Saturday, July 31, 2010

Day Five: East Greenbush, NY (60.6 miles)

I left this morning to a pleasant surprise: the weather was not nearly as warm as it had been--and the humidity was greatly reduced. In fact, at certain points on the ride, under partly cloudy skies, headed downhill, it was even a little... chilly. I wasn't complaining. After the heat of Monday and Tuesday, the humidity of Wednesday, and the bright sun of Thursday, I didn't mind this at all. It was nice being able to make stops along the way for a snack or lunch without dripping with sweat.

My route was entirely along the Hudson River. (The map of the route can be seen at So, let me say something about the Hudson: I love this river. For years, before I owned a car, I used to take the train to Albany from Washington. The ride between D.C. and New York is okay, but the ride between New York and Albany is fantastic. It has been voted one of America's most scenic train rides. And the reason the ride is so great is the Hudson River Valley. The ride today took me through a number of very nice Hudson River towns, Saugerties, Catskill, Hudson, and Castleton-on-Hudson, but the constant throughout was the Hudson River Valley.

What makes this valley so striking is not simply the broad expanses of the river, which are beautiful, but the presence of the mountains to either side. On the west side, the Catskill mountains stand like a sentinel guarding the valley as rolling hills mark the eastern reaches. In towns like Saugerties and Catskill, the mountains form an ever present sight on the horizon. Below are two shots of Saugerties and the country north of Saugerties.

I crossed the Hudson at Catskill taking the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. It's a mile-long combined bridge crossing the river that I'd seen many times from the train. It has a nice sidewalk path along the south side, which, unfortunately, is closed to bicycles. I had hoped to ride across this path and take a picture of the river from the middle. Alas. Fortunately, the shoulder was generous and the crossing was easy.

Traveling up the east side of the river, I was continually treated to spectacular views of the Catskills on the western side and the relatively flat ride along Routes 9 and then 9J. Again, I know I am biased, but it was hard for me not to feel that the scenery on this leg of the trip was the most beautiful. I kept stopping to take pictures of the vista.

I was really enjoying the ride, but in spite of the lower temperatures and humidity, my strength was waning. This entire trip had been a long ride and my legs were pretty much complaining the second half of the ride. Fortunately, as the road stayed close to the river, it was relatively flat, with occasional uphills, but just as many downhills. The Amtrak trains passed by every once in a while and I would wave, remembering the many times I'd been a passenger aboard. Then suddenly, I noticed the bike was not responding properly and I realized the front tire was under inflated. As it had been filled up on Thursday morning at the bike shop in Matamoras, I knew that this was not simply a tire that had been ridden on for a while. This was a puncture.

Well, I was prepared. A few weeks ago, the bike tech at The Bike Shop in DC had given me pretty explicit directions as to how to patch a tube. I'd had moderate success in the past with the instant patches, but had now been shown how to use the better kind of patch. And so, I took the wheel off, removed the tire and tube, found both the puncture in the tube and the offending piece of metal in the tire itself, scuffed the tube up good with a piece of sandpaper, applied the vulcanizing fluid, applied the patch, put the tube and tire back on, reinflated the tire, and was done. It took a few minutes to do, but I was not in any great hurry. My legs were getting a nice rest and the weather was beautiful. And I happened to stop at the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve. Now, I've long known that the Hudson is an estuary—a river that flows in and out with the tide, like the Potomac—but never in my life had I ever encountered the word "estuarine". I wouldn't have imagined that estuary had an adjective of its own. The tire now repaired I pressed onward.

Now, when I was a kid, I used to go biking with my best friends George and Gene all the time. We'd bike to Albany a lot, once to Vermont, and once way out past Schenectady to visit our 8th Grade teacher, Mr. Peck. And from all those bike rides as a kid came this very important piece of information: there is no way to get into Rensselaer County from the river without going up a massive hill. And so, I knew that in spite of the gentle and relatively flat ride for the bulk of the day, a killer hill was awaiting me.

