Trans Am Bike Race 2017, Day 2: Regroup & Reset

After getting myself pointed in the right direction toward McKenzie Pass, instead of away from it, I was back to enjoying the nighttime riding. It was that in-between temperature where when you stop, you think it’s cold, but once you start moving, the air feels perfect. It was about 3:30 or 4am now, and I laughed to myself thinking that being on my bike in the middle of the night after 30 minutes of sleep, and awakened by a brawl, was my new normal.

I liked it.

McKenzie Pass is a long (~20 miles or so) climb – not too steep, but steep enough towards the top to remind you what’s happening, especially hauling full bike bags, which I wasn’t used to yet, and felt like dead weight. Despite riding 280 miles the day before, though, my legs didn’t feel too bad and once I passed the gate that closes the road to cars, I put in my headphones and was rocking out to Ke$ha.

Around 5am or so the light began to flick light across the sky, and as it got lighter I could see that the ground on either side of the road was covered in several feet of snow. What a difference a year makes, I thought. Last year when I rode this pass, it was in the middle of Day 2 and the temperature was hovering around 100 degrees F. This year, the trees looked softer, the colors more muted, in the morning light.


Snowdrifts on McKenzie Pass Highway Source

Near the top, I stopped to put on my down jacket and gloves. While I was stopped, Evan and Bo Dudley came up from behind. I was happy to see them, and we rode the last few miles together. It was below freezing, and neither one of them was interested in stopping to take my picture at the sign. I didn’t really blame them.

The descent off McKenzie Pass is a bomber, and probably normally a ton of fun. This year, though, I was shivering noticeably on the way down. I had to stop a few times and blow on my hands inside my gloves so I could feel my fingers. Being already maxed out on my warm clothes less than 24 hours into the race was a little unnerving, but I tried to push that thought out of my mind.

The little town of Sisters sits at the bottom of the long descent, and as I rolled through I didn’t see either Bo or Evan. I also didn’t see much of anything open on this Sunday morning. On the far side of town I stopped at a drive-up coffee shack, and waited in line with the cars for coffee and a muffin. I shivered in the parking lot while I drank my coffee and got warm enough to ride again.

Leaving Sisters, I realized I had completely forgotten to stock up on food. Anyone who wants to go fast in the TransAm knows that minimizing stopped time is one of the most important strategies for making that happen. A punitive, but accurate, way to see it is that every 15 minutes you’re stopped during the race is as many as 5 miles lost, and these miles add up frighteningly quickly over days, and especially weeks.

Reflecting on 2016, I felt that stopping too often had cost me time and I was determined to improve on that this year. It sounds pretty easy, but probably most people who have tried it would attest that minimizing your time off the bike is a lot harder than it sounds. Doing it well requires several things: the fitness to keep riding without stopping, and forward-looking decision making at many points every day.

I wasn’t there yet.

Twenty miles down the road in Redmond, I stopped again at a Mexican place to get tacos. My food storage situation was another element that I had bemoaned last year and had resolved to improve so that I could carry more food and eat more on the bike, instead of off it. However, I hadn’t really considered exactly how I was going to improve this situation. Immediately after rolling out of the Mexican place, one of my three tacos flew off into traffic. RIP taco. Then a couple who had been in the taco joint chased me down with my credit card, which I had dropped on the floor while ordering.

The shit show was continuing.

There is a screaming descent into Prineville, which I hit around mid-morning and thoroughly enjoyed. As I rolled through Prineville, some dot watchers called my name and rang a cowbell, and I waved and whooped. Last year I had spent my second night in Prineville – and it was weird to already be a third of a day ahead of last year.
Screenshot 2017-11-20 08.18.02

I felt good starting the next long climb up to Ochoco Pass out of Prineville. It was a beautiful day, if still a bit chilly, and the road passed small lakes and cows in fields. I could see two riders in front of me but didn’t know who they were and wasn’t gaining on either of them.

About halfway up the climb, Evan pulled up next to me. He had stopped to chat with some friends in Prineville. We talked for a minute, and then he pulled away. I watch him pass the first rider in front of me within minutes. The way Evan was riding was impressive – so steady, focused, and smooth. He is going to win this race, I remember thinking. That was the last time I would see him until Yorktown.

On the other side of the pass I crossed paths with Randall Rice. We chatted a bit and he told me about his military background. He was wearing a backpack. Arriving in Mitchell, I stopped in at Spoke’n Hostel and chatted with the guys there for a minute. I wanted to keep moving but knew I needed to eat a real meal, so I went into the diner next door and ordered two burgers: one to eat with fries, and one to go. I drank a coke. I felt like I shouldn’t need coke already, but I was undeniably sleepy. I listened to the waitress and the owner argue about something for a few minutes, and tried to psyche myself up to get back on my bike.

mitchell oregon

At the Spoke’n Hostel. Photo: Olaf Sorenson

The afternoon ahead should be one of my favorite sections: A long climb out of Mitchell, then a 20-mile descent followed by dozens of miles of flat. Aerobar party, my favorite! I remembered the red rocks in this section were prehistoric and fantastic, and tried to look forward to the rest of the day. My original plan had been to make it to John Day on Day 2, which is about 75 miles from Mitchell.


View from above Mitchell. Source Wikimedia

Over the climb, I enjoyed the descent, but not as much as I wanted to. I called my mom. I passed through John Day, which is where I had planned to spend the night. It was still early, though, so I rolled through, mulling my options. I ran across Randall again, who was standing at an intersection looking a bit dazed. He told me he was planning to ride to Baker City, one of the last towns in Oregon, that night. It was about 7pm.


Oregon aero party. Photo: Anthony Dryer

I figured that most of the guys in front of me would be hitting Baker City tonight. But I also knew the route to Baker City was 80 miles, and over three passes, with few to no services. I had already blown my plan the day before, and I was paying the price. I needed to regroup.

It was a long uphill, windy drag from John Day to Prairie City, and I felt spent. I wasn’t all that happy with how I was doing so far, physically and emotionally, but I also knew that I needed sleep. I was ahead of my plan by just a bit. That should have made me feel good, but I wasn’t sure whether that was a good or foolish thing at this point. I decided to stop in Prairie City and get a grip (and a good rest). I knew I was letting the front of the race get away from me, but that was just a risk I had to take.

I stopped into the convenience store, where two touring cyclists outside stopped me to ask about the race. I stocked up for what would be an early-morning ride over the passes. It was probably only 7pm, but I checked into the motel there, and the woman said she had a little restaurant next door. I took a shower, which was pure bliss, and went into the restaurant in my bare feet. She had made me a giant salad and a burger. I ate as quickly as I could without being totally weird and disgusting, paid hurriedly and fell into bed. As I fell asleep, I listened to the sound of kids playing on a summer evening outside my window.


Trans Am Bike Race 2017 Day 1: Best-Laid Plans

Race morning, I woke up in my hotel at 5am, the sun rising and glinting off the Astoria bridge just outside my window. Despite having been in Astoria for three days, with plenty of time for race preparation, my stuff was still strewn around the room. I jammed my life possessions for the next few weeks hurriedly into my bike bags.


When I was done, I found some bag space for two giant blueberry pancakes from my visit the day before to the Pig ‘N Pancake diner (definitely my favorite spot in Astoria).


I opened the door to leave and stood there for just a minute in the crack, leaning the heavy door against me and cognizant of what it would mean to hear that latch echo shut behind me. I wheeled my bike into the lobby and said hello to a couple of other riders hurrying to get to the start. I took the path along the train tracks to the Maritime Museum, riding tentatively, pretty sure that I would crash before I even got the chance to start. I was riding behind a guy on an aero race bike. He looked fast.

I always dread the hours just before a race begins. It feels like a purgatory, where you’re stuck in the no-man’s land between everything you’ve already done and everything you’re about to do. There’s nothing more you can do to improve or prepare; still, a thousand things can still go wrong.

Nathan was just finishing his exhortations when I arrived about five minutes before the start. (“Take care of each other out there!”) I saw Mike Maurer and his wife, and gave Evan a hug as he rolled up. I saw Ken from DC and his girlfriend Ellen, there to send him off before going to do a gravel race. Donncha wasn’t there so, feeling somehow responsible for him, I called to make sure he was awake. I was happy to see JJ Simon and his wife Jacqueline. I had met JJ in 2001 on the island of Cyprus where we were both serving diplomatic missions. He had been a good friend and adventure partner for me and Jimmy there – always up for anything – and I was excited to see him take on the Trans Am.

I showed Jacqueline my manicure, which I had rushed to get the evening prior. In 2016, I had a leftover manicure from my brother’s wedding a couple of weeks before the race start. During the race I had watched in amazement as my nails grew out, day by day, from my cuticles. It was like watching rings grow in a tree trunk, and it was a powerful physical reminder of the time that was passing as I rode. I had wanted to see the same process again this year; maybe, if I was faster, there would be less nail to see at the end. While talking with Jacqueline, I realized I didn’t have an extra hair band, and she pulled out her ponytail and gave me hers. I wore that hair band through the race and it served as a memento for many weeks after it was over.


