20. January 2017 · Comments Off on Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 18 · Categories: Uncategorized

When my alarm went off at 3am I didn’t press snooze, so as not to wake my fellow church couch-surfer. I rolled out of my sleeping bag, sweating. I was already wearing my smelly cycling clothes so it didn’t take me long to find my bike next to the sanctuary, pack up and roll out into the Kentucky morning air.

I fueled up at the gas station in town, taking the time to drink a large cup of black coffee from a paper cup. The clerk was restocking pickles and she gave me a few quizzical looks as I chugged and shoved apple pie into my face. Some teenagers were making trouble in the parking lot, and as I rolled out they screeched out of the parking lot in their cars the opposite way.

Despite the coffee, as I rode through the dark I was strugging to keep my eyes opened. The toll of the 17 previous days was now undeniable. Still, I was on my bike, moving forward. I sang to myself, talked out loud, did math problems – anything to occupy my brain that craved only to be still, quiet and asleep.

That morning’s sunrise was one of the most fantastic I saw on the entire journey – or at least I remember feeling euphoric to see it. After over two weeks on the ride, I was becoming more comfortable with the emotional equivalent of Newton’s third law – for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I was now gaining the ability to notice the feelings of despair and exhaustion and identify them as precursors to elation and joy. And vice versa. The reality was that when there was a down, an up would follow shortly thereafter. Likewise, every feeling of progress or accomplishment would at some point, likely in short order, be accompanied by an equal feeling of failure or loss.Blog_Day_18A

This day is a bit of a blur in my memory, fueled as it was by adrenaline and exhaustion. The terrain had settled a bit for the time being, and the route meandered through multiple towns that populated the western and eastern sides of Interstate 65. There were a number of communities of similar small, clapboard homes clustered together, and I remember having the odd sensation all day that I had ridden earlier through the very place where I was now.

Despite the sleep deprivation, I had made good time during the day. By the late afternoon, when I checked TrackLeaders, MF was only about 40 miles ahead of me. My all-nighter to Chester had definitely cut the distance between us, and it had now been holding steady for about two days. In Howardstown, 175 miles into my day, I made a bold decision: I would ride all night to try to catch him. If he stopped to sleep in a town, I would try to ride past him. If I couldn’t do it, so be it. But there weren’t many days left to make a bold move, and this was a race after all. I had to try.

In the Howardstown gas station, I packed my things and chugged a Rock Star energy drink. Then I got in my aero bars, cranked up Sia and rode as hard as I could. The sun was setting as I rose past fields and up and over small hills. The excitement of deciding to try to catch MF had energized me and given me a newfound focus.

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When the sun set, my energy and excitement started to wane. I called my friend Sandy, and I was talking to her when I saw the looming lights of the bourbon distilleries just outside Bardstown. Bardstown was my last chance to refuel until the next morning, so it was critical that I load up food and water for the night. I pulled off at McDonalds on the right side of the route, but got irritable when I saw the wait was long, and rode down the road, sure I would find another place to stop. Unfortunately, the only other food stops were miles off the route and down a busy highway. Instead of going backwards to McDonalds, I ended up riding down this dark, four-lane highway to a grocery store, and wasting about 45 minutes in the process.

Standing in the grocery store, I remember a sense of being deeply overwhelmed. I didn’t know what I was looking for – much less, what I was doing. How was it that I had found myself, disheveled, smelly, exhausted and out of sorts in a grocery store at midnight in the middle of Kentucky, chasing an Italian dot? Was this really my life? In the end, I dispensed with the existential angst and bought Oreos and cokes. Then I repeated every meaningless pedal stroke to take me back down the busy highway to the route.

I could see on TrackLeaders that MF had stopped to sleep in Harrodsburg, almost exactly 50 miles from Bardstown. Doable, I thought. I could reach Harrodsburg around 3-4am. Then, if I was feeling good, I could ride right through the town. By the time MF got riding, I would be past him, and into eighth place in the race. Pondering this idea, I had to admit that I wasn’t sure what would happen after that. But I would cross that bridge when I came to it, I decided.

The ride from Bardstown to Harrodsburg that night will be forever imprinted in my brain. The terrain was a series of steep hills, roller coaster up and down, and the roads wound up and down and around like a thread. I called my friend Connell, who told me funny stories and gave me some words of encouragement. I went back to singing to myself, and trying to do math. 45 miles to go, 40, 30, 20.TL

About 2am with only 20 miles to Harrodsburg, I got off my bike. I was so tired that it was becoming dangerous to ride. Sleep seemed so delicious that it was actually unfair to deny it a chance to take over my body. I spread out my bivvy on someone’s grassy front yard, not 20 feet from the street, laid on top of it and fell asleep.

An hour later, I woke up with that desperate feeling of having just missed a college exam. I checked TrackLeaders and MF was still in Harrodsburg. There was still time! I jumped on my bike and started pedaling ferociously.

My gears wouldn’t shift. It slowly dawned on me that my di2 had died again. I stopped and ripped all my electronics out of my bag looking for a portable battery, in the process spilling everything on the dark road. My battery pack was dead, which meant that I had no choice but to find wall power to plug in my di2. Until then, while I could spin up hills, I didn’t have any gears to wind up speed on the downhill. It was only 20 miles to Harrodsburg, but it was going to take an eternity to get there.

Spinning slowly, exhausted and frustrated, I scanned every building I passed, searching it like an electricity bandit. Was that an outlet on the front of that church? Could I sneak into that person’s garage? Suddenly, 10 miles from Harrodsburg, I spotted the glowing lights of a soda machine outside a convenience store. Sure enough, there was an unused outlet just next to the machine. I plugged my di2 into the wall and bought two cokes. Then I sat down in the dark to wait.

The Trans Am facebook page was abuzz at 4am that night. Lael was overtaking Steffen in the last 200 miles of the race, and dot-watchers were glued to their screens. As they rode through some tree cover in Virginia, the LW and SS tracker signals disappeared. The late-night dot watchers were aghast – who could they watch?

Sitting there next to the soda machine in Kentucky at 4am, this post popped up on my feed.IMG_0271

 

 

 

19. January 2017 · Comments Off on Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 17 · Categories: Uncategorized

I slept until 6am, so it was light before I got out of the hotel. MF had been gone for several hours, so my big push into the night had only gotten me a gain of about 10-20 miles on him. Still, it was something. At this point, the only time I could gain was by riding longer – there was no option to ride harder.

My main goal of the day was to reach the ferry at Cave in Rock, Illinois, which crosses the Illinois River and serves as the border between Illinois into Kentucky. I had to reach Cave in Rock by 9pm for the last ferry; otherwise there were no more until the next morning. Because of my big ride the day before, I only had about 140 miles to ride to Cave in Rock from Chester.

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Illinois scene. 

Setting out, that seemed like a simple task. Maybe I would hit the ferry in the mid-afternoon, I thought, and get a good ways into Kentucky before I slept. But as the day wore on, the temperature went up and so did the hills. Mid-afternoon came and went. Pedaling through the Shawnee National Forest, the trees and thick foliage looked so enticing that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for shade. I pulled my bike into the forest, laid my bivvy out carefully – scouting the area for poison oak, even though I wasn’t really sure what it looked like – and fell asleep for an hour.

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Foliage of Shawnee National Forest. 

Waking up, I checked the time and realized I no longer had a comfortable cushion to reach the ferry. Gah. I gathered up my things, wiped the drool off my face and wheeled my bike back onto the road. For the next few hours, the road made me work for the ferry. The grades were steep, the roads narrow, the cars impatient, the pavement rough. Basically, the last 10 miles went on forever.

I arrived at the ferry about 7:30pm and got behind 3 cars. A girl and three guys in the car next to me were smoking cigarettes and asked me where I was going. I told them Virginia and asked them to take my picture.

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Waiting for the ferry across the Illinois River.