Oh, man were those hills brutal, mostly because they came in the last 5 miles of a 60 mile ride. But I was too close now. I had to muscle through it and eventually climbed up to the 500 foot height at the top of the hills. And finally, at quarter after 5 p.m. I rolled into my father's driveway completing this 362 mile trek.

It was an amazing ride. What takes about 7 hours by car took me five days. And in that expanded time, I saw the countryside in a way not usually possible from a vehicle. I learned which state has the most courteous drivers with regard to cyclists. I saw urban landscapes, both wealthy and poor. I saw Amish farmsteads and rust belt cities, still reeling from the decline of the steel towns. There were scenic river byways and impressive mountainsides. Old colonial towns and expansive river crossings.

I learned a lot, too, but not just about Pennsylvania steel, the healing powers of bananas, the locations of Dutch reformed churches, or a region of New York with a long history of Indian attacks. What I learned was that this was something I was actually capable of. When I set out to do this, I wondered if it were something I was actually able to do. Most of my friends thought I was nuts (some still do). Others who had themselves done this kind of thing (that's you, Amy Ellen and Laura) provided me with the hope that this was something feasible and within my reach.

And now as I sit here on my dad's couch, writing this, I can barely believe that I have actually done it. Biked 362 miles in 5 days, traveled from below the Mason-Dixon Line to the upper Hudson River Valley. It still hasn't really sunk in. Maybe when I re-read this blog or look at the pictures. Or more likely when I feel the ache in my muscles.

But it's done and now begins a week of relaxation and visiting with family and friends. And a year to try to think of what I'll try next year.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Day Four: Kingston, New York (62 miles)

The bike shop wouldn't open this morning until 10am, so I didn't have to get up early and had looked forward to the opportunity to sleep in. I must have been really exhausted because I even overslept a little. I had breakfast and headed over to Action Bikes & Outdoor Outfitters. The mechanic there, Shawn, did a great and fast job replacing the spoke and checking out the bike in general. So, I left the shop with a functioning bike and a new find: something called "Hammer Gel" a rapid energy fuel that comes in a mylar pack shaped like a hammer. Seeing that they had banana puree as an ingredient, and reflecting on my experience with bananas based on Laura's advice, I asked Shawn about them and he said they were fantastic. So I bought a few.

I tried one as I was leaving the shop and the Hammer Gel was pretty good. I definitely felt the impact on my energy level as I rode. I also kept thinking of the words of Théoden King of Rohan: "The horn of Helm Hammerhand will sound in the Deep one last time!" (Just in case in the reading of this blog you were tempted to think I was cool, I include that reference to remind you of my geekiness.) Speaking of the Riders of Rohan, the hotel from which I am currently writing this is full of people participating in some equestrian event, they're walking around wearing riding pants. The only thing they have in common with the Rohirrim is that they're all blonde. But I digress.

Matamoras is a nice small city and sits across the Delaware river from Port Jervis, New York. Port Jervis is apparently named after a General Jervis who was instrumental in construction of the Delaware and Hudson Canal, portions of which were visible (in highly overgrown form) along my ride today. The place itself had an earlier, Indian name. Crossing over the Delaware was a beautiful sight and the first of many scenic views that I would encounter today. Now, I know that I am biased, but I had forgotten just how beautiful New York State is. Last summer, I took a long road trip to San Francisco via the desert southwest and was astonished to realize just how little of this country is the lush forested land that I was used to in New York and along the east coast. So much of my ride today was along forested roads or in green valleys surrounded by forested mountains.

In terms of terrain, today was to be the easiest ride, A gentle uphill for the first twenty miles (and with the banana Hammer Gel, I was handling the hills pretty well, even going up them in high gear), and then mostly downhill for the remaining 40 miles. However, there was a really strong headwind today that pretty much negated anything less than a steep hill. That was kind of annoying. I pleaded with the wind to change its course. Alas, my entreaties went unheeded. And for some reason, I kept getting hit by bugs--big ones, though a ladybug alighted on me for a while, so that was nice.

