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Friday, 27 June 2014

Five Lessons Learned From my First Fully-Loaded Ride

By Jack Hawkins

Tuesday afternoon, I loaded up my bike with fully-packed panniers (save for my newly-purchased sleeping bag, which is currently en-route, a sleeping pad, and my fourth pannier which will be mainly stocked with food.) and decided to head for Bouctouche again, I wanted to find out just what it was like to ride fully-loaded with all of my gear.

It was... different, that's for sure. Here are the five major lessons (in no particular order) that I learned from the ride.

Lesson 1: Always bring more water and food - always.
I learned this the hard way. I did a rather idiotic thing and bought only my CamelBak hydration pack with me, this sits on my back in a backpack. Which, now that I reflect was an incredibly stupid move. I have three water bottle cages on my bike - why didn't I just fill those up with water bottles?!

The last few kilometres home were hell. I was dehydrated, malnourished and running on the reserves of my reserves. I made it home, up-chucked, and then slept for twelve hours. Heat stroke sucks, so, always bring more than enough water and food - even if you're only going out for a few hours. Oh, and when you have the means to let your bike take all that water weight for you - use it! My CamelBak, love it though I do - will now only be used when I go mountain biking, because with every pedal stroke on Tuesday, I was carrying that weight on my back and thereby expending more energy... Never again.

Lesson 2: It's okay to slow down...

I had ridden this same stretch - the 36.6 mile, shoulder-of-the-highway ride a week prior, on my touring bike, unloaded. My average speed was 20 km/h, I made it there in an hour and a half. This time, it was a whole different animal. My average speed this time around - according to the Cyclemeter app was 13.6 km/h, and it took me just over two hours. I'll admit I was slightly disappointed that I couldn't maintain a quicker pace. But, perhaps that has something to do with the fact that it was all uphill, and my legs aren't used to riding with a full load. This is no doubt something that my body will adjust to over time. But in a way, it was nice to stop and smell the roses (or the dead roadkill that I had to weave around). But this isn't a race - it's perfectly okay to take your time and enjoy your lack of Lance Armstrong-esque, PED-induced speed. The sooner I accepted that, the sooner I began to enjoy it.

Lesson 3: Hills are made by an evil, evil being with a total lack of moral compass and/or no soul.

Did I mention that it was mostly uphill? Yeah, it was mostly uphill. Actually, it was all uphill.
And I don't mean those short hills that you can climb with short bursts of speed - I mean loooooooooong, towering beasts that make your heart sink when you see them in front of you. It was endless... No sooner had I dragged myself, using plenty of swearing words of encouragement, up one and crested it... I was faced with another... And another, and another... Oh, and the transport trucks that go zooming by in the opposite direction when you're climbing one - further adding to your climb with a blast of headwind - I hate you all. (Only joking, thanks for the tailwinds, they were a great help!)

Lesson 4: Know where you're going!

Because going left and zooming down a big hill, only to stop at the bottom and go -- "Hang on, this isn't where the Dollar Store is..." *Sigh*, as the realisation dawns on you that you've just gone the wrong way - down a hill... And so, I turned around and headed back up the hill. 'Bloody stupid place to put a hill!' I thought, but finally I arrived at my destination, without having to climb another ruddy hill!

I swear, Dollar Stores are going to be my blessing when I cross the country next year - everything you could ever need in a touring cyclists' diet! Four packets of chicken noodles for a dollar, and everything else you'd need to refuel, chocolate (most of which I can't have - dairy allergies be damned!), granola bars, cookies, the odd bottle of pop, utensils, plus other nick-nacks which will come in handy at some point, I'm sure! Oh, and a GIANT Canadian flag - which I'm thinking of strapping to the bike next year!

Lesson 5: I need to lighten my load! (But I have more than enough space for everything)

Fully loaded clothes pannier

That is the pannier in which almost all of my clothing fits into! There are a few things that I'm missing out on - but, still, I think that I'll need to lighten my compliment of clothes, especially since next year, I'l mainly be riding in the Spring and Summer, and parts of early fall - but hopefully not winter!
So, with some careful thinking ahead, hopefully I can squeeze that particular pannier down to size. Plus, I will be making more space in my other panniers, as I have decided to use a Hennessy Hammock instead of my one-man tent, so, that will add more space - since the Hennessy will take up less room that my Walrus Micro-Swift One Man tent does. Just waiting to get paid so that I can order one.

You're also probably wondering how the added weight affected the bike, (given that this bike has crossed the country once already, and admittedly, I haven't had to do much maintenance/repair on it...) well, I didn't notice a significant difference as I was riding - except for perhaps slightly sharper turning and handling, and obviously it was heavier - other than that, it still rides just as well as it did the day that I got it.

It was a great test ride nonetheless, and I learned a lot from it. Here's to many more!

About the Author

Jack Hawkins is a freelance travel writer and touring cyclist. Originally from the UK, he swapped one seaside town for another in 2006, and has been living in Canada for eight years. Jack has always had a fondness for writing and after graduating from Bonar Law Memorial High School in Rexton, Jack decided to pursue a freelance writing career, and implemented his love of cycling into his work shortly after a chance-meeting in 2013 with a fellow Englishman who had cycled across Canada.

Jack currently writes for this webzine, but is also a monthly contributor Mike's Bike Shop's E-Magazine, "The Rider's Edge". He recently worked on and published a series of thirty-one articles for revered bicycle touring guru, Darren Alff, for his website: http://gobicycletouring.com/. Jack also writes articles, journals, gear reviews, and interview pieces for his own website - http://jackonabike.ca/.

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