Bike Camping Shakedown

Bike camping shakedown at Keeowee-Toxiway SP 2021

A lesson for aspiring aging athlete want-to-be’s–

Not only did it turn out to be a “shake down” for my gear but for me too! Monday (10/11/’21) after my annual eye checkup and a readjustment from my chiropractor, I headed out for my first bike camping trip, a shakedown adventure for both me and my gear. Let me just say, the gear shook down fine, me, not so fine. Before it was over, and with great chagrin and on my return trip, I ended up calling my daughter, Elian, to come rescue me, still 16 miles from home. How embarrassing!

As learning goes, it was a successful trip. I “learned” a lot! Nothing like the real experience to put things into perspective. The basic and most fundamental thing I learned was that I’m still a long way from where I need to be to do my planned epic, 2022, Sacred Canyon bicycle tour, much less the longer Southern Tier portion. Lord, help me. I’m going to need it. I need to be 20, 40 years younger, not 73. So, here’s the story–

It was beautiful weather as I pulled away from my home at 2:00pm: 70 degrees and sunny, with sunny weather and 77 degrees predicted for tomorrow. Humidity was a low, wonderful, with a dew point at about 60 degrees. It was just a single overnight camping trip to a park I had gone many times in years passed. Never mind, these earlier trips were always in a motorhome, not a bicycle and a tent. I was in near full gear on the bicycle. As this was a training run, I took my touring bike as opposed to my e-bike. A choice I would soon regret.

It was just for one night, so I was not carrying as much gear and food as I would be taking out West next year, which will mean even more weight. It was my first trip “geared-up”: trailer, panniers, tail bag, and handlebar bag. On my first uphill I was a little surprised that I could tell the weight difference with all the gear. It was only 20 miles to the park, Keeowee-Toxiway State Park. No problem, right? I mean I was routinely doing 18 – 20 mile training rides these days, with longer rides of 26-32 miles. This 32-miler, however, was on my e-bike as I had just done a 26-miler two days before and had not fully recovered from that. The e-bike turned out to be a wise choice on that ride as it would have been for this one.

So here I was on my way, pedaling happily and naively down the road. This time, however, going a different route, guided by Google Maps bicycle app. It was a great back roads route through hill and dale, pasturelands, farms, sparsely populated, and with low traffic. It didn’t take long for that scenic, idyllic illusion to start to crumble–on about the fifth hill climb. To make a long, hard ride/story short, let me say, it was a brutal ride! I could swear Google Maps must have plotted to take me on every hill in the area. Most of it was uphill it seemed. (But I also knew, it would seem like that going back too–i.e. uphill.

I was still not half-way there, around mile 7 of the 20, and I knew I had made a mistake in not bringing the e-bike. Before it was over, I had to get off and push the bike and trailer up three hilltops and take several rest stops. Three hours later, I arrived at my camp spot–exhausted, done in. A big average milage of 7 mph!! I had been averaging around 8.5mph on the bike in my trainings, 8.1 on bad days.

Here I am now at the park. Putting up tent time. It had been several years since I had used my solo tent. No problem, I had the instructions in the bag with the tent. I was so fatigued, however, I struggled to follow them, having to reread several sections multiple times to get them into my addled brain. What seemed hours, the tent was finally sat up, my sleeping bag thrown in, the air mattress and air pillow blown up, and the sun setting. I sat on the picnic table bench, sipping on water–hydrating after my long, sweaty ride. I had brought an easy-fix supper, but was too tired to eat it. The bottle of wine, decanted into a plastic water bottle to cut the weight, however, was calling. Before I indulged the wine, my left-brain kicked in and I ate some trail mix and the apple I’d brought. I still needed to finish setting up my camp. I knew from too many times experiences, the alcohol would render me worthless.

As I returned to setting up my camp, one of the fellows in the next campsite over approached me, apologising for bothering me, but he was very interested in what I was doing, where I had come from, where I was going, etc.? He said, I was the most interesting person around, pointing with his chin to the other campers in their cars or vans. /this was strictly a tent camping section. RV were up further on the hill.

