If I had to select one picture that summed up our 3,600-mile bike relay from the Pacific to the Atlantic, it would be this one (above), of Sam eating snacks. Stroopwaffles to be specific. These delicious little tokens fueled us over mountains and through thunderstorms … a constant reminder that you always have more to give.
Our ride started at dawn on an otherwise normal Tuesday morning. Eight of us jumped into the Pacific Ocean near Vancouver, snapped a few photos, and cheered as Gil started the first leg of the relay. The rules of engagement were simple: ride 20 miles, tag out, and wait until your turn came again. We rode non-stop, through the night, rain, and wind until we got to the Atlantic Ocean, and jumped in for a swim. All told it took 8 days, 1 hour, and 34 minutes to ride coast to coast.
Our route took us over the Rockies – some 30 hours of climbing and descending steep passes – across the wind-blown prairie of the middle provinces, through the forested and seemingly endless Canadian Shield, through dozens of small towns and a handful of big cities like Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal, and Quebec, and all the way to the eastern seaboard of Canada.
Along the way we met many locals (from restaurant owners to police offers to friendly strangers) wondering why we were stopped on the side of the road. I can confidently say that Canadians are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.
Our lifestyle during the relay, as you’d guess, quickly became cyclical. Habits and communication simplified. Physical exhaustion led to mental weariness. With anything this demanding you’re forced to forget outside distractions – and your legs hurting, when necessary. It’s better that way.
Big challenges like this mega-relay have a unique way of stripping away everything non-essential. Highs are glorious, lows are dark. You’re forced to stay in the present, focused on the people around you, and on the purpose at hand. For eight days we ate, slept, and biked. That was it.
Making this relay possible wasn’t that simple, though. To plan our route, track our pace, and keep track of each other we used Strava and the new Beacon feature. Only in its infancy, it played a critical role in making our trip a success. (You can learn more about our crew by checking out our group page, on Strava.) Although it may sound silly, this phone app – in tandem with Strava Heat Maps – was a very useful tool for producing complex logistics like this.
Another critical part to bringing this relay to life was a reliable support vehicle. We needed something that could be used as home base while not riding. Something that could sleep six people at any given time, haul four bikes, and have a decent cooking area. We worked with Outdoorsy (think of them as the Airbnb of RVs) to find the perfect rig. And I can’t say enough about the support they gave us – from start to finish one of the best overall experiences I’ve had in a long time. We restocked perishable food halfway through and almost daily had to refill the water tank, due to the heat and intense physical workload.
Then comes food. The day before the ride kicked off we did a massive Costco run, loading our fridge and cabinets with vegetables, fruit, rice, beans, and a huge assortment of carbs, fats, and proteins, to keep us fueled. We ate hardy meals at least three times a day on a regular cadence, hoping to reduce the shock on our bodies. That said, after three brutal workouts each day, our bodies needed a bit of help to recover. Enter GU Energy, stage left. Loaded head to toe with gels, chews, drinks, and electrolyte capsules, we relied on GU’s cycling nutrition plan to keep us as energized as possible. That, combined with an aggressive hydration plan, played a big role in our success.
That brings us to gear. A good adventure requires bringing the right stuff, while not taking yourself too seriously. Hawaiian shirts are always a good place to start. Drinking a beer or jumping in a lake once in a while keeps the moral high and the soul refreshed.
Padded biking bibs and a solid helmet go a long way, too, and mitigating some potential pain. We had very warm temperatures for most of the ride (over 90-degrees Fahrenheit for a couple days), meaning very little time or thought went into warm gloves or windbreakers. Instead we were focused on staying cool, drinking more water, and finding shade. All of our bikes were equipped with bright front and tail lights, saddlebags with spare tubes and tools, and at night we rode with bright reflective vests.
My final takeaway is that anything is possible (which sounds horribly cliche, and I’m fine with that). This trip started with a text message and a simple idea, and grew because the group put in the work to make it happen. We ended up raising over $6,000 for Ocean Legacy, a Vancouver-based non profit, and 100 percent of the funds raised will be used to reduce plastic waste in oceans through beach cleanups and plastic-to-fuel technologies that reuse debris for economic value. To learn more about our ride, check out the Tour de Crown website.
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