At the start of a bike race, especially one with some top notch competitors, you would think that it gets dicey really quick. That was not the case for TABR15. Granted, with a bridge closure on the route just south of town and the subsequent re-route around said bridge, there was a neutral roll out headed up by Nathan. That helped to keep things pretty mellow. Even after we finished the small detour and returned to the route, as Nathan pulled off, gave high fives and watched us ride by, the group stayed pretty well intact and at an easy pace.
Full disclosure: I can’t say that I know exactly what took place up front because I wasn’t there. With 40ish cyclists, it was a pretty big group and I had settled in to a bit-slower-than-normal pace for me, hanging at the back. I was enjoying the chat amongst a few folks and knew that I didn’t want to get caught up in any sort of free-for-all that might possibly take place farther up in the group. I knew someone would eventually make a push and I was in no shape to chase rabbits.
What do I mean by that? Well, my plan to prepare for this race had been a grand one, or at least in my mind it was. My intent had been to be lightweight in bike, gear and body. I also intended to be well trained and in that training, to have used all my gear sufficiently as to make the act of using said gear almost second nature. Another plan I had was to have plenty of funds to make the trip. In summary, I was too heavy (234lbs) and so was my bike and gear. If you don’t take into account a 115 mile gravel ride I did about a month before the start, in the 6 weeks leading up to the race I averaged 29.83 miles/week. Hardly training for a 4233 mile race. I finished putting my kit together the week before I left for Oregon and had only used some of it sparingly. I had never rode out with the total kit and used it. I did, however, have one goal: to make Coburg, OR the first day (roughly 230 miles). You say,” that’s a big goal for a guy who didn’t prepare”. I say bring it on.
The first 40 miles or so flew by. I was chatting with Fran, Yukon, Tommy Chen and some others as we enjoyed a foggy early morning along the coast. It was beautiful! I love the wet and the green. It makes me feel alive and in touch with the earth. It smells so clean! Oregon is amazing.
Upon reaching Manzanita, Fran, Yukon, Tommy and myself stopped for a second breakfast. One of the beautiful things about riding a lot is you can eat a lot and that, I did. The four of us sat in a little restaurant and ate eggs, pancakes, bacon and the like. It was delicious and the company was great. A great memory of mine from the race.
When we finished eating, I decided it was time for me to race properly. Up to that point, we had been keeping a really slow average for me, maybe 10mph and quite a gap had formed between us and most of the other racers ahead, especially after we stopped to eat. I don’t believe anyone else had stopped that early. I said my goodbyes to the group and took off, cranking it out, intent on catching up to some of the folks in front of me and more importantly, doing my best to reach Coburg before I stopped for the night.
Over the next 60 miles, I spent most of my time in the aerobars, rolling along pretty good and averaged more than 16mph. It felt good to “stretch my legs” and get my heart rate going. I rolled in to Pacific City at the 100 mile mark, stopped at a gas station to quickly grab some food and drink, then hit the road again. It was a very short stop. Probably my best stop of the entire race. I remember one of the other racers was there too, but I can’t remember who it was. Maybe the French racer?
Back on the road, the miles ticked away. A little south of Neskowin, the route turned inland and upward. The small two-lane Slab Creek road lead up into the coastal mountains and the temperature started to climb a bit as we left the coast. Along the way, before the route turned on to the busy Hwy 18, I passed Scott McConnell, Jason Woodhouse and Paul Gildersleeve, only for us all to end up together, along with Odd Jordheim and Eelco Weijmans at a gas station. We all filled bottles, grabbed food and sat down outside to rest a bit. It was hot!
After a respite, Eelco took off first, then shortly after, the rest of us. Traffic was pretty bad. Lots of folks headed back inland after weekends or vacation stays on the beach. We tried to somewhat stay together without getting too close and breaking the rules, but it didn’t help matters. The traffic was relentless and sketchy. Pretty quickly we were all properly spread out, Jason and Paul in front of me somewhere and Odd and Scott fell behind.
Later, maybe 20 miles down the trail, I saw Jason and Paul stopped along the road in the shade. The heat was working the Brits over and they needed to cool down. As I chatted with them a moment, Odd caught up. As he pulled up, I left and went on ahead, head back down and in the bars cruising.
Not far up the road, I found Chris Hockett changing a flat. I made sure he was fine and rolled on. Somewhere along the way I passed Eelco as well, but I don’t know where. I just know I got in front of him because he later passed me and had been in front of me.
When the route turned south along 99 toward Corvallis, I was starting to feel the heat that had slowed some of the others. It was late afternoon and the region was experiencing warmer than normal temperatures. All you have to do is make sure you drink plenty and you should be fine. Problem is, sometimes that doesn’t happen. I was dried up and started cooking. I needed a break.
I rolled into Monmouth and saw exactly what I needed- Burgerville USA. Imagine your typical fast food joint and you have Burgerville. I parked my bike and went inside for food, Coke and A/C. I probably sat there 45 minutes or more, but by the time I left, I had perked back up and was ready to ride. Meanwhile, I had watched Eelco go by again, as well as Odd, Chris and Scott. Jason and Paul had also caught up and were at the gas station across the street.