The route I was taking, US 209, wound itself through a mostly valley path among the mountains of the Catskills. The entire route was marked with those historic marker signs put up by the state. So, apparently the region I was traveling through was primarily known for Indian attacks, as most of the signs seemed to be for forts where settlers could be safe from Indian attacks. One of the historical markers was for the house of an Abraham Beviel who possessed a "small cannon that the Indians feared" and thus his house was, you guessed it, a shelter in the event of Indian attacks. I also noticed that there were a lot of churches along the route, one or two Methodist churches, but a lot of Reformed churches. I suppose that makes sense, since the area was settled by the Dutch. I wonder if these Dutch were the same people getting attacked by the Indians, or if that was the English who came along later.

I was on Route 209 almost the entire way, but I knew that 209 would eventually turn into a 4-lane highway on which it would be dangerous to ride (the same thing had happened to me in Pennsylvania with Route 100, but then I had had no advance notice).

And so, late in the day, as I neared Hurley, New York, I turned onto "Old Route 209" which was exactly what I needed at that point in the day: a tree-lined country lane with old homes and a downward slope.

I was pretty pleased with this route, and my foresight in avoiding a road hazard. As I crossed the bridge over Route 209, I expected to look down and vindicate my judgment when I saw the highway, but when I saw the highway, right next to it was a level, beautifully maintained bike path. So, I saw a path connector and got onto the path headed north toward Kingston. The path had nicely maintained berms (with signs: "This berm adopted by...") and birdhouses spaced every so often. It was a beautiful path and I was happy to ride it. For a mile. Because the path ended right at the Esopus River and went no further. And so I turned around and headed back to "Old Route 29", my knowledge that I had been right all along cold comfort as I tacked on a couple of unnecessary miles.

I passed through the historic town of Hurley just outside of Kingston. Hurley had a number of old colonial buildings, including the temporary state capitol (the actual capitol had been burned in Kingston by the British, when Kingston was the state capital) and a home in which a reception was once held for General Washington.

Not long after, I found the Holiday Inn, got a room, and availed myself of the pool and jacuzzi in the "Holidome Indoor Recreation Center". I still can't really believe that I am one day away from finishing this trek that I thought I was crazy to even set out on (many of you shared that opinion). Because I am actually ahead of my 70 miles per day schedule, tomorrow will only require 50 miles. (It's still odd for me to think of a distance of 50 miles as only.)

I am excited that by this time tomorrow I will have finished my 354 mile trek and gone through some of the most beautiful countryside on the way. Can't wait.

(For the map of this route, click

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day Three: Matamoras, Pennsylvania (76 miles)

Hump Day.

That nickname for a Wednesday had special significance for me today as it would be the day when I would cross the great hump in the road, crossing the highpoint of the entire trip (coincidentally, at 191 miles into entire the trip, on Route 191).

I woke up this morning from a nightmare: my bike had had two flat tires and as I was applying the patches someone came along and bent my front wheel rim into what looked like a taco. I was afraid this was an ill omen, but then I looked out of my hotel window to a merciful sight: an overcast sky. The sun had been pretty powerful the last few days and the prospect of riding without having the sun beat down on me was an enjoyable one. The humidity was higher than it had been, but it was a tradeoff I was glad to make.

I had stayed on the southern end of Allentown last night and so wound up biking through the downtown area on my way north. I biked along Hamilton and saw a charming downtown before eventually turning north. I turned too early as it turns out, assuming that I'd missed my turn, and biked up a road that was in somewhat different economic straits. Billy Joel picked Allentown as the location of his steel-town anthem probably more because of the rhyme (it is more about Bethlehem, PA) but the decline of manufacturing America can certainly be seen on the side streets of Allentown. As I headed up Front Street north toward Tilghman and my route out of town, I passed by a couple of once active factories, now vacant. (I will confess, it was hard not to hear Billy Joel playing in the background the whole time).