On the other side, I rolled off the ferry and passed the Kentucky state sign. Two more states to go. It felt like an accomplishment, but a sobering one, since some of the race’s hardest riding was still to come. It was an uphill ten miles to the town of Marion, Kentucky. As I spun slowly up the hill, it was getting dark and the fireflys began shooting off staccato bursts of yellow on either side of the road.

Rolling into Marion, I heard my name being called by avid dot-watcher Michele Hodge. I was happy she was there to greet me, and as I pulled over and extended my hand to shake hers, I immediately toppled over. From the ground, all I could think to say was, “I’m a really good bike rider, I promise.” That, and “You should really take a picture.” Michele obliged.

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There amount of blood was minor, and no damage I could see to my bike, so after she checked on my well being and introduced me to her husband, she asked me my plans for the night. I was still toying with the idea of carrying on – MF was still riding – but she told me that I could sleep inside the church on the corner for free. So after I stopped at McDonalds, I headed over to the church, riding one handed and slurping on a large chocolate milkshake.

The sign on the door said to call the pastor, so I called the pastor. He was babysitting and couldn’t leave the house, but he told me to knock on the door of “the white house down the street” (he didn’t know the address) and the church custodian would let me in. After wandering around the neighborhood for a bit, I chose a white house and knocked tentatively at the door. A woman answered. Hi, I said, raising my milkshake in greeting. I am looking for the custodian so that I can get into the church to sleep. She looked at me quizzically. The pastor sent me? I said.

Who is that? I heard a male voice call. A man in overalls and a baseball hat appeared at the door. I explained my situation and he agreed to meet me at the church in a few minutes. I finished my milkshake on the front steps, and he appeared shortly with a ring of keys. I followed him inside and he showed me a Sunday school room on the first floor where I could leave my bike on the carpeted floor. Then we walked upstairs to another set of meeting rooms.

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The church custodian inside a Sunday school room. 

He showed me into a large room with sofas and a few tables and chairs. The heat was on full blast. There was another cyclist there, a young guy from Minnesota, who was laying out his sleeping bag on one of the couches. The custodian continued a protracted tour of the facilities – showing me the light switches, the bathrooms, drinking fountains, other rooms where I could sleep if I wanted, backup light switches for other parts of the church.

Now, he said, leading me back to the room with sofas. We need to do headshots for the book. He pulled out a TransAm logbook with photos and notes from hundreds of riders who had visited the church during their rides. He brought a large digital camera out of a cabinet and asked me and the other rider to stand in front of a wall while he took our photos. Then he seemed flummoxed. He couldn’t remember how to connect the camera to the computer and print out the photos. This was apparently a task that could not wait until tomorrow. Did we know how to work this thing? he asked us. Fortunately, the other rider offered to help him. after about 30 more minutes, the photos were printed and glued into the book.

The custodian eventually told us good night, about 11pm. I apologized in advance to the other rider for my alarm that was set to go off at 3am. I got in my sleeping bag on the couch in all my smelly clothes, posted this photo and went to sleep.

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18. January 2017 · Comments Off on Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 16 · Categories: Uncategorized

I packed up and carried my bike down the carpeted staircase of the Holiday Inn Express to the quizzical looks of the early-morning desk clerk. I rolled across the giant parking lot off the interstate in Marshfield and back onto the route.

Something different needed to happen. After what I considered three lackluster riding days, I needed to regain the determination that would allow me to ride this race successfully. For me, that meant both pushing my limits and being in control of my own race – not letting external circumstances dictate either my actions or my perceptions of myself. Two weeks into the race, I now understood that the ability for mental focus – hour after hour, day after day – was the elemental skill that this race demanded. This is not to downplay the physical requirements that racing the Trans Am requires – like being strong and fit, having the endurance to make the distance, knowing how to prevent injuries, managing physical maintenance like eating and sleep. Those things are all critical too. But above and beyond those more measurable skills, it was becoming clear to me that mental fortitude – while not as quantifiable – would be the difference for me between “finishing” and “finishing satisfied.”IMG_0254

I knew I would have to start right then to draw on those mental reserves for the upcoming section of Missouri. The Ozarks were coming. As I moved farther away from Kansas, the green lushness of the Ozarks was a welcome sight. But it came with its own nuisances; in particular, the increasing grade of the hills. At first, I could handle the rises simply by concentrating on using momentum from the downhills and then standing and powering over the top of the next rise. This part was fun, kind of a terrain roller coaster. As the morning wore on, though, the rollers became steeper, and momentum was only marginally helpful. First, it could get me 75% of the way up a hill. Then 50%. Then 25%.

It was also another brutally hot summer day. In Eminence, Missouri, I stopped at a gas station that had a small sandwich shop. I got a coke and sat down at a table by the window. Another cyclist was sitting just in front of me, but he didn’t stop to look when I sat down. A few minutes later, though, I felt a tap on my table, and he motioned me over, wordlessly. He pulled out his Trans Am maps, pointed and smiled. I nodded, confused. It took me a minute to realize he was deaf.

I pulled out of Eminence into the heart of the Ozarks parkway, a bit more inspired. But the hills soon became a chore again. I had to take one at a time, working up and over each with intense concentration. At one point, my heart rate was soaring and my pace was so low that my Garmin was switching to auto pause – and I wondered, as humiliating as it was, whether it might not be more efficient to walk. On the next hill I rolled up as far as I could, then swallowed my pride and got off my bike. Unfortunately, the air was so hot that it was melting on the pavement and as I walked, black sticky sludge filled my cleats. At the top of the hill, I stepped off the road into the grass, exasperated, to dig the tar out of my cleats – and immediately was stung by a swarm of bees.

Okay, no more walking then.

The afternoon went on, through the hills and green remoteness of the Ozarks. In the early evening, I made a long climb out of Johnson’s Shut In’s State Park and gradually back into civilization, rolling through the small burgs outside of Farmington. As I rode towards Farmington, traffic picked up, with an inordinate number of pickup trucks gunning their engines and laying on their horns as they passed.

It was 10pm when I hit the outskirts of town – and I was surprised to hear my name called from the side of the road. When I stopped, the woman who had called my name introduced herself as Jeneen McEntire, Brian’s wife. I was so touched by her thoughtfulness in coming out to greet me that I gave her a big hug. She was so encouraging and said she would be cheering for me. Just up the road, another one of Brian’s cyclist friends was out to greet me. He advised me to hit the McDonald’s, since not much would be open in town. He asked if I was staying in town, and without thinking I said no, that I would keep riding on. He seemed as surprised as I was to hear my answer.

In McDonald’s, I settled on my plan. I would ride to Chester, which was about 40 miles east of Farmington. Checking TrackLeaders, Massimiliano Fancoli had stopped there for the night. If I rode straight through, I could make it to Chester about 2am. I could check into the hotel there, get a few hours of sleep, and then hopefully be hot on the tail of Massimiliano – who I came to think of as his dot’s acronym, “MF” – in the morning.

Leaving McDonald’s, I felt energized. Pedaling through downtown Farmington, with all the shops and restaurants shut down for the night, I felt like I was getting away with something. Some sense of freedom was opening for me – the realization that I was out in the world, alone, exploring the unknown – and that was exciting. I don’t know why the feeling was so strong in that moment, but I wanted to be open to it. And ride it for as long as I could.

The road to Chester was undulating – and very, very dark. I talked to Jill, who was still up and willing to keep me company at midnight, and Donncha, who was already headed to work in the Netherlands. They both acknowledged what a massive day I had just had – with 240 miles and over 12,000 feet of climbing – and encouraged me to continue to push myself as much as I could.IMG_0253

I rolled across the Mississippi on the long, eerie truss bridge and into Chester, Illinois. The Chester “Home of Popeye” sign and the Illinois state sign sat side-by-side on the far side of the Mississippi at the entrance to town and I stopped to take photos and take in the view. It was 2am and I had been riding since 4am the previous morning, but I was energized. It had been my biggest riding day yet, MF was within reach, and most importantly, my mindset had changed from uncertain to confident in my abilities.IMG_0255

I took a right just past the bridge, cruised down a long, steep hill to the river – and immediately realized I had made a wrong turn. I climbed slowly back up to the bridge and headed the right way to the hotel, which turned to be another several miles down the road. It was a little early for celebrations, I thought.

