Okay, so we finally have a start date: 23 March from Saint Augustine, Florida. It looks like a few other cyclists will join up for parts of the ride in Florida and some of the other states, so that will be great. I am hoping to make this an interactive event that people can get excited about.
As for the route, since I live near Saint Augustine, which is the start point of the 'Southern Tier' cycling route, it made sense to start the trip from here. I'm guessing it will take about 8-10 weeks to reach San Diego, but that may become longer with the addition of side trips.
What have I been doing to get ready? Cycling at least 15-25 miles per day to keep in shape and get used to the new bike. That's really not a lot when you think about the fact that most cyclists ride for 50-70+ miles per day on their tours. However, after talking to others who completed cross-country tours of their own, many of them had never cycled great distances for consecutive days before embarking on their big trip. "Start out slow, pace yourself, and you will get into shape as you go along" was what one rider told me. As crazy as that sounds, I've heard this same advice from a few other experienced cyclists, as well.
I've also been lifting weights a couple of times a week to maintain upper body strength and balance. I don't want to start the trip looking like a pear.
For my bike and much of my gear, I visited Lakeshore Cycling in Jacksonville, Florida. They are used to assisting long-distance cyclists prepare for their trips. Several of the people who work there had used Waterford bicycles for their own cross-country rides and said they would happily use them again for future tours. I figured that was a pretty good endorsement.
I also considered a recumbent bicycle (where the rider looks like he is laying on his back, and the pedals are in front of you instead of beneath you), but in the end I decided on the more traditional type of bike.
So I went ahead and bought a custom-built Waterford 1900 Adventure Cycle. It's an ideal bicycle for unsupported, fully-loaded, cross-country touring. Best of all, it's blue - my favorite color. It took six weeks for them to build it and get it to Florida. I'm too embarrassed to admit here how much I paid for it, but I'll say that it is worth more than 3 of the 4 cars I've owned in my life. Then again, if you saw those cars...
In addition to training, buying gear, researching the route, and reading cycling journals, I've also spent a considerable amount of time on the phone and writing emails. Since the event is dedicated to honoring disabled veterans, it is important to raise awareness among a wide audience. I've been contacting veterans' organizations, military installations, academy alumni societies, and newspapers along the route.
One of the charities I'm supporting helps children in Iraq and Afghanistan. The plight of children in those countries is a sad one and often gets overlooked in the news. Perhaps if this cycling event goes well, I can think about someday organizing a Mosul-Baghdad-Basra 'fun run'. My Iraqi friends suggested waiting a few years (or maybe a few decades) before trying this.
People often wonder how cyclists plan their evening stops. The maps I'm taking indicate lodging along the way. But just to be on the safe side, I'm bringing some camping gear: a small tent, sleeping bag, and mattress pad. If I can camp maybe 1/3 of the time and save a few dollars along the way, that will help. One strategy employed by a cyclist who rode around the country for cancer research was to go to the first fire station or church she saw in town and ask about putting up a tent on their property. The response was usually positive. I think I'll try this myself.