I rolled out feeling fresh and enjoyed the next section of the ride. It was now early evening and it had started to cool off to make for a pleasant evening. As I rode, I called my wife to say hi and fill her in on my day. Things were going well, I felt good and it looked like I would make my goal of Coburg! It was a great day!
Upon reaching Corvallis, I caught up with Scott at a gas station. We chatted, refueled and hit the road together, both with goals of reaching the same spot. As we left Corvallis, we left Eelco and Chris’ dots behind, as well as passing up Justin Chadwick and Bradford Smith, who had bedded down for the night somewhere in town.
Riding south, Scott and I chatted and got to know each other a bit more. We had “met” in a Facebook group called Endurance Rides and Bikepacking. The leader of that group, Scott Thigpen, wrote a book about his experience racing the Tour Divide in 2013. Scott McConnell was in that race and in the book as well. I should add that although he hardly talks about it because he is so nice and humble, Scott McConnell was the single speed winner of Tour Divide in 2013! That’s a big deal! To add to the awesomeness that is Scott, he decided to ride TABR ON THAT SAME SINGLE SPEED! What a beast. Chapeau!
We rode and chatted, enjoying the evening. Somewhere along the way there was discussion about girls chasing boys chasing girls. It was interesting conversation! The weather was perfect and the traffic was light. Day turned to night and we got our lights working. It was a great night for riding!
As we rode, I started to feel a bit of chaffing happening in my nether regions. Nothing too bad, but you have to be proactive. I stopped for a minute and applied some chamois cream to cool down the friction. It didn’t feel like it helped much, but it was about all I could do to doctor the problem at the time. I was unaware, but this would turn into an issue later.
In Harrisburg, we stopped at a gas station for provisions and passed by Odd bedded down for the night. It was 10:30PM and it had been a long day, but I wasn’t done. I had a goal to meet!
We carried on south, headed for Coburg. As we rode through the night, we didn’t know it, but we passed Gavaskar Josephs and Bryan Heselbach who had also bedded down. Little did we know, but as we rode, we were making our way toward the top ten of the race!
When we arrived in Coburg, we went straight for the city park. Coburg is a very small town, basically a village, just a few miles north of Eugene. The only scouting I had done before the race was to look for a potential place to camp in Coburg. The park made sense to me and I was REALLY looking forward to setting up my hammock.
The park was dark, which would be good for sleeping and being covert. It also had some trees (good for the hammock!) and restrooms. Jackpot! I leaned my bike up against a tree and started pulling my things out and setting up. While I did this, Scott was scouting around. Just as I got my second tree strap strung around a tree, Scott walked up and said, “there is a big sign over there that says no overnight camping.” My first thought, and what I said was, “it’s after midnight. Nobody will know we are here and we will be gone before anyone notices in the morning.” At this point, I got my first experience with Scott’s code of ethics and moral compass. “You can stay if you like, but I am going to go look for something somewhere else.” I knew I couldn’t stay. I put everything away and we rode off into the extreme early morning to find a different spot where we wouldn’t be breaking the local law.
There were two churches in town, according to iMaps. The first was nearby and had a great lawn, but no trees. I lobbied to go to the other church just south of town, if only for the chance that there would be two trees between 10 and 25 feet apart.
Upon arriving at The Bridge Open Bible Church, I knew right away that I wasn’t going to like it. There wasn’t a tree one in the yard. Oh well. Part of the gig.
This was where I began to realize just how poorly I had planned and thought out what to bring for this trip. Scott had a waterproof bivy sack, a lightweight blow-up sleeping mattress and a 32 degree sleeping bag. He would be warm, dry, bug-free and comfortable anywhere he decided to sleep.
I, however, (against the better judgement of TABR14’ers that I spoke with) went with a hammock/tarp setup. My thought was that if I was going to get very little sleep, I wanted to make sure it was good, comfortable sleep. I went back and forth on the issue during the months leading up to the race and made my final decision when Adrian O’Sullivan told me he was bringing his hammock. That sealed it for me. So I was carrying my tarp and hammock, an integrated bug net around the hammock to protect me from little critters, a 1/4″ thick closed-cell foam sleeping pad to lay on in the hammock and prevent my back from being cold (an issue with hammocks) and lastly, my Big Agnus 45 degree sleeping bag that I modified by cutting off the back. This made it lighter and it took up less space in my kit. It also effectively made it a sleeping quilt.
Back to the story, Scott and I proceed to set up our stealth camp around back of the Open Bible Church. Scott rolled out his setup and started to get comfortable. I did the only thing I could do and laid on top of my foam pad on the grass and covered myself with the quilt. No pillow, so I improvised and set my helmet, bucket down, and laid my head on top it. I was very uncomfortable, but I didn’t care.
Exhausted from my biggest day of cycling ever (233 miles), I went to sleep quickly despite the comfort level, satisfied that I had made my goal of Coburg and I was doing what I set out to do: race the Trans Am! Day one was done!