The unexpected physical problems of extended bike touring: An audio story (with transcript) during my zero days in St. Louis - Chris Cross America - CycleBlaze

May 22, 2022 to May 29, 2022

The unexpected physical problems of extended bike touring: An audio story (with transcript) during my zero days in St. Louis

Click here if you'd like to jump straight to the audio story!

Rob and Jenn, my friends and also my hosts for this week, took me on an "owl prowl" at Forest Park. We did not find the great horned owl, but we did appreciate the purple martins. Here we stop for a selfie with a stream behind us that's reflecting the sky at the leafy trees behind us.
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Dani MooreI like the people in this photo SO MUCH.
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2 months ago
Chris GeorgeTo Dani MooreRight back atcha!
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2 months ago

Stats for this week

Start and end: St. Louis (Rob and Jenn's house)

The Daily Progress: 0. Just a few ancillary miles around the neighborhood.

The Ascension: 0.

Ice cream flavors (through Tuesday): Breyer's Natural Vanilla, French Vanilla, Homemade Vanilla and Extra Creamy Vanilla. Rob, Jenn and I had previous discussed the vanilla flavor, and we wanted to know the difference between vanilla and French vanilla, so ... I bought all four versions of vanilla that Breyer's makes and we did a comparison. Conclusion: I think they taste the same (although I admit I don't have the most discerning sense of smell or taste), and the texture (and artificial coloring) is the primary difference. From the most complex texture to the most creamy, I'd rank them Natural Vanilla, Homemade, French and Extra Creamy. I'm team Natural Vanilla. You are all welcome for this public service. :-D

Blue is parked in front of a grocery called Local Harvest, at one of the excellent bike racks that are found throughout St. Louis: The rack is the shape of the Arch, with a circle in the middle featuring a bicycle icon and a fleur de lis.
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Audio story: One month, three physical problems

As promised, the main offering today is an audio story. Click here to go to the audio file!

If you'd prefer a transcript of my comments (they are provided below as I prepared them — not exactly as they were recorded), read on:


Hi, everyone, thanks for following along on this adventure that I've been calling Chris Cross America. Today is Wednesday, May 25 — and I’m thrilled to report some happy personal news that makes this date special. As of this morning, I have a new niece! Welcome to baby Brooke, and congratulations to my sister, Jenna, my brother-in-law, Chris, and my nephew, Noah, on the new addition to their family!

This week I am taking a bunch of zero days in St. Louis, where I’m staying with my friends Rob and Jenn. Many thanks to them for having me and for making so much time to hang out while I’m in town and recovering from the first month on the road. 

In today’s audio story, let's quickly take stock of that first month, which is also the first quarter, of my TransAmerica Trail trip — including some of the unexpected physical problems I have run into.

First, a few stats:

  • Mileage: I’ve gone 1,312 miles in 26 days of riding (29 days total when you include zero days). That’s an average of 50.5 miles per day of riding, or 45 miles per day when you include zero days.
  • States crossed: I left D.C. and crossed Virginia, Kentucky and the southern tip of Illinois.

So far, here’s what has caught me by surprise. I really did not expect to have to dodge thunderstorms so frequently this early in the year. Also, I had thought that I faced the risk of injury, especially an overuse injury to, say, a knee or ankle, but I’ve been plagued by three different physical problems so far that I would not have expected.

The first two issues I have mentioned previously in my blog: The first was a skin infection that came about after an itchy bug bite on the back of my upper leg. I guess that is one of the risks of camping. After a visit to an urgent care clinic, I was prescribed an antibiotic ointment and, about three weeks later, that infection has mostly cleared up. Phew! 

The second issue was a strange itchiness in my arms, which may have been some kind of reaction to the sunscreen I was using. I tried a hypoallergenic sunscreen and found no relief, so I gave up and finally switched to long sleeves. At first I used a long-sleeve cotton shirt, but the shirt just soaked up all my sweat and it was not very comfortable at all. Dani suggested a linen shirt, which seems like a good idea, but I also remembered a suggestion that I heard on a podcast called the Pedalshift Project. That suggestion was sun sleeves. It’s a product that a few manufacturers make that are essentially tights for your arms. You can find them at some bike shops or at REI, and I ordered a pair to be delivered here in St. Louis. On a short ride around town yesterday, they felt good.

