Category Archives: Trans Am Bike Race 2016

Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 12

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.


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.


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


Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 11

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.


Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 10

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,



“Where are you?”

“I don’t know. Where are you?”

“I don’t know.”


“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.





Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 9

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.

Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 8

It wasn’t hard to get up and moving from bear country before the sun cracked the sky. Old Faithful sits at about 7300 feet elevation, and the air outside my sleeping bag was cold. I knew I still had about 70 miles and 3,000 feet of climbing to do before exiting Yellowstone and Grand Tetons – with the 17-mile Togowotee Pass just immediately afterwards –  so I was anxious to get moving. As I started to climb and the sun began to rise, I realized I was climbing above the fog. When the sun started to rise, the clouds looked like tiny lakes dotting the valley below.


The climbing warmed me up, but the descents were still frigid, and I was shaking by the bottom of every descent. Around 6am I rolled into West Thumb campground, cold and famished. Fortunately, the restaurant in the campground was opening at 6:30, so I went in the restroom to treat my saddle sores and brush my teeth – a small luxury that somehow had started to feel like an adequate substitution for a full shower. While I brushed, though, I tried not to look in the mirror. The face that was staring back at me was not a pretty sight.

When done, I headed to the strangely upscale restaurant – marked by cut glass, cloth napkins and the sound of tinkling cutlery and hushed voices. I had to wait in line and was finally seated by a woman who was dressed nicely, smelled good, and tried hard not to look horrified by my bloodshot eyes and suspicious bike clothes. At the next table over, the family asked me about the race and marveled over the volume of food that I could eat. By the time I was finished with three heaping plates of pancakes, waffles, ham, chicken sausages, pastries, grits, hash browns, and toast, I had been off my bike for over an hour. It was hard to put down that hot coffee cup and stand up from the table, and I let out a loud sigh as I exited the restaurant back out into the cold. Before I rode off, I left the (thankfully unused) XL canister of bear spray outside the door for the next lucky customer.


The meal and the rest restored my positive mood, and I carried on with energy through the gates of Yellowstone and into the small slice of the Grand Tetons that the Trans Am route covers. As I rode, I reflected on the last week. I now had three states behind me, I had covered over 25% of the 4,200-mile distance, and had the milestone of Yellowstone in my rear-view mirror. Despite what I felt had been a fairly cautious effort of riding within my limits and, for the most part, avoiding the day-to-day competition with other riders, I was still placed just outside the top ten in the race.

Over the previous couple of days, that realization had sparked my competitive instinct. I had kep track of the front of the race, especially the other women, and I knew that Sarah and Lael were both more than a day ahead of me. While that fact was hard to fathom in some way, it also provided inspiration. If they could do it, why couldn’t I try harder? If I was here, already pushing myself to spent 12+ hours on the bike each day and endanger my life by sleeping outside in bear country, shouldn’t I go all in? Shouldn’t I know – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that I had pushed myself to my limits? Shouldn’t I go home with no regrets?

Seven days in, in the midst of the Grand Tetons, I was finally ready to race.


Of course, the impact of that decision in the moment was decidedly lacking in drama. I still had to slowly climb Togowotee Pass, I still had to take my “coffee breaks” – 60-90 second stops to regroup and rest – and I still had to spend 30 minutes in Dubois, on the other side of the pass, treating my saddle sores and charging my phone in the electrical outlet behind all the shopping carts in the grocery store.IMG_0211

In stark contrast to the morning hours in Yellowstone, the weather was hot and sweaty on the other side of the Continental Divide, which I had crossed at the top of the pass. Mercifully, I had a tailwind most of the afternoon. Unmercifully, that tailwind meant there was no direct breeze to mitigate the late afternoon sun. Grinding up a five-mile hill before Fort Washakie, I saw a mirage in front of me halfway up. It was orange, and it looked like another rider. I shook my head – I had been fooled by this hallucination before one afternoon while tired in Montana. I probably just needed a nap.

As I neared, though, I realized I wasn’t seeing things. There was indeed a rider there, Luke Kocher, who was standing next to his orange bike and greeted me with a friendly, “I was waiting for you!” It was heartening to see someone else, and good to chat with Luke as we both began riding again. We were still at altitude, and Luke didn’t have the same advantage of being acclimated, so he urged me on ahead. I was sure I would see him again.


Coming into Fort Washakie, dot watchers had written graffiti on the roads in chalk: “Go Lael!” and “Go Sarah the Hammer!” I couldn’t help but feel a hint of wistfulness, a small stab of jealousy that their names, and not mine, were scrawled on that pavement. While I truly believed that every single person that entered the Trans Am, including myself, had made a statement by showing up at the start line, Lael and Sarah’s statements had been especially strong.

