Bicycling Magazine describes PAC Tour as "The World's Toughest Tours" and according to Lon and Susan, the Northern Transcontinental is probably their most challenging. Well, since I haven't ridden any of the other contenders, I can't say with any certainty that Bicycling Magazine is right, but I can say that this certainly was a challenging month of riding.

When I signed up for the Northern, I was pretty nervous that I'd be totally out of my league during this tour. And there were some elite cyclists to be sure - Marc Leuckx holds the Paris-Brest-Paris record, Richard Kondzielaski won Race Across Oregon last year, John Morgen is a multi-time Ironman triathlete including Ironman Coeur d'Alene just a couple weeks before starting this ride, and many others that have done multiple transcontinental rides and ultracycling events. But in the end, I did just fine and was actually well into the top half of the group in terms of speed and endurance. I actually managed to be first into the destination hotel on a few occasions.

One of the common questions among the riders at the end is "Did you ride EFI?" EFI stands for "every f---ing inch". Well, I'm proud to say that I did ride EFI. But I'm also very proud of the money I've raised for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, and the awareness I've generated for "Living Strong" with cancer, and of course any inspiration I can provide to other cancer survivors to get out and live life to the fullest.

Overall, the trip was very enjoyable. The crew did a fabulous job making the tour run smoothly; the participants were all very friendly; the route was mostly very scenic; and the weather was much better than we could have hoped for. Oh yes, there were definitely times I questioned my sanity. The second day was probably the worst - starting out with pouring rain and ending with blistering heat and my body just wasn't quite ready for 160 miles after 125 the day before. If it hadn't been for a nice tail wind, I'm not sure I would have been able to finish the day.

There were a couple of other days later in the tour that I really didn't enjoy the last 20-30 miles of the day, but I still felt pretty good at the end of the ride. I was actually pretty surprised by how much my fitness improved over the course of the tour. I would have thought that, with no rest days, I would have become more and more fatigued as the tour went on. Some of the most challenging days of the tour were in the last week, and I actually found these days to be "relatively" easy - certainly no harder than the first day from Everett to Wenatchee. I think my fitness peaked at the end of the second week. After that, I was starting to feel signs of overtraining - I wasn't recovering quite as well from one day to the next and I was feeling a little bit more fatigued at the end of the day.

My training was obviously very effective given that I was able to stay with all but the fastest riders day in and day out, and felt pretty good at the end of each day. If anything, I probably did a bit more training than I really needed to. There were riders on the tour that had an enjoyable experience with far less training. But it certainly felt good to be in great shape and to be able to improve my fitness so much while riding. Others experienced similar fitness improvements, but it was mostly those with the most base miles this year that improved the most. I do think, though, that I peaked a little early in my training. By early June, I felt I was ready for the tour and got a little bored of the training. As a result, I slacked off a bit and was not as strong at the beginning of the tour as I should have been. I also don't think I did enough back to back long rides. As a result, day two was very tough for me.

Long distance cycling seems to be one of those sports where lifetime accumulated miles has a lot to do with your success. Those riders that have been doing long distance riding for many years could get away with a lot less training than I, as a relative novice, could. Since I now have the experience of doing this once, and almost 10,000 miles of accumulated miles already this year, I think I am now much better prepared for future endurance cycling events. But it's not just the miles under my belt - I now have a much better idea of what I need to do regarding hydration, calories, and electrolytes to be successful. This seems to be different for everyone. Some people could get away with eating only at the SAG stops and drinking Gatorade. There was one very strong rider that ate nothing but chocolate pudding while he was riding. My formula was to eat a large breakfast and a modest amount of food at the SAG stops (mostly fresh fruit), and use Sustained Energy and Hammer Gel in one of my water bottles (about 500 calories) that I would drink between SAG stops. I'd also take two Endurolytes at each SAG stop (sometimes three if it was a very hot day, but these were rare).

The weather on this trip was remarkable. We had a little misty rain on the first day on the climb up Steven's Pass, a few hours of hard rain leaving Wenatchee on day two, and a 30 minute thunderstorm at Mt. Rushmore on day twelve. Other than that, the weather was just about perfect. We had our share of hot days in Washington, Wyoming and South Dakota, but by the time we got east of the Missouri river where the weather generally turns muggy, the jet stream had shifted to bring in uncharacteristically cool dry air. Despite many a morning with the Weather Channel threatening severe thunderstorms, we seemed to be blessed with beautiful riding weather.