Still, I had made it. A bed had rarely looked that good – and beds had been looking pretty good recently. I set my alarm for three hours of sleep, posted this photo and went to bed.Blog_Day_16B

 

17. January 2017 · Comments Off on Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 15 · Categories: Uncategorized

I woke up and rolled out of bed at 4am, while it was still dark. Before I left my motel room, I checked Track Leaders. Bo Dudley was only about 10 miles from Chanute, just on my tail.

Out on the road, it was warm but not too humid or windy. I was happy that I would be exiting Kansas early in the day. Kansas had been hard for me. I wasn’t sure whether it had been Kansas’ terrain or weather that had made the last 2 days feel so hard — or whether the cumulative fatigue of two weeks of all-day riding with very little sleep was simply catching up with me. Despite averaging about 200 miles per day for the first 12 days of the race, I had not been able to crack 200 miles either of the last two days. Was this a downward slide that I was powerless to resist?IMG_0247

I didn’t know. And while I was happy to leave Kansas, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in Missouri. During mid-morning, I saw two riders coming towards me. They waved and I went across the road to meet east-west pairs riders Ken Simpson and Terry Roe. They were in good spirits, though they had faced their own challenges traversing the mountains of the eastern US. We chatted for a few minutes, wished each other luck and carried on in our own directions.

I rode on through the gently rolling landscape, through Pittsburgh and across the Missouri border during the mid-morning. Almost immediately after crossing the Missouri border, the landscape began to change. The hills were a bit steeper and the fields more green.IMG_0250

Also, my di2 battery – which charges the electronic gearing system on my bike— was almost out of juice. This meant that not all of my gears were working; in fact, I could only use the hill climbing gears, which was a problem on flattish terrain. Di2 batteries have variable running times before they need to be charged, and I could generally expect to ride about 2,000 miles before needing to recharge. The last time I had fully charged the battery was in a hotel room back in Twin Bridges, Montana, so it wasn’t unusual that I was due for a charge.

However, there was another related logistical problem: The USB attached to my Dynamo hub – a battery built into the hub of my front wheel that generates electricity while the bike is being pedaled – was also no longer working. For the first 10 days of the trip, I had been able to use that USB port to charge electronics while riding – my phone, light, Garmin and di2. However, a problem with the connection had made the USB inoperable.

I pulled over to the side of the road to see if I could come up with a plan. As I was standing in the grass, Adi and Niel Coventry-Brown, another east-west team from New Zealand, pulled up. They were sympathetic and offered help, but I told them I would figure it out. They were both thrilled to be out of the mountains, and they told me horror stories of how steep the hills were in Missouri, Kentucky and Virginia. I was happy for them – but still tried not to hear what they were saying. I was tired enough as it was.

It was only about 10 more miles to Golden City, where I found Cooky’s Café, a popular Trans Am route. It was Saturday of Father’s Day weekend, and the café was packed with families having lunch. But the owner let me bring my bike inside and plug it into an electrical outlet behind a bench in the waiting area. I ate a piece of pie while I waited, and ordered a second one to go. I had to crunch the Styrofoam to fit the pie in my jersey pocket as I left – I hoped I hadn’t ruined the whipped cream.

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Straight lines to squiggly lines

Just north of Springfield Missouri, the road began to change even more, becoming less straight and more winding. I would encounter the Ozarks soon, I know, and this must be the warmup. During the later afternoon, I stopped in Walnut Grove to refuel. I asked the clerk if there was a city park, and she pointed me just down the street. There was a pavilion in the park with electrical outlets, so I plugged in all my devices, then lay down in the cool grass and slept for an hour.

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Western Missouri moonrise

When I woke up, I was groggy and confused. I got back on my bike and hit the road. A few hours later I came into the interstate town of Marshfield, Missouri. There was a Holiday Inn Express there, which was expensive. At the time I was too tired to even care.

I hit the McDonald’s next door and then checked into the motel. I sat on the floor and took stock. For the third day in a row, I had failed to make 200 miles on the day – and this all in the flattest part of the entire Trans Am route. Tomorrow I would face the Ozarks, and I knew that was just the beginning of the onslaught of mountain climbing that would continue until the last day of the race. In fact, the four easternmost states of the Trans Am route (Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Virginia) have more combined elevation gain than Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado combined.

I was still in ninth place, but Bo Dudley was quickly still approaching behind me. Several other riders were still not far behind. I was going to need to find something deep inside myself – and quick – to finish this race in the top ten.

I set my alarm for 4am, posted this photo and went to sleep.Blog_Day_15A

 

16. January 2017 · Comments Off on Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 14 · Categories: Uncategorized

The stop at Newton was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because of the nice people, good food, air conditioning, cold beer, and warm bed. And a curse for all the same reasons. Truly racing the Trans Am is all about time management, and getting too comfortable can be a dangerous thing. I was aware that I had been wooed by the abundance of riches Newton had offered. Ben had come in and gone while I was sleeping, putting him several hours ahead of me. And as I left, Bo Dudley was not too far behind. I needed to get my head back in the game.

It was light by the time I got on the road, and – despite wearing a clean jersey and being well fed – I was bummed because of it. Over the last two weeks I had found that I was only able to begin the day satisfied when I got on the bike in the pre-dawn darkness. Only then did I feel like I had “enough” time to do what I needed to do that day. On those days, I could often knock out 100 miles before mid-day, which gave me a sense of efficiency. It sounds odd, but the feeling was similar to the satisfaction of crossing off items on a to-do list during a focused, productive day in real life. “Miles ridden before noon” was an odd metric, but it was the one I happened to be measuring myself by these days.

In Cassoday, I stopped to refuel at a gas station. There was an antique car rally coming the other way, and the drivers were congregating at the gas station. I stopped to watch them for a while and got chatting to Karl, a Trans Am tourist who was headed east to west. He asked if he could take my picture. In the photo I look as clean and fresh as I was, but that smile also belied the anxiety I was feeling that morning.IMG_0246

I tried to brush those feelings aside as I headed into eastern Kansas. The wind today was not ripping like the day before, but the heat promised to be a real issue. Also, another thing I hadn’t predicted about Eastern Kansas: hills. As if a subtle warning to Missouri, still a couple hundred miles ahead, the landscape begins to undulate – gently at first, and then increasingly requiring attention.

About 60 miles from Newton, on a hilly four-lane highway, my back tire flatted again. This was the fifth flat on that back tire. And despite the fact that neither James nor myself had been able to locate any defect in the tire, I decided enough was enough. I needed a new tire. A quick search told me that the next bike shop was in Pittsburgh, about 200 miles east. The closest was the one I had just left, 60 miles behind me.

I called James. He was willing to send me a new tire, but wasn’t sure how long it would take. He offered that I could wait for Bo Dudley, who was at the shop at that time, to bring it to me. “No!” I screeched into the phone. For the past few days I had been struggling to keep a measurable distance between me and Bo. The last thing I wanted was to wait for him to catch me. I was doing my best to compete, but I was in no condition for a race.

Eventually, James found someone who was willing to drive the tire to me. I made it to Eureka and waited under a shaded umbrella at the Sonic on the corner. This day was demoralizing me, but I tried to believe there was some redeeming quality to the forced rest. I was having, after all, a “Eureka moment.” I ate a bacon cheeseburger and drank a large cherry-lime slushee. I laid down on the concrete bench and tried to sleep.

