From Zero to 629.4: Tackling the North Star Bicycle Race — Part 2

Eli Radtke is training for his first North Star Bicycle Race // Photo by Ryan Radtke

Eli Radtke is training for his first North Star Bicycle Race // Photo by Ryan Radtke

When we last checked in, I was still training in the storage room staring at drywall, and we still had snow on the ground. Our weather has come a long way, and with the first days of summer under our belts, it’s time for another check up on training for the North Star Bicycle Race, the 629.4-mile unsupported endurance race I will be riding in September.

As the snow melted and April crept along, I found myself still in that drywall cave, bikeless. Finally, after three months of pounding my head on the virtual wall of the internet, I found my savior on the 27th page of Craigslist.

I met the seller in a police parking lot, and the second my butt touched the seat, I knew I had found my chariot. After a short negotiation and a friendly wave to the boys in blue, I handed a scruffy-looking college kid a wad of 20-dollar bills.

It’s a Felt Z9, a triathlon bike made for pounding the pavement, and not pounding your butt. While I had thoroughly researched bicycles brands—I can now whistle and call out model names as men in tight shorts fly by—I quickly realized I knew very little about care and maintenance.

It’s like that friend of yours who has known the exact breed of cat they want since they were 5 years old but doesn’t know how to change the litter.

Being naïve and excited that the roads were finally clear to ride, I ignored my better judgment and strapped in—I could learn about brakes and all that later, I needed to let the dogs bark! Let the horses run! As I jumped onto my steed, and as my foot slammed down to push forward, I realized there was no pedal and promptly fell over sideways in my garage.

To be clear, there was a pedal, it was just a weird half-pedal that my Vans were not exactly equipped to handle. On top of that, after riding my old bike for a 25-mile ride the week before, I was doing my best cowboy-walking-down-main-street impression, and my thighs couldn’t touch without screaming.

It was time for a little retail therapy.

Now, if I haven’t stressed this enough yet, cycling as a hobby is a lot like golfing, photography, fishing or any other hobby worth its salt: there is always something else to buy.

With my wallet losing weight much faster than my stomach, I was shopping the sales racks. I get that fancy, designer clothes have big dollar signs attached to them, but my eyes nearly fell out of my head when I started looking at bicycle “fashion.”

I was essentially buying a pair of yoga-shorts with a foam diaper in them, plus shoes that locked me into my pedals like ski bindings, which could make crashes problematic. At least my feet wouldn’t slip off during the race.

Eli Radtke geared up and putting some miles on his new bike // Photo by Ryan Radtke

Eli Radtke geared up and putting some miles on his new bike // Photo by Ryan Radtke

I stumbled out of the store, finally ready to ride. I put on my pedals, laced up my shoes, and squeezed into my shorts. Looking like a mid-life crisis come to life, I proudly cinched my fanny pack, threw my leg over the bike, and got to riding.

Lesson number one: getting ‘miles’ on a training bike in my basement and riding in the real world are two very different things. With my chubby frame hunched over the handlebars, I could only hear the roar of the wind and the thud of my heart against my chest.

I had chosen one of the windier days of the year to go out cycling. Once I was on the open road, I could have sworn I was moving backward. I kept forgetting to unclip my feet and would slowly tip sideways at every dead stop, crashing to the ground while cars at the stoplights next to me stifled giggles.

I almost gave up that first ride. Ten road miles felt like 20 basement miles. My eyes were watering, my back hurt, and I was exhausted.

The next day, I forced myself to go farther, that little masochist on my shoulder pushing me not to give up. Soon I was doing 20–30 mile rides regularly. Longer rides came with larger complications, though.

Remember when I said I wasn’t good at maintenance? Well, learning how to change and patch a tire had been on my “to-do” list for a while, but I just never seemed to get around to it.

I had a very thin tire installed on my back wheel. Great for racing, not so great for my kind of training. It was the wheel the bike came with, so I figured it must be fine. I found out the hard way that the best time to learn how to change an inner tube on a bike is not on the side of the road, with cars zooming by and only 5 percent of my phone battery left.

I was lucky enough to be riding with a friend who went ahead and came back with a car. But, on the very next ride, I got another flat. While waiting for a ride, I tried to convince myself that I was gaining valuable experience. After my third flat in a matter of two weeks, though, I stormed into my local bike shop, slammed my wallet on the counter, and asked for the closest thing to bulletproof tires they had.

Many things have gone wrong over my training, but I can see things that are finally going right. I am really good at changing tires now. I have much better stamina, and although I only managed to increase the size of my butt and thighs, I’m in much better shape.

Eli Radtke changing his tire // Photo by Ryan Radtke

Eli Radtke changing his tire // Photo by Ryan Radtke

Will I be ready for the race tomorrow? Hell no.

But, I am getting there. I have logged nearly 300 miles of training on real roads now, and I have big overnight trips planned. I am enjoying being able to see my city in a new way.

I know I’m going to hate my life for the next couple months as my mileage goes up in tandem with the temperature, but I’m starting to enjoy the rides more. I’m still scared out of my mind, but if I stay on schedule (and maybe start a diet) I should be able to complete—and survive—the race.

This is part 2 of a 3-part story about the NSBR. Next check-in will be after the summer training period before the race begins in September. To follow Eli through the doldrums of training and get a play-by-play of the complaints, follow @Eli_ektdaR on twitter or @eradtke57 on Instagram.