The Art of Falling

Usually my posts are text only- just a story about my adventures. It has worked well for me and I have liked it that way. As of late, specifically the past few days, I have taken on a little something new. I am learning to ride a unicycle! My intent had been to sit down and wax eloquent on my repeated attempts to stay on board the little one-wheeled contraption, but upon the suggestion of a few folks and having been inspired by a couple great creatives on Youtube, I have decided to try my hand at a vlog. So, new apparatus, new medium and new avenues for me to learn things.

Please check out my creation below. Be easy on me. It’s my first time shooting video in this manner and editing. If you find it interesting, please like the video and subscribe to my channel. If you have comments or suggestions of things you would like to see, feel free to comment here or on my Youtube page. I am really looking forward to sharing with this new-to-me tool. Without further ado, here is my video!

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And so it begins….

First, a little bit of back story.

Last spring I was in the throws of training for Trans Iowa and Trans Am Bike Race. As often as I could, I would be out on the bike and regularly found myself doing long rides. After hours of saddle time alone in the hills of Southern Missouri and Illinois, I welcomed anyone who wanted to come out and ride with me and especially so if they wanted to do a long ride.

Bring in Jason Kulma, fellow TI vet and someone I see at local events off and on. We had met at the inaugural OT100MTB in 2014 when Jason hung out at the finish line after finishing up with the relay team he was on. I came in much later, actually in the middle of the night. He was hanging there at the finish cheering folks on as they came in. He chatted me up and a friendship was born. With Jason living right about 75 miles away in the outskirts of St Louis, it just made sense that we would then get together as we both prepared for TI and TABR for 2016.

One day as we were on the phone planning out a bikepacking weekend of training, we talked about our regular rides done around home. Jason commutes to and from work some 17 miles one way and I told him I was a bit jealous of that built in training. I also mentioned I would love to have a commuter-type bike, something cheap and unassuming that I wouldn’t be worried about leaving outside shops in town. I just hadn’t stumbled across what I was looking for. He mentioned that he was getting a new adventure rig to use for TI and TABR, which would bump his old adventure rig to the commuting role and in turn, leave his old commuter unused. I offered to buy it and he refused saying it was pretty wore out and he wouldn’t feel right taking money for it. I told him I could work with that and a deal was struck.

The next time I went up to meet Jason at his home and ride out on a weekend of training, I picked my new-to-me commuter up. It was a Voodoo Wazoo in metallic blue. I believe he said it was late 90’s vintage. It was steel frame and not rideable at the time as he had grabbed some stuff off of it. He sent me home with the bike minus saddle, tires and pedals. I could deal with that, seeing as it was F-R-E-E!!!

With my focus strictly on TI and TABR, the bike sat tire-less and saddle-less for months. Before it was all said and done, I cabbaged the set of carbon Easton handle bars off of it for my TABR rig replacing the heavier aluminum bars I had, leaving the old Wazoo looking more like a carcass than anything.

After TABR, one day it struck me that I had just about everything that I needed to get the old girl going, I just needed to do it. So….I did. I put my old, stock aluminum bars that the carbon Eastons had replaced onto the Wazoo. I then added a pair of pedals I had laying around that are flats on one side and Shimano SPD on the other. Those would be perfect for a towner. I pulled the Clement USH 35’s I used in Trans Iowa out and loaded them onto the wheels. The final piece was the saddle, which I did not have. I went to my local bike shop and was able to grab one that had been a take-off for $15. I added the killer saddle deal to the mix and had a finished product! Well, not really. I didn’t wrap the bars, but it was rideable. I never even threw my leg over it, but instead my son used it occasionally to ride to the school or park to play soccer. It was being utilized a bit and that was good enough.

Back to present day, or at least the last week or so. After months of not doing much at all and eating WAY too much, I have found it difficult to find the motivation to get out and ride. Even when the new year rang in, I still didn’t saddle up. I was starting to get the itch though. I decided to try out some things with the Wazoo. Maybe, just maybe, I could make a TI rig out of it?

I pulled my hand-built front wheel off of my road bike since it has a dynamo hub and loaded up one of the WTB Nano 40’s that I was graciously awarded for being a finisher of TI last year. Once I saw that the tire would have clearance, I then put the other tire on the back. I considered going all out and adding the B&M Lumotec from my road bike, but realized that I didn’t have a way to mount it on the Wazoo with its cantilever brakes. That could wait until I could get a new mount. I dug through my box of parts and goodies to find a package of new bar wrap and finally got the bars covered. Then just for kicks, I pulled my partial frame bag off the road bike and tried it on the Wazoo. It fit! Score! With a spare bottle cage and a quick pedal swap with the Crank Brothers pedals from my MTB added to the build, it was complete.

Having finished getting the Wazoo ready this evening, I decided there was no time like the present to finally get my first ride of the year. It was after 8:00pm and 3 hours after sunset, but I suited up and headed out with the intent to just ride south of town to Engler Park where there is a crushed limestone walking/biking path to test out the Nano’s.

Right away, I knew something wasn’t quite right. I clipped in on the walk in front of my house and pushed off, only to feel like I was about to endo over the bars. Had it really been that long since I had been on a bike? I adjusted the way I was sitting and headed out into the street. As I turned, my right shoe rubbed the front tire hard, nearly throwing me off the bike. That was something new. I rode on down the street feeling things out.

I headed south of town and out to Engler, then hit the gravel trail. It was a bit mushy in spots, but the Nano’s had no problem. When I found some areas with new, loose gravel, I stopped and aired down some. Too much I was afraid, but I rode on and the tires felt great! Perfect really!

In the end, I rode the path and then turned and came back the way I had come. I ended up getting back home with a gigantic 7.3 miles, but hey, I got my first one done!

The bike is what it is. In its time it was a nice ride. Times have changed and so have geometries. It has a short wheel base and the saddle sits forward, putting your center of mass more over the front end. It isn’t a comfortable ride for me at all, but I can appreciate it for an old steel bike.

I am a bit disappointed that I won’t be able to use it for 340 miles of gravel in April, but on the other hand, it will make a great little bike to ride around town occasionally to grab coffee or run an errand. My son will ride it and that is even better. I will likely do as I did last year and convert my MTB to a gravel grinder simply by adding different tires. My choice will certainly be the Nano 40’s. Those puppies were great on my little jaunt!

The best part of it all- I am finally back in the saddle. That makes me a bit excited. Quite a bit really. Ride on!

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TABR16 Setup

I’ve been asked about my setup and what I changed from TABR15. Here is a rundown of the major bits and bobs I took with me for TABR16.

  • Bike- 2009 Giant Defy 3- This was the same bike as last year and has been the backbone of most of my adventures. Last year I ran the low end Sora drive train that came stock on it. That may be something that makes other racers raise their eyebrows, but it never failed me in anything I asked of it. That being said, I found a smoking deal on a full 105 group set this past spring and did a complete group upgrade before the 2016 race. The 11 speed 105 was 50/34 in the front and 11/28 in the rear. I must say, now that I have ridden the 105, I can’t believe I rode all I did on the low end stuff! It is a much nicer ride now. My wheels were the same as last year. DT Swiss 32 hole RR440 rims. The front was laced to a SP dynamo hub which provided power and charging. The rear was a DT Swiss 350 Classic hub. I hand-built them myself and I love them. Tires were Conti Grand Prix 4000sii 25mm. My handlebars were Easton EC90 Equipe carbon with a set of Profile Design ZBS aero bars clipped on. The seat post was an Easton EC70 carbon and the saddle was a Bontrager Affinity. Lastly, I upgraded the pedals this year from Look Keo Classics to Look Keo carbons.
  • Bags- The saddle bag was a Revelate Designs Viscacha. Everything else was custom stitched by your’s truly- frame bag, top tube bag and feed bags. Yes, I would be happy to entertain making a set for your adventures! 🙂 Details about that coming soon!!!
  • Sleep system- Last year I had my hammock- oh so comfortable, but limited on where I could use it. I ended up sleeping on the ground a few times and my setup didn’t support it well. This year I went with an Outdoor Research Helium bivy, Klymit X-lite sleeping pad and Enlightened Equipment Enigma 50 degree quilt. This system was versatile enough to handle the extremes that were found on the Trans Am in June, yet came in at a respectable 32oz (922g).
  • Clothing- I was sporting my Team Noah kit made by Borah Teamwear. I have to say that if I had to grade it I would give it a C. It did most of what I needed, but wasn’t perfect by any means. When the temps dipped, I had a hand-picked system that works for me. Some things could’ve been lighter, but I was comfortable with this kit. My base layer shirt was a long sleeve tech fabric by Remington. I had a super packable Camp anorak wind shell that always seems to see more use than I think it will. It has been many thousands of miles with me and is great for mountain descents. When things got cold, I had a synthetic Patagonia puff coat that doubled as an additional sleeping layer when necessary. I wore it a few times on the bike, but only for awhile so I didn’t sweat it out. My last line of defense was an Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket. On my head and/or around my neck I used a UV Buff. I used it at all times on my head to protect from sunburn and pulled it down when needed around my ears. I also had a lightweight sock hat for sleeping in, but really didn’t need it. Hands were covered with Outdoor Research Versaliner gloves when the weather got rough. I also carried Pearl Izumi leg warmers, Giant shoe covers and Swiftwick sun sleeves.
  • Electronics and lighting- For navigation, I had a Garmin Etrex 30x in the cockpit to take the place of the ACA maps I carried last year. I’ll also had my iPhone as back up nav and all round electronic device. I was a bit nervous about going without paper maps, but it worked fine. The dynamo lights were the same B&M lights from last year. On the front was the Lumotec IQ Premium Cyo and on the rear was the Secula Plus. For this year I upgraded from a small Princeton Tech head lamp on my helmet to an Exposure Joystick MK10. This provided me with extra light for fast mountain descents and an in-camp light when used on the low setting. Everything was charged with the SP dynamo and a Sinewave Revolution coupled with a Fuel+ cache battery. I did end up charging the cache battery here and there from an electric outlet when staying in a hotel and a few times while stopped to eat.