In less time than I expected, two friends of James showed up with my new tire. It was a bulletproof Continental Gatorskin, and with it securely on my back wheel and the offending tire gone, I felt a great sense of relief. I hoped my tire issues were now behind me for good.

IMG_0245By now it was mid-day and the sun was blazing down as I made my way east. My Garmin registered 114 degrees this afternoon. I spent the afternoon searching for shaded structures – a tree, a rest stop bathroom, a signpost – to stop and cool off. An hour or two after leaving Eureka, I stopped at a bait and tackle shop before making the turn to Lake Ontario. An elderly man and woman sat playing cards In the dark, low-ceilinged shop. The owner got up slowly, showed me his Trans Am log book filled with notes from years of Trans Am riders, and asked me to sign it.IMG_0241

I payed for my food and extra water with my debit card, then stepped outside, squinting into the afternoon sun. In stark contrast to the busy highway miles I had been covering for most of the day since Newton, the road suddenly became hilly, rural and lonely. About 10 miles after leaving the store, an old white pickup truck pulled up beside me. In it was the shop owner, grinning and holding my debit card. I was touched by his kindness and thanked him profusely, slipping it in my jersey pocket.

Only a few miles later, I came across a river crossing shaded by trees. I pulled over next to the river to enjoy the cooler temperature for a moment – and took the opportunity to pull my phone out of my jersey pocket and change the music selection.

I realized my carelessness just a few minutes later, when I reached back to see where my debit card was. The card was gone. I went back to the river and looked around, but no luck. The card must have fallen into the river and was already making its way downstream.

The rest of that day was marked by a distinct, but involuntary, pattern: “ride, rest, ride, rest.” Unlike in days before, I didn’t feel like I had any control over when my rest periods came. Instead, they overcame me. One moment I would be riding my bike, and the next, find myself sitting just off the road in the tall grass – unaware of any conscious decision I had made to stop and take a break.

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A fitting rest stop that afternoon.

I called my friend Jill as the sun went down. She could hear the exhaustion in my voice and she urged me to stop and sleep. Eat, sleep, she said. And because I had apparently become a robot that day, I obeyed. Just after dark I rolled into Chanute, where, right away, another of the many big-hearted characters of Kansas offered to buy my food at a gas station. I waited on my bike in the drive-thru at Sonic and ordered my second and third bacon cheeseburgers for the day. Then I went across the street to the fleabag motel and got a room.

The day’s heat, my late start, and the tire delay had meant I had covered less than 140 miles on the day, the fewest miles of my race yet. Still, Kansas was almost finished and tomorrow another chapter in the race would begin – in Missouri. I set my alarm for early, posted this photo then went to sleep.IMG_0244

15. January 2017 · Comments Off on Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 13 · Categories: Uncategorized

I was up before the sun and at the front door of the Derrick Inn with the swimming pool in my rearview. I had to use both hands to push the door open, due to the wind that was already howling at 4:30am. I got on my bike and pedaled east out of town, glad that, for the moment, the onslaught was coming from the south, and at my side, instead of a direct headwind.

Still, that relief was tinged with certain dread. The first day of Kansas had been no easy feat, and today was unlikely to be easier, maybe even harder. I had my eyes set on Newton Bike Shop, an important waypoint on the TransAm race (and for anyone touring the Trans Am route). During the race, Newton Bike Shop owners Heather and James Barringer offer all racers a slew of services: mechanical support, a mailbox address, showers, food and a place to sleep as they pass through town. Via cameras set up in the shop, they also provide a real-time glimpse of racers as they arrive at Newton, for family and friends watching online at home. Sometimes James complements these arrivals with a – shall we say – “colorful” editorial commentary.

Straight lines.

Newton was about 180 miles due east of Ness City – and on another day, that distance might not have seemed all that intimidating. But I left Ness City that morning feeling tired, worn down, and a bit daunted by the day’s ride ahead of me. I knew the heat would be a factor again, and I also knew that there was a long 65-mile stretch with no services, from Larned to Nickerson.

I also figured out pretty early that the day’s one significant right hand turn, at Rush Center, was going to point me directly into a ferocious headwind. I arrived in Rush Center around 7 am, hoping against all odds to find an early-to-rise downtown, or at least a diner serving breakfast that might give me a little boost before heading into the wind.

Kansas.

Instead, I found a soda machine on the corner, outside a closed service station. It only took coins. A construction crew was already on the job just up the street, and I harassed the foreman until he was able to scrounge three dollars worth of change from his detail. While three cokes for breakfast might have seemed a depressing prospect at another point in my life, my life situation was different now. As the boss put the coins in my hand in exchange for the bills, my words of thanks were effusive enough to elicit a puzzled, if not slightly alarmed, expression on his face.

While I was chugging cokes in the parking lot on the corner, a Trans Am tourist flew in from the direction I was heading. He had a big grin on his face. “Wow, that was fun!” he said. Then, realizing what direction I was headed, he backpedaled politely. “I mean, it’s only a few miles,” he said.

It was indeed only a few miles. Eighteen, to be exact, which is not a lot in the grand scheme of things. But I was putting up my best fight mentally. All the way from Ness City, I had been dreading this stretch, and as I started, I had that loop of negativity going on in my mind. Nothing even interesting, or witty: just “hate, hate, hate, hate” on repeat. The wind was gusting, so sometimes I was moving at 10mph, other times at 6. Hate, hate, hate, hate.

About halfway through this stretch, my phone dinged with a text from my mom. She was sending me photos from my brother’s wedding, which had been in May less than a month before the race. While I was riding, I opened one of the pictures. There was my whole family – my brother and his new wife Nikki, my sister, parents, Jimmy, my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandpa, grandpa’s husband, Nikki’s whole family – now new family to me.

A magic text message from mom.

Suddenly, looking at those photos, something changed in my mind. It was one of those moments where nothing changes, but everything does, simply because you see something differently. I remembered that the world is a big, big place – something much greater than me – and that what I was doing at that very moment – cranking into the wind in Kansas – was a privilege, not a curse or an affliction. I don’t know whether it was a choice, or just a brain chemistry switch, but I went almost momentarily from being hateful to thankful for all that I had in my life.

As I made the left hand turn to head to Larned, I was in a decidedly better emotional place than I had been earlier that morning. I’m not sure whether it was related, but in Larned an extraordinary series of encounters with people seemed to reinforce my newfound faith in the world. In the gas station, a young woman and her mother approached me. She was an avid dot watcher, she said, and she knew me by name. She gave me a hug and wished me well. At the counter in the same gas station, an old man in a pair of overalls and a few missing teeth tried to buy my stack of candy bars, ice creams and cokes because “you look like you need it.” In the Burger King next door, the manager asked me about the race and offered me extra food for free. The woman at the table next to me ran out to her car to get me some extra sunscreen.

The 65 miles from Larned to the next services in Hutchison were hot, and challenging, but I entered it feeling calm. The wind was now a crosswind, and had died a bit, but the temperature was dangerously high. Some of the other racers, including Ben, had decided to sleep during the day to avoid the worst of the heat and ride at night. But I decided to forge on ahead. I was going to be hot anyway, I figured. Might as well not be hot and sleepy both.

With the amazing Jason Marshall.

Halfway to Hutchison, I saw a smiling rider coming towards me. We both stopped, and he introduced himself as Jason Marshall, the lead west-bound racer who had started in Yorktown and was headed to Astoria. Jason had been hit by a car a few days earlier, and forced to quit the race. Then, Lazarus-style he had re-started and here he was, smiling his way across Kansas. We chatted for a few minutes and he told me about a water spicket at a church several miles down the road. Then we took a selfie, wished each other luck and headed off in opposite directions. (Jason arrived in Astoria as the first of the west-bound racers!)