They earned it, I told myself as I watched my front wheel roll over their names. Now you earn it, too.

In Lander, night was falling as I clicked off 200 miles on the day. I stopped at McDonalds and ordered a Big Mac, fries, and a chocolate shake. While I was still waiting for my food, Luke rolled in. As we ate together, he told me about his job, his RAAM qualification success, and his personal transformation into an athlete in the preceding years. Luke’s personal resume is impressive, and his determination is contagious. I told him I would try to make the 40 miles to Sweetwater Station, and he said he would probably try to ride farther. We headed out into the darkness together, and as we got further from town our two lights were the only thing lighting up the black Wyoming night.

The ride to Sweetwater Station from Lander is a series of climbs that, in total, ascend about 2,000 feet with little descending – so travel was slow. For me, riding uphill in the dark is very disorienting. You can’t see the road ahead of you as a reference point, and there is little to take your mind off of however your body feels at that time. Luke had told me that night riding is his favorite type of riding, and I recall feeling very envious – if perplexed.

Around 11pm, I was riding alone, and began to get very sleepy on the dark, winding and climbing road. I managed to reach my friend Jill, who gave me an update on the front of the race and some encouraging words. As I rolled into Sweetwater Station after midnight, a rest stop emerged on the left side of the road. My plan had been to camp outside again, but when I tried the door to the rest stop, it was unlocked. Inside the heat was on, and the bathroom was clean. Bingo! I rolled out my sleeping bag on the floor of the handicapped accessible stall.IMG_0212

I had made 240 miles for the day, and was exhausted. Still, I checked TrackLeaders and saw that two riders were sleeping in a small town just 15 miles ahead of me. My mental switch had flipped to racing, so I set my alarm for 4am. I would try to get an early start to catch them.

Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 7

It was in the low 40s when I left Twin Bridges early in the morning, so I was wearing my gloves and down jacket. Even so, the first part of the ride was flat and I was struggling to warm up, so I stopped in the gas station of a small town for what was becoming a standard breakfast of coffee and a Hostess apple pie. As one more proof point in the theory of relativity, it was remarkable how comforted and satisfied I had suddenly become by food that, during “real life,” I would avoid – if not despise. (That is what the Theory of Relativity is all about, right?)


Hostess Fruit pie: “real” filling

I left the gas station and into the cold reluctantly. Luckily, there was a pass after Virginia City to climb, and that combined with the rising sun warmed me. I crested the summit and cruised downhill into Ennis, Montana. I was in a great mood, and while I was fueling up for the 70-mile stretch to West Yellowstone, I chatted and joked around with the delivery guys that were unloading boxes.

I got on my bike again, excited about the prospect of getting close to Yellowstone. For Trans Am riders, Yellowstone – which is followed by a brief stint through the Grand Tetons – presents a tricky 100 mile stretch that has to be carefully calculated. Tourists, tough terrain, high altitudes, cold temperatures, few resupply points, and wildlife (bears!) combine to present potential threats. Before the race, I had read and heard numerous stories of racers getting caught in the park in the middle of the night without shelter or food. Many talked of this stretch as a seminal point in their race.

When I found myself in Ennis, it was still morning, and I came up with a plan there. By my calculations I could ride into Yellowstone by mid-afternoon and then get through most of the park before too late tonight. I would camp in one of the campgrounds on the far side of the park, eat in a restaurant there, and have the park largely behind me the following morning.  Plan created: check and check.

Energized by my newly formed vision for the day, I got on my bike for the drag up to Yellowstone. Immediately, I was hit by a monster headwind. This was the first ferocious headwind I faced during the race – and while it certainly wouldn’t be the last, it might be the most memorable. The road from Ennis heads due south, flirting here and there with the Madison River, but for the most part is boring highway riding past fields of nothingness. While it’s easy to overestimate headwinds, I figured this one was at least 20-30mph directly from the south.


The southerly grind to West Yellowstone

Still, there was no option but to pedal. I told myself that forward motion was progress no matter how slow, channeled my inner triathlete, got down in my aerobars and cranked up the music. For about four hours, I was locked in that same position, trying to still my mind – and avoid blowing my nose.


Facebook commiseration with Trans Am vet Donncha

I arrived in West Yellowstone later in the afternoon than I had hoped, wind-blown and a bit shell shocked. I stopped into a pharmacy to pick up a prescription for painful cold sores that had developed in the previous two days, and then decided to head into a local bike shop to get my bike checked out and revisit my plan, which now seemed to be in shambles. At that point, I was feeling much more downtrodden than I had anticipated. Still, I was learning this lesson that feelings during the Trans Am are fleeting – no matter how good or bad they are – and so decided to take a break and try to wait out the downswing.

