So I have learnt a thing or two so far. At the time of writing I have only about 10 000Km under my belt, but this will increase with more long distance travels in the works.
As far as mechanical knowledge, I have not been tested as yet because I have hardly had any problems. Over the two trips in Australia and New Zealand, I had a mere 2 punctures and that was about the extent of my problems.
Considering I am still new to the cycle touring game, I think I did do some things well, despite my relative lack of cycling experience, and I think most of this had to do with coping with the physical demands of what I was doing. Here is what I found helped me ride big distances:
How to Ride Long Distances - Learning from Australia
Through Australia, I had a daily average of about 155Km maintained for 28 days, this is not easy. I coped with the massive distances in Australia in a few key ways:
- Make the most of good conditions - when the conditions were good, make it count. When I had favourable winds, comfortable temperatures and nice road surfaces, I adjusted my daily target to at least 20 kilometres more than my minimum daily average.
- Have a daily target - I always set myself a minimum daily target when I was riding for distance through Australia. Never say never, but don't give yourself too many easy excuses not to hit it. Only severe conditions, sickness, injury, or danger would ever have stopped me hitting it.
- Hit your target on the toughest days - nasty headwind, driving rain, or challenging climbs? Hitting your targets in the face of adversity is the secret to making yourself feel invincible. This confidence is so important and keeps the lingering doubts in the back of your mind quiet. Feeling strong = being strong.
- Break it down - in case you haven't spotted a pattern already occurring, here it is; TARGETS, TARGETS, TARGETS. The overall target of the 4200Km required through Australia was far too big to comprehend sometimes, and when I did, the scale of the task could become dispiriting, particularly when the scenery would hardly change in hundreds of kilometres. Even 140Km is one day can evoke the same sort of feeling, especially when the conditions are against you. However, smaller targets, whatever the conditions, feel more manageable. On the days where the headwinds blew and the temperatures were hot in Australia, I would do things 10Km at a time. You can do this with a cycle computer, by road signs, or by landmarks, whatever, but this method can get you through the hard times and when you hit the end of the day, you'll wonder how on earth you've managed to pull off the distance you did. Breaking down a target into smaller bite-sized pieces is probably the most powerful psychological trick to doing truly astounding things.
- Stand-up to butt-ache - very often, it wasn't my leg muscles that were challenging me on the long days in the saddle, it was my sore ass. If the road you're on is hilly, this doesn't set-in so badly, but when the roads are long and flat, all that time on a hard seat can be unbearable. With this in mind then, one strategy I used to combat this was to stand-up and cycle for ever-increasing intervals. To start with, I'd do 50 cranks on the pedals, then sit back down, then 75, then 100. Towards the end of my trip, I could do kilometres at a time out of the saddle, giving my butt a much needed break.
- Have a routine and stick to it religiously - hitting large distances day after day cannot be done unless you stick to disciplined patterns. Feel like sleeping in this morning? Well if you give in to this feeling you'll be behind the 8-Ball the whole day and this kind of mentality will make you want to finish early too. Do this on a handful of days and it will become a habit and before you know it, you'll be way behind schedule. Injury, illness, extreme danger; these are the only things that would stop me waking up at 4.30am. Period. And it never happened. Also, the routine in the morning and evening of putting the tent up and down, eating breakfast/dinner, writing the diary, etc, ran like clockwork. I know it sounds boring, but habits are hard to break, whether they are good ones or bad ones, and if they are good ones, they'll drive you to consistently good distances.
- Eat and drink. Lots. - don't be shy or even too healthy when it comes to eating. On a long tour, your stomach will feel like a bottomless pit sometimes. Through Australia, I'd have huge lunches, followed by an hour of rest and digestion. I gorged on fruit cake because it was packed full of calories and when the weather cooled-down as I headed further south, chocolate was a good source of energy as well. Some of my best days were fueled by half a kilo of chocolate after a full English breakfast. I'd try and get some fruit and vegetables in as well, but absolutely the most critical thing was to get as close as possible to equalising my calorie input to my calorie output. Do do this, boy did I have to eat a lot. When I ate a lot, I'd be able to ride the greatest distances. And obviously, keep hydrated, but if you drink too much, you'll be stopping constantly to pee, annoyingly breaking your rhythm. Find the balance.
- Make sure your set up is right - when I first started cycling through Australia, my first few days were killing my legs and the doubts began to surface. I found that my quads were suffering and I figured that this could be because my seat was too low. After raising the seat, I noticed a big difference. So if your muscles are hurting check your set-up, because over such long distances, minor sources of inefficiency add-up to make very significant loses in mileage and some big aches and pains as well.
- Don't fight the worst of the weather - I know I said earlier that hitting your targets whatever the weather is how you hit long distances, however, be smart. In the Northern Territory, the daily temperatures were hottest from about 1pm to 4pm (sometimes over 35 degrees in the baking sun), so I'd make sure the majority of my cycling was done before and after this time, it's just common sense. No matter how mentally strong you are, if you are stupidly grinding through horrendous conditions that will change for the better at some stage, you will pay for it physically, sometimes in a way hazardous to your health, but also simply in a way that will tucker you out when conditions are more favourable for long distances. Often, when the heat was at its worst, I'd rest-up in the shade for 2 hours between 1 and 3, while having lunch, lots of fluids, and when possible, plenty of ice cream to cool off.
- Daydream, and save the music! - losing yourself in thought is one of the best ways I know of ploughing through the pain and covering long distances. Sometimes you even hit the zone, doing silly mileage without even noticing it. Music works too (there is nothing like screaming out your favourite songs while cycling through the outback with no one to hear you, except the kangaroos), but if you use music too often, it will start losing its effect. I used music sparingly, only for the most boring of stretches and when I was feeling the most sore and demotivated. Music also takes away one of your senses, making things a little more dangerous on the bike.