaired… eventually. The doctor said if I had it repaired right away, I wouldn’t be able to do the trip. I had all of these annoying pops and clicks, and considerable pain, but I couldn’t let it stop me. I opted to have it repaired when I returned.
When the time had arrived to start the trip, most of the pain had subsided, but my shoulder was somewhat unstable. Every once in a while, it would randomly dislocate, causing me quite a bit of pain. May 23rd came, and I had a gimpy left leg and right arm to start the trip with. It looked like I was setting myself up for disaster, but the trip was a “go.”


1 comment:

  1. That is awesome to read. I loved the part that you thought you might have to bail on the trip while you were flying in.

    Those were all my fears too. You both are my hero's. I love to read this adventure again.

    BTW was watching the videos yesterday and came across the guy driving that old car with the funny hood ornament.

    Anyway I can't wait to read the next installment.
    I learn new details everytime I hear you tell the story.

    I was thinking this would make a good adventure book for youth.


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