Some weigh their setup, some don’t. I know from experience that the important thing is to have a setup you are used to and comfortable with. That being said, I did weigh everything and it totaled out a little shy of 31lbs (14kg). There were things I could have done to trim weight in my setup, but not without spending quite a bit and I just didn’t feel it was necessary. I was confident this setup would do everything I wanted it to do, and it didn’t let me down. The only purchase I made after I left home to add to my kit was a light pair of pajama pants that I cut to shorts. I bought them at a store in Astoria the day before the race and used them when I needed to have something to put on while doing laundry.

What would I change?

If I was to do the race again and had the funds to do so, here are a few things that I might do different. Overall I was happy with my kit, but there is almost always room for improvement.

  • First off, a disk frame bike would be nice. Necessary? Nope, but nice. There were a few times that I was on the brakes hard on descents and would have felt more comfortable on discs.
  • With a change in frame to discs, I would make sure I bought one that was able to run a wider tire. I like my Grand Prix’s, but would love to run the 28mm model. My current bike won’t accept them.
  • Di2 would have been the bee’s knees. I saw other folks with it and was jealous. I have always been a fan of the simpler, reliable route, but the fact is Di2 is both simple and reliable. Plus after a few thousand miles when your hands are numb, Di2 is much, MUCH easier to shift.
  • I am still searching for the right shorts for me. The team kit I rode this year was much closer to what I needed than what I have ridden in the past, but it still had a few issues in durability and the contact area wasn’t a perfect match. Much better than last year, but not perfect. Before I do another long race I will spend some time and money looking for the perfect shorts.
  • You may just want to skip this one. You have been warned!!! 🙂 For those that read this, stick with me here. Cache batteries with dynamos are beastly to figure out. The trick is to find a cache that is “charge through” compatible. That way you can trickle charge the cache at all times with the dynamo while still being able to use the cache to charge other stuff. You say, “why not just charge everything off the dynamo?” Well, that works mostly. Except at night. Or going up a hill. That makes the dynamo power fluctuate and makes it difficult, if not impossible to charge things that require a more steady flow of power. There are a few bike pack lighting guys out there that have systems you can buy, but I am all about figuring things out myself. (That translates to- I am too dumb to buy someone’s wisdom, I feel the need to bash my face against a preverbal brick wall trying to re-invent the wheel. Yeah, yeah, I know.) I thought I had it figured out with the Fuel cache battery, but alas, I was wrong. It was advertised that it was charge though, but didn’t work like that, which is something commonly mis-advertised evidently. I used the cache to charge all my things (which it did fine at) and also to run my Etrex 30x (which it did only ok at). The Etrex isn’t designed to be charged. Instead it uses 2 AA batteries. I ran lithium batteries to keep it light, then supplemented with the cache battery via the data cord. It would run on the cache for exactly 45 minutes, then go to a nag screen warning that it would shut off if I didn’t prompt it to stay on by clicking a button. The fix was I would hit the power button on the side of the cache battery every 44 minutes. I missed it probably 3 or 4 times a day and would look down to a GPS that had shut off. GRRRR!!!! Not the easiest setup to use, but it kept me from replacing AA batteries every day. The Garmin will run 25 hours on 2 AA’s. I only had to switch them out twice in 24 days. Not bad, but I wore myself out pushing that power button! When I race again, I will find a different cache battery that is actually “charge through” compatible or one that won’t shut off.

Final Thoughts

One of the first things that prospective racers ask veterans when they are trying to prepare for one of these races is usually something about gear. I understand that as it is exactly what I did in 2015 when preparing for my rookie race. However, the reality is 100 rookie racers could go out and purchase the exact kit that I used and was happy with, only to be miserable with it all. When racing a route like the Trans Am, you will spend hours upon hours in/on/with your kit. It needs to be what YOU are comfortable with and you will only find that by getting out and figuring it out for yourself. Look at veteran racer’s gear lists as guidelines only.

Now….get out there and ride!

Posted in Races, TABR16, Trip Preparations | 2 Comments

TABR16- Epilogue

The Wrap Up

You would think that once you finish racing 4230 miles on your bike, forgoing sleep and needed recovery along the way, that one would go to sleep and sleep for days, or at least many hours. I slept 2 hours and woke up. I used the restroom and went back to sleep for… 2 more hours. Then I got up. I was exhausted, but couldn’t sleep and really wanted some regular clothes. I had shipped my street clothes home from Astoria the day before the race started. Jeneen boxed them up and sent them general delivery to the Yorktown post office for me to pick up. I had gotten a shower when I reached the motel a few hours before, but I would have to put my wreaking, sweat soaked cycling garb back on to go to the post office and retrieve my box. Joy.

I dressed back in my gross clothes and rode back up to Yorktown proper, toward the monument and post office. Along the way to the post office, I saw people at the monument and went to check it out. Janie Hayes was there waiting for Jimmy. Soon enough Irena came in. She in fact had not been chasing me down and had slept along the way and came in almost 7 hours later. Shortly after her was Jimmy, then Reimo, almost immediately followed by Michela, Stefano and Piero. It was like a big party at the monument! There was a local couple there to meet Michela and Stefano. They had been in touch with the Italian pair and planned to host them for a few days as they prepared to travel home to Italy. In the end, Jimmy and Janie left with their friends and all the Europeans went with the local couple to stay at their house. I was invited, but passed on the chance. I regret that as I would then spend the next few days alone in a motel room. I left for the post office, picked up my clothes and headed down to the waterfront for some food.

I found a little restaurant, changed into my street clothes (which was heavenly!) and sat down for a relaxing meal and a beer. Afterward, I went back to my motel room and slept more.

Over the course of the next couple days, I hung out at the motel, sleeping, eating and waiting for the appointed time of my flight home. It worked out well that I was by myself as it gave me a chance to lay around au natural, airing out a nasty rash I had contracted over the last week of riding in soaking wet clothes every day. I think I got a little depressed with the end of such an epic ordeal and just needed some time to sit and reset. In my sulking/resting, I missed Luke Kocher, Lee Fancourt and Andi Buchs finishes and I was only 2 miles away.

On my final full day in Virgina, I rode the 7 miles or so to a bike shop in Newport News, boxed my bike, took it to the local UPS Store and shipped it home. I was lucky to get in touch with an old friend from high school, Chris Bouchard, who lived in the area. He offered to give me a ride from the UPS Store back to my motel. It was a treat to see him!

Very, very early the next morning, I took a cab ride to the airport in Norfolk and flew home. What a trip.

 

My Final Thoughts

I have so many mixed feelings about the race. First and foremost, it was a pleasure and a privilege to get to race it and especially so to get to finish it. That was my big goal. Goal achieved.

Beyond that, I had some really big aspirations of finishing much faster and thus higher in the standings. Those aspirations began slipping away from me on Day 2 and put a big hamper on my race. I know that all falls on me and my own expectations, but it is what it is. After DNF’ing the race in 2015, I made extensive plans for 2016. Part of those plans was a daily regiment of mental strengthening exercises, also known as affirmations. I typed out everyday a specific mantra of how I wanted to finish the race. When I toed the line in Astoria, I fully believed and expected that I would make those affirmations a reality. When in short order I saw that slipping away and soon realized it wouldn’t happen, I felt like I was failing.