So what was the worst part about the tour? - I'd have to say that some of the roads were much rougher than I would have expected. The use of chip-seal pavement  (rock chips pressed into asphalt which is slow and rough riding compared to normal asphalt) in many places wasn't really unexpected, but the expansion cracks in many of the roads in South Dakota and Minnesota is something I haven't had to contend with before. Every 10-30 feet, the pavement would have a crack extending the full width of the road with a gap and elevation difference of up to an inch. There were also numerous places where we were forced to ride over rumble strips. And, of course, we had a few occasions where we had road construction and were forced to ride on dirt, mud, gravel, scraped pavement, etc. In many ways, the various construction detours and rough roads added to the charm of the journey, but it did wear on the equipment and body after a while.

There were a number of occasions where we had to ride on the shoulder of major highways. Some of these were unavoidable because there just weren't any alternative roads, but in a number of cases these routes were chosen to minimize distance, hills or both. I think the PAC Tour organizers went out of their way to choose the best and safest roads they could, but there are clearly a number of compromises. In a few instances, I think I would have preferred to add a day or two to the length of the tour in order to spend more time on the rural roads - particularly in areas like West Virginia where the rural roads are so beautiful.

Another aspect of the tour I found a little trying was the daily schedule. Of course, I made it more difficult by spending an hour or so every evening doing this website. I had very little time to relax in the evenings and always felt just a little bit rushed. Getting up at 5:00AM every day made it hard to get enough sleep. I always dreaded crossing time zones because that took another hour out of the day. The riders that came in even later than I did every evening must have had it even rougher, but they all maintained a cheerful attitude and seemed to have a great time.

I had my share of equipment problems, all related to the rough roads. I had purchased a new pair of SpeedDream wheels specifically for this tour because they are known for their durability and are easily field repairable if a spoke is broken or they go out of true. Unfortunately, I had a catastrophic failure in both the front and rear wheel, neither of which was field repairable. I also managed to break a spoke in one of the front wheels I was loaned when mine broke. I also managed to break my chain on one of the climbs, but this was easily repaired with a spare link. I only had four flats during the entire ride, and these were all during the first week of the ride. One rider had 18, so I consider myself pretty lucky in this regard.

My body held up very well on this trip. There were a few times when my knees were a little sore, but considering the knee pain I've had in the past, they did very well. They were primarily sore in the evening when I was sitting at the dinner table and couldn't stretch them out. On a few occasions, I had some knee pain while riding and took some anti-inflammatories which quelled the problem. In the middle of the tour, I started to get a rash on my legs which I think may have been associated with the massage oil Dena was using for the few massages I received. I started washing with anti-bacterial soap and Dena switched to a different lotion and the rash eventually disappeared. Toward the end of the tour, my skin started to get pretty dry where it was exposed to the sun. I used sunscreen everyday, and didn't have any serious sunburn, but 8-10 hours exposure to the sun and wind for 26 days straight will do a number on your skin no matter what you do. I suspect a nice moisturizing lotion in the evening would have been beneficial.

I had surprisingly few saddle related problems. There were a few days where my butt was a little sore, but this was generally after a day when I was riding easy (which increases the weight on your seat) and/or riding over particularly rough roads. In generally, I felt better than I usually do at the end of a century ride. One of the previous PAC Tour participants that I did a couple training rides with gave me some recommendations which I followed fairly religiously. I washed my groin area with a facial wash containing benzoyl pyroxide to dry out the pores and prevent saddle sores from forming; I used Assos Chamois Cream on my shorts chamois, and I used a concoction of Bag Balm with a small amount of Lamisil and Cortizone cream mixed in on my skin. I used my favorite Assos FI.13 bib shorts for the whole tour (rotating between three pairs so I could wash them and let them have plenty of time to air dry between uses) and a Fizik Aliante carbon-rail saddle.

I did manage to lose about eight pounds on the trip, despite eating like a pig every day. The wait staff at the restaurants would often look at us a funny as we ordered huge meals and topped them off with a desert and a milkshake to go. I'd often eat a powerbar before going to bed, and another as soon as I got up in the morning at 5:00AM before heading to breakfast at 6:00. I suspect it will be a little challenging to adjust my diet over the coming weeks to match my more leisurely calorie requirements.

It was really a great pleasure to meet and ride with the crew and other participants. They are all wonderful people with diverse backgrounds and were fun to get to know. I hope I get a chance to ride with them again.

Will I do another cross country tour? At this point, I'd have to say probably not. While I enjoyed the tour and am glad I did it, it's a huge time commitment - both in the tour itself and the training time involved - and a long time to be away from home. I wouldn't hesitate to do another tour with PAC Tour, but will probably look for shorter, slightly easier tours in the future. I will certainly sign up for their Desert Camp again, and would love to go back to Wisconsin to do some more riding there so perhaps their Midwest training camp will be in the cards sometime in the future.

I'd like to thank all of those that sent me emails of encouragement during the tour. It was lots of fun to see an inbox full of emails every evening when I hooked up to the net.

Feel free to email me with any questions you have about the tour.