Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Last week my bike underwent its pre-trip tune up at Ryder Bikes in Bradenton. They are a very service-oriented crew, completing the work with a quick turnaround so that I lost no training time. On Monday, the Ryder team carefully disassembled and packed the bike for shipment to San Diego, all while I waited. And how’s this for service: the car battery died during the wait, so one of the fellows drove to his Dad’s house, retrieved jumper cables, and jump-started the car. A lifesaver, as I had to get the bike to Fed Ex by the end of the business day to meet the delivery deadline in California. I hope that Fed Ex does as professional a job as Ryder and delivers the bike in pristine condition.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

More Training

I resumed training in earnest on December 4th in Sarasota. I bike four days a week with the Sarasota Manatee Bike Club and at least two other days solo or with Tony. I’ve been averaging about 150 miles/week, hitting a high of 204 miles last week. The Club’s “B” and “C” riders have been incredibly supportive and I pace myself for either speed or endurance depending on my energy level. I do know that I am a much stronger rider today than I was when I arrived just 11 weeks ago.

On February 8, 30 Club members rode the Withlacoochee Trail, north of Tampa, with most cyclists covering about 50 miles. To commemorate El Parent’s 71st birthday, he, Charlie Morris, and I rode 71 miles, joining the rest of the group at the lunch stop. It was 39 degrees at the 8 am start, warming to the mid-70’s by the afternoon. A perfect day—

Carol, El, and Charlie on the Withlacoochee

A highlight of training has been meeting and riding with several of the women with whom I will share the XC journey. WomanTours mailed out the initial roster last June, updating it periodically as riders joined or dropped out. To my surprise, two riders, Peggy Kehew and Nancy Kelley, hail from Vermont not more than 30 miles from my New Hampshire home in Meriden (turns out that Peggy’s daughter and my daughter know each other from secondary school—small world). We made contact and agreed to meet for a Friday ride. We ended up riding almost every Friday from July through October, alternating responsibility for choosing an interesting route.

Carol, Nancy, and Peggy in Lyme, NH

One of the routes took us by Charles Bronson’s gravesite where we sat on the wrought iron bench, munched our granola bars, and read the verse etched into the stone, Mary Frye’s haunting poem “Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep” (also sung by the Angel Band). I digress, but digression is part of the beauty of cycling. It is just so easy to hit the brakes to take in a beautiful view or to check out the wildflowers.

Brownsville Cemetery, VT

In October Peggy, Nancy, and I met Robin Sewell, another XC rider from Massachusetts, for a ride in southern New Hampshire through the gorgeous towns of Hancock, Peterborough, and Harrisville. Weather was not on our side with the temperature hovering around 45 degrees in pelting rain. We were undeterred and particularly enjoyed our lunch break at the Harrisville General Store. My theory is, when you get the first inkling that you are about to utter a complaint, just have another bite of hot chili and everything seems right in the world. I digress again—

Another XC rider, Lois Schneider, lives in Sarasota and we have biked together several times since December. Our best trip was a circumnavigation of Myakka State Park where we saw wild pigs, a fox, a variety of bird life and, of course, alligators.

Lois is an accomplished cyclist who did the Underground Railroad ride for 30 days with WomanTours last year, and whose training regimen puts me to shame. We have had a great time reveling in discussions of the political landscape and sharing our thoughts on the abundance of good films bombarding theatres here during the past couple of months.

Training is starting to wind down now. My bike ships out next week, after which I will borrow Tony’s bike for a few rides to stay limber. I know he is not pleased at the prospect. He is convinced I’ll be making snide comments because his rig is a step down for me now. He’s right, but I’ll try to remain tight-lipped just to surprise him.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Based on training guidelines provided by WomanTours and on my own research, a six-month training program is ideal, building from 75-100 miles/week in the first months to 150-200+ miles/week in the final month. Cross-training and resistance weights also have their benefits, although I did not partake.

I maintained a 75-150 mile/week schedule from February to early November, the first three months in Florida and the last six months in New Hampshire/Vermont. My typical week was 100-120 miles, interspersed with a couple of lazy weeks and a few higher mileage weeks when I cycled special events or did a multi-day trip.

Montreal Cyclefest with New London Chain Gang

Chain Gang trip to western VT, Tony relaxing to right of entrance

What the Florida terrain lacks in vertical and elevation, it makes up for in headwind intensity. Some days it seems there is a headwind regardless of the direction in which you ride. This is where the pace line comes into play, and my special talent for finding the tallest male possible to ride behind is indispensable. The hills of New England also provide challenges, usually not so much for their length as for their grade. I only walked sections of two hills last summer, and I am told that the hills we’ll be tackling in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas are noteworthy more for their length than grade. I hope so, as I left behind the terrific granny gear with my previous bike.