I don’t think that those affirmations were wrong for me to do. It really helped to preach to myself everyday and build a confidence that I would achieve a certain set of objectives. The problem wasn’t the process, but rather the particular objectives. I told myself I would win. My thoughts were that if I was going to set a goal, I would shoot for the moon and if I missed, well, you know. Surely I would be happy with what would happen if I was off a little. I should have been saying something to the effect of, “I will finish TABR to the best of my ability and deal with adversity as it comes. Each decision made in the moment will be left fully in the past and I will move forward, swiftly and intentionally. I can only control things that are in my control. All other things are irrelevant. Stay moving no matter what. ”

So, in the end, I came home with a mixed bag of disappointment and feelings of victory. Add that to what some other racers have said is the normal physical and emotional recovery after an event like this and I was less than motivated to do much of anything for most of the next couple months. I got back to my work and tried to keep a positive outlook on things. Eventually I got back to normal. Because it was a gradual thing, I can’t really say exactly when. I would estimate it was between 2 and 3 months before I was really back to my old self, or at least the closest version of that “old self” you can get to after a life changing experience such as what I had. That’s the thing: these events change you in some ways. You can’t go that deep into the recesses of what you think you can or can’t do and not be permanently affected by it. You just can’t.

As I have written this blog, it has helped to go back over things. By milling over the maps, Trackleaders data, my Strava files and my memories, I recounted this epic adventure and the biggest take away I have gotten from it is that I am proud of my accomplishment. It didn’t turn out like I planned, but I learned a ton and in reality, it was only my first complete bikepacking race. Next time I look forward to using what I learned to enjoy it more and maybe even improve.

So what is next? I don’t know. I have made the agreement with my family that I wouldn’t do any bikepacking races in 2017. It has taken a toll on us financially over the course of the last two years and in turn has meant that we haven’t taken a regular family vacation. This year I will remedy that. I do have plans for a couple of smaller events though. In April, I will once again line up for Trans Iowa, a 340 mile gravel road race through the rolling hills of central Iowa. Then in September, I plan to do the OT100MTB, a 100 mile point-to-point race that is 98% single track though the hills of south-central Missouri on the Ozark Trail. Outside of those weekender events, I am sure there will be other small events, plenty of riding, some backpacking and who knows what else. Should my situation change and I find myself able to get away for a big race and not negatively impact my family, then I would consider it, but that would fall under the category of “big IF”. We’ll see!

As for the blog, I am looking at making a couple posts about training and the finances of TABR. Those will be coming up over the next week. Then I will be hitting the highlights of the coming year as they happen, including some exciting news I have regarding a new type of adventure I am looking into. Stay tuned for that as I will be relying on folks like you to help guide me through it!

As I wrap this post up on New Year’s Eve of 2016, I hope that this year has been all that you wished it would be. Whether it was or it wasn’t, you have the chance starting tomorrow to make the new year a great one. I hope you do! Blessings and cheers to you all and Happy New Year!

Brian

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TABR16- Day 24+

I slept well in Lexington, but my thoughts before bed were troubled. I had made the decision to stay and not ride due to a storm going through the area I would have been riding over night. I knew that the choice was a smart one, but as far a racing goes, it was a poor one. About 99.9% of the things we are concerned about aren’t near as bad as we think they will be. Either way, I had made the choice to wait it out and it was done. I woke with my alarm about 3:45AM, got dressed in dank clothes and went across the parking lot to a gas station for an iced coffee and some donuts, then I hit the road. It was 4:00AM on the dot.

It would still be dark for 2 more hours and the air clung to everything with humidity and fog. The storms had come through in the night and left their marks. It was a cool ride as I made it out of Lexington and headed for what I believed to be my nemesis- the climb to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Vesuvius.

I had made a quick check of Trackleaders that morning and saw that the usual suspects had gotten out in front of me, like always. Michela, Stefano, Piero and Jimmy were up and had beat me to the punch. Reimo and Irena were in the vicinity as well, but had gotten into Lexington very late and I figured they would sleep a bit. As I rode along in the dark, I hoped to catch those in front of me, but didn’t think it would happen right away. I was going to settle in and just focus on how I would handle the climb coming up about 18 miles into my day.

Much to my surprise, just 4 miles down the road I came up on 3 riders. Michela, Stefano and Piero were there. They seemed surprised that I had caught up to them, but they were going pretty slow. We said our hellos and ciaos, then I rode on ahead. I settled in to a moderate pace focusing on what lay ahead. The only stop I made was to grab a photo of a fox I saw cross the road in front of me in the beam of my head lamp. He stopped long enough for me to pull out my phone, fiddle with it to get the flash working and then get a picture. He trotted off as I clipped back in and carried on up the road.

When I got to the little burg of Vesuvius, I thought I would try to find the general store that I have heard was there. I didn’t figure it would be open at such an early hour, but I thought I would try anyway. I made the turn to cross the tracks, then turned right and headed down the street that parallels the tracks. I thought that is where it was supposed to be. As I neared the end of the street, I still hadn’t found what I was looking for so I turned back and headed for the route. Getting some supplies there would have been nice, but I was prepared and had spent many hours thinking about the climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). It was time to get it over with.

For Eastbounders, the BRP climb at Vesuvius is iconic. It is the last big climb of the route going East and represents the feeling of it being ‘all down hill’ from that point on. It isn’t, but everything gets smaller in elevation from there so I was looking forward to the challenge. In 2011 it had kicked my butt. I remember stopping quite a few times to rest. I would never walk because I wanted to be able to say that I rode my bike the entire way, but I did stop. This time, I wasn’t so proud and was more interested in just getting it over with, but I didn’t want to give up too easily either.

I settled in for the climb, finding my happy place in a small gear and alternating between sitting and standing to climb. I was surprised that I felt really good and before I knew it, I was at the top. I let out a victorious holler, pumped a fist in the air and a big smile crept across my face. At that point I felt I had slain the dragon and the Trans Am was mine. I had cleared the last major hurdle and knew I would be done soon.

Once on the BRP, I was experiencing euphoria. The sun had just come up on the horizon and the mountains were showing off. The early morning light shone orange and pink, poking here and there through mostly cloudy skies as the tree tops were tickled with smoky wisps of fog that looked like something from a pipe. It was a worthy scene of celebration for my final ascent. I rode on and soon saw the unmistakable pony tail of Jimmy in front of me. Riding up behind him, I shouted, “TADA!!!!!”, a little inside joke his wife Janie shared with me earlier in the race. We rode along on the parkway together chatting a bit until the downhill sections came along. I bested Jimmy by quite a bit on the scale, so gravity took me down the hills much faster and I moved on ahead.

After coming off the BRP, the route winds around through the foothills of the Appalachians on some beautiful back roads. It was 10:00AM, I was 60 miles into my day and had yet to have a place to stop so I headed off route to the little town of Crozet. There I went to a gas station that had a Burger King in it. I supplied up with things on the bike and grabbed a burger to eat right then. After eating, I went back the same way I had come and got back on the route. I was a little disappointed with my decision to go off route when just 5 miles up the road I went through White Hall and saw Jimmy sitting at the iconic old time general store there. If I had been more patient, I could’ve stopped there and saved myself 2 miles. Jimmy and I exchanged a few words of plans for the day and I went on.

I stayed moving through the remainder of the morning and into the afternoon, foregoing any stops. I rolled straight through Charlottesville with intention and carried on through several small burgs until I came to Palmyra. At 2:30PM it was still very humid and starting to heat up nicely. I went to a gas station there for a cold drink and to fill up stores again. I stood in the shade of the canopy that covered the pumps for a few minutes, then hit the road.

Another 25 miles down the road, I stopped at a gas station just outside of Mineral. I bought some snacks and drinks, but was really looking for real food. They had fried chicken, but it didn’t look appetizing to me at all. I asked the attendant if there were any restaurants or diners in Mineral. She told me about a couple places, but the one that stuck out to me when she mentioned it was a Mexican place. I thanked her and rode the mile or so into town in search of my place to eat.

I found Sabor Mexican at the stoplight in town, leaned my bike up outside and sauntered in. I grabbed a table where I could see my bike out the window and ordered tacos carnitas. While waiting for my food, I texted Jimmy and told him he should stop and have a meal with me. He responded that some friends from Washington DC were coming out to ride to Yorktown the next day with him. He would be meeting up with them for dinner elsewhere. I told him how cool I thought it was that his friends were coming out to meet him and wished him well. I ate my food and started contemplating the evening ahead.

I opened up Trackleaders, as it was an easy way to see the route since I wasn’t carrying the maps. I was 135 miles into my day and to the best calculations I could make, I was about 140 miles from the finish. 140 was very doable, it would just take me into the night where I would likely struggle with staying awake, if history was any indicator. Pushing through the night would do me no good as far as catching any other racers as the next ones in front of me were Jason and George who, at that moment, were about 20 miles from the finish according to the website. It also showed that I had put an ~25 mile lead on Michela, Stefano, Piero and Reimo. Irena showed to still be in Lexington. Jimmy said that he planned to stop and get a room in Ashland. If I stopped for the night somewhere along the way, I would likely lose some places to the group. If I rode on through, even if I had to stop for a nap somewhere, I would have an easy stroll to Yorktown and maintain my position. That was it. I would ride through the night and finish the Trans Am.