Tree-ring nails post-race 2016

The rollout happened unceremoniously, as it had last year. Once we got out of Astoria, I was simply relieved to be riding.


On the bridge leaving Astoria. Photo: Nathan Jones

Before the race, I had laid out a pretty exacting plan for each day, and was determined to stick to it as closely as my body, and circumstances, would allow. Last year, I had been warned so many times about the unpredictability of this type of multi-day self supported racing that I had only made a plan for four days; after that I was winging it, day to day, hour to hour. Upon reflection after the race, I had decided that some of that on-the-fly decision making had caused me to make mistakes, and waste time I couldn’t afford to waste this year.

This year, with more goals and more on the line, I had been determined to plan better. Still, I was prepared to throw it all out the window if I needed. I had laid out three goals for myself in this year’s race:

  1. Learn something new about myself. This was a holdover from 2016, and the only entirely unquantifiable goal I held. But it was also the most important to me. To reach this goal, I felt I needed to pay attention to what was happening to me, and around me, for the entire journey. I also needed a strong rein on my emotions – finding a balance between fighting hard, when the time was right, and acceptance of things that were out of my control.
  2. Reach Yorktown in 20 days. Last year, it had taken me 22 days and 11 hours to reach the Yorktown monument. This year I was better trained and prepared in almost every way, but luck, weather, fatigue, and other circumstances are a big part of this type of racing and always need to be considered. Looking at the numbers, I had decided that 20 days (or about 210-215 miles/day) was an ambitious, yet achievable, goal.
  3. Finish in the top 1015 racers. I was reticent about including this in my list of goals, because who shows up to race, how strong those racers are, and how their races go compared to yours is always something completely out of your control. Still, a race is a race. This year my online stalking of other riders had made it clear that, not only was the field twice as big as 2016, it also included more experienced, strong starters who were aiming to get to Yorktown fast. In 2016, I finished in 9th place, so I thought that winding up in a similar position this year would be pretty satisfying.



So, executing my plan was front and center in my mind as we rode the first 110 miles or so down the Oregon coastline before the route turns inland. It’s hard to explain, but there’s a lot of weird energy during the first couple days of this race – everyone knows it’s a long haul, but all the competitors are also rested, amped up, and excited. There’s a lot of jockeying for position, and this makes it quite difficult to not obsess about what other riders are doing. I imagine that for some riders that contagious energy is invigorating. For me it feels exhausting, like I’m in a constant battle to keep my mind (and ego) purely focused on what I need to do.

To help manage that, I had a wattage target to keep me from going out too hard, and mileage targets that I planned to stick to religiously. Today I was aiming for Walterville, which was 230 miles into the race. Walterville is not really a town, but I figured that I would bivvy there, or perhaps find a post office or campground if needed. I didn’t want to go further, because the road climbs after that to an eventual summit of McKenzie Pass at about 300 miles in, and I didn’t want to get stuck in the cold in the middle of the night (an early-season snowstorm meant that the summit had only been plowed just before the race). While getting over McKenzie Pass on Day 1 is seen by some as a Trans Am badge of sorts, and a strategy that can potentially provide tactical advantages over other racers, I knew it wasn’t a good idea for me.


Later in the day I hooked up with Evan. Evan and I had met on Day 1 of the 2016 race, and become good friends in the intervening year. I have a ton of respect for Evan as a rider (and person), and while I was happy to get to spend some time together, I also knew he was the stronger rider. I cautioned myself mentally not to let his energy (and speed) cause me to reach outside of myself. While I think that reaching beyond your boundaries is generally a good thing in life, I also am sure that it’s generally a bad thing on Day 1 of the Trans Am Bike Race.


Riding with Evan.

In the 2016 race, I had rolled into Corvallis at dusk on day one, and found Evan in the aisles of the Natural Grocers, where I marveled at the amount of food he bought and stuffed into his bags. This year, like a tradition, Evan and I rolled into Corvallis once again and stopped at the Natural Grocer. This year, though, I was able to pack a lot more food, and it was well before dusk when we rode out the other side of town. I had about 50 miles left to my planned stop in Walterville. Evan was talking about going over McKenzie Pass that night.
Then, suddenly out of nowhere, I was talking about going over McKenzie Pass too. I mean, why not? This was an adventure, right? I was here to push myself. I stopped for a second to pee on the side of the road, and the house across the street was having a barbecue and blasting Bryan Adams’ ‘Summer of ’69.’ Back on my bike, the sun was going down, and the sky was streaked with these amazing oranges and purples and yellows. I felt in love with riding and in love with life. My energy was good and my legs felt awesome.

Of course I should go over McKenzie Pass tonight, I decided. At the moment, it seemed like the only logical decision.


McKenzie River

It got dark slowly that night, and both Evan and I turned on our lights. We were on a well paved, low traffic road, but couldn’t ride side by side anymore for safety reasons. Things got quiet, and the ambiance of night riding began to take over. I have a love-hate relationship with night riding. When the weather is nice and when I am feeling good, as was the case that night, riding in the dark feels like getting away with something deliciously forbidden. Being out in the quiet air, with the stars above and the noises of the day gone away, feels transgressive, like a lovely secret. On the other hand, night riding can take my emotionally and physically to depths of misery.

But that comes later. This night, conditions were perfect for riding. We blew through Walterville and I didn’t even notice we had. I was amped up and ready for McKenzie Pass. Around 10pm, Evan made a change of plans and decided to stop to sleep for a few hours before tackling the pass. I decided not to stop (???) and continued on my own. Coming into McKenzie Bridge, I saw lights in front of me and pulled up next to Michael Wacker, wearing his Captain America jersey. Even though Michael had been in the race the year before, I had never gotten the chance to meet him. He mentioned that he was going to head towards McKenzie as well, but mentioned he was concerned about the potential for icy roads, given recent storms – something I had not considered.

I rolled into McKenzie Bridge alone. McKenzie Bridge is a very small town that sits at the base of the ~20-mile road up McKenzie Pass. There is a general store there that I remembered from the year before, with a water spigot in front. The guy who owns the store was still there and cleaning up, but he said he was closed for the night.

Suddenly, I was really tired. Like, really tired. I decided that my McKenzie Pass plans were misguided, and I would bivvy here for the night. I had already ridden 30 miles further than I had planned, and I couldn’t help but think that had been a mistake I might pay for later. (Spoiler: I did.) There was an apartment complex next to the general store, and I found a spot next to the dumpster where I was out of sight in the dark, or so I thought. I sat on the ground and ate some food. Then I pulled out my sleeping bag and my bivvy, using my helmet light, and curled up to sleep.

It was cold on the ground, and I couldn’t get comfortable. I had done exactly what I had told myself not to do, and gone too far and high, where it was now cold. Some other racers came up to use the spigot, talking loudly. I said hi, then closed my eyes again.

Then the yelling started from the apartment complex next door. It began inside an apartment, but a drunken fight soon spilled outside into the parking lot, just next to where I was sleeping. I wondered whether anyone would see me, and just tried to act small and invisible. It didn’t work. Suddenly, the yelling stopped and three big guys were looming over me, wondering what I was doing.

I learned in 2016 that trying to explain why you are sleeping in a random place on the ground during the Trans Am to a normal human being is harder than it seems. Something just always gets lost in translation. In this case, the guys were drunk and it was about 2am, which just made things more difficult. Eventually they told me that I couldn’t sleep there, that this was private property.

I said sorry and packed up to leave. Just as I was getting everything back in my bike bags, the owner stormed out towards me – apparently he was angered by the fact that the other guys had kicked me out – and ordered me, in no uncertain terms, to stay. Strangely, I felt more threatened by this guy than the others, so I dutifully unrolled my sleeping bag and got back into it. When he was satisfied that I was indeed staying, and not listening to those other guys, he wished me good night and headed back in.

It was quiet again, but there was no sleeping for me. I had been stopped for over three hours, and slept for 30 minutes. Things were not going according to plan. At about 3:30am, I sighed, packed up to start riding, and immediately turned the wrong way out of the parking lot.

Things were definitely not going according to plan.







Take 2: Trans Am Bike Race 2017 Prologue

Last year after my first attempt at the Trans Am Bike Race – that beautiful, exhausting 4,300 mile self-supported race across the country that is forever seared into my soul – it took me six months to write about it.


Before Rawlins, Wyoming. Photo: Nathan Jones/Anthony Dryer

The procrastination wasn’t because the race hadn’t been important. In fact, quite the opposite. That 22 days, 11 hours on the bike in the middle of a hot, sticky 2016 summer was so profound that I found it hard to describe what had happened, much less articulate its impact on me. I was afraid that I wouldn’t do it justice. I still don’t think I did, but as many have said, the perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good-enough.


