Exploring the Grit and Determination of Bikepacking with Chris Case

We venture into the exciting realm of bikepacking with Chris Case, former Fast Talk host and owner of Alter Explorations. He takes us on an exhilarating journey through his first bikepacking race—the TransAtlantic Way.

Chris Case FT EP 275
Photo: Fergus Coyle/TransAtlanticWay

The term bike racing has expanded over the last 10 years. Nowadays it may be easier to find a nearby gravel race than a traditional road race or crit. On the fringe of this more adventurous side, there’s bikepacking.  

In these events, racers are given a route that can take over a week, and that’s all the assistance they are given. They then have to travel with their own gear, figure out how long to ride every day, and decide whether to sleep in a bed or the side of the road. Similarly, back in the original days of the Tour de France, it was up the racers to figure out how to complete the route as quickly as possible.  

Joining us today to talk about his first bikepacking race is former Fast Talk host Chris Case. In 2021, he took on the TransAtlantic Way in what we called an N1 Challenge. This is a bikepacking race around Ireland, and a challenge that Chris wasn’t able to complete back then because of COVID. Chris talked with us about his preparation, the mental struggles of an “open-ended” race with no daily start or end points, handling sleep deprivation, the lack of recovery, dealing with discomfort, and the importance of having grit for events like this. 

As Chris sums up the episode, bikepack racing is not for everyone, but for those of us who enjoy this sort of challenge, it can be life changing.  

So, grab your gear—all of it—and let’s make you fast! 

Episode summary

  • Intro to this episode.
  • What is a bikepacking race? What is it like?
  • Training for a bikepacking race.
  • How did the race play out?
  • Riding through the night.
  • Staying present in the race.
  • Lessons learned from the race.
  • How does experience prepare you for the next race?
  • The danger of ignoring pain.
  • The beauty of the landscape.
  • Will you ever do a bikepacking race again?

Episode quotes

  • Chris Case: “The clock is always ticking, tick, tick, tick, tick. And every time you stop, in the back of your head, somewhere, there’s this little voice that says, ooh, I should keep going, got to be efficient, got to get that food in my body, or gotta buy it and get on the bike and keep pedaling, every second counts, right? And it nagged at me. And it was mentally really challenging to cope with that. It was mentally challenging to pass up some opportunities.”
  • Chris Case: “If you stop once and you take a little extra time, then the next time you stop again, and you take a little extra time—and you might have a goal for the day, might be 150 miles, it might be 200 miles—if you keep stopping, and then you’re like, I gotta pee, I’ll go, I need a snack, I can’t get out of my pocket, maybe I’ll pull up, just like your momentum is just destroyed. You take 100 stops, and you’re totally out of rhythm. And it’s really hard to come back from that, and seven days becomes 10 days, and really seven days becomes 10 days really fast.”
  • Chris Case: “You have to tap into something that allows you to say, “Just one more hour,” or “Just to that next town,” or “Just to the next, whatever it is, top of that hill, and then I get to coast for a little bit,” and chunking was and is your best friend out there. I can’t say it enough. You do it so much.”
  • Chris Case: “Some people are extremely organized, and took copious notes and had them on their phones, in terms of distance to this town distance to this ferry, the times of when ferry runs—which was actually pretty important. And I think everybody had a sense for that, because he didn’t want to miss the last video of the day or whatever. But just copious notes on what was available out there where they wanted to get to all of that. And others like myself had a much looser understanding, and they didn’t plan too far ahead. And both of those work. I just think that if you plan with copious notes, expect that at some point, that plan is not going to play out the way you expected it to. And therefore your notes might not jibe with reality anymore. So my lesson is don’t plan too far ahead. If you have a plan, make it for the first few days perhaps. But after that, who knows what will shift you off of that original schedule.”
  • Trevor Connor: “There’s obviously been a lot of research in this, particularly on grit. And what you see is your grit is based more on what your body thinks you can handle than necessarily what your body is actually capable of handling. So if you have never experienced something before, when you start to put your body through it, your body is going to say, “I can’t handle this, I’ve never seen this before.” So it’s going to be tougher. When you go through an experience like this, when you do these things that are quite grueling your body goes, “I’ve seen this before, I know I can handle this.” And it becomes easier.”

Episode Transcript

Rob Pickels  00:04

Hello, and welcome to fast talk your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host Rob pickles here with Coach Conner. bike racing has diversified in the last 10 years and gravel races are more frequent on the calendar than traditional crits and road races. on the fringe of this more adventurous side of racing, there is bike pack races. In these events, races are given a route that can take over a week and then simply wished all the best. They have to be self sufficient carrying their food, tent sleeping bags and everything they need to survive. On top of that they need to navigate to stores to resupply and look for comfy spots on the side of the road for a few fleeting moments of sleep. hearkening back to the original days of the Tour de France, it’s up to them to figure out how to complete the course as quickly as possible. Joining us today to talk about his first bikepacking races former fast talk host and now owner of Alter explorations, Chris case. Today he’s talking about the transatlantic way, a 1500 mile tour around Ireland. Chris talks with us about how he prepared the mental struggles of an event that was a race but had no daily start or end points handling sleep deprivation and the lack of recovery dealing with discomfort and the importance of having grit and determination. As Chris sums up in this episode, bike pack racing is not for everyone. But for those of us who enjoy this sort of challenge. It can be life changing.


Rob Pickels  01:32

So get ready for a new adventure. And let’s make you fast. A fast talk listeners. This is Rob Hybels, wouldn’t it be cool to decide what Trevor and I are going to talk about on an upcoming show? Or how about we answer a question on polarized training you’ve been dying to know what about a 30 minute zoom call with me or Trevor on your favorite sports endurance topic. This is all possible when you become a fast talk Patreon member. We have four monthly memberships to fit your level of support. If you enjoy fast talk, help us stay independent and dishing out your favorite sports science topics by becoming a fast talk Patreon member today at patreon.com/fast Talk podcast.


Trevor Connor  02:15

Well welcome everybody. This is another episode of fast talk. I feel like I should actually not be doing the intro here because we have a special guest with us who use always be in charge to do in the intro. So Chris, yes, sir. Would you like to start us up here? Would you like to take this?