I left Mineral about 6:15PM and headed out of town. As I rode, I took a short video with my phone and posted it to Facebook with the caption that I planned to make the push to Yorktown overnight. It was of little significance to anyone else, but I felt that if I made it public, I would be less likely to succumb to what I figured would be my desire to stop along the way when I got tired. With my plan set, I laid down in the aero bars and settled in for the night.

I only made it about 10 miles before my body started telling me I needed to find a place to stop for a nature break. As I have mentioned in prior posts, Virginia doesn’t have a lot of places along the route where someone can find a private spot. I was in the country, going through farmland, but houses were everywhere and I was no where near a town where I could find a public restroom. When a wooded area with a gravel drive and a for sale sign that said ‘acreage available’ showed up, I knew I had found my spot. I bailed off down the gravel and then into the woods. Having taken care of business, I made my way back to the road, thinking I was good to go and had addressed all matters for my trip to Yorktown. Then it hit me that I would be arriving somewhere in the night. Yorktown is a small village with few places to stay. If I showed up at 4AM, would the little mom & pop motels have their offices closed? I thought it best to call ahead, so I pulled off on the shoulder and commenced to making a reservation.

Once that was taken care of, I got ready to take off again, feeling like all items were addressed. I clipped my right foot in, looked over my left shoulder to make sure I wasn’t pulling out in front of a car as I got back on the road and saw a cyclist coming up behind me. I pushed off, but didn’t take off fast as I wanted to know who it was. When they caught up, I found it was Irena! She had ridden into the storm the night before, taken just a short nap and then road through the day and caught up. Her tracker batteries were dead so it looked like she was still in Lexington. We rode along together and chatted a bit. She asked what I planned to do. I said that I was going to push on through to Yorktown. She said that she would have to stop. That gave me a bit of relief that I wouldn’t have to contend with her. Then she asked me how far it was.

I said, “it is 20 miles to Ashland, then 100.”

She said, “it’s 100 miles to Ashland?!?!”

I replied, ” Oh no! It is 20 miles to Ashland, then another 100 to Yorktown.”

Her face lit up with a great big smile! “It is only 100 more miles to Yorktown?!?!? I can do that!!!!”

Oh boy.

At once, she got up out of the saddle and started cranking it hard. After about 4 or 5 pedal strokes, she turned around to look at me and smiled. Her attack had been a tease. I said, “Well, I’m not gonna just let you go!” I now had a race to the finish, and with her dead tracker, we were the only ones that knew. The dot watchers would miss this one!

We rode along together at an easy pace chatting for a couple miles. She said that she would have to stop in Ashland for supplies and I said I would as well. I told her that my previous experience was that there are very few services in the last 75 miles and most would likely be closed through the night. I told her my intent was to make sure I had enough to make it through from Ashland. She acted like she might even stop for some sleep, as she had pretty much rode through the night before. I secretly hoped she would!

Very soon, a pretty good little hill came into view. I didn’t slow down or shift and just kept cranking. I seemed to be climbing better than her, so quickly I made a gap on her. I didn’t want to just drop the hammer and take off. First off, I thought that would look pretty childish. Secondly, if I was going to get away from her, I wanted it to be a gradual thing. This girl had a monstrous cycling pedigree from riding around Europe and Asia. I wasn’t interested in seeing if I could out sprint her. I wanted to sort of sneak away.

When I reached to top of the hill, I looked back and had better than 100 yards on her. I just stayed steady and slowly pulled away. When I would go around a corner, I would put the hammer down and make the gap bigger and bigger. Not long later, I didn’t see her anymore on the straight parts. I kept a high level of output and plotted my stop in Ashland.

The sun set as I arrived in Ashland. I stayed focused on the GPS to make sure I didn’t make any wrong turns and rolled straight through town looking for a gas station. When I found one, I already knew exactly what I would get as I had planned it out in the 20 miles before as I rode. I ran inside, grabbed the things I needed, loaded my bags and hit the road, all the time watching to make sure Irena didn’t go by. I got back on the road and never saw her or her headlamp. Back out in the dark countryside, I had the hammer down and laid it all out.

Another 17 miles down the road, as I made my way through the streetlights of Mechanicsville, I saw a gas station and decided to make a super quick stop to top up on fluids. I slammed an iced coffee, refilled my water bottle and grabbed an extra Gatorade just in case, then got right back on the road, all the while watching for Irena.

The next 60 miles or so was a blur. I was riding across the piedmont through wooded areas and corn fields. It was pancake flat mostly and very dark. I remember riding along for a good 15 miles or more, needing to pee, but not wanting to stop for fear of giving Irena an edge behind me. I finally stopped and did my business and never saw her light. Then it hit me. What if she was riding without her light to sneak up on me? ‘Dude! That is crazy talk! You can’t ride through the night without a light!’ My exhausted mind and body was going nuts with the thought of staying in front of her. The only real excitement was what seemed to be the constant threat of deer. They would be foraging along the sides of the road and get spooked as I rode by. It was then a 50/50 shot whether they would run in front of me or not. There were a couple that got entirely too close, but I made it through.

When I reached Jamestown, I knew that the end was near and I was glad for it. I was spent. It was strange to be riding through what are normally busy tourist areas in the middle of the night with not a soul around. I rode alongside the James River on the Colonial Parkway all alone, all the time watching behind me, just waiting to see the beam of a cyclists headlamp. On through historic Williamsburg and then back on to the Colonial Parkway for the last bit to Yorktown. As all the other racers have said before, the bone jarring cracks in the pavement were excruciating. All the while, I fully expected that Irena was right behind me.

When I got to Yorktown, I was elated, but frantic. I rolled down Water Street watching my GPS for turns and feeling my pulse rise even higher as I knew it was almost over. I had been to the monument before, but remembered that the route was a little confusing in Yorktown. That had been 5 years prior and in the daylight. Still, the GPS was taking me on different streets than I had traveled in 2011. When the GPS showed I was supposed to turn the wrong way up a one way street, I was concerned, but just wanted it to be over. As I came up the hill and broke out of some trees into a clearing, I saw it. Just to my left was the Yorktown Victory Monument.

I rode up to the monument and couldn’t believe it. I was done with the Trans Am. I had finished. It was complete. Two years total of dreaming and planning plus a DNF in 2015 culminated into that one moment. It was 2:58AM local time, which meant I had finished in 24 days, 15 hours and 58 minutes, putting me in 16th place in the overall classification.

Not a soul was there but me. I snapped a couple pictures and called my wife as I walked around the monument reading the inscriptions. I then sent out a couple texts to some close friends, letting them know that I had finished and posted my finish pic to Facebook. I sat for a moment, reflecting on what had happened, then got back on my bike and rode down the hill to my motel a couple miles away. I had wrapped up my last day on the Trans Am with 276.5 miles and 10244′ of gain. I was truly spent in every way- emotionally, physically, and mentally, but I had accomplished the one goal that I had planned to accomplish above all others. I had completed the race.

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TABR16- Day 24

I woke early in Wytheville and had great aspirations of a huge final push of 420 miles, straight through to Yorktown. I dressed in my still wet clothes (again) and was out the door at 4:00AM. Jimmy was rolling out at the same time. It was dark and cool as I headed off into the farmland north of town.

Almost immediately I was dealing with sleepy eyes. It was still very dark out and a couple hours before sunrise. Riding through the countryside, there wasn’t any streetlights or other sources of light to keep my eyes tuned into. With the small tunnel of light out in front of me on the pavement from my headlamp, it was like I was being hypnotized and I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. I struggled along, trying to keep moving the best I could. When I got to Fort Chiswell, although I was only 9 miles into my day, I stopped at a gas station for caffeine and a snack to hopefully jog my brain awake. Piero was there grabbing some breakfast as well. We chatted a bit as we stood by our bikes eating and drinking coffee. After a few minutes I decided to get going and took off.

I crossed over the interstate and started to turn left on the outer road when I heard Piero calling out to me. He thought I was going the wrong way. A quick check of the GPS showed he was right and we both headed back across the highway to the outer road on the north side, which was the correct road. If it hadn’t been for him it is hard to tell how far I would have went before I realized I was off course. What fantastic sportsmanship to come chase me down to let me know! He didn’t have to do that, but I am grateful he did!

Once on the route again, Piero and I leapfrogged back and forth a few times for the next 14 miles or so. As the sun was coming up and I neared Draper, I saw a rail-trail trailhead adjacent to the route that had sufficient facilities so I went over for a personal pitstop. It is nice when everything works out and you have a place to go when you need to go, if you know what I mean. That isn’t always the case and frankly, it is rarely the norm.

Back on the road a bit lighter and faster (hehe!), I was moving along nicely and in short order caught up to Piero again right as we both caught up to Michela and Stefano. The three of them were chatting in their native tongue and I went on ahead.