In Freeheel and Wheel, the mechanic cleaned my bike and checked my Dynamo hub, which seemed to be having sporadic connection problems with my headlight and the USB hub that I was using to charge my electronics while riding. While I waited, I drank a smoothie from the bar and chatted to a couple of local cyclists who helped me understand my options for Yellowstone. They convinced me to purchase a canister of bear spray, which was so big I could barely shove it into my jersey pocket.

Still searching for solutions to alleviate the saddle sore pain, which had worsened during the multi-hour stint in the aero bars, I also purchased a squishy bike seat cover – the kind you usually see on tourist cruisers bikes riding on the beach boardwalk. I cringed a bit paying for it, but by that time, all pretense of pride was long gone and no solution seemed too far-fetched to try.

About 5:30pm I finally rolled into Yellowstone, headed for Old Faithful, about 35 miles into the park. This turned out to be the ideal time to enter. All the tourists were leaving from the opposite direction, and I rode, a bit smugly and nearly traffic free, past the line of stopped cars on the opposite side of the road. I stopped a few times to look at animals and geyers as the sun was setting over the mountains.


Around dusk and just before reaching Old Faithful, I came across photographer Doug Moon, who was taking photos of Trans Am riders. He snapped a couple of photos as I rode towards him. As he headed back with his camera equipment to his car, parked on the opposite side of the road, he was turned to talk to me and ran – oof! – right into the trunk of his car.

IMG_0205At Old Faithful, there was a general store, but no camping or lodging (at least that I could afford). I bought a giant bean burrito and sat in a rocking chair on the front porch, studying my options. I had gotten through less than 150 miles today, but riding into the cold night didn’t seem advisable, and I was pretty wrecked.


After eating and once it was completely dark, I found a soft spot of moss underneath a stand of trees not too far from the road.


Cozy night roadside sleep spot near Old Faithful.

I laid out my sleeping bag, put on all of my clothes, and made sure the bear spray was nearby. Then I posted this photo and went to sleep.





Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 6

In the Days Inn in Lolo, I woke up with mixed feelings. On the one hand, several things had become abundantly clear in the last day or so. My legs were dead tired, feeling the nearly 1,000 miles from the previous five days. Backing up that claim, my power numbers – according to yesterday’s ride – were downright pathetic. And the saddle sores, which were no better this morning, would continue to make it incredibly painful to sit on the bike.

On the other hand, I was having a wicked good time. Every single day so far I had gotten more comfortable with the adventure I had set for myself. And somehow – despite the fact that my body was breaking down – my mind seemed to be growing stronger. Each day out there in the world, I felt more confident and, somehow, more free. Each, so far, was more fun than the one before. I couldn’t help but notice that this growing sense of joy seemed correlated with how hard I was pushing myself, testing my own limits. Was the joy actually coming from pressing myself to do something I didn’t know I could do? Nah, maybe it just a sugar high from all the candy and ice cream.

No matter, I wanted more.

I wheeled my bike out of the motel room, shutting it firmly so that Brian – who was in the room next to me – heard it and woke up. From Lolo, the Trans Am route finally begins to head south – instead of due west or even north as it had been for the first five days. To me this turn was significant, because that southern line pointed towards Colorado, my home state. I was excited about making it to Colorado in the next few days, and was thinking about that as I took a confident left out of the hotel parking lot.

I rode the first few miles on the shoulder of a highway in the dark. My Garmin was not finding its GPS signal yet, so I spun along, enjoying the cool morning air and light traffic. I knew that this day would take me through a long, flat valley and then over a pass into what is known as Montana’s Big Hole Valley, a beautiful but desolate valley (also rumored to be filled with vicious mosquitoes). I wasn’t sure where I would end the night, but I knew I wanted to crack 200+ miles again.

A few miles in, something seemed off. I had heard that there was a bike path along today’s route for the first 30 miles or so, but no bike path had appeared. Instead the highway was widening and traffic was increasing. Tall jersey barriers had appeared in the middle of the road. My Garmin was still not finding satellites so it was useless.

I stopped to check my phone. Damn. Instead of going south, I had turned north, towards Missoula. I was already near the outskirts of Missoula, with no way to safely cross to the other side over the barriers. I rode until an exit appeared and I could get off and turn around.