I took the month of November off from training. Tony and I did a scouting trip to New Mexico to decide whether we would want to move there. While we enjoyed the visit, we prefer Sarasota for a variety of reasons. We did, however, decide to check out a section of the Southern Tier between Kingston and Silver City which we drove in the reverse of what I’ll be cycling. People often say that if you want to find out whether a road has an upgrade, ask a cyclist. I will be the first to say that you don’t need to be a cyclist to recognize these hills, as the route goes over the Continental Divide in a dizzying sort of way. Be sure to catch my post on March 20 when I will share the gory details after I ride it.


For the past couple of years I had been riding on what is termed a “comfort road” bike which I outfitted to my specific desires: narrower tires, better gears for hills, and a great saddle. After riding in Florida last winter, with the headwinds that swirl most days, and the cross-country trip in my sightline, I realized that I needed a true road bike with drop bars.

I have been riding a Specialized Roubaix Triple since last June, fine-tuned to my body’s peculiarities (really, do I have to explain?) by the folks at Goodale’s Bike Shop in New Hampshire. While I’ve named some of my cars, my favorite being Snaggletooth, I don’t currently have plans to name the bike.

I use a Topeak rear rack bag to store equipment and tools and as a repository for clothing no longer needed. The bag is fairly compact but has decent capacity with an expandable central compartment and panniers that fold out from the zippers on each side. The blinking fog light on the rear of the bag is a safety necessity.

Over the past few months communication has been frequent, sometimes frenzied, with my XC compatriots about equipment. A few of the women have done a XC or two previously and their suggestions for bike equipment and clothing have been most helpful. WomanTours has also provided guidance with regular correspondence addressing equipment questions and concerns. I believe I have everything that I need to be safe and comfortable during the trip. I do worry a bit about the cold, but I’ve biked at 32 degrees in dry weather and 45 degrees in rain during training, managing to stay relatively warm and dry, so I’m letting it go for now.

Why and Why Now?

Biking is one of the many sports that Tony and I have enjoyed during our 35 years together. It has been the centerpiece of some of our best vacations—France, Germany, New Zealand, PEI, Croatia—sometimes as a couple and sometimes with our kids, Andrew and Allie. It’s a wonderful way to experience the countryside—faster than hiking but slower than a car.

Tony (yellow jacket) & Carol (beige jacket), Croatia

Tony, Germany

Allie, New Zealand

After we moved to New Hampshire five years ago, great biking was so much more accessible than in the Boston area and I had more time to take advantage of the opportunity.


As my body responded less favorably to squash, my sport of choice for the previous 15 years (truth be told, being pummeled by relative newcomers to the sport 30 years my junior might have also played a role), cycling seemed kinder to my joints, muscles, and psyche. I upgraded my equipment and ventured back out.

Last year we escaped the cold and grey of New Hampshire for our first winter in Florida.

Not Paradise

We biked some with the local bike club, the Sarasota Manatee Bike Club, and I frequently biked solo. I realized that I wanted to get more serious about training. Then the light bulb went off—

I turn 60 (yikes!) on March 4th. A long distance cycling trip seemed to be a momentous way to welcome in the new decade. Planning the trip well in advance provided a great conditioning and fitness goal. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I hope to shed a few pounds along the way.

I must admit that I was a bit apprehensive about raising this idea with Tony: the cost, two months apart—. To my relief, he has been behind me on this from the get go and has been one of my biggest fans during the training. We ride together frequently when he’s not flying his glider. He’ll be out to visit for what we wryly refer to as our conjugal visit during my rest day near Austin, Texas.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Just the Facts, Ma'am

On March 3rd I leave Tony and our winter respite in Sarasota for San Diego where I will begin a cross-country bike trip on March 6th. This journey has been in the planning and training stages for a year. I signed on with WomanTours to traverse what is known as the Southern Tier route, ending in St. Augustine on April 30.

There are 20 riders and three WomanTours staff, one trip leader for each half and our personal chef who drives the chuck wagon. We’ll cover 3,034 miles, averaging 63 miles per cycling day with one rest day per week. The longest ride is 111 miles between Sanderson and Del Rio, Texas (I hope it’s flat); the shortest ride is 32 miles on the first day out of San Diego. The route ranges from backcountry roads to some interstates where there is, unfortunately, no alternative. Most often we’ll stay in moderate motels and hotels, sprinkled occasionally with special B & B’s. The chuck wagon doubles as a gear carrier during the day.

There are four SAG (support and gear) drivers, of whom I’m one, who alternate and, hence, get an extra “rest” day every 4th day. SAG drivers from previous years tell me, however, that it’s the most tiring day because of the myriad responsibilities. These run the gamut from helping to change flats, providing emotional support to weary riders (a reality given the verticals covered on some days), purchasing and stocking food and drinks for the van, first aid, and washing dishes post dinner. Hey, the trip cost discount is substantial and I can put my dormant nursing and management skills to good use.

The structure of the trip meets all of my basic requirements: warm shower after biking, a comfortable bed every night, something other than my bike to carry my gear, and traveling with supportive women.