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Work has been busy, to put it mildly, which means I've had a serious backlog of subjects I've wanted to cover. Here's a review of some of the logistics involved in traveling to another continent to embark on a bike ride.

The travel: Lincoln only has a small municipal airport with two American carriers. Most airlines charge a hefty fee for bicycles, plus there's the added expense of limited airline options and I generally don't care for American carriers for overseas flights. So instead I decided to take the train up to Chicago, where I would have many more options. I think the train ticket cost a total of around $120, plus another $10 to check my bicycle on the return trip (on the trip there, the station manager didn't quite know how to handle the situation so he didn't charge me). I could afford the time.

I had thought that the 5-hour gap between the train's scheduled arrival in downtown Chicago and the plane's departure would be adequate, even taking into account the inevitable Amtrak delay. I was wrong. The train encountered a downed tree across the track and wound up arriving in Chicago a few minutes after the flight had been scheduled to leave. However, for reasons I'll never quite know, the flight also got canceled, so Aer Lingus re-booked me for the following day for free. Phew. I was able to get a room at the Chicago youth hostel downtown and did some sightseeing. Not a huge deal, but if I were to do this again I would go for the 29-hour layover just to be on the safe side. The 25-hour layover on the return was very pleasant. But maybe I should plan on visiting fewer destinations in Europe, although overall I'm happy to have visited so many places. I am likely to forget this last point, but altogether I am thinking: head straight to Paris on the way out, then do some leisurely sightseeing after the ride is over. Better for resting up the legs and ensuring that the bike arrives.

By the way, neither Aer Lingus nor Virgin charges a bike fee for trans-Atlantic flights as of this posting. When you consider that most bike fees run around $125, that's around $250 in savings.

In 2011, I transported my aluminum/carbon fiber bike in a big, plastic, hard-sided case. It protected the bike all right, but was a huge pain in the ass to cart around because it had one small strap and tiny wheels. Ugh. So heavy. This time, I used the soft-sided bag that scrottie bought in Amsterdam in 2011 when his cardboard box failed, and carted it around with a folding luggage cart. The bag has a shoulder strap, which let me shoulder and carry the bike up stairs and escalators, and the hand cart was rugged but comfortable enough that I walked with the bike for distances of up to 2 miles while traveling around (Brussels, in particular). My only complaint was that the whole thing was a bit too floppy. If I were to do this again I would try to figure out how to snug everything together better. It was floppy to the point where at one point it pressed one of the wheel guards onto the wheel, wearing a groove in it.

I saw some riders in Versailles who had packaged their bicycles up in coroplast boxes, which looked pretty good. I'd still say that some sort of rugged shoulder strap is indispensable. I got some raised eyebrows when I tried to carry on the bike on the return train trip from Paris to London, but eventually the officials just waved me through. Otherwise it would have cost me another 30 Euros to check the bike for that train leg.

When the ticket agent in the Chicago airport said my bike was "checked through," I got lulled into complacency, thinking that the outbound trip would be like our travels through Iceland, where I didn't see the checked luggage until we arrived in Amsterdam. That could have been why my bike took 2 extra days to show up in London, which cost me all the time I'd planned on spending in Brussels and the $250 I'd saved by taking an air carrier without bike fees (rebooking my train ticket). So, reconfirm this aspect of things when you check your bike. Those days in London were stressful.

In general it's helpful to remember that Europeans are better about providing good "left luggage" services than Americans. I was able to store the packed bike at the youth hostel in London when I went out to the countryside for a few days, and stored it overnight at the Dublin airport on the return trip (~12 Euros) because I really didn't want to drag it in to town and back again. Youth hostels are generally accommodating on this front.

One other note on the Dublin airport, though. It took a LONG time to get through lines and all the way to the gate. Budget extra time for that airport.

Local navigation in France: Right before I left, I paid to upgrade to the full version of OpenStreetMaps. Worth every penny. I also wrote down the latitudes and longitudes for a whole bunch of miscellaneous important places. This system worked fantastically well for getting around town, as long as I remembered to use the appropriate navigation settings. I took some scary roads when I accidentally used motor vehicle settings instead of bicycle settings. Whoops.

I also downloaded a gpx route someone had shared for getting from Paris proper out to SQY, starting from the Arc de Triomphe. The route was excellent and scenic, with very few navigation points. The only hitch was that it led me to the 2011 gymnasium start instead of the Velodrome. I also wish I'd felt good enough to have just ridden back into Paris after PBP, especially after the experiences on the Metro. I wasn't able to extend my stay at the Versailles hotel for any more days because I hadn't booked the room early enough, but in the future I think it would be good to budget two full nights of sleep and recovery there before trying to travel anywhere else.

I also downloaded gpx files for the PBP route, but I never used my phone for this at all. The signs were adequate as long as I was attentive at certain key points. Instead I only used my phone for pictures and the nap timer (left the GPS off and left it in energy saver + airplane mode). Its battery held up fine for the entire ride, although I'd packed along a backup battery just in case.

One thing I did that was tremendously helpful: I wrote out information about all of the controls and service stops on a set of index cards, including my calculated closing times, the distances between controls, and the total distance I'd gone so far. I should note that the brevet card only lists control openings and closings for the 5:15 pm start, so if I hadn't done my own calculations in advance I would have had to do the math on the fly while sleep-deprived. Not so bad when there's just an hour difference, but it was better to have everything laid out clearly. Plus I wasn't riding with my brevet card face-open, whereas I had the index cards out in my map case instead of a cue sheet (tucked behind and not really used at all). Maybe I should have translated those to miles from kilometers. But hey, this was in France. I probably should have switched over my odometer to kms, too, but at the same time the conversions gave me something to try and think about when sleep-deprived and sometimes it's better if you can't quite do the math on how far you've gone and how far you have yet to go. If I were to do this again I would try to scope out more of the non-control towns where it is possible to get services much faster than at the controls. Knowing more locations of bars, tabac shops, and pharmacists could be useful.

Ride food. I'm generally reluctant to pack bunches of energy bars and electrolytes and the like. However, I was very glad that I had a packet of Nuun tabs along with me because there weren't enough other electrolyte sources along the ride. I also wish I'd packed at least a couple of energy bars, because they would have saved my butt on more than one occasion, like when I couldn't buy baguette sandwiches in SQY immediately prior to the ride because it was a Sunday and the mall was closed.

I won't waste my money again on the "pre-ride dinner" ticket. I kind of want to send it back to the organizers because I am still annoyed that they ran out of food.

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( 2 remarks — Remark )
Sep. 12th, 2015 10:42 pm (UTC)
When the ticket agent in the Chicago airport said my bike was "checked through," ... So, reconfirm this aspect of things when you check your bike.

FWIW, I tend to ask any time a gate agent says my luggage is "checked through". Usually, they mean what I expect, but I've been surprised a couple of times, so I've gotten into the habit of checking.
Sep. 12th, 2015 11:33 pm (UTC)
Yeah, well, NOW I know. ;-)
( 2 remarks — Remark )

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