I rode into Nickerson in the late afternoon, bedraggled once again by the long stretch of sun and heat. On the road into town, I was riding so slowly that I distinctly remember wondering whether I would be able to convince anyone in the passing cars passing that I was a competitor in a bike race. Almost at that very moment, a man on the side of the road called “Go Janie!.” Perplexed, I pulled over. He introduced himself as my friend Travis’ uncle. Travis lives in Washington DC but hails from Kansas, and he had sent his uncle out to say greet me. An endurance athlete himself, he had all kinds of questions and words of encouragement that inspired me to make only a short stop in Nickerson and hit the road for the last 50 miles to Newton.

I was more exhausted on that stretch from Nickerson to Kansas than I had been in a while, and maybe for the whole race. My legs didn’t work, and every mile felt like an eternity. The distance was moving by so slowly that I kept checking my Garmin to make sure it was working. I checked my tires to make sure I didn’t have a flat. I checked my brakes in case they were rubbing.

I also stopped to take a lot of photos of the sunset. The sunset was indeed beautiful that evening, warranting the stops – but it was also a good excuse to stop and get off my bike. At twilight, I was nearing Newton when I made a wrong turn. It was only a couple of miles, but it felt like an eternal detour.

Kansas sunset. (It truly was beautiful.)

After another stretch of forever, I rolled into Newton’s downtown district in the dark. So relieved was I to have made it to Newton, that I forgot what I was doing, rode all the way down the main street and out the other side of town before I realized I had overshot my mark. Flustered and confused, I turned around and was immediately stopped by a passing train.

I’m pretty sure I was laughing at the absurdity of the day when I pulled up outside the bike shop. James was waiting outside, and another visiting non-racing cyclist was cooking burgers on a grill. Stepping into the air conditioned shop was surreal. I handed my bike over to James, who was going to check my tires for wear and change my rear cassette out from an 11-28 to an 11-32 in anticipation of the steep hills of Missouri, Kentucky and Virginia. Immediately, however, he was horrified by the indescribable molds and bacteria festering in my water bottles. As Heather hurried me away to her car to drive me to her house for a shower, I could hear James, talking to the online camera, “I hope the health inspector doesn’t drop in, because I would lose my license for sure. These bottles are RAUNCHY…”

The sensation of being in a moving car was incredibly disconcerting after nearly two weeks moving only at a bicycle/snail’s pace, and I gripped the car door handle while Heather drove. After I had showered, she took me back to the shop, where I ate a great dinner in the kitchen and had a short massage. Around 1am I laid down to sleep in a bunk bed in a dark room in the back of the shop. Heather said they would wake me up in four hours. I posted this photo and fell into a deep, deep sleep.

 

 

14. January 2017 · Comments Off on Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 12 · Categories: Uncategorized

My alarm went off just after 4am. I got ready and carried my bike bags out to the shed where my bike had spent the night safely behind a two by four. Putting my bags back on in the darkness took a bit of time, but soon enough I rolled into the warmth of the morning air.

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Remains of the midnight pork chop.

One hundred miles ahead was the Kansas border, and I wanted to hit it before noon. In the preceding days I had looked forward to Kansas with alternate excitement and trepidation. The winds, storms and heat that can accompany riders through this state make it perhaps the biggest wildcard of the race. Good conditions could be merciful. Bad ones, downright soul destroying. And because Kansas is smack dab in the middle of the race, it also has the power to set a tone for the final days of the journey. You could come out the other side alive – or not so much.

Without much fanfare, the day before I had passed the race’s halfway point, about 2100 miles. I’m not sure I even knew until someone sent me a text to congratulate me. Like most milestones in the race, I could see both the bright and dark side to this victory. It was reason to celebrate, of course, but also to lament: 2,100 miles down equaled 2,100 to go.IMG_0228

My uneasy mood this morning was also partly exacerbated, ironically, by the exuberance of seeing so many friends the day before. By comparison, the days stretching out in front of me were bound to be lonely.

As the sun rose, I realized they were also bound to be hot. The temperature was quickly into the 90s in the morning and soaring towards 100. I reached the Kansas border around noon, as I had planned.  The Trans Am route for the next 200 miles or so is one straight, flat road due east. Small towns are planted every 15-25 miles or so, little oases in the desert. As the heat mounted in the early afternoon, my routine at each one of these towns took on a clear pattern: Guzzle cold water, eat ice cream, dump cold water on sun sleeves, put ice in bra, dump ice down pants, treat saddle sores. Carrying 3 bottles of water – two to drink and one to pour in the holes of my helmet while riding – was just about sufficient to get me to the next town while barely avoiding heatstroke.Blog_Day_12B

In the mid-afternoon, leaning down in my aerobars in the middle of mostly nowhere, probably squinting for the sign of the silos that would mark the entrance to the next town, I heard a click of bike gears behind me. I had been waiting for Ben Colwill to catch me for two days. Early in the race, Ben had been among the leaders, but a serious mechanical had stopped him in Wyoming. Now he was back on the road moving up in the race quickly. I was excited to see another racer, and hoped that some camaraderie might help to lift my mood.

Ben pulled up beside me. As I sat up and turned to talk to him, he gave me a smile, a salute of the hand, and rode on by.

I couldn’t believe it. How could he not want to talk to me? How could he ride on ahead like that, leaving me in the heat to suffer…alone?

When I arrived at the gas station in the next town, Ben’s bike was outside. The increase in my core body temperature had apparently increased my capacity for drama, and I stomped inside to where Ben was sitting, drinking a coke and minding his own business.

Red faced – likely also drooling – I demanded loudly, “Well. You must be REALLY busy!”

Ben looked at me, confused. “Excuse me,” he said.

“You’re in such a hurry, you couldn’t even stop for five minutes to talk to me!” I said accusingly.

“Uh, sorry,” he said. Sorry for being able to get to this air conditioned gas station faster than you, was probably what he was thinking.

I couldn’t think of a follow-up, so I went to ice down. A few minutes later and a few degrees cooler – also a bit chagrined about my outburst – we talked as we got ready to leave. I hoped he wouldn’t hold my temper tantrum against me.

All that afternoon, Ben was part of my gas station hop pattern. He was riding faster than me, but would usually be at the next gas station when I arrived. We would commiserate about the heat, ice down, ride out together, then meet up again at the next town an hour or so down the road.

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Kansas scenery

In the early evening, I rolled into Dighton. The sun was setting but I still wanted to make the next 40 miles to Ness City that night. To bait myself, I had called the only motel in town and made a reservation. Ben was there, and agreed to ride with me, as he was planning to ride into the night anyway. As we jeaded out of Dighton, the wind was relatively calm. But as we continued towards Ness City, a ferocious headwind picked up. Riding side by side, at times we had to shout to each other to be heard. It took us an hour to make the last ten downhill miles to town.

Ness City is a small town of about 1,500 that has seen better days. Like other rural towns in the state, it has clearly suffered from an exodus of population in recent decades. Riding on the cracked main street through town, many of the buildings looked abandoned.

The Derrick Inn, though, appeared to be a relic of Ness City’s heydays. (I recently looked up the Hotel on Trip Advisor, and a recent customer had titled his review, “The most interesting terrible motel I’ve stayed in.”  I understood exactly what he meant.) As we walked inside the door, the wind hushed and we were greeted by a large swimming pool in the center of a grand, empty atrium. At one time, this hotel was probably the nerve (or at least party) center of Ness City.

Even though Ben was planning to ride on into the night, I think he was as curious as me to check out my room. After getting my key from a very nice woman, we entered a large 3-room suite. The first room had blue shag carpet and a large wooden bar. A saggy couch was along the wall. Adjacent was a large bedroom. Then attached, was a bathroom with a giant, new marble bathtub big enough for 3-4 people.

