My wife recently bought me a heart-rate monitor, the Suunto Ambit, with GPS and all kinds of sensors. I had done a few rides with this instrument and started tracking my calorie consumption during those rides. So naturally, I wondered just how many calories one would burn on a really long day-ride. In addition, next week I would start a new position at Internet marketing firm Acquinity in Deerfield Beach, so I thought it a good time to do such a long ride before I would be restricted to the weekends only.
Thursday, 21-Feb-2013. I get up early. This time of the year we don’t even have 12 hours of daylight yet, and the sun won’t rise until after 7am. But at 5:30am I get ready to leave from our garage.
Rule number one: “If you want to go far, you have to leave early.” Especially if the days are short on daylight. Hence I ride in the dark for a while. I can’t read any of my instruments yet, just go on feeling, only with headlight and two red blinkers at the back, riding along mostly empty roads. The bridge across the Indian River at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse is crossed before dawn.
Only the first hues of early morning light appear on the Eastern horizon. The next half hour or so I ride up on Jupiter island, one of my favorite stretches and our default destination when doing tandem rides on the weekend. One pays more attention to the sounds and smells if one can’t see much in the dark. The temperature is very comfortable, the air dry and little wind. A typical day in the Florida winter, plenty of sunshine will follow, ideal riding conditions, very different from the humid and hot summer months. The sun is about to come up when I reach Bridge Road in Hobe Sound and stop for a short break after the first hour of riding.
I continue North along the Old Dixie Highway next to the railroad line. Just before I get to Stuart the sun rises and I see my own 30m long shadow riding in front of me. It’s always great to be out and about early on a bicycle, before the roads are getting busy and the sun gets hot. At around 7:40am I cross the big bridge East of Stuart out to the Intracoastal on the Southern tip of Hutchinson Island. There is a sailboat passing underneath – someone getting ready for a nice day out on the Atlantic perhaps?
The following stretch along the Intracoastal to Jensen Beach and then on to Ft. Pierce I consider the single-best road for cycling here in South Florida: Little traffic, beautiful scenery, hardly any traffic lights, some rolling hills and sweeping views across the Intracoastal Waterway to Hutchinson Island. Check for yourself in these photos.
After another 45 mins or so of riding along this beautiful stretch I reach Ft. Pierce, at 80+ km and a bit more than 3 hrs of riding my first goal and significant rest for the day. I stop at a local bakery and have a great breakfast.
It’s interesting, your experience during long rides is primarily controlled by your own mental approach. On most rides, having gone this far would be considered a long way, and a round-trip of some 165km (a 100-miler) would be considered a great ride. But today I have my eyes set on a bigger ride. After about 45min I get ready to continue North again. But not without applying some generous sunscreen.
Soon the 100km mark rolls around. It’s been 4.5 hrs since I started in Palm Beach Gardens, a somewhat slower pace than the 4 hrs elapsed time per 100km I used to calculate with during my long rides in the Upper Midwest (Minnesota and the Dakotas) some 9-10 years ago. But then I am not in a rush and today there is very little wind. Of course, on a long round-trip course you don’t want much wind anyway.
I see a tandem riding up ahead and somehow put it in my head that I want to catch up to them. This turns out to be quite some work, as I can hardly ride much faster than they do without getting too tired. At long last, I just about pull up to them, when they turn left into a community, so no drafting for me.
Not much to break the monotony of the ride up ahead. At least the road here is quite smooth and there is a nice bike lane, so I’m not worried about the slight increase in traffic around Vero Beach. It’s getting quite warm now and I’m glad I did apply plentiful sunscreen. Not long after Vero Beach I see the sign indicating the Sebastian Inlet State Park, my designated turn-around point. I ride up to the bridge over the Sebastian Inlet and stop for some photos.
An osprey is sitting on a pole on top of the bridge, perhaps waiting for some road-kill or to see an easy fish to catch. Plenty of folks are out on the water, in kayaks or on jet-skis enjoying the beautiful day. This is the boundary between Indian River and Brevard county. Jill’s mother lives in Melbourne, some 45 km up ahead from here. We have done this ride one-way once on our tandem, and with some tailwind assisting. Maybe I can’t do the Melbourne round-trip in one day, but riding North from Palm Beach Gardens to Brevard county is the furthest North I have gone out and back in one day.
