First, a truism:
Biking long distances with your friends without fear of personal injury or death is a ton of fun.
It started the way most things do: stupidly.
When planning to do a Big Life Thing the crux of which is leaving your living situation of five years for keeps, it is unwise to leave town for six days without having completed every last necessary thing. The best laid plans made the eve of the Big Day a particularly long one. Bedtime mercifully arrived around two a.m. with a seven a.m. alarm set. Packing was finalized at 8:30. We finally hit the road at nine.
We gained a third buddy on the first leg due to previously unforseen life circumstances that made five days forth and back to Philadelphia a possibility. I think it was a boon for all concerned.
New Jersey gets a lot of shit because it is perennially cast in New York’s impossibly and unfairly long shadow. Riding through small town New Jersey was almost universally lovely. We saw a lot of very nice schools, some great parks, a lovely playhouse, a pretty weird chemical company, had some awesome South American barbecue, and a bird pooped on me. Our most triumphant stretch of biking was biking from Millstone, NJ along the Delaware and Raritan canal. If, by some chance, you have the opportunity on a lazy and lovely Saturday morning, I would highly recommend it. A hawk flew overhead about halfway along the path and it was nothing short of sublime. Trenton, NJ, however, I would not much recommend.
The people that we have encountered have been almost entirely lovely and welcoming. A handful of fellow bikers have stopped and chatted us up, one at the base of the Manhattan bridge on our way out of the city remarking at our itinerary “no better way to spend tax day.” A handful of folks in cars have asked about our trip and shared words of encouragement. Traveling in a group with loaded bikes is hard to miss and the response has been very positive. I feel somewhat assuaged in my fear of traffic in general with the humane way that we have thus far been treated. Side note: on perhaps what felt like the most dangerous stretch of day two, we passed under a billboard that read: “cyclists aren’t always right, but they are always fragile”. Which I think is my personal favorite such mantra and an idea that has been on my mind a lot the last few years.
We crossed a very ambitious eighty miles off the list on day one. Much of the route from NYC to Philadelphia is pretty solid climbing — no small feat on a 100 lb machine. Our itinerary has us averaging just shy of sixty miles daily. We were blessed with spectacular weather and had fresh legs and healthy bikes, and nothing broke or went terribly wrong, but I’m incredibly proud of our team for having accomplished two tough days of biking so early in the trip. I think it bodes well for our overall itinerary.
One of my primary concerns going into this was that I’ve never done several long days in a row without a shower and my own bed to sleep in. I feel pretty great about our first experience in the “wilderness” (to better illustrate, a direct quote from my brother when he saw the pin I dropped on our tent: “Are you sleeping in the middle of the woods at a golf course in NJ?” Much of the plan involves a degree of clandestine activity that is probably not, technically speaking, legal. Please do not tell the feds.) The camping out was pretty seamless and the general hygiene situation and fatigue were entirely manageable. I feel great about the road ahead.
When planning a very long bike trip, make sure to eat a lot. Seriously, eat a lot. And, perhaps more importantly, eat often. Bonking — riding until your blood sugar/fuel level plummets precipitously leaving you feeling empty and awful and unable to move — , as they say, is a real thing, and we came dangerously close a handful of times. This was my rookie mistake mostly trying to manage an ambitious itinerary. Not eating to save time will not help you get farther faster.
Wear sunscreen. The sun don’t mess around. Day one, there was so much on the mind that I didn’t even consider sunscreen. Got a little pink. Day two I was pretty judicious about the sunscreen and applied three times over our eight hour ride. I still got scorched. SPF 30 is no match for the cruel rays of the sun. My traveling companions, having never suffered the same vicious sunburns as I have in the past played fast and loose with the no sunscreen. Everybody got a little toasty. The sun taketh no prisoners. Take heed.
Be prepared to move your seat post. I haven’t encountered much about this in the literature, but I’m reasonably convinced that I have a problem, particularly when clipped in, of grinding my knees — essentially slamming my joints together throughout the rotation — because, as with most things, I have terrible form. I ended day one with pretty severe knee pain before finally relenting and moving the seat up incrementally throughout day two which mostly alleviated the issue.
All told, I feel generally great about the first forty eight hours on the road. I think that we are well prepared on the bikes and gear and fitness and itinerary fronts.
I’m happy to be out here, experiencing this incredible thing. I am looking forward to tomorrow. And to the day after that. I wish you all the best.