Chris Case  02:32

I can try to remember I didn’t practice beforehand. That’s all right. We don’t remember even we read it. I used to say I used to say, Hey, everyone. Welcome to another episode of fast talk your source for the science of endurance performance. Is that it I


Rob Pickels  02:46

got about him? Trevor still can’t get that. He didn’t.


Trevor Connor  02:52

You’re in charge of the intro.


Rob Pickels  02:57

I do the intro intro. You do the show kickoff.


Chris Case  03:00

Oh, that’s fair difference.


Chris Case  03:02

There is a difference. Let’s


Chris Case  03:03

good to be back. It’s good to be back. This is one of those episodes that I guess you could say should have happened a long time ago. It’s a flashback all the way two years ago when we did this thing called the N one challenge. Where each of us on staff at the time picked an event. And we documented our training, we documented the race itself. We talked about the lessons we learned and it was called an one because it was meant to be an experiment of one subject with lessons for everyone to learn from. So back then I had selected the bikepacking race had never done a bikepacking race. But COVID I didn’t get to do it back then. But I did it just a couple weeks ago. And so I’m back to discuss that with everyone.


Rob Pickels  03:49

I will say though, even though you didn’t do this event, you did do something equally big, maybe not something spectacular in its own right.


Chris Case  03:58

Yeah, I can compare the two that I did. circumnavigation of Iceland back then wasn’t a race. It was actually a very similar distance. And I took 13 days to do the trip around Iceland. It was mostly on dirt roads, some chunky gravel roads. So the surface was considerably different. Ireland however, as a bikepacking race, it’s called the transatlantic way. That was, again, a similar distance. And we’ll get into that because there’s a long course and short course and I had some issues and I jumped off one onto the other ended up being about 12 150 miles for me, and I did it in seven days. So considerably faster. But there was a ton of climbing in Ireland, arguably more than an Iceland. Hopefully I don’t mix up these two names because they’re very similar. Iceland two years ago, Ireland last week.


Rob Pickels  04:57

Yeah. And for anyone who hasn’t seen And one challenge video, they should definitely check out fast talk labs.com and watch that. Because it was brutal, right? I mean, you got to the between the surface between the wind, and it was really incredible to watch you come along with that journey. And you know you you sell filmed throughout it. I’m really interested to hear how these two compare, but we’ll get into that data on the show.


Trevor Connor  05:23

Yeah. So I mean, that was actually the big question I was gonna ask. So now that you’ve done the original challenge that you had planned to do, how would you compare him which was tougher, which was the bigger challenge,


Chris Case  05:34

Ireland was significantly harder, from a mental point of view. And I say that for several reasons. And I say that even though I had the previous experience of Iceland to know what I was getting into, but you add that word race, and it changes things dramatically. For instance, I’m laughing because I don’t want to sound like an idiot in a way, the right word races in there, but you don’t have to treat it so much as a race, you could do your own thing, right. However, a lot of us that listen to this show, and and myself included, were competitive people. While I wanted sometimes to stop, take a picture, hang out in a pub to meet local people have a little bit more food. There was always this that my.if, you’re familiar with bikepacking races, we all carry tracking devices. And there are websites where you can go and you can watch people’s dots, and it’s called dot watching your.is. The clock is always ticking, tick, tick, tick, tick. And every time you stop, in the back of your head, somewhere, there’s this little voice that says, ooh, I should keep going, got to be efficient, that to get that food in my body, or gotta buy it and get on the bike and keep pedaling, every second calves, every second counts, right. And it it nagged at me. And it was mentally really challenging to cope with that it was mentally challenging to, to pass up some opportunities. And this is where I don’t want to sound like an idiot people would, could be like, Well, dude, it’s a seven day race, how could you not stop and take that extra photo or have that extra curry or whatever? Well, it’s just about momentum in these races. And if you stop once, and you take a little extra time, then the next time you stop again, and you take a little extra time, and you might have a goal for the day might be 150 miles, it might be 200 miles, if you keep stopping, and then you’re like, I gotta pee, I’ll go, I need a snack, I can’t get out of my pocket, maybe I’ll pull up, just like your momentum is just destroyed, you take 100 stops, and you’re totally out of rhythm. And it’s really hard to come back from that, and seven days becomes 10 days, and really seven days becomes 10 days really fast. Exactly. So to my original point, you have to really squash some of those urges down or you have to do it often. And fairly frequently, throughout the day, you have to go in knowing that sleep is going to be less satisfying and shorter than you want it to be. And that only comes becomes more true once once you’re out there, trying to look for a place to sleep, whether it’s whether you’re camping in a bivy, or whether some people took the took the route of I’m going to sleep in a bed and breakfast or a hotel or something. But finding that in a rural area can be challenging, and that can dictate how far you go one day or another. So incredibly, mentally challenging for all of those reasons navigation dealing with demons dealing with where my next food source is going to be. Where am I going to sleep? What’s my pace? Like, oh, God, that pain in my knee? Should I keep going? Should I not keep going? Man, it’s just a constant internal psychological battle. And that’s, that was so much tougher than in Iceland, because Iceland was not a race and my friend and I just said, Hey, if we ever see a beautiful thing, you know what we’re gonna do? We’re gonna go look at that beautiful thing. Now that’s our pact. So completely opposite to that point.


Trevor Connor  09:21

So Chris, why don’t we take a shift here. Fill people in what was the mean, you say this is a race, but what is a bike packing race?