It seemed a shame to only spend a handful of hours in a room with so much promise. But alas, after sending Ben back into the Kansas wind, I did what I always do. I ate some food in bed, set my alarm for about 4 hours later, posted this photo and went to sleep.Blog_Day_12A

 

13. January 2017 · Comments Off on Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 11 · Categories: Uncategorized

I woke up around 5, excited at the prospect of seeing my friends in Breckenridge. Everything was still damp from the night before, and it was cold in the early morning air. As I was coming down the steps from my room, a guy with a bike came out of one of the rooms on the lower level.

“Where are you headed?” I asked

He looked up and noticed I had a bike, too. “Probably the same place you are,” he said. “To do The Loop.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. I didn’t know what The Loop was, but right then I wished with every part of my being that I was going on it. I’m going to Breckenridge, I said, because I was. Then I dropped the old fashioned key in the slot outside the office for early departures. I heard it drop at the bottom of the metal box.

I got on the bike path, which was much easier to navigate in daylight than the night before. It was 10 miles from Frisco to Breckenridge. My hometown of Salida is about an hour’s drive from Breckenridge, and I had ridden this stretch of road in training. I was nearing Breckenridge, and thinking about that training ride, when all of a sudden a vague, unrelated thought entered my mind. Where was my plastic baggie that held my credit card and drivers license? I stopped, and searched all my pockets. Surely it was there, surely it was somewhere. Surely I hadn’t walked out of the motel room without checking to make sure I had forgotten anything.

Surely I had.

I turned around and rode the bike path back to Frisco. The office wasn’t open, and that key was at the bottom of the box, out of reach. After trying several times, I finally was able to rouse the office manager, who was probably sleeping in because I had woken him at midnight the night before. He was none too happy to see me, but let me into my room. Sure enough, there next to the sink, was the world’s most valuable plastic bag.

Angry and relieved, and also still cold, I hammered as fast as I could back to Breckenridge. Passing the spot I had realized my mistake, I told myself to act like it was my first time there today. Just get on with it. There was no use in fixating on my mistakes; they were in the past. In Breckenridge, my friends had not yet arrived so I headed into a Starbucks. I had not been in a coffee shop since the second day of the race, and it was both comforting and disconcerting. The job of Starbucks is to lure you in and keep you. My job was to get in and out as fast as I could. It would be a battle of wills – me vs. Starbucks.

When my friends – Sheree, Jen and Hale – walked in the door, at first I just stared. They looked so…clean. Then I burst into tears. I didn’t expect to be so overjoyed, and broken, when I saw their faces, but the emotions just came out. “It’s so hard,” I sobbed on Sheree’s shoulder. Sharing a coffee with those three was perhaps the loveliest 20 minutes of my race. They rubbed my shoulders and told me they were proud of me. They said everyone was watching me, and I was doing great. They told me to stay strong and all the other right words to say. They graciously hid whatever horror or bewilderment they were feeling.

Hale, me, Sheree, Jen

As I pedaled slowly up Hoosier Pass, the girls gave me one last cheer as they started their hour journey back to Salida. It was 7:45am.

Hoosier Pass was not a surprise to me, and while the big climb was slow going, I was so buoyed by the brief visit from my friends that I forgot about the climb. At the top, I chatted with a Danish tourist who had been on the national cycling team. He took my photo and then I took a picture of him and his friend. Then I coasted down the other side, light with the support from my friends and the relief of knowing I had crested the highest part of the route and was heading out of the mountains.

On the way down, I called my friend and former coach, Kelly. Kelly is a world-class professional athlete, and a fierce competitor who also is thoughtful and always offers good advice. I told her about my ambitions to finish in the top ten, but that I was tired and skeptical that I had it in me. “Just take care of what is in front of you,” was her advice to me. “Don’t look ahead, just deal with every moment as it comes. You know how to do that.”

In Fairplay (just past South Park, of TV show fame) I stopped to look for Second Skin, the blister repair treatment, which had become my companion to Orajel for dealing with my saddle sores. Second Skin makes a barrier over an open wound and protects it from friction or impact. Applying Second Skin and Orajel several times a day wasn’t eliminating the pain, but was definitely alleviating it. And at the time, that was good enough for me.

After Fairplay, the day’s route headed through small towns of central Colorado, just a handful of miles east of Salida. I planned to meet my friend Jill, who also lives in Salida, in Canyon City where she was working for day. The route makes a climb above the town and then an 8-mile screaming highway descent, the last major descent out of the mountains. In Canon City, I walked into a gas station and immediately came face-to-face with fellow racer Bo Dudley. I had not checked Track Leaders recently, and wasn’t expecting to see another competitor. He was surprised to see me, as I was him.

Most painful left turn of the race.

While we were chatting, Jill came in. She watched in awe as I inhaled two ice cream sandwiches and assorted other foods. She asked me all kinds of questions about the race, and told me about real life at home. Bo said goodbye and headed out while we were talking. After a few minutes, I decided I should go. It was excruciating to say goodbye.

Proof of my ice cream eating skills in Canon City. Also, note puffy seat.

Out of the mountains, it was hot. The next town was Florence, a small town with a quaint downtown, which also happens to be located adjacent to the Federal Correctional Complex, the only federal supermax prison in the country. In fact, the Trans Am route through the remainder of eastern Colorado would be dotted with prisons. “Just don’t stop in eastern Colorado, whatever you do,” one of the Trans Am 2015 racers had told me when I met him in a bike shop in Oregon and asked for tips.

In the middle of downtown Florence, I heard someone calling my name. I looked up and there in front of me were Salida friends Mark, Brenda and their dog Scooby (RIP, Scooby). They had been in the area and went out of their way to find me on the map and hunt. Stopping in the shade to talk to them was another boost for what promised to be a challenging afternoon in the heat. After a few minutes, we hugged and said goodbye.

Mark, Brenda and Scooby

And then I was on my own again. A few rolling hills were giving one last nod to the mountains, but the plains were beckoning. The heat was growing and the prison fences loomed. Pueblo, the last city in Colorado, was the next waypoint on the map.

20 miles from Pueblo, my back tire was flat again. I pulled over to change the tube and it immediately flatted again. This was become a rather unappealing pattern. My pump was not working properly. I would have to ride into Pueblo with a squishy tire and then figure out what to do. The ride into Pueblo was torture. You see the city from a long way away, and then you ride away from it and around a reservoir before dropping in from the opposite side.

Coming into Pueblo, I headed for a gas station on the map in the hopes I could use their air machine to inflate my tire. When I arrived, I found that I had left my adapter on the side of the road while I was changing the tire. I was demoralized and hot. A family was selling delicious lemonade in the gas station parking lot and I chugged three glasses. The dad held my tire while I struggled with my hand pump, and he told me that he had cajoled his daughters to come out so they could gain experience in “community service.” Then he let slip that he had convinced them to use the money they earned to buy him a Father’s Day gift.

It was evening before I rolled out of Pueblo into the new frontier of the plains. Seeing the country’s counters change so quickly, in the course of less than a day, was a powerful thing. It was also daunting, since I knew the next few hundred miles would offer up little relief from heat and wind.

But as the sun set the evening became cooler and the riding more pleasant. Inaugurating what I would think of as my evening “social hour,” I called Jill, and Donncha, and passed an hour or two before darkness fell. I was aiming towards Ordway, about 50 miles from Pueblo and 100 miles west of the Kansas border. I knew there was a hotel there, and I hoped they would have a room for me. As darkness fell, riding past the prisons was eerie – banks of lights in the middle of pockets of complete darkness.

I rolled into Ordway around 11pm and couldn’t find the town. It wasn’t on the main road, and I finally flagged down a car to ask them how to reach the hotel. When I pulled up, the place was nothing like I expected. It was an old colonial home, by the looks of it, from the 1800s. When I rang the doorbell, the owner opened the door to a grand living area, with thick rugs and ornate furniture.  I couldn’t bring my bike inside, he said, but he had a very safe place outside. We walked through the yard to a shed with no door. I put my bike inside, and he laid a two by four across the door. Exhausted – and as so unable to protest this questionable security situation – I followed him meekly back inside.