Crossing over the river heading east, I was passed by a bicyclist wearing a black t-shirt and shorts. As he was laden only with a backpack and I had my backpack plus saddlebags, etc. I was not troubled by this. (Normally, I get kind of competitive about that). But as I continued along my route, I noticed this guy ahead of me a couple of times. Including twice where he intersected my path coming from various side streets. Now, it may be that he was simply taking a zig-zag route around the city, but it was odd. Whatever he was up to, I borrowed a page from Steve's brother Dave's suggestion of using the thought of imminent danger to prompt motivation. And so I imagined that he was trying to tail me (albeit not terribly clandestinely) and that spurred my legs on. The next thing I knew, I was out in the Pennsylvania countryside again.

There were a couple of hills heading through the towns to the north, but there was a fair amount of downhill, too. Now, of course, the downhills always make me nervous, because they suggest heading to go back uphill again soon, particularly with a mountain range in one's future. In fact, at one point outside of Wind Gap, PA, I took a picture of the mountains in the distance contrasting the beauty of the scene with the leg pain it was sure to mean.

Fortunately, the road approaching the mountain crossing was relatively flat, connecting the towns that skirt the edge of the mountain range. Finally, cutting north of Bangor, I found myself on the above-mentioned PA-191, which from my planning consisted of a three-mile steep incline over the mountain. I stopped right before the steepest incline and rested for about 20 minutes before heading up. These mini-rests had been really helpful in charging up my legs before moving on. (That and the bananas and ibuprofen that Laura had recommended, to great effect.)

I headed up the mountain and found that it was not as rough going as I had feared. The top of the ridge was also home to the Appalachian Trail, but I didn't see any hikers. I was disappointed that the top did not have a place to get a view of the valley below, but only mildly disappointed. I was really happy to see the sign warning of the steep downhill coming up. It was a three mile downhill that was as fun as any roller coaster, and a well deserved downhill. It was clear that this incline was steeper than the one I'd come up and so I was grateful that I was heading north, and not the other way around.

As I bottomed out in the valley to the north headed toward Stroudsburg I was suddenly greeted with a cruel joke: a 12% grade for about a mile before the town. It was brutal. But it followed with a downhill going into Stroudsburg where I stopped for lunch. The road out of Stroudsburg was relatively flat and enjoyable, in spite of the fact that the sun had made its return and this was during the heat of the day.

While the road was relatively flat and lacking in major uphills, the shoulders were not in good shape. I try as much as possible to ride in the shoulders, but sometimes they were only about 6 inches wide. At other points, when they were wider, they were not well maintained, with large potholes or cracks. If they weren't cracked, there was often gravel in the way. This was the same way that many of the roads in Maryland were as well. But suddenly, the quality of the roads improved a great deal, as the road became a Federal highway through the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area. Thank you, Federal taxpayers for your well-maintained roads, wide and clear shoulders, and visible highway markers.

The ride was going along really well, I was making good time and was definitely going to be able to make it through the park with plenty of daylight. This would be a day in which I'd conquer both the mountain and the park. I was enjoying the relatively flat terrain when suddenly, I heard a noise: ptung! I looked down and noticed a small, but discernible wobble to the rear wheel: a broken spoke.

I pulled over at the next opportunity, taped the spoke in place with duct tape (this would do nothing structurally, but would keep the spoke from causing more trouble) and loosened the rear brakes so that they did not unduly create friction on the wobbly wheel. I used my phone to search for bike shops: the closest one was 20 miles ahead in Milford/Matamoras. As I said, the impact on the rideability of the bike was negligible, but the impact on my morale was bigger. I had just had a number of improvements on this bike before heading out, including a $90 heavy duty rear wheel, precisely to avoid blown spokes. Suddenly, the 20 miles to Matamoras, a distance that I could cover in a couple hours, seemed like it would take forever. I was reminded of the Harper's Ferry trip with Michelle and Rachel, where the miles seemed to go on forever, and each mile marker seemed like it was coming far too infrequently. It was hard to enjoy the obvious beauty of the surrounding area because I was concerned about getting to the bike shop with no more broken spokes or further difficulty. I didn't want last night's dream to become the omen I'd feared.