Chris Case  09:31

Happy to give that definition of what a bike pack race actually is. And there isn’t just one kind, I guess you could say some are a fixed course. Transatlantic way is a fixed course you must follow a course there is a long course option and a short course option. Everybody gets the same GPS track and they have to stick to it and you have that tracking device and it’s kind of an honor system, but you know, people are watching a bit to make You’re you’re going in this particular case, there are some roads that you go out that are dead end roads out to a little spit of, or a peninsula go down to a beautiful lighthouse, or honestly, some of them were like, there was nothing there. And then you turn around and go back. Other bikepacking races are actually built around checkpoints. And you are, it’s up to the individual racer to figure out how they get from checkpoint to checkpoint, with some stipulations like you can’t take major highways and things like that. So that’s one of the key points of a bikepacking race. The other I think, is that the clock never stops. There aren’t stages, like in a mountain bike stage race, or a road stage race, there’s these other things you start in this instance, for transatlantic way we started in the town of Derry, which is actually a Northern Ireland at a certain time, everybody starts together. And when you cross the quote, unquote, finish line in a town 12 150 or 1500 miles away, that’s when the clock stops. And it’s up to you, when you sleep, where you sleep, how you get food, all those things, because the third, I think, pillar of a most bikepacking races is that it’s self supported, can’t take outside assistance. Now, there’s a bit I guess you could say a little bit of gray there. If you slash aside, well, you can and you can find a bike shop, you can buy a new tire sort of thing. This isn’t like going back to the black or the blacksmith shop. Yeah, all that. In the case of transAtlantic way, you’re not, it’s not mandatory that you sleep outside in a tent every night. If you find the bed and breakfast you want to stay in, go for it. If you find you can’t. So basically, the rules for this race are everything that you do must be available to every participant. So if you have a friend that lives along the course, you can’t stay in their house unless everybody’s invited to stay at that house sort of thing. So Does that all make sense? Yeah. And again, I think originally, you would say bikepacking races were off road, whether on mountain bikes, or gravels. This one is primarily paved roads. But paved roads in Ireland are kind of different from a paved roads in the US. They’re, they’re kind of like chip seal, there’s kind of gravel, a lot of them are almost like double track roads with grass growing up the center, but they’re sort of paved on either side energies. And yeah, to Jason, and everything in between, there were there were main roads, there were sometimes you know, sometimes there were no other options, then kind of a main road with a shoulder you can’t cover that much distance without. So yeah, hopefully that gives everybody a sense of what this race is, like we had there were about 80 people at the start line in dairy. We rode together, the you know, we go out, it’s a little bit of a neutral start. The other thing about this particular race and most bikepacking races know you’re really not supposed to draft, you’re really not supposed to work with another person, and last year in a team. So we did kind of roll as a group, and it’s kind of like dispersed camping, you’re kind of near people, but you’re kind of not near people. People were sort of drafting, but not really. And everybody’s aware of it like yeah, we’re it’s hard not to draft. So let’s just do it for now and roll along. And then honestly, after the first day, you may ride with people next to you, you may just see their.if, you’re checking your phone looking, they might be five miles up the road, they might be 100 miles up the road, you might go 16 hours without seeing another competitor or not. So I think for 99% of people, it turns into a very, very individual effort, time trial, fighting both physically and mentally against them selves in a sense, and the course.


Trevor Connor  13:59

So let’s shift gears for a little bit. Chris, I’m interested in how you train for this. And I know you run a touring company now. Yeah. So you do a lot of Let’s go ride long and hard for five, six days. So that probably helped a fair amount. But did you do any specific training for this event?


Chris Case  14:18

Yeah. Interestingly, you know, when we originally launched our n one challenge, we did an episode with Sebastian Weber, physiologists and co founder of inside, and we asked him the question of given this individual with these numbers based on the inside test, how would you train for a race like this? And we gave the example of a bike packing race of this distance and all that sort of stuff. And so I really listened to that episode because what he said resonated with me gate was really good advice. And it had a lot to do with doing. Again, this is based solely on me as an athlete and the numbers that come out of the Inside Out are universal right now. Universal Recommendation by any means he wanted me to do a lot of high torque low cadence training, do it often not necessarily do it in repeated interval workouts, but just almost like an every single ride, there would should be a time when I when I worked some of this high torque low cadence training in. And that was, you know, trying to take somebody with more fast twitch fibers and get them to work more aerobic ly. And it was all geared towards trying to make me a different type of physiologically a different type of rider able to cope with very long, moderate speed, moderate effort riding. And, you know, it’s again, also based on numbers that he saw on a piece of paper, not knowing the course not knowing how steep some of these climbs were, that were in Ireland, which were very, very steep. And so I did a lot of that. And yes, to your point, Trevor, I do some of these, these tours, and you might call them training camps with people now. And I use those certainly as training for myself, I was guiding people, but I might work in an hour or two before I meet met up with them, or an hour or two after or maybe both, depending on how I was feeling where it was in the training. And I would do these blocks, you call them training camps comm training blocks, they were often built with a variety of types of rides, you know, like kind of the bread and butter, maybe four by eights or four by whatever, pick your interval of choice up front, stack it up front, long distance in the at the end, and then maybe, quote unquote empty the tank style rides where it was both big and with maybe with some intensity worked in at the end of the ride, just to deplete yourself and get that big training block. And so those were the two type staples of my training in a nutshell. And I know not talking any numbers here. Oops, I don’t record it now numbers. So yeah, I


Rob Pickels  17:12

Well, he doesn’t even know what his cadence was. It was just,


Chris Case  17:15

it was in that low range.


Trevor Connor  17:18

And for anybody who’s interested that episode with Sebastian Webber was episode 159.


Chris Case  17:24

Okay, great. Yeah.


Trevor Connor  17:27

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Rob Pickels  18:00

So Chris, I think it’s interesting how you approach this ahead of time and on getting that advice, you know, more specific to you from Sebastian is great. And you’re in a fortunate situation. But what I’m interested in is how did the race actually play out? From from day one through the end? How did it meet your expectations? How did it meet your training? But what was it just like day in and day out?


Chris Case  18:23

Yeah, that’s, I could go on and on. I’ll try not to,


Rob Pickels  18:28

and we can edit out anything we want. Yeah,


Chris Case  18:30

that is a I hope to capture the essence of a bikepacking race in three minutes,


Rob Pickels  18:35

you need a Netflix documentary.


Chris Case  18:39

So I had three goals for my race. One was to ride the longest ride I’d ever done in one sitting, if you will. And up until that point, I had done unbound 200 300, which amounts to about 205 206 miles a couple times. So I wanted to surpass that on one of the days. I can’t call them stages, because there’s no stage there’s one this is a one stage race. Never Ending never ending today, never ending Stage Two was I wanted to and I’m surprised like I had never done this before. But I wanted to ride through the night. I had never written like, through the night, you’ve written at night, I’ve written at night, but never through the industrial run exactly from sunset to sunrise. And and I wanted to finish an under eight days. And that was I can get into why that is but it’s just a you know, an estimate of what I thought I could do, basically. So to recap the race briefly. I didn’t realize until I had started on day one that I was going to check off two of the goals on that first day. I kind of made that decision on the road, because I got to I got to 240 miles in and it was late at night and I thought I could do it but I’m not sure I want to And I’m pretty tired. I’m going to try to get a little nap on the side of the road. And I fussed around getting my bivy out and my sleeping bag. And I found a place in the dark on the side of this hill on a remote part of Donegal in Ireland. And I laid down, but I never slept. And I knew I just had that sense, I’m never going to fall asleep, I’m going to wait, I’m wasting my time here. And the dots my.is sitting there, and other dots might have been moving and all this stuff and again, just kind of specie like the race mentality, right? So I’m going to consider this one continuous ride even though I did lay down for a short period of time. But my meet some of my meals were probably longer than some this nap or not non nap.