Berating myself, I hammered the few miles back to Lolo. Stupid, stupid, stupid – that word filled my mind, turning over and over, rhythmically, like clothes in a Laundromat drier. In the space of a few short minutes, my assessment of myself had gone from rock star to reject.

My dot detours north to Missoula.

Back in Lolo in front of the Days Inn again, I had to stop to regain control. The mistake was not fatal – I knew that logically – but it still felt significant. With effort, I stilled my mind and willed it to reset. Start the day over like it is just beginning, I told myself – and this time do it right. I deleted the Garmin file, found the bike path, and started my ride.

As I began, the sun was coming up. About an hour in, I passed a grocery store on the left. I didn’t want to stop, but I also knew that I had to try to get a handle on the saddle sore situation. In the baby care and first aid aisles, I loaded up on every single recommendation that I had found on how to deal with saddle sores. Jamming creams and lotions and bandages and potions into my frame bag, I had to laugh. My two-week tenure as a rolling pharmacy had begun.

About 60 miles into the day, and just before climbing Chief Joseph pass, I stopped at a store. Brian was there eating a burger, and Finnish racer Markku Leppala had just left. Feeling like I was frittering my day away already, I left quickly as well and headed up the pass. While I was blasting Eminem’s Lose Yourself and singing out loud, Brian rode up beside me. We headed down the other side of the pass together and into Wisdom, Montana – stopping at a small store there. While I was wandering around in there, Andrej Zaman, the Slovenian racer, came in, and we chatted a bit while loading food and fluids onto our bikes. Andrej told me that the previous year he had completed the Transcontinental Race, a self-supported race across Europe. It might have been the first time that I heard about that epic race; I made a note to myself to find out more.

While at the store, I found and applied Orajel, which Brian had recommended to me for saddle sores. Magically, when I got back on the bike, the pain had almost completely disappeared. This lifted my spirits incredibly as I passed through the Big Hole Valley, which was just as vast, beautiful and desolate as I had heard. After exiting the valley over a big climb, I was treated to an absolutely massive tailwind for the 35 miles to Dillon, Montana – the next town of any size on the route.

The beautiful Big Hole Valley.

In Dillon, I stopped at a Taco Bell and pondered my choices. It was early evening, and I had already covered nearly 200 miles. My ambition of the past 24 hours was waning, and I was feeling exhausted. The saddle sore pain was back. (I had discovered that the Orajel numbs the area for a time, but wasn’t the magical cure I had hoped for.)

Still, it wasn’t dark yet and after I ate I felt better. I decided to carry on to Twin Bridges, about another 25-30 miles down the road. The sun was setting, and I decided that I would feel better if I talked with my friends. First I called Jere, one of my stalwart riding partners in Salida while I was training for the Trans Am. Jere caught me up on local news and offered some amazing words of encouragement. Then I called my friend Sheree – who has been one of my closest friends for the last two decades, is the mother of my twin godsons Hollis and Sawyer, and is a medical professional. We caught up on the race so far, and I asked her about my saddle sores. She told me to take pictures and send them to her (true friend!).

Talking to my friends changed my attitude completely. Suddenly I felt connected to the world again. This was one of many moments during the race when I realized how much the support of others really mattered to me. One of my goals for this adventure had been to engage in some sort of solitary reckoning with myself, and that was certainly happening. However, the experience was also shedding light on the fact that being connected to others in the world is a core part of my identity. As the race wore on – and my emotions and body began to deteriorate – the support of friends, family, dot watchers, even strangers on the route, would feel increasingly more critical.

Halfway to Twin Bridges, there was Brian ahead. We rode the rest of the way into town together. I remember the sunset was beautiful, setting over a field full of cows, as we pulled in around 9:30pm. Brian went to sleep in an amazing cyclist’s park that the town has set up for touring riders, but – still afraid of not being able to sleep in the nighttime mountain cold – I headed to a small motel. The owner greeted me warmly and brought me orange juice and cookies. I took a shower and charged my di2 battery for the first time during the race. I felt proud of the 220 miles that I had covered today. I knew that reaching Yellowstone, another Trans Am milestone, was tomorrow’s challenge. I posted this photo then went to sleep.

Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 5

I woke up and got out of the motel in White Bird just as the sun was rising. I couldn’t tell what time it was because the time on my phone kept changing. White Bird must be just on the line between the Pacific Time and Mountain Time zones, so at first I thought it was 5am, then 6am. No matter – either way, I was “losing” an hour today, but crossing that time-zone line was an important symbol of forward progress. After jamming some more prosciutto and cheese in my mouth from the night before, I got myself onto the bike quickly rolled out of White Bird just as it was getting light.

