Biking 650+ miles from San Francisco to Tijuana, Mexico

                      in 12 DAYS, Solo and with Type I Diabetes


I am Chris Bene. I am not a bike enthusiast or an extreme athlete. I am someone who is ambitious, enjoys challenges, and I am a Type I Diabetic.

About a year ago, I was let go from a Senior Executive position. This was and has been difficult for me. Going through this, can be so damaging to the ego and to someone’s self- esteem.  I felt like I needed a fresh challenge – something that offered growth and rejuvenation.   

I live in Connecticut and I had a trip planned to San Francisco for Thanksgiving 2016, to see my daughters, who both go to school in California. One day in October, I was having lunch with my sister and she suggested that I do a bike ride from San Francisco to Tijuana.  My sister knows me too well and knew that for my mind and for my body, I needed a challenge and I needed a goal.

I also shared this idea with my older daughter. “Nice, but you won’t”, was the response I got from her.  What I read between the lines is nice idea Dad, but you can’t and therefore you won’t

                                                                                                       My daughter’s feelings                                                                                                            were valid.  I was not a                                                                                                            bike rider per se, I like                                                                                                            most people learned how                                                                                                        to ride a bike as a kid, yet                                                                                                        I had not practiced or had                                                                                                        been a bike rider of any                                                                                                          sort over the past 35                                                                                                                years.  I did not bike,                                                                                                              “spin”, pelaton, or strava.                                                                                                        Yet, as a Type I diabetic                                                                                                           for over 24 years, I did                                                                                                             do my best to stay         relatively active, and therefore, I have tried my best to exercise 4-6 times a week, primarily running anywhere between 30-60 minutes on those days. 

I needed to do this.  Having spent most my career around the world helping run service businesses or advising firms on growth strategy and performance improvement, I was now actively looking for my next professional challenge, and therefore, the time was right – to try, and take-on a new and different personal growth experience.  

I’ve been fortunate and achieved success with many different “global” professional challenges, but what would it be like to take on another completely different challenge?  So, like with many of the other previous BIG complex endeavors I experienced in my life, I said –  JUST DO IT! 

                                                                                         My nature has always been to be                                                                                            optimistic, realistic and never give                                                                                          up.  A former CEO always                                                                                                      referred to me as “Teflon Chris.”                                                                                              He would say that no matter how                                                                                            tough the environment or                                                                                                        situation, I wouldn’t let anything                                                                                              stick to me.  Similarly, I was                                                                                                    determined to make it happen.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I’m not afraid of the unknown and                                                                                          actuality it excites me. It also                                                                                                  motivates me to prepare, learn by                                                                                          doing, and achieving positive                                                                                                  results by using a combination of                                                                                            common sense and determination.  With my bike adventure, I knew that to be successful, I would not only require mental toughness but also a tremendous amount of physical grit, determination, planning and stamina. 

Another challenge would be my Type I Diabetes.  I’ve had Type I diabetes since 1992 – close to 25 years. I learned about it right before attending graduate school.  I went for the required physical and (while I was already sweating and urinating like crazy for a few months, and losing weight – the obvious telltale signs of Type I diabetes), since it was summer in NY, I thought nothing odd about it.  My 840-blood sugar reading told a different story where a normal reading is between 70-130. 

My reaction to the diagnosis, was, “Are you serious?  Why me?”  In the end, despite what seemed like devastating news, Type I is not a death sentence.  It is a bump in the road that requires me, as well as all other Type I diabetics, to continuously monitor and measure our blood glucose levels, since our bodies no longer naturally produce insulin.  It was a life changing event in my life, but one that I can say – has helped me approach all of life’s challenges with a “yes I can” attitude. 

On this trip, having a close ability to monitor and ensure normal glucose levels would be critical to my own safety, well-being and enjoyment. The tremendous amount of physical work day-in and day-out would require me to change my insulin intake.    

Given the obvious danger of the road / traffic to begin with, I did not want to experience any serious “low” blood sugars while riding.  Serious low blood sugar results in disorientation, and quite possibly passing-out and worse. Therefore, I checked my blood sugars 3-4x before and during a ride, and then 2-3x afterwards every day.  On 10 of the 12 days, I would wake-up with a "low" blood sugar (BS).  I learned that even though I reduced my overall insulin intake, my body would still more efficiently burn the sugar in my blood stream.  Therefore, I’d start every day with a bigger than usual breakfast of cliff bars, snickers, eggs, waffles, toast, oatmeal, yogurt, depending on my location and what was available. I'd then check my BS at noon, and in most cases, my BS number was in the normal range. I kept mini-snicker bars in my shirt pocket and would occasionally have one or two in addition to a lunch just to play it safe.

                                                                                                                Yet despite all my                                                                                                                      planning, it was on                                                                                                                  Day 5 from                                                                                                                              Deetjen's Inn, Big                                                                                                                    Sur to Cambria,                                                                                                                      probably the most                                                                                                                    challenging ride                                                                                                                      from an elevation/                                                                                                                    difficulty and                                                                                                                            mileage                                                                                                                                    perspective that I                                                                                                                    experienced a         “terrible” blood sugar low. Although I had a big meal / lunch at Ragged Point Inn of a large Cobb salad, bread and some chicken wings, about an hour after the lunch, I experienced an incapacitating “low” along the ocean and a group of elephant sea lions. 

I felt like I could no longer control the bike. For some odd reason, it kept veering off to the   right side of the road onto the shoulder, into the grass, off the pavement. I told my mind to push the handle bars in the opposite direction, but that also felt unnatural and odd.

Ultimately, I ran into a barbed-wire fence, gashing myself open with a wound across my right forearm, wrist, and shoulder. I sat on the ground, perplexed and confused. I got up, tried to ride some more and then again ran into the side of the road and landed again on the ground in the grass. At this point, I knew I needed to figure out what was going on. I was bleeding badly on the forearm.  I checked my blood sugar and it was at 45 (very low).  So, I opened my bag and I ate about 6 mini snicker bars and washed it down with some Gatorade. I stayed at the edge of the road for about 30 minutes and then slowly started to get my bearings back.  Other than one very scary situation, in which I was unable to keep control of my bicycle, I managed my Type I Diabetes well.  Afterwards, I learned from the unfortunate “low” episode to continuously feed myself in short intervals.        

                                                                                                   I took in some breathtaking                                                                                                    views on my ride. There is                                                                                                      really something to be said                                                                                                      about connecting with                                                                                                              nature for your soul. Using                                                                                                      Google Maps bike route                                                                                                          was great for keeping me                                                                                                        on the right path and                                                                                                                directing me on “bike”                                                                                                              friendly roadways.  I also                                                                                                        met some interesting                                                                                                              people on my ride. I stayed                                                                                                    at hostels, Inn’s and                                                                                                                Airbnb’s. I highly                                                                                                                      recommend doing this once                                                                                                    in your life, to meet a                                                                                                              diversity of people. Hostels                                                                                                      really allow and encourage,                                                                                                    social interaction, which is                                                                                                      great if you are traveling by                                                                                                    yourself.

Even though I tried to prepare for every scenario, you can never be truly prepared.

In the face of adversity, I persevered and focused. Overall, I experienced 5 flat tires. 3 broken spokes, highway traffic, battery on phone dying (no google maps / directions), missed roads / turns, early darkness, etc.

The most important thing when facing obstacles is the ability to laugh at yourself and to not take yourself too seriously.

Just as I did on this ride, work hard, be optimistic, focus on results, and keep finding new ways to grow and learn.  I accomplished all these feats and more on my California solo bike adventure.