In the bank parking lot, 100 miles to the finish in 2016. Photo: Travis Siehndel

This year it’s only been five months since my finish in Astoria. So perhaps self-improvement is afoot.


The finish 2017. Evan Deutsch: “It was so great how terrible you looked.” Photo: Liza Kirwin

This summer on June 4 when I rolled up to the start in Astoria, Oregon for my second go at the Trans Am, I felt both more, and less, confident than I had the year before.

In 2016, I had been an endurance-cycling newbie, a triathlete-on-hiatus looking for a rad new adventure. I hadn’t turned up to race per se, but to test my limits, see the country in a new way, and learn something about myself.

Check, check, and check.

After the 2016 race, though, I still couldn’t rid myself of this restless sense that I needed to dig deeper, to take another, better shot at ultra racing. I felt like I had only scratched the surface of what I could discover about the world and myself on those open roads – battling through heat and rain and wind, and sleeping in toilets and ditches – and what my potential was for going further, faster. I had found that I truly loved the racing, and I was inspired by watching what others – especially my female competitors – could do. I  fell in love with this sport that rewards self sufficiency, that offers no prizes, that proves that strong women can compete equally with strong men, and that requires an equal amount of fitness, wisdom, mistake making, and brutal testing of limits.

2016 had unveiled an itch. And I needed to scratch it.

So last fall, I pondered my plan. In order to satisfy myself, I knew I’d need to work much harder than I had in 2016. That was okay, I was ready. But I also needed to be thoughtful and strategic – to set clear goals, and to work towards them methodically and consistently. While the physical training would be an important part, I didn’t want my goals to be only about how fast I could get, or physically how strong I could be. I also wanted my mind to be blown open wide by the journey.

To do this, I thought I needed a new racing adventure. The Trans Am had been amazing, but I was hungry for something new. I explored the options – everything from Race Across America to the Tour Divide to the Trans-Siberian Red Bull Extreme. I finally settled on Mike Hall’s already iconic Transcontinental Race – a choose-your-own-adventure type of bike race across Europe. I applied in December, and was stoked to be awarded a space in January. The race would start on July 28, 2017.


With almost a year stretching out in front of me, I now needed a coach to guide me (which included saving me from the worst parts of myself). After reaching out to several coaches that had experience with this form of bike racing, I hired coach Greg Grandgeorge of Tri2Max Coaching. Greg coaches superstar ultra racer Sarah Cooper, and I had read his name on her blog. When we connected, I told him that I wanted to work hard, but I also needed to balance my enthusiasm with the potential for mental burnout. He agreed.

In October Greg sent me an Excel spreadsheet that laid out the plan for my entire year. All numbers. I remember squinting at this spreadsheet over a beer in a dimly lit bar with my friend Jill during a bike tour in Vermont, and laughing out loud trying to decipher what those columns of numbers meant. At the time, it was hard for me to see how those numbers and formulas were going to translate to the dirty face, nose-running, pastry-eating racing of the next summer.


The translation would turn out to be flawless.

I spent November to April building my fitness day by day, week by week, month by month. I did easy rides and hard rides and lots of everything in between. I did beer-drinking rides with friends. I spent hours on my trainer indoors during times of cold and snow. I did some icy rides on my time trial bike and some fat bike riding in the snow. I took warm weather trips to Tucson and Austin. Most weeks, I was riding around 20 hours per week, and upwards of 200 miles, which was entirely new territory for me.


Brewery ride with friends in DC.

By February, I was starting to see results. My power was good – and perhaps more important, measures of stamina, which is critical for this type of racing. The graphs and charts that we used to measure my fitness were sending the right messages, I raced my first 12-hour time trial in Sebring on February 11 and managed to set a new women’s record (and place second overall).


Sebring finish. Photo: Jimmy Bisese

In March, I started a 400-mile race in the Texas Hill Country, but had to drop out after 100 miles due to an irreparable mechanical and a crash where I, quite literally, lost my pants (that’s a whole other post).


Texas 400, post crash wearing new pants, pre-mechanical. Photo: David Michael

I ended up in a brewery for the afternoon, so that was ok.


In addition to the physical training, which began to eat up more and more of my time as the months progressed, during winter and early spring I spent hours in front of the computer planning my race route for the Transcontinental. I bought paper maps and downloaded mapping apps. I memorized coordinates and joined FB groups. I had language dictionaries and researched visa requirements.


Months in advance, I had also arranged my work schedule for the summer carefully to ensure that I had enough time before and after to not let too many balls drop.

As summer neared, though, life began to take unexpected turns. My work schedules shifted, and the costs and logistics of racing in Europe started to feel overwhelming. Without experience with much riding whatsoever in Europe, I was nervous about how to choose safe, but also fast, roads through the many countries the race passed through. Then in late March, Transcontinental race director Mike Hall was killed during the Indian Pacific Wheel Race. This tragic accident shook the ultra cycling community, and put the Transcontinental into question until mid-May.

In April, I started thinking about the Trans Am start line.

My life situation wasn’t ideal for it. The TransAm started almost two months earlier, so I would be racing without that planned two months of training under my belt (and many of my planned super-long test rides). Complicating matters, I had a two-week work trip to Uganda planned just a month before the race, during which time my only real training option would be an old-school fitness bike in a non-air-conditioned hotel. I also would need to rejigger my work schedule, which threatened to inconvenience a lot of colleagues.

Still, the more I thought about the Trans Am the more I wanted to do it. The idea of testing myself on a course that I already had experience on was appealing. I had friends doing the race who I had met and shared experiences with the year before. Doing a June race might allow me to enjoy most of my Colorado summer at home, tooling around on trails and drinking beer by the river.creede

Most important: more and more, it seemed like a hell of a lot of fun. I’ve always loved Josh Kato’s perspective after his record breaking run down the Tour Divide in 2015:

“If you are racing…that means you’ve been able to somehow sneak away from societal obligations for about three weeks. What’s not fun about playing hooky from life? It’s like being a kid on a really sweet set of wheels with a credit card and carte blanche in the junk food aisle. Yeah, it hurts a lot, but you’re out there doing something awesome, and you get to eat a lot of donuts while doing it… If I wasn’t having fun out there, it was my own fault.”      

So, a month before the TransAm, I sent the email to Nathan and signed up. I would be buying donuts with my credit card while cruising across America, just as hard and fast as I possibly could!


As it turned out, with this adventure I’d get even more than I bargained for – but well worth the horrifying winds, slate of injuries, deep despair, unexplained rashes, ruined iphone in the toilet, heartache, the hospital visit and, yes, the pitbull bite.

Stay tuned.


Round and Round: Sebring 12-Hour Race Report

Two weeks ago, Jimmy and I parked our car at the cold Denver airport and headed to Sebring Florida for the Sebring 12-hour bike race on February 11.

The annual Sebring races are an early-season racing opportunity for the cycling ultra-endurance set. Four races happen concurrently – a century (100 mile) race, a 12-hour draft-legal race, a 24 hour draft-legal race, and a 24-hour non-drafting race. (“Drafting” means that you can ride behind another rider in their draft, which makes riding faster easier.) Multiple categories exist within those races, depending on type of bike ridden. “Upright” bikes – regular bikes – were the most common, but there were also quite a number of recumbent bikes, tandems, a few “human-powered vehicles” and even an Elliptigo.

This format of bike racing was an all new adventure for me. The rules are simple: ride as far as possible in twelve hours, and whoever ends up with the most miles wins. You do this by riding in a series of circles – first in a very small loop on the Sebring Formula One race track, then in an 89-mile road loop, then in a series of 11-mile road loops, and then eventually on more race track circles at the end.

In the 12-hour race, you could choose to ride alone – as in a traditional time trial – or with a group – as in a traditional bike race. “Support” – which means someone to hand you food and water – was also allowed, and Jimmy had agreed to be my race day sherpa.

The race started at 6:30am, which meant I would ride all day and finish at 6:30pm. The first three laps of the race were in the dark on the race track. In discussions with my coach Greg, we had decided that I should go out hard, in the hopes of finding a group to ride with that would allow me to ride fast while also conserving energy in the early hours of the race. Riding hard at the beginning of a twelve-hour effort scared me, because it seemed to increase the risk exponentially of blowing up early. Still I knew that finding a group of fast riders was the only way that I would be able to ride as fast as possible.

Also in my awareness was the knowledge that the women’s 12-hour course record was 244 miles, which had been set the previous year by Amanda Coker. I know who Amanda is, and that she is an amazing cyclist – in fact, she is currently in the process of setting cycling’s highest-ever-mileage-in-a-year record. So I was not at all confident that the record was within my reach, especially given my lack of experience with this type of racing. But the number did give me something to aim at, and be inspired by.

So I went out hard. So hard, in fact, that within 10 minutes I was struggling to stay with the front group of riders. The 3.7 mile track has 17 turns and several sharp corners, and I realized quickly that braking at all would allow a gap to form between me and the next rider, which I would have to push as hard as possible to close once we came out of the corner. So, I concluded within ten minutes, no braking – just lean to the outside and hope real hard.