Rob Pickels  20:46

I will say funny anecdote about this time I was relating this to Chris earlier I was in Finland when he was going through this event. And because of a little bit of jetlag, I couldn’t sleep one night. And so what did I do? I pulled up Chris’s dot. And it could have been exactly this time, because I wasn’t sure what to do. I wanted to send Chris a message. He had gone through a checkpoint earlier a little bit earlier at decent speed. But now his dog was saying like one and a half miles an hour. And I was like, if the poor guy is sleeping, I don’t want to send him a message and wake them up. But he might also be moving, in which case, this is the best time to send him a message. I think I ultimately fell asleep before I sent him you did not spoil


Chris Case  21:26

anything. I really wish you next time most likely. I mean, it could be you know, the the spot tracker isn’t always 100% accurate and might think you’re moving when you’re actually not. But I could have been kind of trying to find a place exactly. Like I was crawling along on the side of that like not literally pedaling very slowly thinking, Oh, maybe that patch of grass is good. Or maybe that patch. So I could have been going 1.5 miles per hour at that time. Anyways, day one turns into day two, I just want to brag This is my brag slash, being stupid moment in a bike, my first bike packing race, I got up, packed everything up, got back on the bike and just said I’m going for it. This is my ride through the night. This is going to be way longer than anything I’ve ever done before. I had already surpassed my longest ride. But day one turns into day two. And ultimately the ride turns into a 36 hour ride. I cover 600k. So 366 ish miles I think it was and 9000 meters of climbing. And then I get to a town where I say I’m not actually going to sleep on the ground right now. I found like some student housing thing. It was only five o’clock in the afternoon. It was way too early really to be stopping but I couldn’t go any farther. And this was a place where I could get a bed and all that sort of stuff. But I I say this because it sets the trend. I walked in my cycling shoes to the nearest thing that I could find that was food, which was happened to be a gas station. I said, you know, I could walk another half mile into town but I’m not going to. So I bought not the greatest food. I will admit. They didn’t have many options. But it was whole food. It wasn’t just things in wrappers wasn’t sour cream. There wasn’t so it wasn’t on top of sour cream. That’s a little joke that you thought was yogurt that I thought was Yoda that was the Iceland reference. Got back to my room ate it and fell asleep probably by seven, which meant I woke cuz I was out, which meant I woke up at probably three which was a really long sleep compared to a lot of people out on course. And I said to myself, Oh God, I don’t really want to get up but I’m up. So I’m packing up my stuff. I’m getting on the bike, and then spent, you know, from 330 in the morning till sunrise with these. It was awesome. Actually. super quiet roads. Mostly were on backroads. Anyways, you’re kind of sleepy, but then the sun is starting to rise. It should be noted. Ireland pretty far north latitude. So sunrise about 430 early sunsets about 1030. So you really don’t have any excuse to ride from 430 to


Rob Pickels  24:10

undermining your ride through the night here. I think a lot less of you that I did.


Chris Case  24:14

Shoot. Anyway, so again, I want to keep this brief in terms of what I did. After that I put myself into a pretty big hole that was a massive ride. The next five days I guess it is since I finished in seven days. I went between probably a short of 140 and long of 190 miles every day after that. And I was not near the front of this race the the people that were really wanting this really wanting this we’re pushing the limits of human ability, you know, and writing in excess of 270 miles a day, every day and sleeping on the ground every day and eating really not very healthy food every day,


Trevor Connor  25:02

it’s going to ask. So their approach, were they getting any sleep, or just a couple hours a night or


Chris Case  25:08

so I didn’t mention this at the start, not all bikepacking races have mandatory sleep. As a rule, I don’t think this particular race does. So you’re allowed to ride through the night. So that’d be 24 hours, obviously, and then you’re allowed to go another 21 if you so choose, but then it’s a mandatory, you must stop for three or more hours. Nobody knows if you’re sleeping. But if you don’t sleep, you’re an idiot. You have to be stopped. So I’m pretty certain that the people that were taking this very seriously, were right up against that barrier. And they were sleeping no more than three hours every night when they needed to and, and going through the night when they could which Yeah, I don’t know how they did it. It’s crazy. It’s crazy. Just imagine, and not to get onto this tangent too much. But imagine, all you could eat was stuff that you could find at a gas station after having done the longest ride of your life hostess chocolate donuts, right? You know, stuff like that. And doing that for six days in a row without a bed without a shower. The crust that develops so relatively speaking, I was a total weakling out there, even though this my first race as total weakling did take showers. I did sleep on the ground a couple of times, not every night, though. I did have real meals occasionally. And at some point, my race turned into a rather than a competition, it did turn into a completion, it was still mega hard to get through it. You know, most people don’t ride 150 Miles ever, I guess. Yeah. But to string that together, back to back 150 miles. And way more than that, at times back to back to back to back to back back. So I guess let’s shift maybe, and talk about how I did it.


Trevor Connor  27:04

But one other question. I have you before we shift after the first day? Did you ever see any other riders? Or were you truly on your own?


Chris Case  27:12

No, I did. You know, he’d cross paths with people they were on. They might be on a completely different schedule. But yeah, that meant that maybe they slept a little longer one day, and you kind of caught up to them at some point. And we’d crossed paths with people, it wasn’t very often. But it was really nice. When you did you connect chat, learn a little bit about who they were, why they were doing this, what their background was, you certainly bond with people over the what you’re going through or you know, it’s a weird thing. Nobody out there is not in some amount of pain. And we’re volunteering to do it. And you know, there’s there’s plenty of reasons why that a lot of people do this, of course, and that’s another episode. But it’s fun to be able to have that break from the mental demons you’re wrestling with by yourself out there, and just be able to get to know somebody, that was great. But it didn’t happen very often.


Trevor Connor  28:08

Understandable. So I was gonna shift then. So what were some of your coping strategies?