Immediately I was climbing White Bird Hill, one of the more well known climbs on the Trans Am route. The climb is about 12 miles on an old road that switchbacks up a tree-less summit, providing fantastic views of the valley below. A newer highway has replaced the old road as the standard driving route to the summit. This meant that my ascent was utterly peaceful and silent, save the occasional mooing of a cow as I moved slowly by. The climb took me just under two hours, absolutely making the list of transcendent periods of riding during the Trans Am. Near the summit, I stopped to drink a cold coffee in a can and wallow a bit more in the view. I remember an incredible sense of gratitude.

And shortly thereafter, the vice grip of hunger. Summiting the pass, I tore down the other side into Grangeville, suddenly desperate for food. Luckily it was breakfast time, and a diner was open on the main road. I sat down for what would be turn out to be one of only a handful of sit-down meals for the rest of the race. I ordered pancakes and eggs and opened my maps on the table.

White Bird, it appeared, was just the warmup for the day. Up ahead was the nearly 100-mile slog up the Lochsa River, culminating in the ascent up Lolo Pass, another classic Trans Am climb. About 30 miles down the other side of the pass was the town of Lolo, which seemed like a good spot to aim at for the day. It was only 150 miles from Grangeville, but with a 99-mile climb, it wasn’t going to be a fast day.

In Kooskia, just before the long climb begins, I ran into Brian McEntire as he was leaving the gas station. Having ridden this route twice before, he reminded me to make sure I had enough food and liquids with me, since the next refueling spot was about 85 miles up the road, just 12 miles below the Lolo Pass summit. I stayed for a bit to talk to the woman behind the cash register. She asked me about the ride, where we had started and were going. She used to be an athlete, she said, wistfully – a distance runner and a cyclist. Then she had stopped, she didn’t say why. She said she had gained a lot of weight since then, but maybe she would get back to it someday. She looked out the window towards the gas pumps and shrugged.

Out on the street I filled up my two water bottles and shoved two more in my jersey pockets. It was another hot day – almost 90 degrees then – and if I had done any sort of rudimentary math I would have realized that four bottles was not going to get me through an 85-mile uphill stretch in the heat of the day. Unfortunately, rudimentary math was not on my priority list.

What was on my priority list, though, was my saddle sores. It was another double-shorts day, and I had started some desperate online research about how to treat those monsters. Most of the advice I turned up was some version of “Don’t worry, saddle sores are manageable. After a week or so off the bike, you should be ready to ride again!” Demoralized, I had turned to facebook for answers – and was getting plenty of answers.

Heading up the Lochsa River, I caught Brian, who was just finishing changing a flat. We rode together for a while, talking about our adventures so far. I complained about my saddle sores, and he told me to find Oragel, a baby teething ointment with a topical numbing agent, as soon as I could. This piece of wisdom turned out to be up there with the top advice I got during the race.

I hadn’t had a real conversation with any other racer since day one, so it was fun to get the chance to chat, joke around and get out of my own head for a while. Brian also had a better sense than me of where we were in the race, and who was around us – and in retrospect, his enthusiasm probably helped to fan the flames of my competitive fire, though at the time that drive still felt quite secondary to both my practical concerns, like weather and saddle sores, and my goals to simply enjoy the scenery and the adventure.

Brian was riding faster than me, so eventually he disappeared into the distance. I stopped to move my saddle around, the first in a series of largely futile attempts to alleviate the pain. Luckily, the climb up the Lochsa River was a beautiful one. I listened to an interview with Kevin Kling, a comedian and playwright who was born without use of one of his arms and then lost the use of the other in a motorcycle accident. He talked about all the unanswered questions that life gives to us, and the beauty in accepting the fact that we might never get the answers. In addition to seeing the Trans Am as my chance to eat as many Little Debbie’s as I wanted, I had also viewed it as an exploration, a chance to spend time alone, probing some of my life’s big questions. So far, I hadn’t gotten any clear answers, but his idea that the journey of asking the questions might be the point, rather than the destination of the answers, was somewhat comforting to me.

Less comforting was the rising heat, saddle sores, extreme sleepiness, and the diminishing amount of fluid in my bottles. With still about 25 miles to ride to the Lochsa Lodge, I stopped to take a 30-minute nap on the ground next to the river. When I woke up, I realized I was nearly out of water. I dipped a bottle in the river, crossed my fingers, and chugged.

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally arrived at Lochsa Lodge. It was good to see Brian there finishing his meal, and I ordered a big plate of food and plugged in my electronics. It looked like a storm was coming our way, so it seemed important to tackle the climb up Lolo Pass quickly. I headed out a few minutes behind Brian, and was treated to a nice tailwind to the summit of the pass – where I was psyched to see the Montana line state sign waiting.