For now I feel great. My heart rate monitor shows exactly 3000 calories, which gives me the idea for the title of this post. I start riding South again after only 15 mins. I refuel at a 7-11 store with some gatorade, after 5.5 hrs of riding I need to drink enough to avoid cramps later on. I want to get back to Ft. Pierce, where I will have another long rest stop. It’s a bit more than 100km round-trip from Ft. Pierce, so it takes time and sweat. Only the occasional beach mansion makes me look up and think of what it must be like to live here. Unfortunately one can’t see the Ocean or beach from the road, so this stretch is not all that scenic. Eventually I get back to the bridge over the Intracoastal and into Ft. Pierce.
It’s been 8 hrs elapsed time and 6.5 hrs of ridetime, about 185km so far. I take off my shoes, lay down in the grass and allow myself 30 mins of rest. As experienced so often on previous long rides, it requires discipline to get back up and continue riding. In moments like these it is definitely tempting to just lay there and fall asleep. But daylight is limited today, so I need to get going again.
There is one more thing I need to take care of: I am on the last half bottle of fluids. Since I decided to ride without backpack I only have two bottle cages on the bike. And I don’t want to get caught out on the road without anything to drink. So I need to buy something. Unfortunately there are no stores right around this park. The next convenience store is on the other side of the railway line, and there is a steep bridge over it. I’d rather avoid crossing this bridge twice, but I don’t see another way.
On the other side I pass a gas-station currently closed for construction. A bit further I see a supermarket. As I enter I try to put my bike somewhere inside since I didn’t bring a lock to secure the unattended bike. A store manager waves at me that I can’t bring the bike inside. I explain to him that I am very thirsty and ask him whether he can get some gatorade bottles for me to pay at the entrance. Surprisingly he not only goes and gets two bottles, but he also insists on giving those to me for free. Very nice treat!
Rolling back over the bridge I turn South and get into a good rhythm again. The 200km mark rolls around and I often ride in the cooling shade of the trees. Slowly I begin to allow myself to think about the finish and in my mind I start counting down the km of this long day.
Having broken the long ride up into roughly four pieces with Ft. Pierce near the mid-point of both legs, I still have a solid 55km from Jensen Beach. I decide to continue back over the bridge and to another nice place, the Sandsprit Park.
Jill and I occasionally come up here by car to this Park to start a loop around Hutchinson Island on the tandem. I allow myself about a 20 min rest. It feels good again to sit in the sun, now at a mild temperature. After 10 hours elapsed and 225 km I am really tired now. These are the moments where I ask myself quietly: What was I thinking trying to ride that far?
I get back in the saddle and continue the ride. Not much power left, just turning the pedals and heading South. At least the scenery is now very familiar and very scenic again, down to Hobe Sound and then along Jupiter Island. Near the South end of Jupiter Island I look to the West and marvel at the beautiful day.
The sun is getting low, but it should not be more than 1/2 hour from here. The light is very mellow and everything looks nice in the evening light. Of course, by now I’m so tired that I don’t have much appreciation of all this, mostly focused on when the long ride will end. Then finally I get back to our community, and feel compelled to take a self-timed photo in the beautiful light.
After 260km, 10:45 ride time and almost 12.5 hrs elapsed time the day is finally over. I am very happy to have made it back and very hungry. It is amazing how much one can see in a single day of long-distance cycling, even without tailwind assist. This was the second-longest ride I have done in Florida. The GPS shows a bit more (272km) than the odometer, so it may not be all that precise. But looking at all the data the Suunto collected during the day on the website Movescount.com is quite fascinating. Here is the heart rate over the day, with the three major rest stops along the way clearly visible.
A more detailed post of the Suunto Ambit analytics can be found here. I have always felt that long-distance riding is a great way to stay in shape. Now that I can measure the amount of calories I’m consuming, it gives me an even greater incentive to go out and ride. Where else can you burn 6000 calories in a single day?