Chris Case  28:12

Yeah, I know that long ago, we did an episode where we talked a lot. And I think it’s come up on many episodes of fast talk this idea of chunking. It, you you really tap into that primitive brain stem for I don’t know what it is, it’s just you’d have to tap into it, or else you’re really going to be overwhelmed. But you have to tap into something that allows you to say, just one more hour, or just to that next town, or just to the next, whatever it is top of that hill, and then I get to coast for a little bit and chunking was an is your best friend out there. I can’t say it enough, you do it so much. And it you do it so much, it actually becomes tiring, you know? And obviously, you have to suspend the smarter parts of your brain at time that no, you’re doing it on purpose to trick yourself into doing something you don’t really want to do. You know. So that that is a really critical thing to get used to doing. And I don’t know if you perfect it, but there, you know, you just have to do it. You have to do it a lot.


Rob Pickels  29:25

Yeah, for me, chunking based on time, I do shorter events than you do. And I tend to eat every half hour, right? And so I live these races a half hour at a time. And it doesn’t matter that I’m still going to be writing five hours from now that’s so far out of my mind. All that matters is what I’m doing in the next 30 minutes and 30 minutes and 30 minutes. And it’s amazing how at some point you look back and you say oh, I’ve already done so much and I didn’t even realize


Chris Case  29:54

Yeah, staying I mean part of chunking I think is staying more present. You can and get into trouble if you allow yourself to drift off to, oh my god 12 hours from now, what am I going to be feeling like when I already? You know, that’s not a sustainable way of thinking. So, so staying present, the problem with staying present, of course, is that you start noticing all the things that hurt more like you’re taking stock of what you need to be eating what you need to be drinking the pain in your hip, the pain in your knee, the the saddle sores that might be developing, you know, you’re, you’re very much aware of all the issues. At least this is my experience, hopefully others out there, like, I’m very present in Ooh, look at that beautiful landscape. And oh, look at that, whatever. And it’s more positive thoughts. But I was I was really fighting. And Amanat, there was a lot of pain management out there, there was a lot of psychological struggle out there. I mean, I got through it. But I won’t say that I was always having fun. But that’s


Rob Pickels  30:58

to be expected, right? In anything like this. If it’s if it’s rainbows and unicorns from start to finish, you’re probably doing it wrong. And that’s a poor, a poor expectation, you’re setting yourself up for failure.


Chris Case  31:10

Yeah, I bet some people out there did a better, much better job than I did. I’ve seen rainbows and unicorns, so you were a basketball. I’m not saying they were taking drugs, either. They were just having more fun than me. The other thing that I dealt with, and I think other people did, too, having talked to them is the sleepiness that comes over you just these not necessarily during the night, it would often be in the like, early afternoon, which I think people feel when they’re sitting at a desk job to you know, that early afternoon, you’ve sort of had a good meal. It’s warm, it’s, you know, you just want an app. And I fought it hard until I couldn’t. And then I said, Well, why don’t I just pull over right here, find a nice patch of grass, close my eyes and see what happens. And I pull over. And maybe it was only two minutes. But it helped immensely, that two minute break of just closing the eyes, shutting things down, getting what my body needed, just a micro dose of it was enough. And it was made it safer, it made it more enjoyable. So I was using that as well as a coping strategy out there. And then we already touched upon it. But the efficiency that you need to have out there that can go a long way to making you feel like you’re making progress. If you don’t feel like you’re making progress, the chunking becomes even harder to do right 100 If your goal is to ride for X number of miles, rather than X number of hours, then you just either screwed up your calculation on your average speed of what you need to do, or you just extended your day. So being efficient, trying to limit the number of pee breaks, snack breaks, photo breaks, My God, my sit bones are going to explode breaks, I need to get off this bike. But there’s a lot of that, again, everybody has an individual story to tell of what they went through and how they coped with it. And I was shifting around on my bike so much that it was unlike riding a bike at times, you know.


Trevor Connor  33:13

So I think that kind of segues into the next thing that you wanted to share. So what were the really important lessons that you learned from this?


Chris Case  33:22

Yeah, I think that the top one that I have on the list here might not be the most important one. But I think it’s a good one to start with. Because everybody goes into this bringing a bit of their personality to how they approach it. Some people are extremely organized, and took copious notes and had them on their phone, in terms of distance to this town distance to this ferry dis times of when ferry runs, which was actually pretty important. And I think everybody had a sense for that, because he didn’t want to miss the last video of the day or whatever. But just copious notes on what was available out there where they wanted to get to all of that, and others, like myself had a much looser understanding, and they didn’t plan too far ahead. And both of those work. I just think that if you plan with copious notes, expect that at some point, that plan is not going to play out the way you expected it to. And therefore your notes might not jive with reality anymore. So my lesson is don’t plan too far ahead. If if you have a plan, make it for the first few days perhaps. But after that, who knows what will shift you off of that original schedule. It might be hours, it might be that you have to shift it might be 200 miles off your target or ahead of your target. A host of things can come up to throw you off that schedule, so don’t plan too far ahead. We talked a lot about the mental struggle out there. I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know how you train experience inserting this race was unlike anything I’ve ever done before in a bike race, because it’s extended over such a long period of time, the our record, I chunked, if you will, I use chunking in the our record, but it’s an hour. And everything is scaled so much differently. And that was an extremely painful, but very acute pain that I went through. This was just hours, and hours and hours of alone time with just yourself to keep you on track or let you fall off track mentally, I don’t know if you guys know of any ways to to train your ability to, you know, be resilient, so to speak, or develop grit without just putting yourself in position like that and experiencing it and learning for yourself.


Rob Pickels  35:57

Well, the question I wanted to ask you is, now that you have gone through this, are you better prepared to do something similar? Or do you feel like it restarts every single time?


Chris Case  36:09

No, I do think that having gone through this particular race and experience prepares me mentally for the next time. Yes, I think the other question, though, is I love Do I want to experience do I want to put myself in that position again? Yeah. And that is we can end with that. How about we end with that?


