Bikepacking As Base Training

As many of you know, Charles Valade and I have done a number of bikepacking trips (Excellent Adventure 2081, 2019, 2019 encore, 2021, 2022) over the last few years. They are typically zone one/two endurance efforts and are a great way to get in slower base miles while doing something much more interesting than sitting on a trainer watching old Tour de France videos or slogging around our usual south county routes at a boring slow speed.

My cycling plan this year was, well, no plan, just riding however I felt and enjoying it until the end of the summer where I’d focus on some intensity for CX season. I didn’t want to put too much effort into any specific training during the spring and summer knowing I’d be traveling and gorging on my other time consuming passion, sailing. But I did want to get in some significant base miles. Towards the end of the summer, I was itching to do some longer distance before hitting the intensity and really wanted to do a bikepacking trip. Since Charles was embarking on his own MTB adventure in Colorado, I set out solo for a 6 day 400+ mile trip from Annapolis to Waterbury CT. The route was not the “usual way” (The East Coast Greenway that parallels I-95 more or less), rather something way more interesting: Eastern Shore to Lewes DE, a ferry ride to Cape May NJ, up the NJ coast, a ferry ride to lower Manhattan, a ride up the Hudson River and a right turn into hilly CT. I camped 4 of 5 nights and one of the consequences of that is my fully loaded rig with all the gear – my Raleigh Roker Gravel bike which I also use as a CX bike – weighs about 50 lbs so it ends up being a workout, even at a non-race pace.

All the camping gear, water, supplies, food, clothes and bike come in at 50 lbs.

As a training block, this was basically six 70 mile days, mostly about 4-6 hours of pedaling time. Unfortunately, those are the only “numbers” I have since I forwent using a heart rate monitor. But based on perceived exertion, I was mostly zone two in the mornings and zone three/four in the afternoons. Typically as the day wore on, I’d start to get a little antsy to get to my destination coupled with often riding on less than nice roads, so I’d work a bit harder.

An unpleasant NJ STROAD where you just want to git ‘er done.

But this had the effect of being “Sweet Spot” kind of efforts. Not enough to feel “blown” at the end of the day like you might after a hard group ride, but not like you’ve been just riding around the neighborhood. These efforts day after day were hard but sustainable the next day. I even started to feel a bit stronger towards the end of the trip. Ultimately after a week of recovery rides, my first group ride showed the result: when I called down to the engine room for more steam, it was actually delivered. I noticed this same effect both times I did the training camps in Spain in 2008 and 2009. The training block was not only successful but I had a hell of an interesting time.

Since ABRT is ostensibly a racing team, I won’t bore everyone with all the nitty gritty details of the bikepacking experience (if you are interested you can read them all here, with tons of pictures). That said, one highlight of the trip was the most amazing find, the “Pinelands” or more accurately, the New Jersey Pine Barrens. This area was the real gem of the entire trip. I’ve been many places in New Jersey but they always are clustered on either side of the state, the shore beaches or stuff along the I-95 corridor. But the section between the NJ Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway is amazing. It looks and smells very much like Cape Cod, with sandy soil, pine trees, little lakes and river deltas but is significantly flatter. The roads were quiet and scenic and mostly the pine smell reminds me of New England, something near and dear.

So think about this kind of thing not only as adventure but also as a productive training exercise, it will keep you from getting bored and burned out with the same old, same old rides.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s