Statistics - Two Old Guys Take On A Continent - CycleBlaze

August 3, 2023


Figures Lie, and Liars Figure

John here.

I kept a log during the tour with times, distances, climbing, etc. and have had a chance to take a look back. Ed's numbers might be a bit different were he to go back and add everything up, because most days there were slight differences in what what our Wahoos told us, especially when it came to the amount of climbing, but I figure after almost three months things would average out.

We were on the road for 87 days, from May 3 (the day we rode from our hotel in Arlington, Virginia to downtown Washington, DC to meet our WarmShowers host Jessica for a tour with her "grey posse" and on to her house in Bethesda, Maryland) to July 28 (the day we arrived at Rose City Recumbent Cycles in Portland, Oregon, to drop off our bikes for shipment home).

We rode 4015.1 miles in that time and spent 372 hours moving with our seats in the saddles. My average speed was almost exactly 10.8 mph.  Ed's is probably a couple tenths of a mph less, because I rode up hills slightly faster than he did and was more aggressive on the descents.

We took 13 rest days on the tour, 5 more than we had planned. The day we spent with my friends Charlie and Chris in Jefferson City, Missouri, was not in the original plan. The second rest day we took in Fort Collins, Colorado wasn't either, but it was the psychological halfway point before we got to the mountainous west, and, besides, my son Stanley came up from Colorado Springs with his family to visit with us. Spending 2 down days in Saratoga, Wyoming, was courtesy of Ed's rear derailleur failure (but a perfect place to spend extra time). We spent an unplanned day in Missoula, Montana, waiting for Adventure Cycling headquarters to open on Monday morning (so many breweries, so little time). We also lost a day to my rear wheel failure that forced us to stop in Marshall, Missouri, for the night, for a total of 6 extra days.

Somewhere we picked up a day, because we arrived in Portland only 5 days behind the original plan, but I can't figure out where that happened. Ed, do you remember?

Eighty-seven days on the road less 13 rest days leaves 74 riding days. Subtract the 59.5 miles we rode on the rest days from the total, and I calculate we averaged 53.5 miles per riding day.

Our shortest day (not counting the first day when we rode from Arlington to Bethesda) was 26.9 miles between Mountain Park Campground and Aspen Glen Campground in the Cache la Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins when we were acclimating to the high altitude. Our longest day was 85.9 miles from Lieber State Recreation Area in Indiana to Casey, Illinois. 

Ride With GPS predicted that our route would involve 145,457' of hill climbing. Our actual cumulative climbing according to Ride with GPS measured 138,932'.  My Wahoo told me we climbed 126,958'. I will stick with the Ride With GPS numbers because I believe they are less affected by wind on the barometric altimeter. 

Our biggest climbing day, 4,078' was, surprisingly, from Watkins Mill State Park, Missouri to Atchison, Kansas, not somewhere in the mountains.  A close second, 4,022', was from Lowell, Idaho to Cottonwood, Idaho. There were many close runners-up.

The least hilly day, with 236' of climbing, was from Jefferson City, Missouri to Rocheporte, Missouri, entirely on the Katy Trail except to go a few blocks to the offices of Missouri Life Magazine.

We averaged 1,860' of climbing per riding day.

The day with the most climbing per mile ridden was the same as our shortest riding day, between Mountain Park and Aspen Glen Campgrounds, which averaged 88' of climbing per mile.

That's certainly not the steepest climbing we did; it's just that there was virtually no descending in those miles. If our GPS units kept a separate record of miles of climbing I could figure out what the steepest uphill days were, but they don't.  That's not to say there were not some long memorable climbs.

The first big climb, up to the Eastern Continental Divide on the GAP rail trail between Cumberland, Maryland and Confluence, Pennsylvania, was just a mild foretaste of what was coming in the Rocky Mountain West. The 2,100' climb was spread over about 23 miles, with an average grade of about 2%. After that, until we got to the Rockies, the climbs were relatively short but oftentimes had very steep sections, as we moaned and whined about frequently in the journal.

The climb from Fort Collins at about 5,000' to Cameron Pass at about 10,300' was spread over about 60 miles, but it did have a rousing climax in the 10 miles beyond Aspen Glen Campground, when we climbed the last  1,600' over that 10 miles. I had been saying that after the steep hills in the Appalachians and western Missouri I wasn't afraid of what the Rocky Mountains might throw our way, but it certainly got my attention, and itself was just a prelude.

Other climbs in the West that I remember so well include:

Togwatee Pass west of Dubois, Wyoming - 2,700'+ of climbing over 30 miles, but with 2,000' of that in the last 10 miles.

The hill between Ennis and Virginia City, Montana - 1900' of climbing over 8 miles.  One of the toughest climbs we encountered.

West of Dillon, Montana was a 1,600' climb over 13 miles, followed shortly thereafter by a 1,340' climb over 6 miles.  A two-fer that day.