Trevor Connor  36:33

Dancer, some of your question there, there’s obviously been a lot of research in this particularly on grit. And what you see is your grit is based more on what your body thinks you can handle than necessarily what your body is actually capable of handling. So if you have never experienced something before, when you start to put your body through it, your body is going to I can’t handle this, I’ve never seen this before. So it’s going to be tougher. When you go through an experience like this, when you do these things that are quite grueling your body goes, I’ve seen this before, I know I can handle this. And it becomes easier. The next times,


Rob Pickels  37:09

I think something that’s important too, is you can do a training camp, or you can do a week long, where you’re looking at increasing your overall training load as high as you can, right. There’s the the physical, the physiological side of that. But I do think that when you’re talking about training, just getting back on your bike, leaving that hotel room at three o’clock in the morning, right, that in my opinion comes down to daily life, and what grit Do you show for the weeks, months and years prior? Got a ride plan, but it’s raining? Do you go out and do the ride? Or do you not if you make the choice to go out and do the ride, then that probably helps you take a step in the direction of the mental fortitude that you need to complete this. And I don’t think that you can do what are you going to do bury yourself in a box in the backyard like David Blaine with an exercise? Like, put yourself through some crazy, you can’t do something like that. Right? That’s where it comes into your daily life and decisions that you make.


Chris Case  38:05

Yeah, but you also I think there’s also the unknown of what people will where they’ll pull from, and you’re tapping into possibly it just your makeup, your constitution, you’re tapping into things you’ve experienced before. But you get out there too. And I think there’s the unknown of how will I How will I react to this type of situation. And it’s pretty amazing that people are capable of what they’re capable of doing what they have today.


Rob Pickels  38:36

A key trait in this is being okay with the unknown, right? If you don’t know what the rest of the day looks like, you don’t know where your food is coming from, you don’t know where you’re sleeping, you don’t know if your bike is gonna break. You don’t know any of this. And I do think that there are some people who are stronger in that area than others. I think anybody can get better, right? By putting yourself into these adventurous situations. And that’s exactly what you’re trying to do. Right with alter exploration is this is kind of a touring company. But it’s not like your normal, right? You’re putting people into situations where they’re able to push their limits and be outside of the norm.


Chris Case  39:09

Absolutely. Yeah, this I mean, this is this particular event for me was a reflection of what their company is for other people just on a completely different scale. bikepacking Racing will never be what gravel racing is there aren’t going to be mass. There’s plenty of people that do it. But it’s it’s a tiny, tiny number, relatively speaking. Because of all the things we just talked about. Most people do see rain outside and say, Why would I write today I’m going to write when it’s nice out and sleeping on the ground after 18 hours of writing doesn’t sound appealing. I can see why it doesn’t sound appealing. But I can also see the other side too, and that is the lessons that you learn about yourself. That maybe the skills you develop, that you wouldn’t otherwise develop. If you didn’t put yourself in these situations. I can see both Sighs Absolutely. Again, I want to give you the answer to the final question, will I do another one, but we can wait.


Rob Pickels  40:09

Or you’re obviously good at delayed gratification at this point. There are more female athletes and endurance sports than ever before. Yet, until recently, female athletes simply follow the advice and protocols that have been designed and tested on men. This is now rapidly changing. And there are a host of experts bringing light to the perils and pitfalls associated with female athletes following guidelines that are male specific. Check out our latest crafting coaching module coaching female athletes for expert guidance on coaching women. Chris, were there any other things that you learned throughout? Like physical like what? Like what other physical ailments came up? And how did you deal with them? Did you have that plan going in? Or did you learn on the fly?


Chris Case  40:55

Unfortunately, I came into the race with a slight knee issue that got much much worse in the race. And I dealt with some excruciating pain. That’s why I say pain management of all kinds of I think it’s part of bike racing, saddle sores and neck issues from being in such a, you know, a lot of bikepacking races, people will use aero bars now, which is good, because it is not so much about aerodynamics, it’s about getting your weight off of your hands, and onto your elbows or just you having a different position. But of course, being down like that means your neck has to be angled differently. And there is a thing and ultra races generally of all kinds, whether bikepacking or not called shimmers neck, if people have heard of that. And that’s essentially where the neck muscles can no longer support the weight of your head, and you can’t hold your head up, it becomes very dangerous. You know, your head is a bowling ball at the end of a small appendage there in your neck. And if you can’t hold your head up, you can’t you shouldn’t be riding a bike.


Trevor Connor  42:03

Well, Race Across America, they used to take people’s home. Yeah, they’re back.


Chris Case  42:08

Exactly. Exactly. Go there. Right. Yeah. I dealt with a lot of pain of different kinds sit bone and developing saddle sores, you just hygiene is very important. Whether you’re sleeping on the ground or sleeping in a hotel, there are things you can do at night, when you get off the bike to clean parts of your body that are you know, being a braised all day long. Is that a word or phrase that works? Okay, so do that my knee issue was such that I, at one point sat on the side of the road, saying I should no longer ride a bike. How am I going to get out of this predicament because it’s a self supported bike packing race through a rural part of a small country, I either have to ride somewhere,


Rob Pickels  42:56

which means getting back on your boat


Chris Case  42:57

means getting back on my bike, or, or I don’t know what like, or I ride somewhere else and try to find a taxi to get to a rental car place or I don’t or a train station or bus.


Rob Pickels  43:09

Sorry, family. Chris lives on the side of the road now


Chris Case  43:12

with a broke busted knee. So I worked through that my approach was, it hurts really badly. I did some things to try to rectify the situation, it started to feel okay, I of course was also biased. And I want it to continue because I’m a determined person. But I said, if it continues to get worse, I must stop the things I do make it better, and I can do them repeatedly, then I might not be doing permanent damage. And I will continue on. And so that is what that was the framework, I guess I put on my pain management of that particular knee problem.


Trevor Connor  43:55

This is actually where chunking can be a bit of a danger. Because what you’ll see people do is an issue, they have some pain, they go well, if it gets worse, I need to stop. And they ride a little longer and they get used to it and then it gets worse. And then they go Oh, well I handled it before. And each time they go off it gets worse this time. Yeah, not realizing it’s gotten worse five, six times now. And each time you’ve just gotten used to it. And then that’s the one thing you have to be careful of is people can actually start riding through really bad and E issues, other sorts of issues and start ignoring it.


Chris Case  44:29

Yes, definitely. It’s hard to be your best self out there. Sometimes you’re not at your full capacity when you’re that tired, tapped, nutritionally sleep deprived to some degree, you’re not probably even capable of making the best decisions. So I hear exactly what you’re saying, Trevor? Did I did I do something stupid by pushing through? I hope not. I don’t think so. I was fairly determined to finish but I I took care of the knee to the point where I did what I did.