Somehow, once again, I had made it to the middle of nowhere with no food left. The owner graciously took me into the kitchen and made me a heaping plate of pork chops and corn while I stood by. He told me that he had been a chef in California and New York City with his own restaurant. While he was there, he had met the love of his life and moved with her to Ordway to open a hotel in her family home. He had adopted her four children, and said he was now happy with the quiet life of eastern Colorado.

Eventually I headed up the long staircase to my bedroom, still holding my plate. I had made 215 miles on the day (not counting my morning detour) and I was coming up on the next phase of the race. Crawling into bed amidst the ornate lampshade and grandma’s comforter, I felt an immense sense of satisfaction. I finished the rest of the pork chop, posted this photo and went to sleep.

 

12. January 2017 · Comments Off on Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 10 · Categories: Uncategorized

I had set my alarm in the Saratoga motel for 3am. I woke up at 6am, my phone beeping…somewhere across the room where apparently I had hurled it when it went off. I leapt out of bed, like I had overslept for a college final, adrenaline pumping.  It was already light outside and traffic was driving past on the road. Three hours late – dammit, dammit, dammit.

Finally, I managed to get a grip on myself. Don’t spazz out, I told myself. If I had learned any lesson the day before, it was that patience would do me good. (Or perhaps more to the point, impatience would do me harm.) Despite my intentions, I had gotten a monster sleep of over 10 hours, which I hoped would do me good. And today I was going to Colorado – the border was less than 50 miles in front of me. I made my way as quickly as possible out of the motel, grabbing some donuts and a quick chug of coffee from the breakfast table on my way.

It was a cold morning, and I had lost one of my gloves the day before while rummaging around in my bags during the flat-changing debacle. In Riverside, the first town I came to, I bought a pair of gardening gloves in the general store on the corner. Mercifully, they also had a small stock of toe warmers, which I shoved inside to keep my fingers warm. Like yesterday, storm clouds were on the horizon, but at the moment the air was still.

As I had suspected, my spa day had set me back in the race. Three or four riders had passed me in Saratoga, and I was now once again out of the top ten. The day in front of me, despite my homecoming, was certain to be a tough one. The route was little more than a series of climbs, with very little descent, all the way to central Colorado. Saratoga’s altitude of 7,000 feet was the closest the route would get to sea level until after we summited the high point of the course – the 11,500-foot Hoosier Pass, which was just past Breckenridge and about 220 miles from Saratoga. I had my sights set on Breckenridge for the day.

On the last climb before I reached the Colorado border, I saw the familiar pair of Nathan and Anthony drive by and pull over. I was in a decidedly different headspace than when I had encountered them the day before, and I stopped to chat for a few minutes before I was on my way.

I reached the town of Walden Colorado about mid-day but only stopped at the gas station to refuel. Just outside of Walden, I found JD Schwartz waiting for me on the side of the road. JD was a mechanic and Trans Am vet that was generously providing neutral technical support to all riders, and we had arranged the night before that he would meet me and re-stock my spare tubes. Having spares again eased my mind as I rode on past Rand and over Willow Creek Pass. Willow Creek is a sleepy, snaking beautiful climb, and I sang the way up, looking at the mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park in the distance. The road then descends gradually through a remote area of northern Colorado that is outside the reaches of Summit County – which is home to Colorado’s crowded tourist areas of Silverthorne, Copper Mountain, Frisco, and Breckenridge.

As I crested Willow Creek Pass, the skies that had been threatening all day opened up in a cold rain. I stopped to put on my rain jacket (and gardening gloves!) and carried on down the pass. Near Hot Sulphur Springs, the rain turned to hail with a crosswind that made it impossible to control the bike. I jumped down into a small ditch and hid under a fortuitous rock ledge that was just the size to shelter me and my bike. I checked the radar. The storm was moving, and after about 30 minutes of waiting, the wind died down. The rain was still coming down hard, but soon I took a right turn to the west. The wind was now directly in my face – and annoying – but no longer terrifying.

I made it to Kremmling by evening. I had received word that the road just past Kremmling included a six-mile dirt stretch that was being repaved, and that some riders in front of me had been delayed by construction crews. Assuming that the crews would be finished for the day, and still with my sights on Breckenridge that night, I decided to carry on.

Leaving Kremmling, the road turned south again, and the side winds recommenced. Sometimes they were so strong that they moved my bike involuntarily to the left and towards traffic.  Luckily, the shoulder was wide, and with the effort of riding to the far right of the shoulder, I could generally contain my bike’s movement to the right of the white line and keep myself from swerving into traffic. Still, it was the strongest side wind I had encountered since riding in the legendary winds of Kona in 2014.

The workers had indeed gone for the day by the time I reached the construction, but by now the continued rain had turned the dirt road to mud. Colorado drivers tend to be used to cyclists, and traffic was mostly considerate, but with the waning light and the gravel grinding through mud, that section was tedious and slow. It took me 40 minutes to traverse the six miles, by which time I – and of more concern, the gears of my bike – were completely covered in mud. The rain was still coming down in sheets, and I found a flowing drainage on the side of the road, where I decided to try to wash my bike off. The water stream was so strong, though, that it almost ripped my bike out of my hands, and I snatched it back quickly. Better a dirty bike than a disappeared one, I reckoned.

Around sunset, the rain died down and a few hints of light fought through the clouds. Despite the weather and the tough riding, I was immensely grateful to be back in Colorado. There was always something to be thankful for here, I thought.

It was 10pm by the time I saw the lights of the town of Silverthorne. There was still another 20 miles to Breckenridge, most of which was along a bike path. I had ridden parts of the path before, but I knew it was confusing in the day and the Garmin wouldn’t be much help in identifying the off-road route. In the dark of night, I was especially worried about finding my way.

Sure enough, immediately out of Silverthorne I made a wrong turn on the bike path. I turned around. Then I went the wrong way again. I spent 10 minutes going back and forth from the same corner, trying and failing to get oriented. Finally, I made it onto the route, with several subsequent diversions onto alternate paths that connect to the same trail network. At one point, I called Jimmy, hoping he could cheer me up. He was still riding, somewhere in Wyoming, and answered the phone sounding as beleaguered as I felt. Our conversation went this way,

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“Where are you?”

“I don’t know. Where are you?”

“I don’t know.”

Pause.

“This is hard.”

“Yeah, this is really hard.”

“Hang in there. Tomorrow will be better.”

“Yeah, you too. It will.”

“Love you, bye.”

“Love you, bye.”

At midnight I made it to Frisco, still 10 miles from Breckenridge. It was still raining and I checked into the cheapest motel I could find, waking up the clerk who was too tired to contain his dismayed reaction to the sight of me. He handed me an old-fashioned metal key and pointed me up a flight of stairs.

Being inside a warm room felt like heaven. But first I needed to deal with the issue of my sopping wet clothes and dirty bike. I put my bike on newspapers and did my best to clean it with soap and water. I lubed the still-dirty chain. I put the hair dryer inside my bike shoes and promptly fell asleep. I woke to the burning smell of a melting custom insole inside my right shoe, which I had no choice but to throw away.

Despite my sorry state, I was excited for tomorrow. My friend Sheree and a few other girlfriends had offered to make the hour-drive from Salida to meet me in Breckenridge in the morning and I could not wait to see them. Even though I hadn’t made it to Breckenridge, I had still hit 200 miles on the day. I ate a gas station burrito I had picked up on the way into town, posted this photo and went to sleep.

 

 

 

 

11. January 2017 · Comments Off on Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 9 · Categories: Uncategorized

I slept for about three hours on the floor of the bathroom stall and woke up sweating in my sleeping bag. I felt like someone had run over me with a truck. When I limped to the sink and saw my reflection in the mirror, I was horrified. My face was swollen and my eyes were bloodshot. Two cracked and bleeding cold sores graced my bottom lip. The industrial fluorescents didn’t help.