The next day was an 825' climb over 5 miles, not one of the worst, but memorable nonetheless in that it was followed by a 2,500' drop over the next 10 miles.

From Lolo, Montana, we climbed over 2,000' to Lolo Pass and the Idaho border over 32 miles, but 900' of that was packed into the last 3.7 miles. We were rewarded with perhaps the most stunning views of the entire tour when we crested the pass, and a 1,500' screaming downhill leading toward the Powell Campground. We dropped almost to 1,000' elevation after Lolo Pass.  The climbs are over, right? Wrong!

Southwest of Kamiah, Idaho, we climbed 1,900'+ over about 9 miles up to a plateau that then tilted upward over the next 40 miles. The punchline was the ensuing 2,600' descent on the Winchester Grade over 15 miles, followed by a 750' climb over 5 miles, then another 1,150' drop toward Lewiston, Idaho. Now we were well below 1,000' elevation, and on a river that flows into the Columbia. Surely we can just follow the river to the ocean? Nope.

Less than 10 miles from Lewiston someone put a 2,000' climb over 12 miles in our path to get to the Alpowa Summit. Sure, it was followed by a great downhill ride to Pomeroy, Washington, but the next day there was an 1,150' climb back to back with a 630' climb before we got to Walla Walla.

After Walla Walla there were no more thousand-foot climbs, but plenty of steep ones in the 500'-800' range, a few of which had to be repeated in reverse when we backtracked from the coast to Portland.

A few more numbers before I close.

GPS units and mapping programs pretend they can calculate the calories burned while riding, but they can't (and certainly not Ride With GPS). They generally calculate calories based on the length of the ride and certain other parameters provided by the rider (like rider and bicycle weight and rider age). They do not or cannot incorporate wind speed and direction, air temperature, climbing and descending, and the like). The data from my log bears this out.

The longer the ride, the more calories burned. Was I going uphill, downhill, into the wind or with it? Was the road surface rough or smooth? Who knows? Certainly not the algorithm.
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Let's pretend for a moment that the calculation of calories burned is somewhat reliable. Ride With GPS tells me I burned an excess 154,000 calories on the tour. Assuming 3,500 calories in a pound of body fat, I could have burned off 44 pounds (if I had that much body fat to start with) while riding if I had stuck to my usual diet, but I didn't.  I ate like a pig almost every day. When it was available I had one or two beers each day (more a couple times).

Did I come back a shadow of my former self? No. I weigh about 3 pounds less than the week before I started the tour. I can tell in the mirror that I'm slimmer that when I started, and the cache of body fat around my midsection is thinner. I'm using holes in my belt that I haven't used before. So I conclude that I lost significant body fat while increasing my muscle mass.

Let's see how long I can maintain this new me.

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Comment on this entry Comment 8
George HallYou wrote; "If our GPS units kept a separate record of miles of climbing I could figure out what the steepest uphill days were, but they don't." You mentioned using RWGPS - the RWGPS map of each day's ride includes the steepest grade (the steepest grade it was able to calculate anyway). It's shown near the top left under the map name, and if you hover on it the map will show you where that grade is located. Also, if you scroll lower on the left below the cue sheet, you will see a listing of climbs that RWGPS calculated - and if you hover on any of these the map will light up their location. RWGPS maps are actually pretty awesome tools.
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11 months ago
John ChimahuskyI know I can identify the highest instantaneous grade on a particular climb, but I want to know the average grade of all the climbing on a particular day or over a particular distance, which is what I can’t do.
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11 months ago
Sarah GordonJune 28/29 is when you cut a day out of your itinerary. I remember because I sent you a package around that time and was worried it would miss you because you were going to arrive earlier than expected to where I sent it.
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11 months ago
Ed ChimahuskyWe made up a day between 6/17 and 6/19 when we skipped Hatchet Campground after Dubois and went to Colter Bay, and the next day went to Grant Village skipping Headwaters campground. Therefore we turned 2 camping nights into one.
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11 months ago
Ed ChimahuskyExcept for maybe speed averages I’ll stick with John’s miles and climbing numbers. There were times when my GPS, for whatever reason, did not save the ride.
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11 months ago
Ed ChimahuskyCorrection…I was looking at the itinerary w/o rest days…Sarah’s listed dates are correct for the reason I mentioned
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11 months ago
John ChimahuskyTo George HallAs an example of what I'm talking about, take our biggest climbing day ending in Atchison, Kansas. All that climbing, and we ended up within 10'-20' of the elevation where we started. The climbing consisted of many dozens of smaller hills from a few feet to over 200'. It's just not practical to break out all the hills to get a true look at the average grade of the ascents. They're lost in the sauce.
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11 months ago
George HallTo John ChimahuskyI understand. But RWGPS does calculate the separate climbs and keeps a list of them with their average grades - it doesn't do that for every little segment, but it does capture a lot of the climbing segments. That's probably as close as you can get to having an average grade for the day's climbing. I have the basic subscription - I don't know if the free version has that capability.
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11 months ago