When I finally arrived at the Action Bikes and Outfitters shop, I was informed that the mechanic was off on Wednesdays. They suggested I bike on to Port Jervis to the bike shop there, but when they called over, the shop was already closed. Without any choice but to wait until the shop opened at 10 tomorrow morning, I decided that I would just go on to the hotel a half-mile away and come back the following morning.

I got a room, took a swim in the pool, grabbed dinner at Perkins (I was a great deal hungrier than I'd realized), and even did some laundry. The 10am opening of the bike shop tomorrow is going to delay my departure somewhat, but I am going to look at it as an opportunity to sleep in and get my rest. If the bike is fixed quickly (and spoke repairs are not that time consuming) then I can be on my way quickly. If all goes well, I can be in Kingston by dinner.

(See the map of this route at

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day Two: Allentown, Pennsylvania (77 miles)

This morning I got a somewhat later start as I was pretty tired from they day before. By the grace of God, and the operation of plate tectonics and the last ice age, the land north of Nottingham was relatively flat, and I was able to make good progress. I passed by a farm where a number of bearded, straw hat wearing men were driving tractors along the road. I'm assuming they weren't Amish since they were driving. Perhaps Mennonites? Not all Mennonites dress like 17th century farmers.

The flat farmland countryside eventually yielded to gentle rolling hills with gentle uphills and pleasant downhills. Then suddenly, heading into Coatesville, was a very long, enjoyable downhill. But I knew that such a huge downhill could only mean one thing: a huge uphill coming out of town. A 3% grade for a mile or so. And that pattern followed for the next several miles.

Coatesville was interesting to come across. The land leading into Coatesville was rolling farmland and rich forest. And then suddenly: Coatesville, a rust-belt town with a scrap metal processing plant and a number of factories. The street leading into town was full of boarded up buildings, though the downtown area still had many signs of life. But it was clear that the downtown area was economically depressed. Until I got to the top of the 3% grade out of town, when I saw all the large homes and the upper class neighborhoods. The view was spectacular, but the symbolism of the division between the haves and have-nots in terms of geography could not have been more striking.

The route I was taking was something I'd planned out a month or more ago. Having studied this route and gone over it a number of times, marking down hotels and other resources on it, I have become familiar with the place names along the route. It was fascinating to see what these places actually looked like. So rarely did a place wind up looking anything remotely like what I had been imagining. Along Hopewell Road east of Coatesville, was Hopewell United Methodist Church. I am not sure what made me imagine this church as located on a flat plain surrounded by a handful of trees, but instead, the church sat atop a forested hill (a steep hill as it turned out) with an amazing view of the surrounding countryside, including the old cemetery across the street.

I did learn a couple of lessons from yesterday, The first break I took, about 35 miles in, was a good deal longer than the 15 minute break I took after 38 miles in Baltimore. It was nice to sit in the shade of a large tree and just rest my tired legs for about 45 minutes.

That rest came in handy, as the large hills would continue to appear, including another 3% grade outside of Old Zionsville toward the end. (By the way, I know that 3% doesn't sound like a lot, but trust me, it is.) For those, I did not shy away from outright stopping on the side of the road on a long hill, catching my breath and resting my legs. I mean, I don't have anything to prove by biking up a hill to exhaustion. Besides, the morale boost of actually being able to get moving of the incline was worth it.

I did have one major glitch when the road I'd been traveling on--Route 100/Pottstown Pike--suddenly turned into a 4-lane highway without warning. At first, I thought it would be manageable, but it became clear that this was not a temporary thing and I turned off the road and took a convoluted set of backroads before I was able to get back on. The most distressing thing was that after a morning of turns and backroads (I did make a couple of wrong turns), I was looking forward to one road that I could stay on for a while, so having to get off and take more back roads was a little frustrating, but the frustration was offset by the obvious increase in safety.

