A Short Bike Ride From Oregon to Maine: Training Ride And Prep

Because I know there will be doubters of the veracity of the following information I am providing a link to my public strava account. While the trip chronicled was undertaken prior to the creation of strava it does list my total strava miles as over 50,000 miles… a tad more than the 3400 mile journey I will describe.

What would ever compel someone to ride a bicycle that far? To this day, I still ponder the actual reason. I gave a lot of different answers to the people who asked me before I left. I was a little on the chubby side at 6′ and 189 lbs… I had picked up a particularly awful addiction to cigarettes and at the time, to the seasoned mind of a 23 year old, it seemed like a perfectly sound solution to rectify both of those issues. I would certainly not want to smoke cigarettes while riding a bicycle 10+ hours per day and I would also lose weight riding a bicycle over 3400 miles. Impossible to think otherwise.

So being of sound mind and body, I began training for this endeavor. Recently out of College and preparing to enter the workforce this seemed like the perfect time to try something like this. I had read a book that chronicled a father and his two son’s attempt at a canoe adventure from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, perhaps that planted the seed. I am not the brightest of individuals. My training consisted of a 30 mile bicycle ride on a 1964 10 speed Motobecane that belonged to my father. Did I mention I was not a cyclist at the time? I had ridden a single speed bicycle to and from the bus stop as a child.. that was the extent of my cycling knowledge.

Source: Jeff Cunha Note: 1640 Feet Does not constitute a mountain.

After one week of doing this 60 mile ride that included one “mountain pass” I thought myself prepared. So I drove my sole possession in life a 1987 Honda CRX Si back to my college town of Eugene and sold it to my former roommate for $3500. Funds had been secured for the expedition. I opened the newspaper, located a red Raleigh Competition bicycle for sale that some youth had used for racing, handed over the $500 and I was in business.

The Original Frame has since been stripped down.

The following day I rode my new steed to the downtown bicycle shop and declared my intentions. I was informed that I could not use the bicycle I purchased as it was intended for racing not touring and that for a mere $2500 I could obtain a more suitable ride. I explained this was not in the budget and that I would simply like a pair of shoes that I could walk in and would also attach to the pedals of the bicycle, I needed a rack for the back and panniers for the rear. I had already ordered a 1lb sleeping bag, a 2 person tent, a rain jacket and pants from performance bike catalog and really just needed the rack to get the first real test day of riding out of the way. Eugene, Oregon to Grants Pass, Oregon a 140 mile trip. By far the longest bicycle ride of my life.

I ended up being sent to Paul’s a local bicycle shop that catered to the less than affluent college crowd. They hooked me up with everything I needed. And the next morning I arose at 5am and set out from my old college apartment towards my childhood home. Test day 1.

Riding on the Interstate is not allowed in all jurisdictions (I would find this out much later) but it is in Oregon. So straight down Interstate 5 was my planned route, the shortest distance between two points is usually the fastest method on bicycle, although it may not always be the safest. Did I mention I am not the brightest of fellows? I may repeat that point although as the journey unfolds it does become quite self evident.

About 15 miles from Eugene near the exit ramp to Cottage Grove, I suddenly realized I had just acquired my very first flat tire of the journey. I had planned for this with 3 extra tubes and a really good Zephyr frame mounted pump. Highly recommended by Paul’s. After removing the old punctured tube and replacing with new and after about 500 pumps of the handle, I was back in business. About 200 feet later another loud whoosh sound and flat number 2 was needing repair. I would much later learn that feeling all around the inner tire after a flat and locating the source of the flat is paramount to a successful repair. In addition there is something also called a pinch flat where you don’t get the tire all the way inside the tire and upon inflating the tire you effectively cut the new inner tube with the tire against the rim.

I had covered a total of 15 miles in the first two hours, I would need to pickup the pace a bit if I was going to finish before nightfall, still 125 miles to go. There are three named passes on the route I was taking and I was looking forward the the challenge. My gearing was not ideal, as it was a racing bicycle it had racing gearing. The front chainrings were 53/39 and the rear was an 11/25. I had assumed in my naivete that with such a long journey speed would be paramount to a successful endeavor. I was correct in that minimizing weight was of the utmost importance as every ounce of gear I took would need to be carried by my legs up every single foot of elevation gain, and there would be several of those. In retrospect for those contemplating such a ride, I would now advise that a good balance of comfort, durability and then speed would be a wiser choice.

15 hours later, I found myself atop Mount Sexton very tired with the sun beginning to set. I rolled over towards the summit sign and rolled into the gravel near the sign, it turns out 19mm wide tires sink in gravel. As I tried to unclip my fancy new shoes from the pedals, something was amiss and instead I simply fell over. It turns out that you really do need to use a torque wrench on somethings as two of the screws that hold the cleat to the bottom of the shoe had fallen out somewhere along the way. This allowed the recessed cleat attached to the shoe to swivel rather than unclip. So I sat there with my feet still stuck to the now horizontal bicycle as Interstate traffic rushed by and unlaced my shoes so I could separate from the wretched beast. After contemplating my life choices a bit, I realized that the only solution was to simply keep the shoe attached to the pedal for the remaining mostly downhill miles left. There were less than 10 miles to go, as I started down the mountain looking forward to the next 6 or so miles… A passing pickup honked and pulled over in front of me. My father was commuting at the time, to and from his position with UPS in Roseburg and he just happened to see me on his way home. 15 hours was enough of a test and with the pedal predicament the bike was quickly thrown in the back of the pickup and we were homeward bound.

Source: Jeff Cunha

It took me 7 days to recover from the one day ride. After securely fastening the cleats to the shoes with new bolts and dropping the bike off at the local bicycle dealer for a once over, he did change the rear cassette to a 11/28 and the rear derailleur to accommodate it. I said my goodbyes to friends and family alike and on July 27 much to the dismay of my mother I rode out of the driveway in Grants Pass, Oregon and headed east, destination Steuben Maine.

A bit of background on the destination, it was not chosen at random. My cousins with whom my family had lived with for several years while growing up lived there and their father, my uncle had committed suicide the year earlier. I had an odd feeling that I should go visit them and why not three birds with one stone as they say. In addition Greyhound was having that special $99 from anywhere to anywhere, well let’s test that out, the return trip was already planned.

I did have a time frame in mind, during my pre trip planning and discussions with friends I had mentioned that I figured I would be done in under a month, one friend adamantly disagreed that this was even possible and that certainly it couldn’t be done in under a month, a $5 dollar wager ensued. Game on.

Next UP: Grants Pass, Oregon to Klamath Falls, Oregon (105 miles) day 1 of journey.