Rob Pickels  44:58

Yeah, I mean You have to make that decision on the fly, you have to expect, as you said, some sort of pain, something to go wrong. You have to expect saddle sores, it’s gonna happen. And you can’t quit at the drop of the first little problem. Yeah. And it can be difficult at times to know. And maybe it’s not until hindsight that you know if it was a good decision or not, that’s true. But you do oftentimes have to make a decision to keep moving forward and hope that when something truly catastrophic happens that you have the right of mind to Yeah, to know that.


Chris Case  45:30

Yeah, this is one of those other things about bikepacking, that’s more common than I would want it to be in that is, you do these things, and you develop numbness in your hands or your feet, your neck muscles do weird things. You see people riding with one hand on the drop and one hand on the other side on the on the hood, because it puts him in, and to the lay person out there that doesn’t do what we do. And I’m not calling I’m not really calling myself a bikepackers. This is this is a general thing. It’s like why would you do that to yourself? Why would you push yourself to the point where you can’t feel your fingers anymore? It’s so dumb, I can see that perspective entirely. And I don’t want that to ever happen to me. But it sort of does. And you’re in the midst of it. And that’s when you struggle with these decisions. Like I know this is dumb, but it’s just a little you just, it’s just a little bit of tingling, just a little bit of numbness, and it’s gonna go away as soon as I stop. And people struggle with that. And people do that to themselves. And you know, is that healthy? No, it isn’t healthy. People are going to do it anyways. Yes, because they have this desire to do these things, for other reasons that override the damage that they’re doing to themselves. Right.


Rob Pickels  46:49

Coming into this you you’re a beginner bike packer, you still am still him and maybe you’re a beginner forever. Was there anything that you learned along the way that you wish that you knew going into it? Like, for example, treating a saddle sores, I usually as soon as anything begins to pop up later on a concoction that’s a triple antibiotic, a topical steroid, and a lidocaine and topical pain reliever. From the moment something begins and hopefully it doesn’t progress into anything. What did you learn along the way? That a month ago, Chris, wish you knew?


Chris Case  47:25

Hmm. It wasn’t stuff like that. For me. It was it was definitely about the mental side of this. Yeah. And we’ve we’ve talked a lot about that already. I didn’t realize how hard that was going to be. I was not in love with the race aspect. Because it meant that I had to push past places I wanted to linger in. I wanted to have a better experience in that way. And I could have I could have chosen to do that. But I didn’t because I wanted to fulfill that original goal of treating this as a race. The other thing was I did yeah, I was lonely out there. At times, I don’t mind I do a lot of riding by myself just based on schedules and kids at home and all that sort of stuff. I don’t mind that. But on big adventures, and in scenic places, in new places, I really love sharing those experiences with other people. I think that enriches the experience overall. Other people notice things you haven’t you notice things and you can point it out to them, you can chat about what you’ve just learned, because you ran into this local person, and they tell you about the Irish culture or something like that. And you can be astounded together. And I missed that entirely out there. That pressure to push always wasn’t something I really think I want again, so to to really answer the question of will I do another bikepacking race again, I’m in conflict. I don’t know, if I will or not, I will absolutely do things like I did in Iceland. Again, if I have the chance, that was incredible. This is not a knock against transatlantic way. But I’ve done this race and I don’t need to do this one again. I think I want to do another bikepacking race. And I’ll say that’s because I’m an arrogant fool who thinks they can do it better the next time. I will improve upon this aspect. And I will approve, improve upon this aspect. And ooh, I didn’t get that right at all. But I think that I can overcome that mental struggle way better than next time. Here’s how, but I can’t know until I try it sort of thing. I just have to figure out what that particular event is. Because most I feel like most bikepacking races are in really beautiful places. Right? And that’s good and bad. The beauty can be a great distraction from the pain. However, I’m the type of person that really loves a good landscape and if I’m riding through it at speed, I feel like I’m wasting an opportunity to fall in love with the place You know,


Rob Pickels  50:01

and I will say, looking through some of your pictures that you posted online. You’re a great photographer in general, right? But some of these pictures were absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous. And I’m sure it didn’t do justice to actually being there in


Chris Case  50:14

person. Well, it didn’t. It didn’t. Yeah. I’m just torn. Yeah. But overall, I think if I had to choose, I’d say this event is best done as a race, amongst other people that range in ability and experience from quite experienced to absolute novice can’t, aren’t sure if they can finish the first day, let alone seven days type thing, and you have the full spectrum. Also people running every type of gear setup from super light to Oh, my God, you’re bringing that type of thing. So that’s a fun aspect. And then just Yeah, I think being out there, having those dots out there is kind of annoying, because they’re always moving. And you want to try to keep up with them if that’s your mentality, but they’re also keeping you company a little bit. You’re trying to like, oh, yeah, there’s 80 other people out here going through the same exact thing. And I know they are, they might not want to admit it, but to some degree they are. And that’s that’s comforting. In a way.


Rob Pickels  51:15

I am wondering, what is the reintegration back into life after this.


Chris Case  51:21

The struggle is not as real. But I’ve never done a race or like this. So I didn’t really know everybody reacts differently. And I think that has to do with both the way they raced it, but also the the physiology they possess. For instance, there’s a ultra runner, Hilary Allen. A few weeks before I did this race, I met her on a bike ride where she was training and others friends of hers that I know, they were all training for unbound. And we met and I told her about what I was going to be doing in a few weeks. And she decided that she wanted to also do this event. She’s a runner, but she’s injured from right now and doing a lot of writing. So she did Unbound, the 200. And then the next day flew to Ireland. Really? Yes. Whoa, I didn’t know that. Yes. And a couple of days after that, we started the race. And she smashed it. She had never done a bikepacking race either. She put in massive days, we should be talking to her. And so you should be talking to her instead of me. Yes. But my point being a week after I had finished transatlantic way, I still was waking up every morning feeling like I just got hit by a truck. And the last thing I wanted to do was get on a bike or exercise really, I felt dead. I was eating a ton. I was just sluggish, very lethargic. And I texted her, because I saw that she had done a 50 mile mountain bike ride. I was like, What are you doing? And she said, What do you mean, I feel completely normal? Yep, it speaks to how her DNA created her and how my DNA created me. We’re different people. We’re different specimens she’s built with, she’s probably just a giant collection of slow twitch muscle fibers. She’s done a lot of hard stuff in her life before she’s not to be forgotten. She’s younger than I am as well. So recovery should take place a little bit faster, I would think. But I think it has more to do with how she’s built. Right? For people that don’t know, like I, my, my physiology matches up with probably cyclocross better than anything else. I’m built for repeated hard efforts like that. 45 minutes to an hour. This is this is not what I’m built for. So my body was just doing he was going to different places to complete this thing. So the recovery, no surprise is taking a lot longer. I feel I went for a ride yesterday. So that would be maybe nine days 10 days after I finished the race, something like that. And I am approaching something feeling normal, but I’m not there yet. And I And it’s this is a very casual ride. Normal. This is not I’m going deep and I feel top of the world norm you know, I will admit, I hate to admit it, but I actually do have a little tingly. NISS still in the bottom of my left foot. My left toes. Sure. And my knee is still messed up. And PT is in my future.