I said out loud, just to my own face, “So it’s come to this.”

I packed up my bags and made my way outside. The cold of the early morning dark was a relief from the sweltering heat of the rest stop. I didn’t know it at the time, but Luke and Markku Leppala were also sleeping in Sweetwater Station. Markku was a phantom to me, disappearing and reappearing nearby over the past few days according to Track Leaders, though I had never laid eyes on him. (And, strange enough, wouldn’t until the finish in Yorktown.)

I rolled out of town and towards Jeffrey City, about 20 miles away. The night before I had seen that the two racers just in front of me, Ken Bathurst and Bo Dudley, were stopped in Jeffrey City – and I hoped to make a stealthy pass by them in the early morning. After all, I was racing now!

But there were more important issues to be dealt with. First off, I had run out of food due to my late-night jaunt from Lander the night before. It was about 40 miles to Muddy Gap, the first place I knew I could refuel. I figured if I didn’t push it, I could make it that far, even hungry.

As the sun came up, I got my first glimpse of central Wyoming. The road stretched on to the horizon, and to the left and right there was nothing to see for miles except barren fields. The rumble strip in the shoulder would come and go, meaning occasional teeth-jarring moments if I didn’t pay close attention.

On the stretch to Muddy Gap, as my mind was wandering, I suddenly remembered that it was Father’s Day! My dad was the first bike protagonist and antagonist in my life. I was his first kid, and he looked forward to teaching me to ride a bike, when I was old enough – about age five, he figured, would be a good time. But when I was 4, I demanded to learn to ride a bike without training wheels. He said he would teach me as soon as I turned five. In defiance, I went in search of a too-big bike in our apartment complex and taught myself to ride.

My dad lives on the east coast so I knew he would be awake at 6am Mountain Time. “Happy Father’s Day!” I said when he answered. There was a pause. “Father’s Day is next week,” he said. I did my best to reassure him that, despite that mental lapse, I was healthy and happy. I don’t know if I convinced him, but he went along with it, gave me some great words of support and encouraged me on.

Rolling into Muddy Gap, I was in severe need of food. The next stop was the city of Rawlins, a 40-mile straight stretch known for bad pavement, obnoxious traffic and hefty head winds. By the time I reached Muddy Gap, I could tell that the right hand turn to Rawlins was going to reward me with a brutal slog into the wind. It was 7:30am, and the 3-Forks Muddy Gap sign beckoned in the distance – “Open 7am to 9pm.”

Except on Sunday. Ooof. The sign on the door said that Sunday opening time was 9am, an hour and a half away. I stood looking in the window, where Twinkies, Hostess Pies, Gatorade, ice cream and all sorts of other delicious treats thought nothing of mocking me, even in my fragile state.

I should wait, I knew. In the grand scheme of things, 90 minutes was an iota of time. I could break, refuel, and set out prepared into the grueling stretch to Rawlins. One of my commitments to myself at the beginning of the race was to take care of myself. I was sure that this would not only be the most healthy approach, but also be the most sustainable race strategy over time. This was my test.

Instead, I got back on my bike and started pedaling. I knew it was a risk, but – I told myself – I was racing. Even more important, I had set my sights on reaching Colorado today. Crossing the line into my home state would feel like major progress, and I was laser focused on that landmark. But Colorado was still 120 miles away. I couldn’t afford the waiting time.

About 30 minutes in, I knew I had made a mistake. I was hungry and thirsty – and I was incredibly irritated with myself. The road was everything I had heard – traffic whizzing by too close, a bad highway crumble strip, and a headwind that felt oh-so-personal. I hadn’t eaten since late the night before. About halfway to Rawlins, I saw a sign for a restaurant on the left hand side and my heart sang. I pulled into the parking lot and was greeted by boarded up windows and crumbling brick. Dejected, I pulled slowly back onto the highway.

Photo credit: Nathan Jones/Anthony Dryer

By this time, the record of my mind was stuck on repeat, and what it was playing was not fit for family broadcast. I berated myself for the mistake of not stopping, and for thinking I could get away with it. Who did I think was I was? I could die of thirst and starvation here by the side of the road in Wyoming. And what about all those other bad decisions I had made in my life so far? Might as well start rehashing those too.

Suddenly, a car coming the other way did a u-turn in the road, and stopped in a pullout about 100 meters in front of me. Nathan Jones, race director, and Anthony Dryer, race photographer, got out of the car. Their smiling faces were as good as calories for my emotional state, and I could have hugged them both. Suddenly, as if I wasn’t even one step from the grave, we were chatting about the race and the other riders and the big climb just ahead up into Rawlins. They took a few photos, then got into their car. “It’s Father’s Day!” I called to Nathan just before he drove off. (??)

When I started riding again, everything had changed. I wasn’t alone! I wasn’t near death! (They would have told me if I was, I reasoned.) Even though I hadn’t had food for 80 miles, I was going to make it to Rawlins! This was my first experience at how quickly and wildly my mood could change during this race – and perhaps my first inkling of the true power of the mind to determine what or not was possible.

Mid-day I did make it to Rawlins. Bo Dudley and Ken Bathurst, who had left Jeffrey City that morning before I came by, were also somewhere in town. I headed to a McDonalds on a feeder road on the far side of town and ordered an obscene amount of food. Refueled, and a bit smug that I had skirted the dangers of the morning, I hurried to get back on the road.

The next stretch was a ten-mile stretch of major highway, and the only freeway segment in the whole Trans Am route. I had dreaded this piece of road for days, but it turned out to be totally fine that day. The shoulder was wide and I had a slight tailwind. Before I knew it, I had taken the exit right to Saratoga, the hot springs town only 40 miles north of the Colorado border. Having left Rawlins before Bo and Ken, I had also moved into 8th place in the race. In diametric opposition to my mood that morning, I headed towards Saratoga singing and in a nearly euphoric mood. Everything was great! I was having a blast again!

Photo credit: Nathan Jones/Anthony Dryer

About 12 miles from Saratoga on a plateau before the drop down into town, storm clouds that had been gathering all afternoon in the distance began rolling towards me. Winds began to pick up, and I started riding harder, in hopes of beating the rain to town. Suddenly, my rear tire flatted. I pulled off the side of the road to change it. The tube had a puncture, but I couldn’t find a hole or anything in the tire that would suggest what caused the flat. I changed the tube out and pumped up the tire. My pump was not a particularly good one, but I managed to get enough air in it that I thought I could ride into town and deal with it there.

But as soon as I started riding, the tire went flat again. I pumped up the tube, but to no avail. I removed the tube and replaced it again. Now I was out of spare tubes. Finally I managed to roll into town, on a decidedly squishy tire. Arriving there, I tried not to get frustrated that it had taken me two hours to cover the 12 miles into Saratoga. But suffice it to say, my ebullient mood had shifted once again.

In Saratoga, I used my valve adapter to air up the tire at the service station using the car air machine. The tire seemed to hold air, which was encouraging. I loaded up with more food and drink at the service station in town, and looked towards the Colorado border. The storm clouds were gathering, but it wasn’t raining yet.

I pedaled slowly across a bridge on the south side of town and up a small hill. At the top, I put my foot down. Within five minutes, something had cracked in my resolve. Suddenly, I felt absolutely exhausted – the weight of the entire day, and the eight days before.

There was a small motel on the way out of town. I stopped and got a room. I had only made 130 miles so far on the day, and wouldn’t make it to Colorado that night. I had just started to race, and now I was going to be even further behind than before I had let my competitive instinct take over. I had made tactical mistakes, which I was sure had helped to find me in that motel room, which was not where I had intended to be.

I sat on the side of the bed for a long time, thinking. There was nothing to do but get a good rest, refocus, and start again in the morning, I decided. At 7pm, I set my alarm for 3am. Then I posted this photo and went to sleep.