Going the Distance: What Drives You?

December 1, 2016 - Guest blogger Robert Downes is author of Biking Northern Michigan: the Best & Safest Routes in the Lower Peninsula. See more at www.planetbackpacker.net.

Emily Loberg crossing the border from Montana to North Dakota on her cross-country ride.

This summer, 25-year-old Emily Loberg cycled more than 5,350 miles, zig-zagging her way across America to visit friends and family scattered across the country.

Emily could have cut more than 1,000 miles off her trip by simply riding Adventure Cycling’s 4,240-mile Northern Tier route from her home in Salem, OR to visit her brother Matthew in Bar Harbor, ME, but she was looking for something more than just the tour of a lifetime. In fact, she was driven, literally on a mission, to connect with people. She visited friends she barely knew and even relatives she had never met, and nothing could dissuade her from riding hundreds of miles out of her way for a visit.

Those detours had Emily pushing for days against the prairie winds and over long, rolling hills with temperatures ranging into the 90s. That, and for most of her ride she was all alone. In North Dakota, she even gave up the chance to ride the rest of the way east with another touring cyclist, preferring instead to swoop south for hundreds of miles to visit a friend in South Dakota.

Emily’s was an admirable goal, and in late September she finally reached Bar Harbor for a joyful reunion with her mother Frances and brother Matthew with all of her cross-country destinations checked off.

What Gets You Out There?

Emily’s ride goes to show that there are different strokes for different folks when it comes to riding long distances. Some of us ride simply for health and fitness, some for the camaraderie of cycling with friends. Some of us like to pile up long miles as a personal challenge, or in the spirit of adventure on a cross-country tour. Or, perhaps you’re training for the Ironman and need a huge cycling base prior to race day.

For some, “overdoing it” on the bike is a way of healing a broken heart or the loss of a loved one. For others, it’s to stave off depression or as a way of recovering from alcoholism or substance abuse.

Speaking of overdoing it, last January, cyclist Kurt Searvogel dedicated an entire year of his life to breaking a 77-year-old cycling record. Searvogel, 53, whose nickname is Tarzan, set the new Highest Annual Mileage Record (HAMR) of 76,076 miles. That works out to 206 miles per day, or 25 times across the United States.

For the average cyclist it’s hard to imagine riding even a fraction of that superhuman mark. Even pro cyclists tend to ride a mere 10,000 miles or so each year.

I have friends who ride an average of 2,500–3,000 miles year-in and out. Other friends are thrilled to log 500 miles on rides with our local cycle club; meanwhile, there’s a cyclist in our town who tallied more than 11,000 miles this year.

My 5000 Mile Quest

I finished the summer with 4,600 miles of cycling. That included more than 2,700 miles of the Northern Tier and Louis & Clark Trail mapped out by the Adventure Cycling Association.

Unfortunately, 4,600 miles proved unsatisfying because it was so close, and yet so far, from 5,000 miles. This fall, 5,000 miles has loomed in my imagination as a now-or-never goal, because I can’t imagine ever coming close to that mark again.

I’m burned out from riding and feel like Don Quixote pursuing the impossible dream, but there’s no going back now. It’s not just for bragging rights on Facebook that drives me; hitting my 5,000-mile goal is more like mountaineer George Mallory’s rationale for climbing Mount Everest: because it’s there.

But the funny thing is, the first 4,600 miles seemed to fly by so easily, while the last 400 seems like an exercise in agony.

I live at the northern end of Lake Michigan and this year the lake water has been warmer than the air temperature, which means lots of rain. Also, it’s not unusual to have snow here in October, or to find yourself riding in a snowstorm in early May, which, combined with icy winds blowing out of the north tends to make cycling unpleasant.

So I’ve been struggling a great deal with that last stretch, trying to hit 5,000 miles before I have to pedal through snowdrifts. A panel of slate-gray clouds hangs low and cold over the land from one horizon to the next, and this being the northern latitudes, it gets dark around 5 o’clock this time of year. The bike trails are four inches deep in oak leaves and flocks of wild turkeys stroll here and there across the path in search of acorns. Rain? There’s plenty of it.

But still I pedal on, now with 215 miles to go as November rolls on, just for the silly goal of riding 5,000 miles. Like, who cares? Only me, but that’s what goals are all about.

So, did you ride to excess this year? Did you reach your goal? What motivated you? Your comments are welcome.

Robert Downes is author of Biking Northern Michigan: the Best & Safest Routes in the Lower Peninsula. See more at www.planetbackpacker.net.

Photo by Robert Downes

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Comments

Gordon December 2, 2016, 10:20 PM

Great effort everybody. I live in Melbourne, Australia so the worst it gets here is rain occasionally in winter.

Sometimes 40deg C in summer but compared to you guys we have riding conditions all year round. Thus my 20,000 km goal this year is right on target. A side goal is 150,000 m of ascent as well.

Keep upright and may your tyres be forever inflated.

Robert (Bob) Downes December 3, 2016, 6:13 AM

Gordon - love Australia and rode the Bright Trail in the southern Alps of the Oz a few years ago. But, responding to your comment about tyres, one could probably write a blog about how many flats long-distance cyclists suffer each year. I had five flats on my ride across America, all at terrible times, like when there was a huge cloud of mosquitoes... cheers!

Todd Young December 2, 2016, 7:31 AM

Bob, My wife and I did the TransAm W to E this year. We did about 4400 miles with side trips. Added 300 miles pre and post trip so I am in a similar boat as you with the 5k mark. Never thought about that goal and never had a year with so many miles.

Our trip was the time of our lives and we were not sick of riding at the end of the trip. If I didn't have to re-enter the real world, I would have been happy to keep riding. We live in Vermont so riding is getting a bit more hardy as well but we are still sneaking in days when temps gain 40 degrees.

Good luck on that goal! Just two little centuries to go...

Todd

Tracy Wilkins December 1, 2016, 8:29 AM

I'm about 450 miles from 11,000 for the year. That included a 760 mile stretch on the Trans-Am over ten days and another 490 riding the Natchez Trace over 6 days. Throw into that mix the half-dozen or so century gravel races I've ridden, the training necessary to make those races fun, and a few weekend overnights, and it's added up.

It's been several years since I've ridden less than 8,000 miles in a year, so lots of miles isn't really new to me, but that 11k mark is a tantalizing carrot that I can't stop looking at. Unless our winter weather here in Missouri really socks us in, it seems like a fairly easy mark to hit, but I can't stop watching the numbers. I tell myself it's not a big deal, but at my age, it might be the last chance I'll have to cross that threshold.

If you'll excuse me, the sun is shining, and my bike is calling my name!

Robert (Bob) Downes December 1, 2016, 8:39 AM

Amazing! I'd like to ride the Natchez Trace myself, but am fearful of traffic. Do you recommend the route? Was traffic a problem?

John Abernethy December 1, 2016, 9:13 AM

Bob, I rode the Natchez Trace this past spring with some buddies. Coming from New York, it felt more like a bike path than a Parkway. Light traffic with courteous drivers. Great riding!

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