Rob Pickels  54:42

Yeah. Add a finger that tingled for at least a month after transport. Okay,


Chris Case  54:48

yeah, I mean, I hate the fact that that stuff is a part of this. I’m lucky my hands were completely fine. I didn’t actually use aero bars in Ireland. I used mini clip on arrow bars just like people might call them gravel, aero bars. They don’t extend out very far. I use them a little bit. I was on the hoods. I was on the tops. I was on the drops. I didn’t get any hand tingling this. I didn’t double wrap my bars. Nothing. That’s great. The bottom of a foot. I don’t know why that came about.


Rob Pickels  55:19

It just did. Yep. Yep. So,


Chris Case  55:22

Trevor, I have a question for you. Absolutely. Are you going to do after this hearing what I’ve just described my experiences at this bike packing race, do you think you’ll ever do a bike packing race?


Trevor Connor  55:33

I would love to do something like this, because this is the sort of thing I’m built for. It is whether I do it or not. We’ll see. Yeah,


Rob Pickels  55:39

I’ve been thinking about Trevor in this right. Because brought up you know, grant and the social side. I feel like, you know, Trevor has made a career out of that grit and the determination and the how many stories have we heard about? Yeah, I dislocated my shoulder. And I kept going exactly. You know, it’s like, man, you are cut from the cloth that’s needed for for an event like this. So, Trevor, whatever support you need, I’d love to get you into a race like this. Just the idea of me and you.


Trevor Connor  56:09

Spending 15 to 20 hours a day on the bike just sounds wonderful.


Chris Case  56:13

There you go. So you love to ride bikes.


Rob Pickels  56:15

And there are aspects about this. I love the solitude like I’m a white room in a day solo type of person. This is stuff that really like gets me up in the morning. But I’m not asleep on the ground. Don’t go without a shower kind of guy. So I’m really torn on bikepacking


Chris Case  56:33

You’re you’re not a bike. You’re more of a like a credit card.


Rob Pickels  56:36

I’m a Bougie bike. Yes, let’s be glamper I will say I will Lampre I was thinking of, okay, if I planned out my royal Can I plan it hotel to hotel? And then that defines my days, and I was like, but then it’d be paying for hotel and only sleeping in it for three hours. I know. That’s my mindset.


Chris Case  56:54

Yeah, I believe me, I did pay more than I wanted to, to be in a inside on a normal bed for three, four hours. But I just, that’s what I that’s what I did. I felt it was necessary for me to have some inkling of fun some days. And I did it very well. People that listen to this. They’re not I don’t think we’d put a very positive light on the world of bikepacking. But so it


Rob Pickels  57:21

is, if you’re somebody who’s inclined to do it, it makes sense. And it sounds perfect. If you’re on the other side of the fence, you’re not going to jump over. But I think people are solidly in one camp or the other. And I don’t know that there’s too many teeter totters on top of the fence there.


Trevor Connor  57:36

Chris, who would you say this sort of thing is for and who is not for?


Chris Case  57:39

Well, let me give you my personal, I guess reasons for wanting to do this. Essentially, it comes down to the fact that I’ve done kind of everything else on a bike. And I’m the type of person that likes to discover new things about myself and try new challenges. And so I tried this, and I and again, I think I will do another race. And I will certainly do more bike packing and challenging bike packing things like I did in Iceland. And I didn’t always have fun out there. But I’m really glad that I did this. And I learned a ton. And I think for anybody who is inquisitive, you do have to have a certain amount of dirt bagginess in you, for black of a better word, you’re gonna get dirty and crusty and your shammies not going to always be as clean as you want it to be. And you’re not going to eat the best food out there. But who cares. Like if you’re the person that just loves to ride bikes, and you love to push yourself, and you love to watch the sunset while you’re riding your bike, and maybe you love to watch the sunrise to at the same, then this is for you because nothing will be being on the coast of Ireland looking out over a cliff into the Atlantic Ocean and watching the sunset. And no one else is around except for a flock of sheep. And it feels like you’re all alone in the best in the best possible ways. And you’re just like gliding along at night and the temperatures cooling off and I don’t know it’s just magical, right? And you have to focus on those things because there’s going to be some nasty bits in there too. But if you are built like Ben Delaney or grant Hala key or it sounds like Rob pickles and you need comfort at night to sleep and you want real food then it’s not for you and that’s great. That’s perfect that you know that because if you did try this you’d probably be effing miserable out. There this is the fastest way maybe not the fastest way but this is a sure way to make yourself miserable if you’re not into sleeping on the ground and eating garbage food all the time.


Rob Pickels  59:56

But there is something out there forever.


Chris Case  59:58

There is yes there is his credit cards are handy when you’re sure or when you want to bed and Yeah, real food.


Trevor Connor  1:00:05

Well, Chris, thanks for coming on the show and sharing that with us. It’s nice to hear kind of the the true conclusion of your n one challenge.


Chris Case  1:00:11

Yes, thank you for having me is pleasure.


Rob Pickels  1:00:14

That was another episode of fast talk. Subscribe to fast talk. Wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast. Be sure to leave us a rating and a review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on fast talker are those of the individual. As always, we love your feedback. Tweet at us at fast talk labs or join the conversation at forums dot fast talk labs.com Learn from our experts at Bastok labs.com Or keep us independent by supporting us on Patreon for Chris case and Trevor Connor. I’m Rob pickles. Thanks for listening