About 7:30AM I made it to Radford. I was only 41 miles into the day, but I was starving. I found a convenience store that had a paltry supply of food. Nothing sounded good. I was getting pretty tired of junk food, but when that is all you have, you eat or starve. I scavenged up a few things and got a little creative. They had little portable Cheerios cups, so I had one of those and some milk as well as a few other snacks for a makeshift breakfast. Shortly I was back on the road riding again.

On my way to Christiansburg, I passed Piero, Michela and Stefano, as they had all gotten by me again while I ate in Radford. I didn’t stop in Christiansburg and just rolled on through, planning to make a stop further up the road in Catawba. I got down on the aero bars and cranked along at a good clip, feeling good and confident that I had pulled a fast one on the others by planning where not to stop and thus moving ahead on them.

About 27 miles up the road when I reached Catawba, I was bumming. When I came through touring in 2011, there had been only one store in the little spot-in-the-road that is Catawba. Much to my dismay the Catawba General Store was no longer open. Flustered that I couldn’t get supplies and feeling the super high humidity, I rolled up the road a quarter mile or so and found a pretty little spot of well kept grass under a shade tree next to the road in front of a school. I laid my bike down and plopped down next to it in the grass for a nap. My ‘nap’ lasted less than 5 minutes as I quickly realized I wasn’t having a hard time staying awake. I was just pouting. So I got back on the bike and took off before any of the others came along.

Just 2 miles up the road I was presented with a conundrum. There were barriers blocking the road, big arrows pointing me to turn left on a gravel road and a sign that read: Road Closed Ahead- bridge out 6 miles ahead- no thru traffic- use detour. Now, I have seen these sort of signs before while riding. Not once have I went off route and not once have I not been able to get through. I could take my chances and likely make it, or I could get there, have to turn back around and do the detour anyway wasting 12 miles. I quickly made my decision based on experience (which hadn’t done me much good just 2 miles back) and stayed on the route.

As I rode along, I kept hoping to see someone. Maybe someone who lived on the road or a car that had went to the dead end and couldn’t get through, but I saw not a soul. That is, until about a quarter mile from where the road was supposed to be closed. There was a man walking on the road. He said he lived at the house just back a ways. He said that they weren’t allowing anyone at all through at the construction site. He thought I would be smart to turn around and go all the way back around. I told him that I had come this far, I would ride down there and see what the guys working had to say. He eyeballed me like I was a trouble maker and I went on.

When I got to the bridge, there were 3 men working. They smiled and waved as I rode up. I was super nice hoping they would return the favor and let me pass. The said, “Sure! We let all the bikes that come through go on past. There was just a few that came through earlier today.” I thanked them and walked my bike thought the rough bits. I also asked them how far it was to town, as I needed water. They said 9 more miles to a gas station. I thanked them again and took off, victorious and proud that I had made the right call about the bridge. Yeah, it was luck, but hey, I’ll take credit for it. 🙂

I road on into Daleville and made a much needed stop at a gas station. Once I was supplied back up, I hit the road again. It was just a couple miles to Troutdale and then before I knew it, I was back out of town again. I say ‘out of town’, but the fact is in most parts of Virginia, you may be ‘out of town’, but you are always in sight of at least one or two houses. Someone trying to stealth camp or get off the road to do some natural business has a hard time finding a spot. As I rolled out of Troutdale, I was in need of just such a spot once again and there were none to be had. I almost turned around and went back to town, but decided that surely I would find something. I thought I had found just what I needed when I saw a sign for a park of some sort. I turned off the paved road onto a gravel drive that went up a steep hill, only to find that it was actually private property and basically a big flower garden. I didn’t want to get caught with my pants down, so I got back on the road and went in search of something more private.

Just 4 miles down the road I came across a convenience store. I was very happy to to find it and make use of the facilities. I didn’t want to just use them for what I needed and not buy anything, so I bought an ice cream. I really didn’t need anything at that point, but it served the purpose.

By the way, I say these things about potty stops, not to share with the world all the dirty details, but to give those folks who tour or race these sorts of things a small idea of what it is like out on the road. Our bodies have natural processes that you have to attend to despite the fact that you are in the middle of nowhere OR maybe right smack dab in the middle of EVERYWHERE and you wish you were in the middle of nowhere!

Back on the road, it was only 14 miles or so to Buchanan. I hated to stop again, but it would be another 30 miles to Lexington and I didn’t want to get hung without supplies again. I ran in a gas station for a few things, ate a little something and got back on the road.

The next 10 miles after Buchanan were just horrid riding in my opinion. The route goes along the outer road of I-81. The surface is fine, but you are just a few yards away from he constant buzzing of high-speed interstate traffic. The din is atrocious. Once the route turned away from the highway, it was back to serene country roads.

Over the last 20 miles into Lexington, I ran into a few rain showers. Most of the rain that I got was light, but it served to turn the already hot and humid conditions into a sauna. Steam rose off the road as the sun came back out and the effect was oppressive. I found myself hoping it would just set in and rain, hopefully cooling things off. Soon enough the sky was looking dark on the horizon and the sounds of far off thunder could be heard. Storms were coming.

I rolled into Lexington right about 4:30PM. I found a little burger joint just down the street from the Virginia Military Academy and went in to eat. As I sat waiting for my food I checked the weather. It didn’t look good at all. Heavy rain, high winds, hail and flooding were forecasted. Particularly on the Blue Ridge Parkway and in Afton, which is where I was headed. Things weren’t going to let up until the wee early hours of the morning. If I was going to ride on and make that huge push to finish in one go, I would have to ride through some really nasty storms.

My food showed up, I ate, called my wife, and tried to decide what to do. In the end, it just didn’t make sense to me to risk going out in it just to gain a few hours on my overall time. I had set some really big goals for myself prior to the start of the race, all of which I had not met. The only goal left that I could make at that point was to finish and riding through the night in a big storm wasn’t going to improve my chances of doing that. I decided to grab a room and sleep. I finished my meal and road up to the Best Western to get a room. Next door was a gas station where I grabbed some snack and drinks. I took them to my room where I ate more and filled up on fluids, then slept as it rained. I ended the day with 146 miles and 6910′ of gain.

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TABR16- Day 23

I had my alarm set for 4AM, but when it went off, I looked out the window to even heavier, denser fog than the day before. Being tired, I was an easy sell for myself to stay in bed rather than fight the moisture and visibility issues. I slept until the sun came up about 6:15. I gathered my things, put on my still wet clothes and headed off into the soup. The fog was so thick I couldn’t see more than 20′ in front of me. I crept down the hills as slow as I did going up them.

Fifteen miles down the road through the fog, I rolled into Haysi. I stopped at a gas station and grabbed some breakfast. Jimmy was there. He had bivied along the road overnight. I told him about my groveling for a room the night before as we both ate. Soon enough, Piero came in. He sat down to eat, I finished my food and then I took off. I had stayed in bed way too long and needed to make up a bit of time.

The hills were only getting taller and my legs weren’t recovered from the day before. In actuality, my legs were toast from 22 days of riding across the country, but the big day before didn’t help matters. All I could do was stay moving and try to maintain some sort of momentum.

The ride to Council was all uphill, but not too bad- just a gentle grade. After Council it was straight up the monster that is Big A Mountain. I have my assumption of what the A stands for, but it is called just plain Big A on the map. It lives up to its name. It felt like the climb wouldn’t end. On the bright side, when it finally ended, it was all down hill to Honaker.

I stopped at a gas station with a deli in Honaker and ate big. It was Sunday at 10AM and they had loads of fried chicken in preparation for the church crowd coming a bit later. I had a couple chicken breast with mashed potatoes and gravy, then followed it up with some junk food dessert. The big meal was heavy on my gut, but I knew it would translate to more energy later.

After Honaker, there were a couple good sized little hills to get over before Rosedale, where the route took me down the shoulder of a four lane highway for about 4 miles. I always hate riding big highway shoulders and was glad to get off it and onto the smaller two lane that was leading up to Clinch Mountain.

Clinch is a big climb, going up about 800′ in just a mile and a half, but it is a pretty one. I remembered having to stop and take some rest breaks when I climbed it in 2011. This time I stayed on the whole time, but I don’t want to give the misrepresentation that I was killing it. In reality, it was killing me, but I stayed moving. Once I topped out, the ride down toward Hayters Gap was amazing. It felt so good to have yet another big climb down as I rode the switchbacks through the rhododendron.

After Hayters Gap, it was a much shorter, or at least it seemed so, climb up to Meadowview. This would be the first of many times I would cross paths with I-81. I stopped at a truck stop with a McDonalds and ate big. It was 12:30 and the after-church crowd was there in full swing. I felt like everybody was watching me like a psycho, but they probably were just amazed at my stench. I only stayed long enough to inhale my food and then got back to the road.

