I often think of training as being a process that shifts my idea of what's normal. At the moment, going out and doing 70-100 mile rides every weekend seems normal. "Normally", that's not normal.
The new normal I'm going for now is doing the same rides, but on a loaded bike. I'm working towards getting my Tour Divide setup ready and it's now close enough to be riding with the full weight every time. My plan this time is to use a big drybag under the handlebars and an Epic Designs saddlebag out back. And that's it - no hefty pannier racks, no frame bag.
It's been worrying me a lot that I won't have the legs to singlespeed a loaded bike with a reasonable gear ratio. For the Alaska Ultrasport, I had a 22t ring up front. That's OK for snow, but it's not going to get you anywhere on the Tour Divide. And I might be able to do 100 miles without being too trashed on my 32:18 XC bike, but what if it weighs twice as much?
Today (swapping work days around since I have to work Saturday... boo!), I found out. With 12 kg of extra stuff on my bike, I set off into the Chilterns again. I tried not to put any pressure on myself - I expected it to be slow and difficult. I expected descending to be sketchy. So I thought I'd have a go at 6 hours, maybe 8 tops.
Throughout the whole ride, though, I felt that burden. If I couldn't do this, the Tour Divide was a pipedream. I had to keep deliberately relaxing my upper body - not letting tension sap my energy or cause injury. The sun shone and the first hour and a half passed incredibly quickly. I was eating up the miles way faster than expected, averaging over 11 mph in hilly terrain. I was winching up climbs when I would usually try to dash up them, but that wasn't a problem. The top is the top, and the GPS wasn't lying about my speed.
It's a funny thing riding with a big saddlebag. It feels like being a dog with a massive wagging tail. Occasionally, it can get too excited and the tail starts to wag you. Then you're in trouble. But part of the point was to learn these things. Climbs were steady, keeping any side-to-side movement out of the equation. Descents were interesting until I learned to keep the saddle pressing gently on my thigh. This seemed to dampen the wagging and keep me where I wanted to go.
By the end of the ride, I'd reached 30 mph on a descent and felt comfortable with the handling. I'd carried all the food and water I'd needed for the day. And most importantly, I wasn't broken. Maybe this Tour Divide thing will work out...