I explained that this was a shakedown camping trip for a longer tour in 2022. He got called away, saying he would be right back. In his absence, the two women from the campsite across the road came over and started asking me the same questions, curious about what I was doing, going, coming from, etc. When I started telling them about the longer bicycle tour, the older lady, 63 she said, had always wanted to do a cross-continental tour on a bicycle. The previous gentleman returned saying he didn’t want to miss out on the conversation. The two ladies went back to their campsite after a while, and he and I continued talking. Turns out he was a bicycler too and knew about Adventure and even the Southern Tiers portion I would be on for much of my tour.

That night, after about 250 ml of wine, etc., I settled into my tent and sleeping bag, exhausted from the day’s activities. I knew I was in trouble for my return ride the next day. Sure enough, through the night, my left hamstring started cramping. Not bad, but still, not good. My right hamstring was giving me little notices that it was thinking about joining the party. I had hydrated up well before and after the ride, so I didn’t think it was a hydration issue. More like a potassium issue as I have chronic low electrolytes (potassium, sodium, and chloride) in my blood screens.

The next morning arrived. I had breakfast (coffee, oatmeal, and granola breakfast bar), packed up my camp, loaded up, and said goodbyes to my neighbors, giving the women one of my old business cards that I had found. Ten minutes down the road toward home on my second hill, I knew I wasn’t going to make it. My left hamstring started trying to cramp, and I just didn’t have it in me to get up the hill. Had to get off and walk up the hill. Next hill, same thing. At this point, I threw in my hat in, disappointmented and defeated, and called my daughter to come get me. We agreed to meet at the realtor’s office where the highway forked. I told her that, if I wasn’t there, to come down the road looking for me. As it turned out I was almost to our rendezvous point. I had made it four miles of the twenty back home. Sigh.

Now for some comments from my learnings for my fellow aspiring, older (read elderly) athlete want-to-be’s, thinking to do something crazy like this–you know, do a long bicycle tour, or other high physically demanding, distance thing…

First, let’s take aging in general. In our 70’s none of our body systems are up to what they were: neural, cardiovascular, muscles, skeleton, immune, you name it. I’ve been physically active, eaten a healthy diet, didn’t smoke (not counting a fair amount of grass in graduate school and puffing on a weekly cigar now. I’ve switched to brownies for the other.) No more than two drinks a day and often these days, one. Eating organic, a lot of it grown in my garden, and so forth. We have a drop in our testosterone, which stimulates muscle development and cell growth. This includes ladies whose kidneys continue to produce low level testosterone even after menopause.

Most of the studies that I could find were directed a maintenance of elderly who already were in a high state of condition. I am in pretty good shape, but for this bicycle tour, I am going to have to be in a lot better shape, as a point driven so hard home by my shakedown trip! At a time I am trying not just to maintain what I have, but to build new, heavier duty, mountain-climbing muscle! It’s an especially “hard row to hoe” at this age. I knew that going into it. It is one thing, as we all know, to know something cognitively, versus actually doing it! It is a whole different ball game. And then there are the meds–

A couple of my meds are probably interfering with my training, muscle building efforts. One is for hypertension, the other for benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH). Most notable probably is the later med: Finasteride, a testosterone reductase inhibitor that keeps testosterone in its inactive state in the prostate (and I assume, all over the body). As testosterone stimulates muscle growth, this med is working against me, even though it retards further prostate growth. Will take up with my urologist next week in my annual visit. As I understand it, the alternative doesn’t sound like any fun.

The other possible culprit is the daily 81mg aspirin, which the FDA has just decided should not be prescribed for preventing first heart attacks or strokes. I’m on it as a precaution because of what may have been a transient ischemic attack (TIA) some years back. I’ve had detailed medical cardiovascular and neurological exams on these and got clean bills of health. A recent study indicated that aspirin, even this low dose, and other non-steroidal inflammatory inhibitors, e.g. Ibuprofen, may inhibit muscle growth. Humpf! Will take this one up with Family Practitioner.

Finally, the importance of a balanced training regimen. When COVID hit, I dropped my gym membership. I’ve lifted weights most of my life. Boring, but effective. As we age, we lose muscle mass. After say 65, things start going faster downhill. My further reading and study indicates I need to restart resistance training. I still don’t want to go to the gym: 1) too many idiots unvaccinated and/or not wearing facemasks; and 2) doesn’t fit in my budget these days. I’m going to try using the resistance bands and good old things like push-ups and chins. It will take a lot of self-discipline, but how bad do I want to do that tour? I’m not going to be able to call my daughter way out on some mountain in Utah.