Off the track and onto the road, I was surprised to find myself still with the front pack. We rode together through Sebring and north on mostly farm roads towards the turnaround in a small town called Frostproof. I had never visited central Florida before, and I was surprised to see horses, trees and even a few series of rolling hills. The group I was riding with was made up of recumbents and regular bikes, probably about 12 people in total.

About halfway to Frostproof, I started to get nervous about staying with this group – my legs were already starting to hurt, my heart rate seemed high, and I couldn’t stop looking at my odometer thinking that the miles were passing by excruciatingly slowly. These did not seem to be positive signs, given another 200+ miles to ride. I made the decision to drop off the back of that pack, despite knowing that it meant my pace would slow. At the time, I was not at all confident in this decision – especially as I watched the group move quickly away and out of sight.

Nearing the turnaround, I was able to gauge where I was relative to the other riders in front of and behind me. The front pack was already more than 5 minutes ahead of me, and I mentally kicked myself for giving up my ride on that freight train. The incredible Sarah Cooper was only about 2 minutes behind me at the time – despite the fact that she was racing in the 24-hour, non-drafting race. I simultaneously smiled, waved, and shook my head in amazement when I saw her.

On the way back from Frostproof. Photo credit: Eddy Rayford

I rode the rest of the 89-mile road loop on my own, save a few miles with a group of three recumbent riders who caught me after the turnaround from Frostproof. At one point, we were riding in a paceline and a crew of supporters were on the side of the road holding bottles. Mistaking them for a neutral support crew, I tried to take a bottle from one of them. It turned out that they were the crew for the guys I was riding with, and that in my attempt to take one of their bottles I had caused one of the riders to miss his planned drink exchange. After apologizing, I found out that the rider I had inadvertently tried to sabotage was Allan Duhm, a cyclist who I had been hoping to meet and who is riding the Trans Am this year. (Their crew was able to leapfrog a few minutes later and get Allan’s bottle to him. Still, sorry we had to meet that way, Allan.)

Coming back into the racetrack for a pit stop to pick up food and drink from Jimmy, I was hot, tired and dehydrated. I was less than five hours into this race, and already hurting. What was I doing? I wondered. Why did I think this was a good idea? In an attempt to make myself feel better, I grabbed a donut from Jimmy and slammed it as I headed back onto the road for the first of the 11-mile loops.

Immediately, I was hit with a wave of nausea. While the 11-mile loop is a rather pleasant route of good pavement, a couple of rollers, and even some change of scenery, I rode the first three loops feeling sick and hateful. Hate, hate, hate. My brain was stuck in that loop, and even trying to chase it out with an earworm from the band Chicago didn’t work. At the end of the third loop, I put my foot down (literally) when I saw Jimmy. “I don’t think I can do this anymore,” I said. He looked at me and handed me a bag of ice. “I know,” he said, “you’re having a hard day.” I think he patted me on the shoulder.

“Now get back out there and ride.”

Low moment: Can I stop, please? This outfit is weird.

Miraculously, on the fourth loop, my fate – and mood – made a significant rebound. About halfway through, a pack that was remnants of the front group I had been riding with earlier in the race lapped me. Pushing hard, I was able to ride into their draft and hold on to their wheels for the rest of that loop. I rode loops 5-7 with them, which had the effect of increasing my speed significantly, diminishing the tedium I was focused on, breaking the cycle of “hate,” and even giving me the opportunity to chat with a few of the guys.

It appears the chatter may have been enjoying the chatting more than the chattee. Photo credit: Eddy Rayford

I lost the group after a few loops, but by then my mindset had shifted and I was feeling much more strong and confident. Strangely, despite several hours of feeling low, I was still on track for my goal times to hit 244 miles in twelve hours. To do that, I would need to finish 13 of the 11-mile loops plus one lap on the racetrack. I rode the last three loops with a mantra, “Don’t crash, don’t bonk, don’t crash, don’t bonk.”

On my last turn of the 11-miler, I heard the sound of a gear change behind me, as Marko Baloh came powering by me. Marko is a Slovenian ultra-cycling legend – among other accomplishments he has finished the Race Across America six times and set the 24 hour World Record – and someone had told me he was out to break the Sebring 12-hour record today. This was his second time to lap me, meaning that he was 22 miles ahead, but I saw an opportunity, stood up on my pedals and cranked to catch his rear wheel.

The increase in speed was immediate. Suddenly, I was riding so fast – and having fun! Unable to contain my excitement, I yelled out “You’re an angel!” Then I was a little embarrassed, and also couldn’t breathe, so I just concentrated on staying as close as possible to his wheel.

Coming onto the track, hanging onto Marko’s wheel. Photo credit: Eddy Rayford

When we arrived back at the pit, race volunteers directed us back onto the track. As we entered the track, I was still on Marko’s wheel, holding on tight. As we flew through the crowd of spectactors, I got a glimpse of the race clock: just under 30 minutes left to ride.

I knew I had to make it one lap of the track to hit the 244 mile record, and I was bound and determined to do it as fast as possible. The sun was setting, and I was hanging onto Marko’s wheel, gasping, as we flew by all the other cyclists already on the track.

About 2/3 of the way around the track, I decided that I would try to return the favor and pull Marko. As I pulled out of his draft I had to work even harder to ride by him. I rode in front for about 45 seconds, and he politely sat on my wheel, until my heart threatened to leap out of my chest. As I sat up and he passed me again on the left, I gasped, “Sorry, that’s all I could do.”

He smiled, and in his nice Slovenian accent, he said very calmly, “No, no. Very helpful.”

I was laughing as I regained my position and tried to hang on again, but I had gassed myself and couldn’t keep up the effort required to stay with Marko any longer. I was able to get in two more laps on the track alone, and as I finished my last lap the clock read 11 hours and 54 minutes. At Sebring, only completed laps count, and I didn’t have time to finish another one. So my race was over.

In the end, I completed 253 miles in just under twelve hours. I didn’t know until later that I had actually come in second overall, 23 miles behind Marko, among all men and women on regular bikes. (A human-powered vehicle and four recumbent bikes were faster.) Jimmy was waiting for me at the finish line, and I laid on the ground for a while, both relieved to be finished and confused about what the day had meant.

Two weeks later, I am still not entirely sure. I am happy to have finished, and I surprised myself with the result. This format of racing was not my favorite – I’d still definitely rather be hauling frame packs of clothes and food up and down mountains in the middle of nowhere – but I think it taught me something important about mental focus and the value of forging on despite the hard times. I was so lucky to have Jimmy there to support me – and to push me on when I wanted to stop. And there’s absolutely no way that I could have prepared for this race without my coach Greg Grandgeorge to guide me. He believed in my ability to reach an ambitious goal, even though I was entirely skeptical. I think that channeling his belief – even though it wasn’t mine to begin with – allowed me to be better than I otherwise might have been. And eventually, I think it came to be my own.

Missed the awards ceremony because I was busy. Or maybe drunk.

For now, the work continues. I’ll do the Texas RAAM Challenge 400 on March 25 – a 400-mile unsupported race in the Texas Hill Country. My eyes are mostly on the 2,500-mile Transcontinental Race across Europe from Belgium to Greece that begins on July 28. Adventure lies ahead!


Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, The Aftermath

I finished my story last week, and then I kind of felt like it wasn’t over yet. Several people have asked for posts on gear, training and lessons learned – and I will get to that. Some people also asked questions about the immediate aftermath of the race. And it’s true that, while arriving at the finish line was an important moment, it didn’t quite mark the end of my Trans Am experience.

So for those who like epilogues or post scripts, here’s what went down after it was all biked and done.

  1. I slept, for a second. When I hit the monument in Yorktown, my friends who had come to meet me at the finish headed home around 11pm – most of them having to be at work early the next day. I checked into a hotel near the monument and took a long, long shower. Then I fell into an amazing, delicious sleep. Until a couple of hours later, when I woke up in terror, jumped out of bed and dashed to my bike, thinking I had missed my rollout.
  2. I ate. And drank. All the food and all the drinks in Yorktown. I mean, ALL of it. Yorktown has three restaurants, and they were not enough to satisfy my appetite. One night I ordered sushi, went to the grill next door and ate a full meal (including a burger), went back to pick up the sushi, and took it back to my hotel and ate it in bed.



Mixed drinks were not spared the assault.


  1. I welcomed Jimmy at the finish line.

My plan was to stay in Yorktown until Jimmy arrived, a couple of days later. Suddenly I had the time and emotional energy to spend thinking about his race, his safety, his exhaustion and sleep deprivation. I became a full-time dot watcher for a couple of days, totally reveling in the addiction of those little dots moving across the screen.

Jimmy arrived in 25 days, 2 1/2 days after I had finished. Watching him riding up to the monument gave me chills. It felt so out of the realm of possibility to have had such a completely intense, singular, solitary experience – and yet to be able to share it with someone that I love. It made it that much bigger and more important. We have been telling each other stories ever since.