Just a mile or two down the way, as the route took me on some gorgeous country back roads, some crazed redneck came by at an alarming speed for such a small road and almost hit me. I was apocalyptically angry. It just hit me all wrong. I then rode on ahead hoping I would see the truck parked outside a home. I am so glad I didn’t.

Next up was Damascus, the infamous trail town that can sucker you in and have you spending way too much time there if you aren’t careful. I stopped at a gas station for supplies, then made a stop by Crazy Larry’s Hostel to meet the man himself. It was a treat to meet and chat with Larry for a bit. He asked if I was staying, but it was only 2:30 in the afternoon. I had to be going and did so pretty quick, but was glad I made the stop to meet him.

Leaving Damascus, it is about 10 miles of beautiful riding, albeit gradually up hill, along the Virginia Creeper Trail and Whitetop Laurel Creek. It is one of my favorite stretches of the Trans Am in Virginia. After making the climb up from Damascus, I made a stop by a convenience store in Konnarock. It was a little warm out, but mostly I was looking for an excuse to stop and take a break. I was tired. I sat for 15 minutes or so eating an ice cream and then realized I needed to get moving again.

The next 10 miles were along the valley just to the West of Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. It was a beautiful ride up the valley to Troutdale.

At Troutdale there had been a store I stopped at in 2011. It was now closed and run down. I peaked in the door and it looked like it had been vacant for years. It seemed strange that things can change so much in such a short period of time.

From Troutdale, it was a little bit of climb up to a big drop down into the Jefferson National Forrest. After that, it was all down hill to Sugar Grove, where I found a gas station to stop at for supplies. I also found Michela and Stefano there. We all grabbed the typical gas station fare and loaded up on drinks. I took the opportunity to chat with them a little while I ate a snack and sorely wished I knew some Italian.

We all left about the same time, but I got out in front and rolled on down the road. It was an easy 15 mile ride to Rural Retreat. I saw a Subway and went in to eat some dinner. I had it in mind to stop at Wytheville for the night, but I figured I better eat before I got there. While I was eating, Stefano and Michela came in and sat down to eat. About the time I finished up, I saw a racer go by outside. I wrapped up my meal quickly and headed out to try and catch whoever it was.

A few miles down the road, I came up on Jimmy. We rode the last 5 or so miles together into Wytheville and chatted as we went. Both of us planned to get a hotel in town. It was getting dark and I was pretty well spent. I figured I could get an early start the next morning.

We got to Wytheville about 9:15PM and went to a truck stop to grab some drinks and snacks for the evening and an early morning start. Then it was across the highway to a Super 8 where we both got rooms. I grabbed a shower and hung up my still wet clothes to dry out best they could. Some were draped over my bike and some over the air conditioner. I had made just 137 miles on the day, but had 9675′ of gain. The Appalachians were rearing their head and the elevation gain was proving difficult on legs worn down by over 3 weeks of cycling big days. I organized my things for a quick morning exit, set my alarm for 4AM and went to sleep.

Posted in TABR16, Virginia | 2 Comments

TABR16- Day 22

I got up early in Berea and gathered my things quickly. I had big intentions for the day. I wanted to make it to the final state- Virginia. The first order of business was a quick stop at the gas station across the street for some grub and a shot of caffeine. On my way over, I saw the Italian pair leaving the Motel 6 next door. They went on down the road and I figured I would be chasing them all day. I ate something quickly and took off. I was on the road before 3:45AM.

It was a cool morning and I felt good in the pre-dawn darkness, but required my rain jacket. I settled in right away on the aero bars and started cranking it up. A mile or so down the road I glanced at my GPS and saw that I had missed a turn already. Ugh! I turned back around and got on the right track, scolding myself for not paying better attention.

As I rode along Main Street in Berea, I saw the light of a cyclist coming up from behind. I was surprised to see Irena Sosinska, the Polish girl. We said our hellos and carried on into the downtown of Berea. As we turned left and out of town, I decided to up the pace and went on ahead.

I have heard Berea referred to as the entrance to the Appalachians and I experienced that right away. Just a few miles out of town, the road turned up and up. It was very foggy and it seemed like I was on another planet with the kudzu covered steep slopes shrouded in fog everywhere my light shone. I climbed that first hill well and came off the other side cautiously in the dense fog. It was so thick that within 30 minutes of riding, my freshly cleaned and dried clothes were soaked through. The water condensed on everything and made it difficult to see as my glasses continued to get droplets forming on them. When I would pull the glasses down so I could see, drops would form on my eyebrows and lashes, dripping into my eyes. It was a challenging just to see, much less ride.

As I approached McKee, I saw a rider ahead. It was Jimmy Bisese. As I caught up to him, he stopped and I went on. Just up the road I saw another rider in the dark in front of a shop that was closed, but didn’t know who it was. I carried on into town and stopped at a gas station for a snack and to dry out a bit. I grabbed some paper napkins to dry my glasses and face. I was stalling a bit, waiting for the sun to come up and burn off the fog. A quick check of Trackleaders showed that there were 9 racers, including myself, within approximately 10 miles either direction of where I was and 7 of them were in the little town of McKee. While I stood there at the station, Piero rolled by and waved. I figured the racer I had seen in the dark was him. Jason and George were in town somewhere as well. It looked like they had stayed there for the night and were still bedded down. I decided to get rolling and right away saw Michela and Stefano. As usual, there was a round of “hi” and then “ciao”. I was happy to have passed 7 out of the 8 other racers near me. I went on ahead, once again repeating to myself the mantra from the day before: stay moving.

The sun came up and the fog lifted. Soon I was plenty warm and had stowed my rain jacket. About 10 miles out of McKee I passed Luke. That made 8 for the day and it was only 6:30AM. It was shaping up to be a good day!

When I got to Booneville, it was 7:45AM and I was 52 miles into my day. It was time to eat. I stopped at a gas station, but was unimpressed with their fare. I asked the attendant if there was a diner close by to get breakfast. He said there was, but the directions I got seemed sketchy at best and the diner was off route. I decided it was better to grab some snacks there and move on.

The heat was cranking up again and the humidity was omnipresent. Added to the hills, it made for a chore. Once again, I came across a place where the signs and the GPS differed. I followed the signs and went off out into the seeming middle of nowhere. As I rode along through depressed areas with rundown mountain shacks, I came across a general store where I never would have expected one. I took that opportunity to grab a few things to eat and re-fill my drink stores, then took off into the hills again.

Before long I made my way back to civilization and into little town of Combs. I found a McDonald’s and went in to grab burgers to go, as I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my bike unattended there for some reason. I got my food and went back outside to eat while standing next to my bike. I kept the stop short and got moving again quickly.

Heading out of town, the road turned up and up again,following the folds of the steep mountains around me. Upon reaching the crook where two mountains met, it was then down the other side and into yet another valley. This process seemed to happen over and over with no end and made everything look the same ad infinitum.

When I reached Hindman, I was getting smoked by the heat, so I stopped at a station there for cold drinks and a snack. I stood inside a bit to cool off in their air conditioning. I was 120 miles in on the day and the hills just kept getting bigger and more numerous. As I stood there, trying to cool down, I chatted with the two ladies that ran the store. They asked in their drawl if I was doing the cross country route and I said yes. Then they asked where I had started that day and I told them Berea. They didn’t believe me. Just to add fuel to their disbelief, I added that I planned to make Virginia before the day was out. They replied, “Yo crazah!” I had to agree.

The next stretch of road was much more enjoyable than the earlier parts of the day had been. The road rose gently over 5 miles, then fell gently for 10. It was a nice respite in the mid-afternoon heat and should have served as a warning sign for what was to come.

At the junction to SR7 and CR1091, I stopped at the Marathon gas station/deli/post office/local hangout. I grabbed some food and sat in the shade. I knew that the tranquil ride along streams that I had been enjoying for the last few miles or so was about to end. From where I sat looking up CR1091, I was looking straight up a valley that ended in a wall of mountains. I finished my snack and got back to the saddle begrudgingly. Immediately the road turned up and I was reduced to a crawl.

On either side of the road were the most run down homes I had ever seen. Trash was strewn everywhere and most of the cars that were in the drives were on blocks. Many of the homes were actually small portable buildings that were intended to be used as sheds. Almost every house I went past had the door wide open, folks inside struggling to stay cool in the mid afternoon heat. These folks were literally dirt poor. The further I climbed, the steeper the road got and the closer the houses got to the road. Toward the top, most of the places you could sit inside and spit to the road. I just kept my head down and kept the pedals turning over. I felt a bit guilty that my bike and all the kit I carried was likely worth more than many of the houses I saw. Those thoughts occasionally turned to fear as I wondered if someone might come along and decide they wanted my stuff more than me. But with every person I saw, those thoughts would go away. These people were poor, but they were kind. You could see it when they looked at you.