When we travel in the US, Jimmy and I have a running competition to see who can get their foot across state lines the fastest. Usually, in a car, this means trying to distract the other person by witty conversation or some manufactured “emergency” so that they forget that the state line is coming up, jamming your foot forward into the floorboard of the car as far as you can as soon as the car is passing by, and then throwing up your arms in triumph. An argument about sabotage or fair game-play often follows – but what can I say, this is just how we do it.

On top of Lolo pass, Brian took that necessary photo of me with my foot first across the line in Montana, and we headed down the other side. I was not nearly as fast as Brian downhill, but he waited for me and we rode the last 20 miles or so into Lolo together as the sun set. We found a hotel on the main road, where the manager gave us each a beer, and then headed across the street to McDonald’s.

That night, I talked to Jimmy and some friends on the phone and checked Trackleaders. I can’t quite remember, but I think I was somewhere around 12th place at the time. I was settling into the experience of the race, and despite the physical discomfort, feeling motivated to try to push myself harder, further to see what I could do. This would begin with an early start the next day, I decided. I set my alarm for 3am, posted this photo and went to sleep.

Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 4

A little more stiff and insolent than the mornings before, I got up in the darkness to get on the road. It was clear that the saddle sore blisters were going to figure into my adventure as a problem. I took some advice from my friend, Donncha Cuttriss – a veteran of the Trans Am who had generously provided me with some invaluable support and advice on training and prep in the lead-up to the race – and snagged a washcloth from the motel for some additional cushioning until I could figure out a more permanent solution.

I rolled out through Baker City’s main-street stoplight wearing two pairs of bike shorts with a washcloth jammed down in the left leg between them. It wasn’t pretty, but then again nothing about my situation was attractive at the moment. I simply hoped it would provide some relief from the pain. My new Garmin file was about a 200-mile route from Baker City to Riggins, Idaho, traveling down the Snake River through what is known as Hell’s Canyon and into Idaho. As I woke, I found myself somewhat buoyed by the idea of state number two, and a new time zone.


The Snake River marks the border between Oregon and Idaho, and to my mind, a milestone – albeit a hot one, as the temperature had reached 100 degrees. Just before dropping into the canyon, the route skirts a town called Halfway. That morning, in my current state, the name just seemed rude, and personal, since I was sure I was not nearly halfway to anywhere. Just before entering Hell’s Canyon, I stopped at a general store where the owner, a dot watcher, greeted me by name – and then instructed me to remove my bike from the porch. When I complied, all the while rolling my eyes behind his back, he offered me free bottled water and told me that I was “nicer” than some of the racers from the day before. I silently disagreed, but I was thankful for the stop and the opportunity to refuel.


Hell’s Canyon. Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

I headed into Hell’s Canyon for a meander along the Snake River. This canyon is the deepest gorge in the US, and the walls got higher and higher as I proceeded toward the Brownlee hydroelectric dam. Just before the dam, the road crossed a bridge from Oregon into Idaho, putting the river on my right side and commencing a long climb out of the canyon.


Encouraging words in the heat of the day from my friend Jill.

From there, I made my way slowly up a 10-15 mile climb away from the river and southeast into Idaho. The temperatures had reached 110 degrees, and the riding for the next 50 miles was unremarkable, rolling and through a few small towns. Coming out of New Meadows – such a pleasant name, so be warned – about 6pm and 160 miles into the day, I encountered a section of dreadful thick gravel mixed with tar, which appeared to be the precursor to new chip seal. I heard later that some riders had been required to get in a car to traverse this section; unlucky me for arriving after the workers had gone for the day. I traversed this section with much skidding, eye burning, and gnashing of teeth, as cars flew by on both sides, free from the constraints of a center line or shoulder.


A hint of chipseal gravel.

After five miles or so, the pavement reappeared, angels sang, and I reached the long, beautiful, fast descent into Riggins, Idaho. This section was one of my favorite of the whole race, made better because I reached it during the evening hours, with little traffic. There’s not much of a shoulder, but the views are spectacular, running along the Little Salmon River, and the 20-mile descent flies around gentle curves. There was still enough light to see, and I watched the sunset on the canyon as I moved in and out of shadows and waning light. Close to Riggins, I encountered fishing season in full force, with dozens of men in beards and pickup trucks drinking beer, gathered with their rods on the side of the river.