My brother Danny, just off the plane from a work trip to Israel, and friend Karen were able to make it to the monument in Yorktown to welcome Jimmy too. Karen made coconut cake.


  1. I got to welcome a lot of other riders too.

Several other riders finished between me and Jimmy, and I got the opportunity to welcome a number of them at the finish line too. I was excited about this – because even though the Trans Am is not a rah-rah experience, and no one does this race because they are looking for cheering crowds or accolades, still we are all humans who are accomplishing something pretty mighty by pushing ourselves to complete this race. I wanted to be there to celebrate that.

Plus, there was simply an element of curiosity. So many of the people I had thought about during the race were nothing more to me than pink or blue dots with initials moving across a screen. I wanted to see them as something more.


Markku Leppala

Enrico Comunello was the next to arrive after Markku. I had met Enrico in Astoria, giving him a ride to his hotel from the post office, so I was excited to see him again. Walking to the monument in the dark, a tall rider, who I didn’t recognize, was heading the same place. When I told him my name, he smiled and said: “Massimiliano Fancoli.”

“MF!!” I cried. “I’ve been chasing you for days!”


A blurry Enrico, Janie and MF


A less blurry post-race celebration with Enrico, MF and Markku


Andrew Stevens Cox and Markku


With Jason Kulma and George Koefler


Irena and Andrew at breakfast just after Irena’s finish

Sadly, I missed Brian McEntire, who finished in the middle of the night, and Andrej Zaman. Boo.

  1. I dealt with a range of post-race physical ailments:

The immediate aftermath of the Trans Am was, perhaps a bit like the race itself, a roller coaster. Physically, I did not fare very well, and for the sake of future riders, or anyone considering an event of this magnitude, it’s perhaps worth coming clean about the toll that a race like this can take on the body.

The night of the finish, after taking a shower, I noticed a severe itching and burning on the left side of my body. Looking in the mirror – which I had strategically not done for days – I saw that I had a well developed case of poison oak (or ivy) that had spread from just above my left knee all the way up to my lower back. It was already angry and swollen and close to blistering. Still, I had never noticed it during the race. The brain’s capacity for denial is pretty intense. I took steroids to calm the infection, but my sleep for the first week or so after the race was interrupted by the pain of this rash.

A few people noted that the saddle sores, which seemed to get a lot of attention early on, faded from view later in my story of the race. That pretty much reflects what happened in real life, luckily. All the treatments I was trying led to a slow healing, and by the time I hit the finish line those sores were no longer open wounds. Unfortunately, the heat and humidity after Colorado led to a range of other unspeakable rashes, infections and sores – some of which took weeks to subside. I know, I know, TMI. But a reality nonetheless.

About a week after the race was over, I woke up to a case of full-body hives. They covered my legs, arms, torso, and back. They itched and burned constantly and were hard to cover up when I had to attend work meetings in Washington DC. The cause remains unclear – this doesn’t seem to be a common post-ride ailment. In one way or another, though, my immune system was definitely crying Uncle.

For a month after the race I had constant nightmares. I would be somewhere riding my bike, going nowhere, with always “800 more miles to go.” It was the endurance racing version of that college dream where you forget to show up at your exam.

I had pretty severe nerve damage in both my hands, and to some extent my feet. My index to pinky fingers were numb on both hands, and I had lost most of the strength in my right hand. For almost six weeks after the race was over, I had to use both hands to turn the key in the car ignition, and take the lid off the toothpaste. Fortunately, the symptoms eventually subsided, and now that I have normal function in my hands and feet, it doesn’t seem so bad anymore at all. Funny how that works.

Brain chemistry changes from the experience were less specific, but just as real. It seems that many endurance athletes experience periods of depression /or mood changes after particularly long or grueling races. There are lots of theories about why and how this happens, but they are certainly related to chemicals in the brain that affect emotions. I had experienced some form of this in the past, for example a feeling of letdown or depression after Ironman triathlons or ultra running races.

My post-Trans Am experience was nearly the opposite. Once the hives and the pain and the nerve damage and the nightmares started to subside, I experienced several weeks of elation, before coming down into a semi-depression – which luckily didn’t last very long. That feeling of excitement almost had the symptoms of a mania – my brain raced, I was excitable about everything, and yet unusually irritable too. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling, but definitely not “normal.” And certainly there was a chemical component that must have been stirred by the huge physical, mental and emotional requirements of a month of bike racing.

Since the race, I have seen many comments, questions and requests for help on forums and social media about post-race depression (not only post-Trans Am but other endurance races as well). This is a common issue, and I’d encourage anyone who experiences this to reach out for help. Talk to a good doctor, or a friend, or do seek guidance from others who have experienced it. You’re not crazy. The psychological impact of a race like this is real.

Gear and training up next – stay tuned.

Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, The Finish

I woke up and rode out of Christiansburg before it was light. 380 miles were between me and the finish line in Yorktown Virginia. I knew that those nearly 400 miles were going to be full of challenging riding, but at the same time they would be a kind of homecoming. This part of Virginia was home to familiar bike routes and scenery as well as friends and family who had been following my progress and had all been part of my journey in some small way.

I craved seeing those familiar faces. But I was also anxious. The previous three weeks had been the most epic test of my mind, body and emotions that I had ever experienced. As a result, I found myself now a raw, stripped down version of myself. My mental faculties were faulty and my social skills rusty. I was still myself, but in some important ways I knew that I also wasn’t. Would these people recognize me? I wondered. Would I be able to communicate? Would they understand my newfound Little Debbie habit?

And how would I possibly hide the stench?

As the sun rose, I rode through fields in the foothills of the beautiful Catawba Mountains. The terrain was a series of rollers, which ultimately traveled downhill. Still, my legs were so tired that I had to coax myself up any climb, even the smallest.


Foothills of the Catawba Mountains

Sometime during the morning, I came upon a sign that indicated a bridge out several miles ahead. The detour sign pointed a left-hand turn, off route. I didn’t even hesitate, just carried on. There was no way I was going even one meter off the route. Luckily, the bridge was under construction, and the workers cheered for me and even carried my bike across. They said they had seen Sarah the day before.

In Troutville I stopped at the mini mart on the highway to eat breakfast. The woman who owned the shop had a Trans Am logbook. She showed me Evan’s and Kim’s entries from the year before. I bought a coffee in a Styrofoam cup and sat outside on the stoop. I was feeling reflective, and I sat there for about 15 minutes, just mulling over the previous three weeks. The prospect of the upcoming finish filled me with both incredible relief and also a deep sadness. I knew why I was feeling the former, but was less sure that I understood the latter. But for some reason, sitting there, it just seemed so important to capture this feeling, to make time stand still for a second.IMG_0290

While I was sitting there, I heard someone call my name. I looked up to see my brother in law Mark and my niece Addy getting out of his truck. Family! I hugged them both tightly. They asked me how I was feeling, whether I had talked to Jimmy, and told me I looked too skinny. When two delivery guys showed up, Mark insisted on telling them both about my race. He also told me that my sister in law, Lois, and my other niece Ella were waiting down the road.


Mark and Adaline

Sure enough, Lois and Ella were waiting for me near the railroad tracks between Troutville and Buchanan. Seeing Ella’s curious eyes and round face gave me a shot of energy. A few minutes after saying goodbye, I stopped to pee behind a bush. As I emerged, a car came to a stop and a family got out, calling my name. They introduced themselves as the parents of my friend Rob, and his daughter and her friend. Rob was planning to meet me later in Lexington, but they said they had been following the race and had made a special trip to come out and find me. They had posters and treated me like they had known me my whole life. I rode off grinning, at the idea of a family who would hunt down a smelly stranger just to say good job.


With Ella. Photo credit: Lois Bisese

The road to Lexington was a series of back roads with chip seal, and the going was slow. The last few days, I was so tired I felt like I was pedaling through mud. I had even taken to getting off my bike occasionally to check whether I had a flat tire or brakes that were rubbing against my wheel. Nope. Just slow.

It was a Saturday morning, and as I approached Lexington I started to encounter groups of riders out on their weekend rides. Despite how familiar it was – the vacuum of speed, gears clicking, intense faces and crowded bodies – they looked like such a different breed of athlete to me that day. No bags on their bikes, no donut powder on their handlebars, no mud-encrusted shoes.  I tried to ride with one of the packs when it came by, just to see if I could, but to no avail. It was ok, I didn’t belong.

Coming into Lexington, I saw a train of three good looking male cyclists powering towards me on nice bikes wearing clean, brightly colored cycling clothes. They had almost reached me before I recognized them as Rob, Brad and Trey. Rob organizes an annual spring group riding weekend in the Virginia mountains that I have attended a couple of times. It is always full of hard, early season miles, barbecue, beer drinking and belly laughs.