The climb was, in my opinion, the hardest climb of the entire route going East. It took everything I had to make it without putting a foot down. As I reached the top of the climb and started off the other side, I was thankful for the relief in topography. The top of the hill not only meant easy street for me (at least for awhile), but the change in lifestyle of the inhabitants was drastic. Every home on the Eastern slopes was well kept and sat back off the road with manicured lawns and nice new cars in the driveways. It was a completely different world. I don’t know the reason behind the difference, but there was certainly a boundary of class and it was at the top of that hill.

The ride down into the valley was a short and fast one. Once at the bottom, the road turned up again, this time headed up the even bigger Abner Mountain. It was a leg breaker of a climb, but not as bad as the previous one. Either way, the compounded efforts of hill after hill had me beat down and I spent all my time in the little gears, just trying to stay moving. Once over and back down the other side, I stopped at a BP station in the next valley for supplies and a break.

I was in the very heart of coal country and very thankful for the day of the week. It was Saturday, which meant most of the trucks that normally flood the roads with traffic through the week were not operating. What a relief! I got back on the road after my stop and headed for the next climb. They just wouldn’t quit coming.

Up and over two more climbs as big and as steep as the previous two, I finally started down into the valley toward Elk Horn City, the last town on route in Kentucky. At this point, I was absolutely spent. I felt as if I had nothing left to give and didn’t care if I made it to Virginia that day or not. I rolled into EHC about 7:30PM with the intent to get something to eat and then grab a room at the little motel on the East side of town that I had stayed in back in 2011. I found a Subway right away coming into town and went inside to feast. I ordered big and ate while I chatted with my wife on the phone. I sat there chilling out a bit long, but it had been a big day and I wasn’t too worried about spending a little bit of time. When I finished I packed up and headed across town to a gas station for supplies. I knew there wasn’t anything on the East side of town and I would be leaving early the next day anyway, headed off into an area with little services.

At the station, I grabbed a bunch of stuff, preparing for my morning ride into Virginia. In passing, the attendant asked me where I was headed and I told him the little motel across town. Much to my dismay, he reported to me that the motel had closed several years ago. I was gutted. I had my heart set on a bed and had ridden 180 miles of tough hills. I asked the guy if there was another motel in town. Nope. “But there is The Gateway up toward Breaks.” He looked up the phone number for me and called, but got no answer. He then called the motel in Breaks Interstate park. They were full. I got the number for the Gateway and went out to my bike to pack up my supplies I had bought. While doing so, I called Gateway several times without an answer. It didn’t make sense to me. It was 8:30PM on a Saturday night in June. Why would a motel not answer their phone?

Frustrated and feeling I had nothing else I could do, I started riding that way. Surely there was someone there. I would just have to go see them in person. The sun was getting low in the sky, I was smoked  and I was heading off into “the wilderness” again without a solid plan. To make matters worse, Elk Horn City is down in a hole. The only way out was up. I wasn’t happy.

About 5 miles out of town, I crossed the state line into Virginia. My last state. It was somewhat bitter sweet as I didn’t want to ride any further that night, but I had made my goal for the day and I was now in the final state of the Trans Am. I carried on another mile up the road and found the Gateway Motel.

I got really excited when I pulled in the lot because there were less than a half dozen cars in the lot and the building looked to have 30 rooms or more. Vacancy! As I got closer to the office, I saw a sign that said closed. Closed?!?! There was a family playing frisbee in the parking lot and I asked them if they knew where the office person was. They told me that the old lady that ran the place had left before 8:00 and said she would be back to check folks out in the morning. I was floored. They also said that they had tried to get a room at Breaks and it was full. The thought honestly crossed my mind to start trying doors and see if I could get into one of the rooms that was vacant. I could always pay the lady later. My conscience made the better decision and I got back on the road to continue climbing.

As if a curtain was pulled, upon leaving the Gateway Motel, the sun went down. I rode up and up, watching for the turn to Breaks Interstate Park. I planned to see if they had any cancelations. Anything. It was either that or ride on through the night and I didn’t want to do that.

I finally made it to the entrance to the park about 9:30PM. I made the turn, rode the mile or so up to the motel and went inside. At the desk was the nicest lady I could imagine, but when I asked about a room, she had bad news. They were in fact full and had no place for me. I begged and groveled a bit. Surely they had some folks who had not made it there to check in yet? She said that there were 3 rooms reserved for folks coming in, but each one had already called and said they were on their way. The rooms would be filled for the night. I groveled a bit more shamelessly and explained that I had ridden the 190 miles from Berea over hill and dale and more hill. I was too tired to go on and needed a place to stay. She had an idea about a camping spot and called her supervisor. When she got back with me, she said, “I may have you a room.” The heavens parted and angels sang!!! Upon further review, they in fact had a room. It was an older room that they kept on reserve for volunteer workers with the park service. The maintenance man on duty would have to check it first to see if it was truly available.

I waited as patient as I could. After about 30 minutes, she got a call that the room was good to go. I would get to stay. I was stoked! She spent another 15 minutes or so trying to figure out how to get through the computer system so that she could rent me the room. Being a room for volunteers, they don’t typically rent it. Soon enough, I had keys in my hand. I thanked her over and over, then rode up the hill to the room, went inside, showered and got in bed. It was 10:30PM. I wouldn’t get to clean my soaked clothes, but I hung them over the air conditioner to dry the best they could. I had a monster day. 190 miles and 13933′ of gain. Sleep found me easily.

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TABR16- Day 21

During the night, I heard Michela and Stefano get up and leave. I went back to sleep. When Luke got up, I figured I better get going. My alarm went off about that time and I gathered my things. I stumbled sleepy eyed with my bike, back over to the gas station for some breakfast and then hit the road by 5:45.

I was still wet from the rain the day before and the humid air clung to everything like glue. My cycling gloves and bar wraps were soaked. Everything I had was wet, but also had a certain slimy quality to it. It was a mix of rain, sweat and who knows what else. I just felt gross.

Although Luke had gotten out ahead of me, right away I caught him and kept moving along. I was on a mission to have back to back decent days. I didn’t need to be epic at this point. Just decent. I could deal with that. The key to a decent day was to stay moving!

I rolled into Sonora and stopped at a truck stop next to I-65. I grabbed some grub and rolled on. Stay moving. Just down the road I found another discrepancy between the GPS and the signed route. I chose the signs and made the determination that I would follow the signs when in doubt.

Further on, I made a quick station stop in Buffalo, but I didn’t stay long at all. I just bought some drinks and snacks, then hit the road. Stay moving!

Not far ahead, I caught up with Michela and Stefano. Then I headed into the hills that surround Howardstown. Howardstown is one of my favorite places on the route in Kentucky. The Rolling Fork River valley meanders through the Appalachian foothills and creates a beautiful setting of farmland surrounded by steep little forested knobs. My wife and I have driven through the area in autumn and it is even more stunning with the fall colors. I carried on, staying moving and enjoying the scenery. It was a beautiful day.

As I came into Bardstown, I passed Pierangelo Rivoira, another Italian racer. His name was a mouthful for me and I was glad when I found out he goes by Piero. That was much easier! I went on ahead into town and stopped at a McDonald’s right on the route. It was 10:00AM and I was almost 70 miles into my day. Not bad. Just stay moving! I made quick work of a Big Breakfast and some apple pies, then hit the road again.

I saw Piero again as I rode out of Bardstown. I said a quick hello and carried on. The rural rolling hills of Kentucky sprawled out in front of me. Thirty miles or so ahead I stopped at the Rosehill Food Basket, a little country convenience store. I ate something and stored things up for the ride ahead. I had put that stop on my original plan to keep me out of Harrodsburg that was just another few miles down the road. As Mike Hall says, pick where you won’t stop.

When I got to Harrodsburg, I rolled straight through town. It was then on ahead to the burg of Burgin (see what I did there???? :)). As I left Burgin, I saw Jason and George up ahead. Seeing them ahead lit a competitive fire in me and I poured the coals to it. Down in the aero bars, I hit it hard and caught them. We rode near each other, chatting for just a bit and I then went on ahead.

Just down the road, I went through the outskirts of Bryanstville, where I stopped at a gas station. I kept it short, but needed to supply up. Jason and George didn’t stop and I once again caught them as I left town. This time I didn’t hang out at all. I was feeling a bit frustrated that they were riding with each other and proceeded to take that frustration out on myself by hammering ahead. I stayed down on the bars and rolled along at a good clip for a long time.

When I came into Kirksville, I saw something that made me stop. There is a little gas station there that is run by an old farming couple. They have had the store for decades and I got the opportunity to sit and chat with the old man in 2011 when I came through touring. He was a kind old soul who told me stories of cyclists coming through, riding the Trans Am from all over the world. He had met so many interesting people and was happy to say that he had the chance to help them in some way. When I saw that the store was still open, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see if he was there. Sadly, he wasn’t, but his wife was! She said that he was out bailing hay. I told here that I remembered him fondly and to please tell him I said hello. I was certain he wouldn’t remember me, but I wanted him to know that I was thinking of him. She said she would and I rode on, happy that I had made that connection from 5 years earlier.

