Train or Strain: The Choice is Mine

Last week, I admitted my weakness for early-season hiking and my total disregard for my own advice about avoiding it. That doesn’t mean it’s bad advice. Here’s another valuable tip I like to ignore: always get PLENTY of training for long bicycle rides.

The type of bicycling with which I am most familiar is what we cyclists call “touring.” That’s a euphemism for “riding as slow as you want, then acting as though you are more aesthetically aware than those who choose to ride fast.” It’s a great ruse, really. I bludgeon my husband with it, and most of our fit cycling friends as well. “Ah,” I say, elegantly, when they tell me how they completed a local 30-miler in 90 minutes, “lovely route — did you see the stand of crocuses at mile seven?” The crocuses may or may not exist, but it makes me feel so superior to ask. And, somehow, it never comes up that I took three hours to complete the same ride.

But sometimes, I forget I’m a “cruiser” (that’s another euphemism). Sometimes, my ego gets the best of me. Occasionally, I start believing that just because I wroteGreat Bike Rides in Eastern Washington and Oregon, and have published several articles inAdventure Cycling andCyclingmagazines, that I am actually a hardcore bicyclist. I need to rent a little monkey who will slap me back to my senses when this happens.

Two summers ago, for example, I signed up to ride with my local bike club on their summer tour of Glacier National Park in Montana.Glacier National Park, for pity’s sake! This is a park that sits on the Continental Divide! A park with roads so steep one is called “Going to the Sun!” These should have been clues! But our local bike club is comprised of retired people and dumpy housewives and stubby little engineers who like to stop at a ride’s midpoint and eat a stack of hotcakes or a couple of pizzas. These guys break for donuts. How tough can their tour be?

Why, oh, why, do I always forget that every silver-haired retiree in the group can kick my butt on the bike? And that the thighs on those housewives are solid muscle? And that those engineers do nothing but math and bicycling every waking hour of the day, and are absolute animals on two wheels? Fortunately, they are also the nicest group of people you could ever want to meet, and they have immense patience with egomaniac writers who try to ride beyond their level of training.

So I signed up for the tour and also signed up my husband and my then-13-year-old stepson, too. It would be a family outing. We’d train together, ride together, share the joys of the open road together. We’d ride every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Except that my quartet practices on Tuesday. And Thursday is my garden club meeting — well, that’s just everyother week. And Saturdays — we’re often out of town on Saturdays, but we’ll ride when we’rein town. For sure.

You don’t have to be a stubby little rocket scientist to figure out what happened. Three times back and forth across the spine of the Rockies just about did me in. The last half mile before the summit of Going to the Sun road must have taken me an hour. And, on day five of seven, I suffered the ultimate humiliation: I rode in the sag wagon. The day was wet and windy, and began with a steep climb — I just couldn’t do it. Truth was, I hadn’t trained enough (yeah, sure, I could have used a triple chain ring, too, but it was 80 percent me and 20 percent equipment).

Boy, did I ever learn my lesson!

That was two years ago. This spring, my husband suggested we “ride the STP as a family.” That’s the 200-miles-in-two-days Seattle-to-Portland bike tour. Having failed to procure the Reminder Monkey, I heard myself saying, “What a great idea!” Since March, I’ve been riding every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. Except when my stepson has a concert on Tuesdays. And except when my writing group meets on Thursdays. But the Sundays we’ve been in town, I’ve been faithful as can be. Unless it’s windy.

Sally O’Neal Coates is a fair-weather bicyclist and the author of four Pacific Northwest travel guidebooks, includingGreat Bike Rides in Eastern Washington and Oregon, published by Wilderness Press. She recommends readers train before attempting the rides in her book.

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