Living on the road, my friend, was gonna keep you free and clean, Now you wear your skin like iron, your breath’s as hard as kerosene…
— Townes van Zandt
There’s a danger in keeping a mileage log. It begins with the acquisition of an odometer/ speedometer, purchased innocently enough just to find out how fast and how far you’ve been biking. That knowledge may lead to increasing your end-of-the-day distance, but the real problem comes when you start adding up that day’s readout and then tracking it by month: mileage for the sake of mileage; which can cause biking uninteresting miles alone in unforgiving weather, which this year meant really hot.
The possibility of reaching 1,000 miles in a month occurred to me in late spring of this year because July 1 was on a Saturday, which gave July the maximum five weekends along with an initial work break through Tuesday, July 4. Usually, my monthly totals are around 300 to 400 miles, slightly more if I’m in training for an organized century. So, I began my journey to 1,000 on the four-day holiday by being dropped off by my wife on our trip to the Sierra. The first miles in this saga began above the old
Stealing time from our vacation to bike solo on the sometimes busy, somewhat narrow Tahoe roads, it was hard to build up really big mileage, but my Quixote-like quest was in motion.
The following Saturday, July 8, four of us road bikers signed up for an organized metric century out of Foster City, near my hometown Palo Alto. Normally, 62 miles would be a good day’s ride, but rather than accepting a ride home when we were done, I decided to bike a long route home and pointed my wheel toward Dumbarton Bridge, wondering immediately if it didn’t make more sense just to bike home instead of soloing in the hot afternoon for the next few hours. Once across the bridge however, there was nothing to do but continue clockwise through Alviso, stopping at a little market for some ice-cold Gatorade underneath a slowly blowing fan.
During the week, with no video recorder and no Tivo, I regularly gave up 20 miles of dusk riding in order to watch the last hour of taped coverage of the Tour de France, which meant I had to increase the weekend mileage to stay on pace. But how to call yourself a road biker and not check out the daily drama of the Tour?
On the following Saturday, July 15, it wasn’t enough to go on a morning ride with a friend. With 40 miles already ridden, most of it along the scenic Alameda Creek trail, I turned south to Morgan Hill. Scenery can’t be shared when you’re along, and needing high mileage, my route was Central Expressway through downtown San Jose to Monterey Highway south. Helped by a tepid tailwind, the ride went fast once I got out of the congestion, where I made my turn, taking Santa Teresa Blvd. back into a forceful, hot headwind. After the requisite cold Gatorade stop, exhausted at the end, I had my second straight century Saturday and over 500 miles halfway through the month—right on schedule. My wife absorbed another long absence during the day for my acquiescence in the evening, which meant my tolerating any restaurant outing without my usual impatience.
My strategy for racking up high mileage was evolving into abandoning traditional road bike routes west of Skyline Blvd. to the coast and back and opting, instead, for the thoroughfares combined with as few traffic lights as possible.
The following week required more Tour de Franc evening TV time to witness the demise and resurgence of Floyd Landis. Saturday, July 22, was the day of the Tour’s time trail, which I watched live just enough to know Floyd had it made before my riding group arrived.
With seven of us biking, we needed at least one hill challenge and chose Hicks Rd. in southwestern San Jose. The morning coolness dissipated early and we all roasted on the climb. By the time we returned home after 70 miles at 2 p.m., the day was broiling. After the group drove away and with the temperature too hot to sit around, I filled my bottles with ice and headed out for another 30 miles to attempt my third Saturday century in a row, even thought the temperature was crazy and I was already tired.
Going east toward Woodside’s shady roads, there were still stretches of asphalt radiating much hotter than the 109 degrees reported the next day in the paper. Sure it was nutty, which maybe was precisely why I did it, like the 1,000 mile goal itself.
By the following Saturday, July 29, I needed only 60 miles to reach 1,0000. With three days left in the month, the pressure was off.
Four of us biked the mostly flat roads and shoreline bike trails east of Highway 101 to San Francisco, staying cool under the overcast that had finally broken the heat wave.
Our turn-around was the Ferry building, bustling with the farmer’s market and festivities set up for the next day’s marathon, including promotional tents, where we sampled assorted health bars, road bikers being athletic cousins of road runners. On the return trip following the same flat roads, the once-oppressive 1,000 mile odometer point passed. It felt like a real bike trip to a real destination point. But, even so, I tacked on another solo Portola Valley loop, one more time out of habit, maybe to get my fourth Saturday century in a row.
That final loop on a normal breezy afternoon didn’t compare with the July 22 afternoon furnace ride—all for the sake of a week later being able to write “1,000” in a log kept on a shelf.
Worth it? Doesn’t matter—it’s in the books. Now, with my high mileage July on top of 2,000 miles for the first six months, I wonder if I can get 5,000 for the year …
Published Cycle California, November 2006, Vol. 12, #10