From Kirksville, it was about 10 miles of rollers to the northwestern outskirts of Berea. I remembered from 2011 that if I passed up the services there as I came into town, I would have to travel off route a couple miles to find anything. The first thing I saw was a gas station with a Subway. Perfect. I went in and ordered a big sub, chips, drink and cookies.

As I sat and ate, George and Jason came in. They were on a mission to put more miles down and asked what my plans were. It was only 5:15PM, but I had 153 miles on the day and was sick of being soaked. With the humidity, I had never dried out all day long. I planned to go across the street to a hotel and get cleaned up. We all ate, they went on down the road, I went next door to the gas station and then to the Red Roof Inn across the street. I washed and dried my clothes, got a shower and slept. It was much more comfortable than a soaked bivy in a defunct car wash. Much more.

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TABR16- Day 20

After two days of not feeling my best, I woke in Marion in my hotel room with the intent to make things better. I was up and out of the motel at 4:45AM, then made a short stop at McDonald’s just up the street for breakfast. After breakfast, I was on the road by 5:15 after stopping at a gas station for supplies before leaving town.

The morning went well and I was rolling along good, making few stops and feeling much better, both mentally and physically, than I had the last couple days. I felt like I was out of my funk and ready to finish the race. I made my first stop in Dixon. When I came into town and found no sort of services, I asked a young lady who was having a rummage sale if there was a gas station or something close by. She said that there was one just right up the street a ways and I headed off in search of it. Unfortunately it was nearly a mile off the route to the station and all down hill. I found the spot, grabbed supplies and headed back up the hill to the route.

The sun was heating things up rather early and it was so humid. The humidity had been a factor since Missouri, but it was one of those things that crept up slowly as we traveled east and I didn’t notice until it had been day after day for a bit. The biggest issue with it was that my bibs and jersey were soaked and would never dry. It made it miserable to live in and frankly unsanitary, but there was nothing to be done. I would wash and dry them as I could, but that wasn’t possible every day.

A little before 11:00, I went through the tiny burg of Utica and stopped at the general store there. The old woman that runs the store makes sandwiches and I had one as well as filling up on drinks. By this time, it was getting pretty hot and the break inside her neat old store while I waited for her to make my meal was welcome.

Not long after leaving Utica I came to a fork in the road, of sorts. My GPS was showing that I was supposed to stay straight on the road I was on, but the signs that Kentucky had recently put up to designate the official Trans Am route showed I should turn right. There had been a few times where the GPS file had differed from what I knew to be the route, so I wasn’t 100% confident in it. With the road signs being brand new, I figured I would be fine to follow them. I found out later that the ACA had recently re-routed a few places prior to KYDOT putting up the signs. The signs are the official ACA route. As for the race, some folks went one way and some went the other. It depended on what form of navigation they were using. In the end, I’m not sure that it made much difference, but I could only imagine that it had to be very confusing for some of the racers.

I stopped again in Fordsville at a gas station there. I needed to cool off and fill up on fluids, so I went in, sat down in there deli area and ate. I didn’t stay too long and once I was cooled off a bit, I hit the road again.

On down the road I stopped at a gas station at the turn off for Rough River Dam State Park. I ate an ice cream and chatted with a touring cyclist that was headed west. He was a talker, and if you know me and my extroversion, that is saying something. When I could get away from him I did and headed on down the road. Just a couple miles ahead, the sky was really darkening and a storm was threatening. I saw a family restaurant and went in to eat and hopefully escape the storm. It looked like a thunder boomer that would pass fairly quickly. I sat at a table that had a view to the south and west so I could watch the weather.

As I waited for my food and ate, I was checking the weather on my phone. There was quite a bit of nasty thunderstorm action coming, but at that moment, I seemed to be in a lull. The storms were just little blooms of orange and red with small outlines of green around them on the map. About that time, I saw Luke Kocher ride by. That spurred me to finish my food quickly and I got back on the road.

Not two miles down the road, the rain came. It was a slower, steady rain that didn’t seem too offending and from what I had seen on the radar, it was not the part I should be worried about. I kept riding in the light rain, keeping an eye on passing cars and the darkening horizon to the southwest.

That southern sky was really looking bad and the wind was picking up, which was quickly getting me to a point that I wasn’t comfortable riding any further. I noticed a gas station just 100 yards or so past where the route turned to the south and toward the looming storm. I decided to stop and wait it out.

I stepped inside the store to buy a soda. While making my purchase, I mentioned to the old man running the store that the weather was looking pretty rough and I hoped he would let me hole up there for a bit. He said that would be fine, but he was closing in 5 minutes and would be locking up. At that point, I would have to leave. Hmmm. Well…. I thanked him and said that if he didn’t mind, I would just wait outside under the canopy that was over the gas pumps so he could lock up and go on home. He gave me a wary eye and said ok.

I went back out to my bike and the sky was starting to look apocalyptic. Dark swirling clouds were off in the direction I needed to go and the wind was buffeting hard. I took cover under the eave of the building as the wind picked up all manner of debris and blew it across the lot. Then the rain came. Water flooded from the sky in a fashion that could only be described in buckets. There was no way I would ride in this. I just waited.

After maybe 30 minutes, the wind subsided and the rain slowed to a sprinkle. I thought that it would be my chance to move on, so I hit the road again cautiously. The road was a really small lane that looked more like something from Europe than America. It was barely wide enough for two cars to pass and wound through farms and farmhouses with tractors in front of them. The sky still had a very menacing look, but I was hoping that I would be able to scoot down the road in between storms. Soon it was obvious that the storms were no longer the seemingly solid bubbles of precipitation that I had seen on the radar. Everything was coalescing into one big green glob with nastier bits strewn about.

I rode on through the rain a bit as it increased. Soon I could barely see for the monster drops falling. I saw a small country church and rode over to it, taking refuge on the porch. No sooner than I stopped, the rain slowed some. I stood under the porch for 10 minutes or so, wondering what to do, then decided to take off again. A few minutes later the buckets came again, only this time it was accentuated heavily with close lightening strikes and massive booms of thunder. I saw a structure along side the road that looked like a picnic pavilion, except under the pavilion was electric and phone boxes. It was the best thing I had, so I rode underneath it and parked. The wind howled and the lightening got very close as the deluge came with abandon. I was very thankful for my hiding spot.

After another 30 minutes or more of waiting things out, the lightening subsided and the rain slowed to a steady pour. I was getting cool sitting still and with the threat of a lightening strike seeming to be gone or at least slightly muted, I got back on the road. I rode along in the rain wiping water out of my eyes constantly. I looked up a drive way to a house and saw Luke standing on the front porch, so I turned and went there to meet him. He had been riding along in the rain and much like me, sought refuge where he could. We knocked on door to see if anyone was home, but nobody answered, so we just sat there and watched it rain awhile.

Of course, just minutes later a lady pulls in the driveway. When she got out of her truck, I fully expected her to be freaked out that two strange, scraggly looking guys were waiting on her porch for her, but I was wrong. We explained why we were there and she was super nice. She said that we could stay as long as we liked, but did point out that there was a gas station a few miles down the road. She also mentioned that she thought they closed soon. The problem we hadn’t considered was that we had just crossed into the Eastern Time zone and lost an hour. We thanked her for her porch and the information. Then right on cue, the rain started to slow. We took off together, riding in the light rain.

Luke and I rode near each other and chatted a bit, but then the rain started coming heavier again and so did the lightening. Good grief! Right away we saw a church and once again sought refuge on the porch. Another short break let the lightening let up and we set off in the rain again, hoping to make it to the station before they closed.

A few minutes before 9:00PM we pulled up at the gas station. Soaked, a bit cold and tired, we went inside and gorged on junk food and gas station pizza. While eating, I checked the radar. It wasn’t good. The rain was set in and the storms would intensify over night. I asked the station attendant about any motels. He said that there were places to the north or south off route, but they would be 12 or more miles one way to get there. I wasn’t going that far off route. He then offered to give us some cardboard and we could sleep in the “old car wash” on the north side of the property. I was leery about it. He then mentioned that the Italian pair were over there sleeping as we spoke. Luke and I both decided that it would be best to stay and at least be out of the weather. While we sat and ate, Jason and George came through. They said they planned to ride on. I thought they were nuts.

Luke and I took the broken down cardboard boxes that the attendant gave us and went the direction he pointed. Just 50 or so yards away was what remained of an old car wash. The walls still stood, but the floor was dirt. At least it was dry. I leaned my bike up against the wall, laid the cardboard down and then my bivy on top of that. I crawled in my bivy, still in my wet clothes and set my alarm for 5:30AM, which was when the store would open. I had made 153 miles on the day. It was nothing stellar, but much better than the prior two days.

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