I told the guys that I needed to eat, and Rob said he knew of a Subway/convenience store up the road. They watched with fascination, disbelief and perhaps a bit of alarm as I loaded up my arms with drinks and snacks, and then filled a giant self serve yogurt container with about 20 different toppings. Definitely an animal in the wild.Blog_Day_22H

After my feeding, we headed out towards Vesuvius. Vesuvius is a tiny town at the base of a climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway that is one of the Trans Am route’s hardest. Vesuvius also holds an epic status among cyclists in Virginia for its severe grade over the course of three miles. By the time we reached the base of the climb, my friend Catherine had joined us. Seeing Catherine’s face made me feel like home. Cat and I have been friends for over twenty years, and she is also one of my most fun and reliable bike riding partners. We have solved many of the world’s problems together during rides or runs, and I was so happy to have her there next to me as we spun (slooooooowly) up that climb.


The top of Vesuvius marked the last major climb of the race, and the start of the downward trajectory towards the Atlantic Ocean and Yorktown Virginia. There was still 250 miles to ride, but mentally it was a marker of progress. On the Blue Ridge Parkway I said goodbye to Rob, Brad and Trey, and Catherine carried on with me. It was a beautiful afternoon and the sun was throwing gold light over the green of the Shenandoah Mountains in the distance.IMG_0283

Coming down off the Blue Ridge Parkway, I directed us right onto a highway. We had ridden several miles before I realized I had gone off course, again. As Catherine and I sat in the parking lot, two more familiar faces got out of a car: my friend Travis and my sister-in-law Nikki. Both of them had their bikes in their car and had wanted to be there to support me through my last day of the race.


With Travis. Photo credit: Nikki Raspa

Travis and I rode in the dark to Charlottesville, which is a college town and home to the University of Virginia. I was hungry, and we rode past bars and restaurants and an outdoor dance party while looking for fast food a bit after midnight. We finally found a sketchy convenience store on the outside of town and I bought a microwave burrito. As I was eating it in front of the store, watching a low rider in the parking lot with bass booming out of its windows, a woman got out of her car and came towards me. It was my mom’s friend Sharron, who lives in Charlottesville and had found me on the tracker. I couldn’t believe that she had hunted me down past midnight at that dodgy convenience store, but I was happy to see her face.


Midnight visit from my mom’s friend Sharron

Riding out of Charlottesville, the fatigue was overwhelming. I stopped to sleep for an hour on the flagstone patio of an antiques store. Miraculously, when my alarm went off I was able to get up and back on my bike. Whether I was actually going to be able to pry myself off the ground and back onto my saddle after any given sleep stop was becoming more and more questionable.

In the early hours of the morning, I found Nikki and my friend Angela on the road, and they rode with me past sunrise. The mist rolled up into wisps below the treetops that morning as the sun came up. I remember feeling so grateful for the support of my friends, family and all of the well wishers that I had met during the past 22 days. I wasn’t sure why they cared so much about my little insignificant journey of self exploration (and torture) across the country, but it felt so significant to me that they did.Blog_Day_22C

I knew that self supported bike racing, in its purest and most traditional sense, is all about solitary individualism. The point is that YOU make your own decisions. YOU figure things out by yourself. YOU ride your bike by yourself. YOU get from point A to B – on your own. That naturally means untethering from support, disavowing help, and exploring your capacities single-handedly.

This was the very thing that had captivated me about the idea of the Trans Am. And I had learned so much about myself by undertaking this journey alone. I was finishing this race believing that I was infinitely capable, that I had nothing to prove, that I was stronger alone than I ever knew I was. Those feelings were themselves a gift.

But if I am honest, there were also some days, like the last one, where the race served to remind me more than anything that we are nothing more than humans interconnected in a web with others. During all of those race days, alongside the solitude had also been the kindness of random strangers, the chance meetings with cyclists and other racers, the encounters with dot watchers, and – on this day – the massive amount of emotional support from those who, for some reason, cared about whether and how I completed this mission.


With my friend Jen. Photo credit: Nikki Raspa

Around 9pm, I rode onto the Colonial Parkway, the rough cobblestone byway that passes through Williamsburg Virginia en route to Yorktown. The last time I was in Williamsburg was on my seventh grade field trip from Atlanta, Georgia. This evening, the same bizarre scene was playing out: women in bonnets and men with muskets, kids in the stocks. People were playing Pokémon GO, and I remember laughing at the absurdity of it all, and thinking, I guess it takes all kinds. After all, look at me. Who was I to judge?

There was a bridge out on the route just a handful of miles from the finish line at the Yorktown monument. So I went straight and hoped for the best. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, I rounded a dark corner to see the outline of that lonely monument that I had been dreaming of reaching for weeks, maybe months.

And my friends were there, with champagne, cheering for me. My sister-in-law Ann had shown up from North Carolina. It was 10pm. I just took off my helmet and got off my bike and sat on the lower step of that monument and looked around in disbelief. It was over.

I had finished the 4,200 miles in 22 days and 11 hours. In the end, I was the 10th to arrive at the finish line, the 9th solo rider and the third female competitor. I wasn’t the fastest, or the slowest. I had made a handful of good decisions and lots of mistakes. I had faced some bad luck and some good luck. Some things had gone as expected – most hadn’t.


Travis, Nikki, Ethan, Cat, me (with helmet still on), Champagne

In the end, it was a lot like life. Just more: more good, more bad, more intense, more wonderful, more terrible, more confusing, more illuminating than most days of most weeks tend to be. It was an incredible journey that taught me – more than any other I have ever taken – that choosing to partake in big, messy adventures is how we vote for learning, not only about who we are, but what the big, messy world we are all fortunate enough to live in is all about.

Which is why I just couldn’t wait to do it again.


Thanks for reading, and for sharing this adventure with me.

Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 21

When I woke up at Crazy Larry’s hostel an hour or so later, I felt like death. I still had 500 miles to the finish line and I truly had no idea how I was going to get there. I dragged myself out of bed and thanked Larry for his hospitality. He asked me to do a wheelie, and I made my best effort. It wasn’t a very good one.IMG_0267

It was around 10am, and I set my modest sights on Christiansburg, about 100 miles away. It should have been an easy enough journey – a shallow 15 mile climb, then a descent, peppered with a few climbs, for the next 85 miles or so. I pedaled slowly up the climb, which runs along a lovely river. Outfitters in vans passed me with rafts and bicycles, and I watched them wistfully, wishing I was on vacation rafting a river or riding my bike.

Wait, I was on vacation riding my bike. Something was wrong with this picture.


Vacation meals.

I made it up and over the climb and down towards Rural Retreat, where I stopped in a small gas station staffed by two women who asked me where I was going to, and where I was coming from. When I told them, both of their pairs of eyes widened like saucers.

“By yourself? Aren’t you afraid?” they asked. I said no, and that I felt perfectly safe and had never felt threatened during the whole trip. One of the women said she still thought it was irresponsible for me to be putting myself in “that kind of a situation.” The other one smiled at me and said, “I would give anything to have that kind of adventure.”

Just as I was leaving, I encountered Nathan and Anthony. They had been at the finish line and were now backtracking to find remaining racers.


I don’t particularly remember either a tailwind or loving life, but I am taking his word for it.

The rest of the day’s route passed largely along the access road for highway 81. I was so tired that I forgot to stop and get food for several hours. About an hour from Radford, Virginia, I bonked – and hard. I could barely keep my legs turning over, and at one point I remember getting off my bike and just laying in the grass next to the light rail tracks. Somehow, after what seemed like an eternity, I crossed the bridge into Radford. I headed to the Sonic and ordered two bacon cheeseburgers.

As I was eating at Sonic, I heard my name and saw two smiling, clean, familiar faces approaching. Katrina and Jim live in Radford, and a few years earlier Jimmy and I had been on a group bike trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway with them and some of their friends and family. They are avid cyclists, and both infinitely positive spirits, and it was like a glimmer of hope to see their faces. My Garmin had died, once again, so they helped point me in the direction of Christiansburg. One of their friends and his daughter was also out along the way to cheer me on.


Seeing Katrina and Jim’s faces reminded me that I was getting close to the finish – and into comfortable, familiar territory of family and friends. For four years, Jimmy and I had lived in Washington DC. We have a lot of friends and family in the area, a number of whom had promised to come out in the final miles to cheer us on and even ride stretches with us. As I pedaled the last ten miles onto Christiansburg from Radford, through suburban neighborhoods with low ranch houses, I felt both excited and anxious about that prospect. I was certainly excited to see familiar faces, but also anxious about interacting with others in the precarious physical and emotional state I found myself in. At the moment I was certainly more a shell of a human being than my normal self. Would I still be able to communicate? What would they think of me? Is this sort of what an animal in the wild feels like, I wondered.

Just before Christiansburg, a woman cutting her lawn on a driving lawnmower called to me as I passed by. “Hey, you! Hey, you! Turn around!” Dutifully, I turned around, and she jumped off her mower to come down to the fence that bordered her yard. Her face registered disappointment when she saw me.