All day I had been mulling over where to stop for the day. I had heard of Riggins as a salmon-fishing hub from my friends Kim and Justin who own Lakestream Fly Shop in Whitefish, Montana. When I arrived, I had covered about 180 miles, it was getting dark and the town seemed like a logical stopping point for the night. I propped my bike up outside a small shop, which turned out to be a gourmet deli, full of wines and cheeses. I thought about going somewhere else, but instead purchased an obscene amount of cheese and salami. For a minute, I stood in front of the wines and considered a bottle.

Outside, I barely had room to jam all my meats and cheeses into in my saddle bags. I headed through town to find a place to stay. Then, for some reason, I just kept riding out of town. On the other side of town, I found myself still in the canyon, and a check on the maps showed I was about 25 miles from White Bird, the next town along the river (population 91). I called Jimmy, who had found a bed and breakfast just at the entrance to Hell’s Canyon. Then I called the only motel I could find in White Bird. The woman who answered sounded confused about whether she actually owned a motel or not, but I told her I was coming, and to keep an ear out for me.

It was dark as I rode through the canyon, and only the occasional passed. My saddle sores were really hurting and I was tired. As it got later, the traffic decreased and my headlight began to flicker. My Garmin died. I couldn’t help but think of Deliverance.


Through the canyon between Riggins and White Bird as darkness falls.

The left turn to White Bird was badly marked and led to a small road with no lights. As I turned onto it, I saw a shadow of…something, moving to my left. I yelped. I was not wearing a headlamp and so I couldn’t shine light on it to see what it was. The “thing” moved along next to me, not making a sound, then at some point disappeared. I was descending and couldn’t see a house or building. It was midnight, and I was sure I was lost. The thought of having to turn around and climb back up to the desolate canyon (and the “thing,” whether or not it was real or hallucinatory) was horrifying, but seemed a potential reality.

Then suddenly, the flickering lights of a motel came into sight. The low-slung building looked worn down and worse for the wear, but was a beautiful sight to my eyes. The woman who eventually answered my increasingly frantic knocking wore pajamas and was rubbing sleep out of her eyes. She told me in a groggy voice that another rider (who I think was Michael Wacker, though we never crossed paths) was staying in an adjacent room. I am fairly certain we were the only two guests.

I sat in bed for about an hour, gnawing on cheese and a hunk of salami. I had covered 215 miles that day, 200+ for the first time, which was pushing the limits of what I thought was possible for me. I was in a new state, a new time zone, and a new frame of mind. Knowing I was set to tackle the (in)famous White Bird Hill the next morning, I set my alarm for 5am, posted this photo and went to sleep.Blog_Day_4A





Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 3

I woke and headed out in the darkness, around 4am. I knew I had several good passes to tackle today to meet my goal to Baker City – about 200 miles and 11,000 feet of climbing. Rolling out of town, the road was flat for a few miles then started slowly to climb up towards Ochoco Pass.

For the first time in the race, my legs were not feeling great. This was disappointing, but I knew it had to happen sometime. Also, for the first time since we had started, I was cold. I left the hotel wearing a new jersey and my arm warmers, but as I started to climb I found myself stopping to put on my down jacket and gloves.

Soon, however, the sun started to rise and I enjoyed another beautiful start to the day, with birds singing and light throwing color over the ponds and rock hillsides I was riding past. Occasionally a car would pass on the winding road. As they did, I wondered about the people inside: What was their story? Where were they going, so early in the morning over a mountain in Oregon?IMG_0189

I summited Ochoco Pass and coasted about 15 miles downhill, trying to pedal to stay warm. The last three miles into the little, quirky town of Mitchell (pop. 120) were uphill, but I was still shivering when I arrived. Luckily, as I came into town I saw a coffee trailer on the left, Route 26 Espresso, next to an auto parts store. I ordered a coffee and a breakfast burrito, and ate in a little patch of sun that was hitting the side of the trailer. A couple of racers rode by together, and waved, but I couldn’t tell who they were.


Route 26 Espresso

After shedding my layers and rigging up my coffee in its holster for the climb out of town, I got back on the bike. Not 200 meters down the road, I saw a water stop with a handwritten sign on a poster “Water Stop: Trans Am Racers.” The guy standing outside flagged me down to see if I needed anything. His name was Pat, a pastor who had recently converted part of a church into a hostel for cyclists on the TransAm trail, called the Spoke’n Hostel. He said several riders had stopped there for the night, and that two were currently inside sleeping. He briefed me on the next segment of the ride – Keyes Creek Pass, which he said was steep and long.

