A few months ago I was hiking at Sky Meadows State Park when I met a fellow hiker who turned me on to Chris Shue’s funny and honest Do Stupid Stuff Before You Die blog. As soon as I got home from the hike I went online and found Chris’ website, read the tale of his C&O Canal Death March, and became an instant fan.
But what really stuck with me was Chris’ story: like me, he was a sluggish, 40+ dad who took up cycling to get back in shape, and along the way learned that biking is also a great (the best) way to meet some amazing people and do some cool shit.
If Chris’ blog has one theme, it’s that doing exceptionally long, grueling, and borderline stupid bike rides can actually be rewarding–life changing, even. But if the blog has a secondary theme, it’s that you need to eat a lot of carcinogenic, artery-clogging junk food to fuel your ride. Inspired by this combination of athletic achievement and gluttony, I emailed Chris to find out more.
NOTE: This interview has been heavily edited for content, length, and to remove all the boring parts:
Chris, you write in your blog that in 2011 you were a fat, out-of-shape car commuter, and 6 years later you’re Everesting, doing 200-mile rides on Skyline Drive, and scoring KOMs at the Garrett County Gran Fondo. How did you get from there to here?
I think I always had the desire but I was also extremely lame. Like dadbod to the max, eat-three-donuts-in-your-car-at-the-stoplight lame. Then in 2015 I started doing morning hill rides once per week with Pete Beers and Cyndi Janetzko and a host of others. It was great because I got my ass kicked every single time. At the annual Kill Bill ride that year (the ride is 100+ miles on local roads in NoVa with 10K+ feet of climbing) I was relegated to the “slow” group. All of this kind of ate at me – not that I swore a blood oath or anything, but I just wanted to be competitive. Maybe not even competitive as much as I just wanted to hold my own. I wanted to be able to keep up with the A group.The following winter during Freezing Saddles (the local winter riding competition where you get points for the days and miles you ride), something just clicked and I rode all of the time. The competition is really social and a lot of the rides started or ended with coffee or beer and baked goods. I was social…and I loved baked goods! So I rode almost 50 miles per day trying to stay ahead of the competition and in the end, all of that riding triggered a substantial weight loss. Plus I met a ton of new cool cyclists. One of them, Eric Williams, invited me to do a stupid 24 hour ride that spring with him and a few others. The 24 hour, 245 mile ride was ridiculously hard but it did wonders for my confidence.The kicker was when Pete asked me to be a ride leader for Kill Bill 2016. It was probably a small thing to him, but to me it was incredibly meaningful. I finally felt like I could hang. The confidence I had from doing the stupid 24 hour ride combined with the feeling that came with Pete thinking enough of me to trust me to lead a big ride – that’s all the impetus I needed to go out and try whatever came next.
A major theme in your blog is a love for shitty convenience store food. Say you’re in the middle of a long ride and you go into a 7-11. What do you look for? What are your favorites?
Definitely an ice cold diet coke or coke zero. It’s the chemicals, for sure. I can’t explain it. If I am early in my ride and not in crisis mode I’ll try and be responsible and get a banana and some mixed nuts or maybe even a sandwich. Crisis mode (often!), all bets are off and it’s Paydays and M&Ms and Snickers or maybe even Pop-Tarts if I think that I am in my final hours. At the end of every long ride I now I have a tradition of buying a 20 oz diet coke, a bag of sharing sized M&Ms, and a bag of thin pretzels. It’s the greatest recovery meal ever and I’m still alive so there’s your proof.
Where do you draw the line? Is there anything you’ve seen in a store and said, “there’s no fucking way I’m going to eat that.”
Whatever hot dogs/half smokes/sausages are on the rollers. I don’t care if it was the only food in the store. There is no way it is going in my body because it would stay there for about 8.2 seconds before violent expulsion. I just got the sweats.
How about Trader Joes? Sometimes I see things for sale there and think it’d be worth a full day on the bike just to give me an excuse to eat a whole bag of gingerbread sticks or an entire kringle.
Trader Joes is basically the Taj Mahal of convenience stores. The amount of deliciously shitty food is off the charts. If it was on any stupid ride route I would probably get the tub of Belgian chocolate pudding but the jar of speculoos spread is way up there. Plus I would drink 17 free coffee samples.
Chris Carmichael once wrote in his blog that eating junk food on long rides can be more than just fuel—it gives you something to look forward to, and the variety keeps you interested in eating. Agree?
I definitely look forward to convenience store stops. How else can you explain the near-reverence of Sheetz by so many cyclists? Before I started riding bikes I just thought of it as a dirty gas station. Now it is the portal between life and death.
Now for the lightning round: Little Debbie vs. Hostess?:
Hostess and it isn’t even close. I can’t remember the name of the yellow cakes with the yellow frosting but that’s probably what Hammer Nutrition has been trying to replicate in its lab for the past decade. It’s perfect.
Meat snacks, yes or no?:
Fuck no. I hate meat snacks. Slim Jims are gross. That doesn’t mean I don’t love meat. I just cannot and do not want to eat meat on a ride. I will, however, eat a bacon cheeseburger every night of my life if my wife will let me.
Anything you’ve ever eaten on a ride and really regretted?:
I have eaten two boiled potatoes on two different rides and everyone raves about boiled potatoes and they seem like a great idea but I am always like…why did I waste precious time and energy ingesting that when there are one million better things out there? How uncreative can you be? Now if there is a bowl of butter and salt and pepper and melted cheese and bacon bits we might be on to something. Maybe.
Favorite Lara Bar and Cliff Bar?:
Larabar is the peanut butter and jelly bar but that one I haven’t seen in a year, so I go for the chocolate chip. Heads up Larabar makers – those things are amazing but need to be about three times bigger. I think like most folks the nut butter cliff bars are a killer invention – I have liked all of them. I still have a soft spot for the chocolate chip standard cliff bar though. That is probably my all time favorite bar.