“Oh. I thought you were a maaaan,” she said in a Virginia drawl. She pointed to the lawnmower. “Do you know how to work this thing?” When I said I had no idea, she shrugged and said she wasn’t surprised. Her husband had recently died, she said, and now she was in charge of the lawn and what did I think about that. I thought about telling her that my husband was a couple of days behind and if she would just wait right there he might be able to help her out. Instead, I said something lame, like maybe she could look on the internet? She raised her eyebrows at me like I was from Mars.

Christiansburg was a real town, as it turned out, and when I stopped at the convenience store on the outskirts of town and asked the clerk where the motel was, he didn’t know. I almost cried. I was absolutely desperate for sleep. I found my way into town and to the grungy motel there. I knew this would likely be my last sleep in a bed before I reached the column in Astoria, and I wanted to make the most of it. When I woke up, I would have just under 400 miles to travel.

So close, yet still so far away.

Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 20

I woke up to a humid morning in Buckhorn. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be, after the previous day’s travails, to get on the road again. In fact, that morning, with 800 miles to go, I was feeling that the end of the race was actually in sight. I had started to get text messages from friends and family – “Almost there!” and “Only a few  more days to go!”

Riding my bike through Western Kentucky opened my eyes to a sliver of the country I had never experienced before. On the one hand, this part of the US is a hidden wonderland of lush, green mountainous roads, running rivers and pockets of nature untouched by development. At the same time, it is also an area of deep poverty that seems to have been forgotten in our rush to urbanism and suburbia. Everywhere I looked there were cars up on blocks, families living in small manufactured storage sheds, men with the black faces of mine work, and mangy dogs running pell mell.

In a little grill inside Chavies Food Mart, I happened upon a delicious diner breakfast – one of my few square meals of the trip. It was staffed by a father and son duo, while the mother cooked up meals from a tiny kitchen behind the counter. I ate a hearty breakfast of eggs and pancakes, and she wrapped me a second order of pancakes to go. When I was ready to go, I went to the counter, where the father was sitting in a chair. He was too heavy to stand up to take my payment, so I waited while he called his son to come around. They smiled and wished me luck as I left.

Blog_Day_20BAs the day progressed, the heat and the humidity picked up. So did my anxiety. The remainder of the day was a frustrating mix of highway riding – with mining trucks and semis thundering by – and steep, winding mountain roads with cracked pavement and dogs forever darting out and chasing from behind chain linked fences. The route was a bit confusing in this area, and I found myself slightly off course a couple of times. By the late afternoon, the heat, humidity, dogs, terrain and hills were truly threatening my unruffled mental state of earlier that morning.

Actually, by that afternoon I was totally pissed off. The optimism that I had felt in the morning about being “close” to the finish had taken a strong turn towards doubt and outright anger. I was taking everything personally. The cracks in the pavement were against me. The 15% grades had most probably been constructed to break my spirit. My Garmin’s habit of switching to “auto pause” while I was climbing because I was going so slowly that it thought I was stopped was another way to rub salt in the gaping wounds of my ego. The only saving grace was that the dogs sprinting out constantly to give chase were a deserving target for my most creative expletives. I spent most of the afternoon screaming epithets at canines as loud as I could.

My friend Jill called me as I was traversing one of these particularly hilly segments. Jill is not only a good friend, but also a fierce competitor and one of my favorite cycling partners. She had been an important confidant during the previous three weeks. Jill is also a super tough person, and not one to coddle or sugar coat a hard situation. So when I told her how angry I was, I was surprised by her advice.

“Try to be a little patient and kind,” she suggested.

I think I laughed. This kind of thinking seemed so out of bounds at the time, not to mention far beyond my abilities. Patient and kind? What the hell did that even mean? How about intolerant and enraged? Now that was more like it.

After we hung up, I pondered her advice. Being at the end of my rope – and having the time to kill –  I decided to give it a go. Every time I would come to a steep, cracked pavement, 15% grade kind-of-a-hill I would ask myself, “Janie, how would a patient and kind person climb this hill?” At first, I did it in a mocking tone of voice inside my head. But eventually, the exercise calmed me down.


Strange sights of Kentucky.

At some point during that hot afternoon I had to stop to recharge my Garmin. After the navigation debacle past Harrodsburg the day before, I was unwilling to rely on my brain to read maps, so I stopped at a pizza place, seemingly in the middle of nowhere to see if I could use their electricity. The woman who worked there didn’t seem to have seen a customer in days, and she chatted with me for a while as I plugged my electronics in and sat on the front porch.

While I was there, Jay Petervary rode up.  I had known Jay was going to catch me, but I wasn’t sure when. He had started in a pairs team but lost his partner to an injury in Newton, Kansas. An accomplished, experience ultra-endurance rider, Jay had decided to finish alone and had slowly been working his way up the field. Jay went inside to get a coke and then sat down on the porch to chat for a while. It was nice to talk with another rider, especially in the middle of a hard, hot day in the middle of seeming nowhere. That cheered me up some. Jay left about 15 minutes before my Garmin was charged, and I figured I wouldn’t encounter him again.


Jay tries to give me a little mechanical assistance.

I pulled into Elkhorn City, Kentucky as it was getting dark. Elkhorn City is the last town – “city” seems a bit of a stretch for a population of 1,000 – before the border with Virginia. Some massive storm clouds were settling just to the west of the town, and I stopped at a Subway and figure out my plan. I checked the radar, which was calling for massive thunderstorms in the area. As I sat there, big drops started falling and lightning started to rip across the sky.

The Subway was closing in a few minutes at 9pm, so I asked another customer whether there was a church nearby where I could find some shelter. After a spirited discussion between the man and the Subway employee about which church would be welcoming to a tired cyclist, they finally decided that the Baptist church, not the Church of Christ, was a better option. The man told me he would give me a ride, which I then refused. It seemed so rude to reject his offer, so I tried to explain. But then it felt even more awkward to be standing in a Subway in rural Kentucky trying to explain the rules of self supported ultra endurance bike racing. Finally, he told me to suit myself but that at least I should let him show me the way. So I followed behind his white pick up truck in the driving rain to the Baptist Church.

The Baptist church, blessedly, had both a portico and an electrical outlet on the front porch. So I plugged in my devices and laid out my bivvy. The radar showed the rain moving through town from west to east, and then a break in the storms. It appeared that after that lull, the storms would gain strength again. I decided to wait for this squall to pass. Then hopefully I could follow behind the storm as it headed towards Virginia.

I had just set up my temporary quarters on the porch of the Baptist church and laid down when a woman appeared on the front steps. She said she lived across the street, had seen me there out her window, and offered me a bed in her house. I knew that if I got in a bed, I might not get out for a long, long time. So I politely declined and tried to explain that I planned to get moving again in just a very little bit. She seemed truly befuddled, and I couldn’t disagree with her sentiment. I really wanted to try to explain to her that I was a normal person, too, who just happened to be doing a very, very abnormal thing – but suspected I lacked credibility to make that claim in my current state. Finally, she shrugged, pointed out her house, and said that when I changed my mind the door would be open.IMG_0277

I slept for about 90 minutes. When I woke up, the driving rain had turned to drizzle. I got on my bike in the dark and started riding again. It was about 11pm. The rain had brought in some cooler air and I was still encountering pockets of rain, but for the most part my plan to follow the storm as it headed east seemed to be working. Little did I know at the time that this same storm system would head over the next day into West Virginia, where it would flood parts of the state and kill several people.

Despite my intentions, I rode all night. Around midnight, I entered Virginia – the final state of the race – which got a hoot and holler from me into the silent darkness. At the Breaks Interstate park shortly thereafter, I couldn’t find anywhere to sleep that didn’t require a traverse down a long hill. I figured I would ride for a while longer and camp somewhere along the way once I got tired and found a flat spot. A few miles after the park, I came across a 24-hour convenience store at an intersection and stopped to get food. Jay Petervary’s bike was sitting outside the convenience store, but he was nowhere to be found.

The ride that night was creepy – and hard. The streets were dark, and the rural roads twisted and turned, incessantly up or down, requiring full concentration of my sleep addled brain. I didn’t know it at the time, but this particular section was one of the more challenging of the Trans Am route. During the night, I climbed 8,000 feet in 80 miles.

This section of Virginia near the border with Kentucky and Tennessee is also remarkably beautiful – but of course I didn’t realize that until the sun came up around 5:30am. When it did, I was gobsmacked by the green hills and the lush scenery I was surrounded by. I was focused on reaching Damascus, Virginia before I stopped. My friend Michele from elementary and high school, who I hadn’t seen in decades, lived there. She had an exam for a class she was taking that morning and I was hoping to get there before she left.IMG_0275

Coming into Damascus, I still hadn’t seen Jay Petervary. Sometime in the night I had discovered that he was about 10 miles behind me, having emerged from whatever hole or dark space he had been when I spotted his bike outside the convenience store near the Breaks Interstate Park. I kept expecting him to catch me, and would have certainly welcomed a riding companion during that spooky, twisting night, but I hadn’t seen him yet. I stopped at a diner and ordered a giant breakfast. I planned to eat and then try to find a park to nap in before carrying on the big climb out of Damascus. I had missed Michele so there was no reason to stick around for longer than I needed. But I was tired.


