When you're out on tour, that's a question you hear a lot. Almost every day, actually. In this small way, at least, the common man seems to recognize that it really is more about the journey than the destination. And, really, figuring out that number is a key element of the ritual of trip planning.
In the moment immediately following this question, my buddy Tando often begins a complex series of mathematical computations in his head. He's comparing the mileage we've racked up to the estimated total mileage of the journey in order to figure out our average pace up to the moment of the query. Simultaneously, he's determining the number of miles remaining to our final destination and calculating how far we'll have to go each day in order to catch our ride home. He'll then give the inquisitive bystander a range of numbers, explaining what each of them means, as well as the calculations by which they were reached. Then he'll explain that weather, injury, or mechanical difficulties, may, of course, affect the accuracy of his estimations.
|The world's shiniest human calculator in action.|
Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I'll spit out a simple, contextless number, like "we aim for 65 miles a day, give or take."
At this point, sitting on two or three different, and possibly conflicting, numbers, this person we've just met tends to smile weakly, look back and forth between the two of us, and say something like "Wow! Seems like a lot!" Truthfully, unless we're talking to another cyclist, we could say anything above 10 miles or so and look like heroes, so there's something absurd about the whole dance.
Tando's approach comes out of his fascination with numerology and professional obligation to seek accuracy and truth. But I don't have his eerie gift for math--I need a simple integer I can spit out on demand. For my own ease, I arrive at the number I tend to give in these situations before we even leave home. It's also the number I use to figure out when we should take a day off from riding.
When we tour, Tando and I roll out on the Earned Rest Day System. This means we don't know when or where we'll take our rest days. You see, when we look at potential routes for a tour, our first concern is determining whether we can even accomplish it in the time allotted. We arrive at this number by dividing the total mileage by the days available. If this number seems reasonable as a daily goal, then the trip is on. For the Pacific Coast, that number was 65 miles a day.
Once on the road, things become a little more flexible. If we don't feel like doing all 65, we don't. If we feel strong or the locals give us the creeps, we go long. At the end of the day, we're either miles up or miles down, a total which accumulates day by day. So, for example, if we ride 70 miles two days in a row, we end that second day 10 miles up.
|This is a precision operation.|
This running count has the final authority over our rest days. The goal is to build the surplus up to the baseline number. So, when we're up 65 miles, we get a fancy hotel and hang out at the nearest rib shack. On the flip side we allow ourselves a one-day deficit, but when we end up 66.5 miles down, it's a mandatory push day. Bad weather, bad health, and bad moods matter not, we ride until we're back to less than 65 miles down. When we really want to be fancy, we charge miles against our account. When we're 35 miles up, say, odds are good that we're going to take the rest day and just start tomorrow at 30 miles down.
All in all, it all works out.