Imagine this: you’ve traveled from Spokane to Bellingham and back at least twelve times in the last four years. You’ve flown, you’ve driven, maybe you’ve bussed, but you’ve probably never biked. Brian Nelson has.
The recent Western Washington University graduate and avid cyclist found himself earlier this summer with the opportunity for a new challenge: bike across the state. He did it in 21 hours of riding time, alone, in the record high temperatures of late May.
“Ever since I came to Bellingham for school I’ve always wanted to bike home, and now that I’m done with school and had some time off from work, I decided I should just do it,” Nelson says. Spurning his mother’s concerns (she offered to fly him home if he wouldn’t bike), Nelson scoped a route across Highway 20, borrowed some panniers (bike bags) from a friend, and set off.
“I went with Highway 20 because it has very cool scenery. Washington Pass was about a 40-mile climb, and it’s highway road so it’s not necessarily the safest, but on Highway 2 the cars are faster and there’s more traffic,” Nelson says.
What did he carry, and what carried him?
Bike: “I have five bikes,” Nelson says, “but my favorite bike and the one I used for the trip is my Surly Crosscheck. It’s a steel bike and it’s super smooth.” He especially likes that it’s made to accommodate all the extras that make it ideal for cruising around rainy Bellingham and for winter training. It’s made with eyelets on the frame for attaching fenders and racks.
“Race bikes aren’t always made for touring. The Surly is slower and heavier but it just makes you feel faster when you get back on your racing bike.”
For his journey across the state, Nelson stuffed an extra pair of his favorite Hincapie bike shorts, some water bottles and food in his borrowed bike bags, which he clipped to the rack he usually has attached to the bike frame.
Wheels: Ksyrium. “They’re bomb-proof.”
Tires: “I like to go with more of a cyclocross tire so I have less chance of getting a flat,” Nelson says.
Pedals: Shimano clip-ins.
Shoes: Northwave brand’s Aerator Race model.
Seat: Fizik’s Aliante. “I don’t think it matters much what seat you use. There’s no way around it, you’re gonna get sore.”
Sustenance: “I’d never been on a bike for longer than seven hours, so my biggest concern was not my equipment, but my nutrition.” He packed bananas and Baker’s Breakfast Cookies to keep his energy level up, and stopped in almost every town along the way to refill his water bottles. “I took more food than I needed because I didn’t want to get stuck out there in those wheat fields that go on forever, and once your energy drops, you’re done for.”
Sunglasses: A pair of Smiths that he got from his cycling team in Bellingham, the First Rate Mortgage team.
Accessories: That ubiquitous training tool, the iPod. “My iPod ran out of batteries,” Nelson says, leaving him alone on the road for two ten-hour days of riding with just his thoughts and his cell phone. “It was a great way to get away and kind of meditate. I spent two whole days without really talking to anyone, except I had to call my Mom a few times.”
What would he not have survived the trip without? “A good chamois cloth and chamois cream,” says Nelson, who prefers the Assos brand to stay chafe-free.
If you’re thinking that bananas, chamois cream, and a gander at Google maps is your new solution to cutting travel costs, think again. Nelson trains hard and races competitively, so unless you, too, have legs that might win a Washington State Biking Association BARR award, good luck with that climb over the Cascades.