Finally, we get to the third and most concerning issue. I’m gonna blame the thunderstorms for this one. Because of the threat of severe weather, I decided that my original plan to camp last Friday and Saturday night was a terrible idea, but there was no place indoors that I could stay, and it seemed like the wind was in my favor at least some of the time, so I decided to make it a really long day. I rode 115 miles, my longest day ever while bike touring. It was actually a pretty nice ride — culminating in floating through twinkling clouds of fireflies after dark — but a few factors combined that day to create a problem: 

The wind was helpful sometimes, but most of the time, it was a crosswind, which pushed me to lower myself down into the dropbars for most of the day to make myself more aerodynamic. I left the TransAm to head toward St. Louis, and Google Maps took me along some bumpy roads, which were great in terms of low vehicle traffic but not great in terms of the condition of the pavement. And I’m sure my core muscles are much weaker than they ought to be, so I was probably putting more weight on my hands than I should, which meant a lot of the vibrations from the road went straight to my wrists. 

Put it all together and the fingertips on my left hand went numb. In fact, it’s five days later and they’re still a little numb. My research suggests it’s carpal tunnel syndrome. I have a few more days off, and I just started some exercises, so I’m hoping that helps. I’ve also tried to address the pressure on my hand by buying my way out of it: I got Blue a second layer of handlebar tape, and I bought a pair of padded gloves, hoping to add some cushion. Of course, one of the bike shop mechanics pointed out that strengthening my core to hold up my upper body would be the best approach, so I guess I’ll start doing some back exercises. Time and time again, this theme comes up: Fitness is not about being good at one kind of exercise such as cycling. It’s about maintaining all parts of the body. I’ve been way too specialized in my exercise routine, and now it’s coming back to bite me.

I’m eager to get back on the road, but I know this time off is only going to help. I plan to start up again on Memorial Day. Heading west out of St. Louis, my plan is to hop on the Katy Trail and follow it across almost all of Missouri, which means I’ll skip the Ozarks section of the TransAm, but honestly, I don’t think I need more mountains right now. After the Katy Trail, I’ll navigate my own route for about two days and then reconnect with the TransAm in eastern Kansas. The TransAm will take me due west through Kansas and into Colorado toward the city of Pueblo, where I will again leave the trail to head north to Denver to visit Jenna, Chris, Noah and Brooke. Then it’s back to the TransAm through Colorado and into Wyoming toward Yellowstone.

I’m excited to get back on the road and eager to see if I can put some of these physical concerns behind me.

And I’m outside right now, but it looks like a thunderstorm is coming so I’d better split! Stay dry, my friends. Tailwinds!

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Kelly IniguezA friend put foam pipe insulation under his bar tape. Think pool noodle, but not as bulky. He said it was a good fix.

I suppose you could split a pool noodle and wrap it around the bars, as is? It would look odd.

Does the Eastern Express route take you in a more direct fashion to Denver? I've looked at it many times.

Here's wishing you happy trails!
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2 months ago
Keith AdamsI'll be very interested to know how your fingers progress. For the past ten weeks or so I've been dealing with a similar issue, but not from overdoing it on my bike. (In fact I've been quite negligent in that area.) Wrist braces / splints have helped (one type for day use, another at night) but the daytime version won't be practical on tour.

And a giant YES to sun sleeves! I saw them in action in Florida in April and ordered a 4 pack immediately after I got home.
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2 months ago
Chris GeorgeTo Kelly IniguezWow, how have I gone this far and never even heard of the new Eastern Express part of the trail? Thank you for bringing this up, Kelly! It does look like it would get me a bit closer to Denver with less off-trail improvising on my own. And it'll probably save some time, which I may need. Thanks again.
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2 months ago