Green HIlls of Damascus

Just as I was about to leave the diner, I heard my name. A friendly man with a beard introduced himself as Crazy Larry, the owner of Crazy Larry’s Hostel. He said he was just a couple of doors down and had a bed for me to nap in if I wanted to stop. Did I? Of course! I pedaled over to the hostel, where Larry had a number of guests milling around inside. He pointed me to his own bedroom and told me to sleep as long as I wanted. I laid down on top of the sheets and blankets. There was a Bible on the bedstand. I posted this photo and then fell asleep.Blog_Day_20A


Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 19

As I sat next to the droning of the sofa machine at 4am, waiting for my di2 to charge, MF’s dot started to move. I was still 15 miles from Harrodsburg, and I didn’t want to risk another gear failure before I could either get another battery or make it to a place where I could charge it fully. I waited for the shortest amount of time I possibly could and then packed up to head out. As I was packing, I realized that during the black-of-night electronics debacle, I had lost my Garmin charger. I must have dropped it and left it on the road.

My Garmin was about to die, but I had the ACA maps that I could rely on for the time being. Minor obstacles, I thought. I was still hot on MF’s heels, and I knew I could catch him if I rode hard. I was sure I could ride hard because I was motivated to catch him. Despite not having slept more than an hour in the last day, I was amped up and ready to chase. I had been working on this for three days – today was certainly the day!

I headed into Harrodsburg and stopped at a gas station to eat. The sun was coming up, and I knew I needed food. No need to do something stupid now, I remember telling myself. You might not be thinking clearly, so this is the time to be careful. Exercising this abundance of caution, I slammed down two pieces of pizza, sausage, two donuts and a large coffee.


Note that I didn’t even know what day I was on.

Back on my bike, I was in my aero bars and focused, although I was facing some problems with using the paper map. Because I didn’t have a mount for it on my handlebars, I was keeping it in my jersey pocket. This meant that at any turn, I had to stop, look at the map and remember the next cue. Something like, “Turn right, then go a few miles, then left on highway 82.” Then I would stop, and memorize the next cue. Normally, this might not have be a problem, but with my foggy mental state the cues were harder to hold onto.

Also, the hills were getting steeper, and because I was riding hard I was really feeling their effects. After a particularly grueling several mile climb I coasted downhill to find myself at a T-junction. I pulled out my map. Nothing on the map looked familiar. Confused, I banged on the window of a pickup truck and a young blond kid rolled down his window. “Yes, ma’am?” I asked him to show me where I was, and realized I had missed a turn about 7 miles back, up and over that grueling climb I had just come down. Dammit.

“Oh, you can just go this way,” the kid said cheerfully, pointing down the highway. “It’s much shorter.”

No I can’t, kid, I thought. But I didn’t have the energy to explain why. I just turned around and pedaled slowly back up the hill.

I tried hard during the Trans Am not to take small misfortunes personally. It was something I had worked on mentally before the race and for the most part I think I did a good job of detaching – if not immediately, then quickly – from problems I faced or circumstances I found myself in. There are a lot of things that happen during a race this epic, I knew, that were simply out of my control. This is the same for everyone; I was not special. Getting angry or staying despondent sucks energy, and for me dwelling on the things that sucked was not an effective or efficient way to execute my best race.

However, what was bugging me was that what was happening during the last few hours – the di2 fail, losing the Garmin charger, going off route — were not out of my control. Quite the opposite, they were exactly of my own making. They were not things that had simply happened to me, rather pretty clearly a consequence of my deteriorating mental state. There are a lot of gray areas in the ether of the Trans Am experience, and one I struggled with was this: How did I know when to simply push past challenges, and when did I know I needed to acknowledge that I was in fact creating a slippery slope of problems for myself that I needed to crawl out of?

In any case, by the time I found the route again, I was deflated. I had wasted another hour or so with the navigation error, and MF was now about 30 miles ahead of me again. Plus, I knew he had slept and I had not – another problem of my own creation. Rolling through the rural Kentucky hills north of Berea, I came across a small white clapboard church surrounded by grass. It was about 9am by now, and the grass looked so soft that it might have been actually begging me to take a nap. I wheeled my bike around d the side of the church, lay right down on the grass and feel immediately asleep.IMG_0154

I woke up 20 minutes later to voices just above me. A woman’s voice, calling, “Honey, are you okay?” When I opened my eyes, disoriented, a woman and man’s face were peering over me. The woman held out a bottle of water.

I tried to smile. “Oh, I’m fine, just catching a small nap. I hope I’m not disturbing anyone,” I said.

“There’s a storm coming,” she said. “You’d best get up.” There was a sense of urgency in her voice. I looked up and sure enough dark storm clouds were gathering in the sky above.

The man opened his mouth. He was missing a few teeth. “There’s two hundred strikes of lightning gonna be coming down!!” he bellowed.

Suddenly, at the sound of this emphatic (and specific) pronouncement, I panicked. I grabbed the bottle of water the woman was still holding out to me, shoved it in my jersey pocket, did a cyclocross mount onto my bike, and started pedaling as hard as I could. 200 strikes of lightning! 200 strikes of lightning!  200 strikes of lightning! 200 strikes of lightning! kept echoing in my head between raspy breaths. I had to escape!

About five minutes down the road I stopped pedaling to take a breath. Wait. 200 strikes of lightning? What did that even MEAN? And how would he know? Now I was more perplexed than alarmed – both at his statement and my flustered reaction.

Still, the storm was coming, and as I headed down a curvy, foliage-flanked road to Berea, the sky opened up. I pulled over into a ditch to put on my rain clothes and huddled under a giant leafy bush. I had intended to start riding again, but instead I sat there for about 30 minutes, reflecting on my situation. I had to admit that I was a wreck. I was sleep deprived, wet, bedraggled, making terrible decisions and had just been spooked by a fake-weather amateur meteorologist. Something needed to give.

I pedaled slowly into Berea in the pouring rain and stopped into a Subway. As I was standing in line I saw a Red Roof Inn across the street. I should go there, I thought. And then no, as I noticed a 100 meter hill I would have to ride up to get to the front door. Then thought yes, the fact that the slight incline was provoking horror probably was all the more reason I definitely should go there.

I went there. The clerk took a look at me, asked me what I was doing, and offered to drop the room price from $90 to $35. She and the manager also offered to arrange to get me a new Garmin charger while I was sleeping. I went in that room and cranked the air conditioning up. I felt worse than I had since I had started the race. In fact, I wondered whether I would ever get up. Before I fell asleep, the thought actually crossed my mind that I might not be able to get on my bike again. This might be the race for me.

I woke up three hours later, without an alarm. The storm had passed and the sky was clear. I put on my wet clothes again and wheeled my bike out of the room. The woman at the front desk had in fact gone to Wal-Mart to buy me a new charger for my Garmin. I paid her and thanked her profusely.

I got on my bike with a sigh and slowly started pedaling again. MF was now 80 miles ahead again. I knew there was no way I could pull another stunt to try to catch him. But as I pedaled up Big Hill outside of Berea (a good name, incidentally, to introduce the remainder of Kentucky that lies east of Berea),  I felt okay with it. My strongest emotion was of relief – I felt like Lazarus that had risen from the dead.

The rest of that afternoon and into the evening I rode calmly. The competitive drive had been sucked out of me, but I was still committed. I was going to finish this race, and finish it well. This whole journey had always been about much more than performing or winning. It had been – and still was – about learning about myself and testing my limits, and this I had surely done by acknowledging and responding to my instincts to be the best that I could be. I had put it all out there the last three days, and reached the edge of something that had seemed a little scary. But now, I seemed to have stepped back from that edge. I was still in ninth place, but perhaps I was a tiny bit of a different person now.

I stopped that night in the tiny town of Booneville. There was no hotel, but someone told me that a church down the street had built a pavilion where cyclists could sleep as they came through on the Trans Am. When I got there, the evening air was warm and there were mosquitoes out in swarms. I ate a sandwich and then pulled out my sleeping bag and bivvy and wrapped myself up to my neck so I didn’t get bitten. I listened to the sound of the birds doing their post-sunset talk. I called Jimmy and he was still riding, in western Kentucky. I told him about my day and that I was still alive. I talked to Donncha and we didn’t speak about the race at all. Instead we talked about friends and family and striking the right balance in life – kind of like a normal conversation you would have with a normal friend. Weird.

I fell asleep still feeling spent, but also peaceful. There had been so many adventures already – and with 800 miles still to ride, there was probably time for several more.












Janie’s Trans Am Bike Race, Day 18

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.


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