Its all in the planning baby. Really. If you plan well then you will succeed. The secret to planning is to eliminate as much risk as possible, but leaving enough risk still there to make it interesting. Planning can be broken down as when to do it, how to do it, and what will you need to do it.
When to do it. Super super important as this will determine pretty much everything else like what you will take, how far you will travel each day and your options for accommodation. When I looked at how the hell I was going to achieve my bike ride from Stewart Island to Cape Reinga, I first set myself some timeframes. It was important to have plenty of time to prepare and plan, there is no point in taking any shortcuts here. I wanted to do the ride before the end of 2009 so this gave me a year to do it. Next I worked out the best times of the year to spend weeks on a bike. My choices were between Autumn or Spring. Winter would be too cold, and Summer too hot. Going in Autumn gave me 5 months to prepare, Spring 9-10 months.
The weather can play a huge part in your trip. On a bike, the rain and wind will affect you considerably. A headwind or a tailwind can make a big impact on your ride. I studied the weather for that time of year and sourced some long range forecasts which gave me an indication of when I should go, and which route I should take. Long range forecasts are pretty good for general predictions, like will it be a wet week or a dry one. They won’t tell you the wind direction and temperature of Wednesday the 12th of May, but it will give you a good guesstimate. With weather you need to be prepared to either change routes/plans as you go or be prepared to deal with bad weather as you go. This will affect the gear you take and how you prepare physically.
Taking into account I picked Autumn, as I would be cycling north and the winds should be turning into a southerly tailwind. The weather looked like I would have extended periods of clear skies, and when it was wet it hopefully wouldn’t be too cold. Heading north, I would be leaving the colder south behind me. Autumn was also a better option as it was sooner, so I had less chance to put the whole thing off. After a quick look at what I needed to do to get ready, I figured it was very achievable to get ready in 5 months, and should there be any hitches, then I would have Spring as my fallback. So, in order to get ready, I would need to organise all my gear, and get in shape.
How to do it. I started riding, which is a good start especially when you haven’t been on a bike for close to 20 years. I started out slow, then increased the frequency of my rides riding every couple of days. I picked a short but challenging route that had a lot of steep hills and no flats. I figured that hills would be one of the toughest parts of my ride and something I would really struggle with. So I focused solely on the ups and downs until I was good at it. Well when I say good I mean I no longer vomited going uphill.
I rode for half an hour to an hour. I didn’t focus on long distances, as if I couldn’t deal with hilly terrain then there was not much hope of me completing the ride. This concerned most of my friends and family, who would see me coming back from a 40 minute ride panting and exhausted and wondered how I would manage with six hours riding each day. Luckily the vast majority of the route up New Zealand was nothing like my training route and so after two months of busting a gut on hills I went on my first long flat ride, and it was a breeze. It was now looking like I could do both hills and distance. I would not know if I could do it every day for two months until I was actually on the ride.
I broke down my training into small achievable milestones, and as I achieved each one I then pushed myself a little harder. So if I rode my training run in 40 minutes. I would set out to do it in 38 and I would add a few more kilometres to the route. I measured my times and distances on each ride and looked for improvement. As long as I was riding faster and longer, and feeling better at the end then I was making progress.
Setting out some milestones on your journey as you go will help you keep on track and reduce the risk of failure. Planning a daily schedule is important to know where you will start and end each day, especially important if your range is 80km a day, and the distance between two towns on a particular part of your route is 160km, with nowhere to stop in-between. That could be problematic, so best to figure this out well in advance and come up with an alternate route, or take a tent. Knowing where you should be each day reduces the risk of failure, as it gives you something to measure yourself against to see if you are falling behind. If you do fall behind then you need to be able to adjust your plan to get back on schedule. It also helps with planning replenishment stops for supplies like food and water, inner tubes, and other important things like Internet access and hot pools. One of the most time consuming parts of my planning was planning where I was going to get to each day of my journey and research the accommodation options for each stop. And so before I left I had planned a number of possible routes, depending on weather. Then as I rode and altered my route to suit, I knew I had options for places to stay wherever I went. I also knew where all the bike shops were so I could replace bike spares.
What you will need to do it. I obviously needed a bike, and researched the types of bikes and selected a bike that would be robust enough to get me to the end. I didn’t pick a fast bike, as someone once told me it was not a race. I just had to get to the end. Instead I went for solid, reliable workhorse that was comfortable. I was going to spend a long time in the saddle so I also wanted comfort over speed.
One great way to reduce risk is to take a support crew. I didn’t as for me a very important part of the trip was to do it unassisted and alone. This meant I had to take less gear and carry everything on the bike. The gear you take will make a huge difference to your risk profile of the trip. Planning the right clothing will be one of the most important planning decisions you will make. If you have a support crew you can be a bit more relaxed about space and weight. When you go solo you will weight everything. My next post is all about gear so I will cover this all off then.
So once I knew when to go, knew if I could actually ride a bike, had figured out what to take and had planned all my routes, I put all this together and created my final master plan. Then I refined it over and over again, triple checking everything and looking for ways to improve it. The more I checked and refined my plan, the more risk I removed. Review your plan with a friend, someone with a fresh set of eyes. They might pick up on some flaws that you might not see, like the fact you are crossing an alpine pass, probably in the snow, and you don’t have any suitable snow gear or a tent. Stuff like that.
Having a compreghensive plan let me focus on other things in the saddle each day, like how pretty the mountains were and how sore my arse was. I just executed the plan, and enjoyed the ride.