I had an ambitious day, given that if I were to follow my 70 miles a day schedule, I would be able to stop 17 miles early, due to having traveled 87 miles the day before. But looking ahead to the following day, I know that Wednesday will bring crossing the Poconos, and I really don't want to do that at the very end of the day, when I am exhausted. And so I decided to press on and go and extra 20 miles to Allentown. It would mean a 77 mile day by the end, but the knowledge that I'll cross the Poconos only 30 miles into my Wednesday instead of 50. And, that may allow me to be early enough to bike the Delaware Water Gap park before the end of the day, making it as far as Port Jervis, NY. That being said, I was incredibly happy when Allentown (or maybe its charming suburb Emmaus) hove into view—especially since it was at the top of a hill that would basically be a downhill all the way into Allentown.

I stopped at an EconoLodge that's located right next to the train tracks and trains go by every so often. I don't actually find that annoying, I like trains and it adds a certain rust-belt ambiance that seems just right. Anyway, splurged on a big room that has a jacuzzi in it. (A number of folks asked if I was going to camp out on this trip. Um, no.) I soaked for about an hour, and my tired muscles thanked me. Though they haven't really chipped in for the room. But between that and the Walgreen's icy-hot, and the bananas and ibuprofen that Laura recommended, I hope I can do well by them for tomorrow's climb.

(For the map of today's route, click

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day One: Nottingham, Pennsylvania (87.6 Miles)

I left this morning at 7:56 am. It was a little later than I'd hoped (I was aiming for 7:30) and a lot later than when I rode up to Baltimore for Annual Conference in June. On that trip, I made it to Baltimore in 2h 56 minutes. This time, my pace was about 15 minutes longer to get to Baltimore. And arriving in Baltimore, I took the opportunity to take a snack break at the Inner Harbor, near the U.S.S. Constellation.

I should have taken a longer break. The first 38 miles to B-more was great, albeit hotter than the last time I made this trip. But the second leg was miserable. The mid-day heat just seemed so much more oppressive, and having stopped biking for a while, my momentum seemed lost. The hills were that much harder. My speed was dramatically decreased.

Prior to leaving, my friend Steve was joking that he imagined I would come to my demise as I stayed in some Bates Motel-esque hotel along the route. When he shared this observation with some friends, one of them pointed out that biking through Baltimore was bound to be more perilous than rural Pennsylvania. I am not sure whether Baltimore is more dangerous, but the portions of Baltimore that I biked along Route 1 on my way out of town were downright depressing. I know why The United Methodist Church has adopted Baltimore in an effort to help transform the city. Vacant lots, overgrown with grass and weeds. Boarded up buildings. The few signs of life being a father and daughter selling flavored cold drinks and a man selling bottles of cold water out of a cooler (I bought two). I have been to Baltimore many times, and had even seen the poorer neighborhoods to the west of the city, around the ballpark, and north of the Inner Harbor. But the areas along Belair Avenue in the northeast of the city were not like anything I had seen before. Such large areas of the city in utter economic ruin. And it seemed to be uphill.

I ended the second leg of the day's trip in Bel Air, Maryland (60 miles into the day's journey), where desperate for carbohydrates (and confident of the thousands of calories I was burning today), I stopped at a McDonald's for the first time in probably a year. This time, I took my time, spending an hour on the lawn outside the restaurant, eating my meal and resting my legs.

The effort paid off, as when I set out again, my legs were in much better shape. And the portion of Maryland I was riding in on the stretch after Bel Air was mercifully flat along Route 1. The route crosses the Susquehanna River over the Conowingo Hydroelectric Dam, with a beautiful view off either side. Unfortunately, there's nowhere good (or allowed—I was scolded for trying) to take a picture from the dam, so here is a picture of the dam from the far side.