The pass was indeed steep, but the area around Mitchell is beautiful, so I didn’t mind the steepness all that much. The surrounding area is called the Painted Hills, and not without good reason. Still early in the morning, the light was bouncing off the rock and the layers of the clay desert rocks were changing from gold to pink to red as I climbed. During this climb, I started to employ a strategy that I would use for the rest of the race: on long passes with steep grades, I set a schedule of making a short stop every 20 minutes, just for 60-90 seconds, to look around, take a drink and get my heart rate down. I felt like this strategy kept me both physically within my limits and also allowed me to enjoy my surroundings. Because I was drinking coffee that morning, for the rest of the race I thought of these stops as “coffee breaks.”

As I was taking a coffee break, one of the Trans Am pairs, Italians Michaela and Stefano, came by – or at least Stefano did. At the top he stopped to wait for Michaela, who was still climbing, and said a friendly hello as I passed. I assumed I would see them again shortly.

The next 60 miles were mostly downhill or flat, and I loved it. This was the first real chance I had since the start of the race to get in my aerobars and just crank out steady miles while enjoying the scenery. At some point during that stretch before arriving in the town of John Day, I listened to an interview with Diana Nyad about her record-breaking swim from Cuba to Florida. During the interview, she told the host that one of her motivations to complete the swim was fear: not of sharks or of pain, she said, but a terror of not doing the thing she had set out to do.

At that time, somewhere in the fossil beds between Dayville and John Day, I mulled over this idea with skepticism. Where was the satisfaction, I wondered, in doing something out of the fear that you wouldn’t accomplish it? Wasn’t that simply desperation, I wondered, and something that should be guarded against?  I should have recognized this as foreshadowing, though, because in the days to come, I would start to understand the power of those words. Some days, and some moments, the positive energy and proactive belief in myself to finish the race would wither away to nothing. And during those times, that “fear,” even the desperation maybe, of not reaching Yorktown would be the only thing strong enough to spur me back on my bike, and keep me moving forward.

But I wasn’t there yet. In Prairie City, a great local dot-watcher and his wife came out to chat with me over lunch and cheer me on. They told me that the next three passes before I reached Baker City were remote and largely without services, while I ate a huge basket of fries in the local diner.


Three final passes of the day.

Leaving the small town of 900 people, it felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. Halfway up the first pass, then, I was startled by the distinct “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh” sound of a full disc cycling wheel behind me. Immediately, a cyclist on a full time-trial bike pulled up beside me, and I couldn’t help laughing at how out of context he seemed in that place. The cyclist’s name was Mike – he was a podiatrist and triathlete who lived in Baker City but “commuted” the 80 miles each way to work in John Day once a week. Mike and I chatted all the way up the first pass, until he decided I was too slow for his training ride. He left me with more notes on water sources over the next 60 miles and headed off into the distance.

It was during this next stretch, riding alone over those next two passes, that I remember the nagging realization of emerging saddle sores creeping into my consciousness. Despite my best efforts at finding good bike shorts and regularly using chamois cream, I was beginning to get the hint that blisters were forming on both of my inner thighs, just where they met the saddle. Knowing that this affliction has derailed many bike racers better than myself, I resolved to figure out how to deal with the issue as soon as possible.

Of course, I had been resolving a lot of things by that point. I had also resolved to never get dehydrated again, and yet as I descended the final pass into Baker City, I found myself desperate for water. The approach into Baker City is a beautiful one, along the Powder River, but I was so thirsty I could barely enjoy it. When I finally did arrive, I tackled the drink cooler and chugged a coke, a Gatorade, and water while standing in the parking lot.

It was about 9:30pm by now, and I was a bit irritated with myself. My body was starting to feel the nearly 600 miles over the previous three days, and I also felt like I was making some small mistakes that were starting to catch up with me. On the main street, I was relieved to find a bar with a grill inside, which wouldn’t close for another half hour. I ordered nachos, told the bartender that I would return, then went in search of a hotel.

When I came back to pick up my food, a stumbling drunk bearded man and his girlfriend were coming out of the bar as I was trying to enter. The guy was rambling about some perceive wrong that had been done to him, and when he locked eyes with me, he decided that I was the perpetrator. He lunged towards me in the doorway of the bar, yelling and spitting and threatening. Luckily, the bartender jumped out from behind the bar and got between us, holding the guy back and pointing him down the street. This was very welcome, because I was in no shape for a throw-down.

Back at the hotel, I took a shower and looked at the map. The next day would be my first day without a firm plan on destination or distance, and I decided I wouldn’t make any decisions yet about my game plan. I called Jimmy to find out where he was, posted this photo, then went to sleep. Blog_Day_3B