The Bike and Accessories
The bike I’m using for the trip is a Specialised Epic hardtail, which has been sponsored by Paddy Behan from Specialized Ireland, to whom I will be eternally grateful. The crankset is RaceFace Aeffect, 6000-series alloy, 24mm spindle, 49mm chainline, 34/24T and with a SRAM PG-1130, 11-speed, 11-42t cassette. This will give me a great range of gears for climbing. It will be fitted with pannier racks to take two bags on the back, plus a saddle bag and a handle bar bag.
I am also fitting a SON Dynamo Hub (www.sjscycles.co.uk/dynamos/28-schmidt-son-28-6bolt-disc-dynamo-front-hub-black/) to the front wheel as this will allow me to charge my phone, GPS and any other electrical device. These devices can be plugged into a Sinewave Cycles Revolution which is a bicycle dynamo powered USB charger. It converts electricity generated by hub dynamo to USB output. As towns are so far apart this will ensure that I can keep phone etc charged at all times; I will also run a kLite which is regarded as one of the brightest lights on the marked and which will still throw out a lot of light even at slow speeds. The dynamo removes the need for me to carry batteries as this could become a problem by adding extra weight and also accessing them when I need them.
In terms of navigation I will be using a Garmin 1000 and Adventure Cycling Associations maps as a backup. I can download the cycle route to the Garmin and this will give me all the detail I need. The maps will allow me to scout the route in advance and note distance to towns etc and in case the Garmin malfunctions I have an adequate backup.
I completed the lactate test in January as part of my preparation (full details on testing can be found at this link http://www.truefitness.ie/sports-science-testing-performance/lactate-threshold-testing/) with the aim of retesting in April to allow enough time to make the necessary changes to my training depending on the results of the test. I managed to go through seven stages with the workload increasing by 40 watts at each stage; my final workload was 410 watts. The tests lasted about 28 minutes after which point my lactate threshold was reached.
My long cycle times have been steadily increasing over the past few months, from four hours to ten hours. These cycles have generally taken place off road in the mountains in very tough conditions from driving rain, strong winds and biting cold.
When I’m doing a cycle like this I have to spend a few hours the night before getting everything ready, from clothes, food, gear and the bike. I always check the forecast on www.Met.ie and www.Windguru.cz as this will dictate what I need to bring and the route that I will choose. As I leave the house at 7am I need to make sure the lights are working and this means constantly having a fresh batch of batteries close to hand.
As I set off early, the mornings are cold and dark and at this point I wonder “did I get the clothes right”. But after about 20 minutes I start to warm up and begin to feel my fingers again. It takes about an hour before I reach the base of the mountain and the climbing begins. The first climb is 7k long and takes about 26 minutes depending on the conditions. People often ask what I think of when I’m cycling and to be honest I’m not sure; it can wander from funny events that have happened in the past to trivial or just nothing, my mind almost appears blank. But the one thing I know is I never worry about work or stresses in my life, and for anyone who is dealing with stress, being in the mountains allows you to clear your mind.
Tackling something like a ten hour training session for me is all about breaking it down into small manageable pieces and not thinking about how much you have to do. I don’t allow negative thoughts into my head and I try to appreciate the freedom of being in the mountains and the beauty all around me. Stopping for food becomes a very welcome reward and bringing a small gas stove and boiling a kettle for a hot coffee is hard to beat. Small rewards like these can have a huge psychological impact on a tough day.
Long cycles also allow you to explore different parts of the mountains and this can be very rewarding as you always find some little gem hidden somewhere that you never knew existed. Taking a few minutes to explore these places is very important as they become part of your memories of this whole adventure. Although the training and the cycle itself is very tough it’s really important to enjoy as much of the journey as possible because at the end of the day it’s not the destination it’s the journey.
In my training I try to replicate the conditions I will face on the cycle as much as I possibly can and this includes loading the bike with gear. When I do the cycle I will have anything from 15-20kg of gear on the bike. The other thing I do is set myself a target in terms of distance I need to make on each cycle, as it’s possible to be out for ten hours and not cover much distance. This keeps sufficient pressure on me to make sure I’m working hard enough all the time and this ensures that I continue to replicate the conditions as closely as possible.
The Power of the Mind
Although many aspects of this trip seems to fascinate people, the one area that intrigues people the most is “how do you mentally deal with the isolation and the size of the task?” I think what most people don’t realise is that when you train for an event; as your body get stronger and fitter your mind also adapts to the challenge. A really important thing for me is to break down the task into manageable chunks and never letting it overwhelm you.
It’s very important to understand your own mind and how it works in terms of what are the things that frighten you or make your mind race and become irrational. Once you feel these fears entering your mind you need to shut them down immediately as once you start to dwell on them they become almost impossible to stop. The fears begin to grow and the more you indulge them the bigger they get. Most of the time, your thoughts or fears are completely irrational but at this stage you have lost control.
You might say, well these fears are there to protect us and this is true, but they can also cripple us. If allowed to run unchecked our minds can create monsters that prevent us from moving forward or ever achieving our goals. At no stage can you underestimate the task in hand or the dangers involved and for this task there are real and present dangers. Once you know the risks and how to reduce them it makes everything much more manageable.
“The bears the bears”; it seems to be an obsession with everyone I speak to. “You know John, there are bears out there”. No one seems to mention the Rattlesnakes, Coral Snakes, The Black Widow, The Brown Spider and Bark Scorpion; these somehow seem to have slipped under the radar.
I have researched quite a bit about bears and the dangers involved and there is no doubt that they are powerful animals which should be given a wide berth. But they will also avoid human contact if possible. Most people ask me if I will be carrying a gun and they seems quite shocked when I say I will be carrying bear spray. The surprising thing according to Dr. Tom Smith (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PExlT-5VU-Y) is, that more people are injured by bears while carrying a gun than by those carrying bear spray. This was due to people not taking as much care and also by the time they drew the gun the bears were on top of them. His advice was to always have the spray ready and make loads of noise.
Of course this cycle would not be possible without the aid of my sponsors to whom I will be forever grateful.
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