From this point, it was a mere ten miles or so to my end destination of Nottingham, Pennsylvania. I had chosen this as my stopping place, because it was the first town after Bel Air that had a place to stay. Bel Air had a couple of motels, but I have budgeted 70 miles a day on this trip, and I didn't want to start the trip following behind schedule on the first day. And so in the end, I wound up going 87 miles all told. That's 23 miles farther than I've every biked in one day (the existing record set on the bike trip to Harper's Ferry with Rachel and Michelle). And that was flat pretty much all the way. Though I did notice a similar phenomenon on this trip: the last few miles seemed to be especially long. Some aspect of Einstein's Theory of Relativity no doubt.

But then I came upon a particularly beautiful sight: the Mason-Dixon Line and the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania. Nottingham would be just a mile or so beyond the border. Nottingham is a nice little town. The hotel has a restaurant, but it only serves breakfast and lunch. There is however a Wawa about a 3 minute walk from the hotel and so for dinner I had my first ever "shorti". Along with the shorti, I had a bag of Herr's potato chips. That was due in large measure to the fact that Nottingham, PA is the home of the Herr's Snack Company. The Wawa was full of them. In fact, the company headquarters is located right across the street from my hotel. They have tours, but I think as I will not want to be delayed too much tomorrow morning, I'll have to save that for the next time I pass through this way.

Well, I still can't really believe that I biked 87 miles in one day. I know that's nothing compared to the people who do this regularly. In fact, at one point on Conowingo Road, I was passed by a guy on his 10 speed flying down the road as I was crawling along at that point. But, I digress. I am looking forward to tonight's sleep. I expect that it will be a sound sleep.

(To see the route click

Friday, July 23, 2010

My "New" Bike

So, I've been getting ready for my summer vacation: a 354-mile bike trek to Albany, N.Y. (I know that's an odd destination--I'm from there.) I've planned out the route, made note of all the hotels, bike shops, and Methodist churches along the way. And last weekend, I decided to go on a training ride: circumnavigating the District of Columbia, by driving along the roads that make up the borders of D.C.: Western Avenue, Eastern Avenue, and Southern Avenue.

But my planned training trip did not go as I'd hoped. The temperature was miserably hot and the late afternoon heat sapped most of my strength. And somewhere along Kenilworth Avenue, as I was looking for how to reconnect with Eastern Avenue, I broke a spoke on my rear wheel, causing it to wobble unhelpfully. This was the fifth spoke I'd broken this year—something I'd never even done once before. I was disheartened: would the summertime heat and my rear wheel's spokes conspire to make my trip more difficult than I was already expecting it to be?

So, I took my bike in to The Bike Shop the next day. The owner there agreed that replacing the rear wheel with a heavy-duty wheel was in order. I told him of my planned trip, somewhat reluctantly. Especially since I half expected him to say, "You're going 350 miles on that?" Kind of the way Princess Leia, upon first seeing the Millennium Falcon said, "You came here in that thing? You're braver than I thought." But he didn't. Instead he said what a good bike I had and he promised me that they would replace the wheel (and anything else faulty) and tune it up to guarantee it was road worthy. In fact, he wrote "see Boss" on the ticket to ensure that his techs would check with him about any repairs.

I picked up the bike on Wednesday. The repairs had cost a fair amount more than I'd expected, but were still less than a new bike. But they were worth it. New tires front and back. New heavy-duty rear wheel, with a brand new gear cassette. New fenders (recommended to make biking in the rain that much easier). New front gear system (apparently the bearings inside the old one were shot, causing all manner of pedaling difficulty). It rides like a dream. It feels brand new, with a solid action on the pedals and smooth shifting on the gears. This bike is ready.

My ride is still a couple of days off. But my anxiety about whether my bike was up to the task is gone. I still have plenty of anxiety about whether I'm up to the task, but there's only one way to find that out. And I'll find out soon enough.

Location:Washington, DC