TABR15- Day 8- Big Hole Pass to West Yellowstone

Dreaming that I was dreaming, I was lying at home in my bed, dreaming of sleeping under the stars on a pass in Montana. As I started to wake, I realized that I wasn’t in my bed, but actually near the top of Big Hole Pass in western Montana, lying on the ground… and I was freezing! My exhaustion had led to sleep when I was so cold that everything hurt. I had on every piece of clothing I could put on and was under my sleeping-bag-turned-sleeping-quilt, but it wasn’t enough. The sun was coming up, but it wouldn’t warm me fast enough. I needed to get moving.

It was almost 6AM and we had slept too long. Despite the fact that I needed the rest, movement was imperative. Both to warm up and because we were racing! Scott and I slammed our kits together and headed out, finishing the short distance to the top of the pass. As I went down the other side of the pass, I froze. I had left most of my warm gear on, but the short little bit of climbing to the top of the pass before the descent wasn’t enough to get the inner fires stoked. I pulled back on the reigns and slowed a bit, just to help keep the wind off me a little.

Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long for the next climb- Badger Pass. As the road turned up, so did my body temp. I stopped along the way and shed layers. This process was repeated day in and day out in the mountains- strip layers off to climb and add them back on for descents.

On down the road, we rolled into Dillon. At the edge of town was a restaurant where Scott and I stopped for breakfast. We ate, made our trips to the john for daily duties and assessment, then headed off again. I took off first and made my way through town. As I rode through the streets of Dillon, I remember getting all emotional. I don’t recall if I was listening to music or just thinking about my wife and kids, but I remember having to stop and wipe my eyes. Tears were flowing to the point I couldn’t see. There really wasn’t a reason for the outpouring, but I couldn’t help it. The stress I was putting on my body and the lack of sleep was starting to take it’s toll on my mental state. These issues would continue.

On ahead, I was getting frustrated with myself. Before each stop to resupply or eat, I would plan out in advance things that I needed to do. In addition to getting food or drink, I would make a mental note to clean and lube my drive train and air up my tires. These simple maintenances needed to be done regularly, but each time I stopped, I would forget to do them and just ride on down the road. The push to stay moving overrode my ability to remind myself. As I rode along in my declining mental state, I was getting more and more angry with myself for not remembering to take care of these simple tasks. A few miles down the road, I had enough and stopped, leaning my bike up against a guard rail along the highway.

Scott wasn’t far behind and stopped to check on me. I told him that I needed to do maintenance and he looked at me like I had lost it. I am sure he was thinking to himself “why doesn’t he do these things at a regular stop?” He rode on ahead and I took a few minutes to stop, breath, gather myself and address my concerns. Cleaning the gunk off my chain and adding lube made the machine much quieter. A check of the pressures in my tires found them to be 20+ psi short of normal. Once back on the bike and riding, I asked myself why I hadn’t made the effort to stop and address these things before. The dirty, un-lubed chain and low tire pressures just added drag and resistance, meaning I had been working harder than necessary. Better be smart meathead!

After my little pit stop, I was feeling better about myself, at least for the time being. There is a saying in endurance cycling- However you feel… it won’t last. The point is, no matter if things are good or bad, it won’t be that way for long. My experience is that the farther into an event you go, the quicker the shifts in mental state and the amplitude of those shifts increases as well. This particular time, the mental shift was a lift and that translated to power to the pedals with the addition of the right songs in my headphones. It helped that the general inclination of the road was gradually down. I headed out in search of my little buddy Scott.

Before reaching Twin Bridges, I caught up with the Single Speeder from Tennessee. We rolled into town and found a gas station to stop at for refueling. I remember chatting up a local, but I can’t recall what about. Soon it was back to the road. The next 40 miles or so to Virginia City was a slog. I couldn’t tell at the time, but that general inclination had turned on its ear and now meant we were gradually gaining elevation. I remember being tired and hot. Somewhere along the way, Gav caught up to us. He had rode on late the night before and made it to Dillon. When Scott and I had rolled through town, Gav was still sleeping, but with that rest, he was ready to get after it.

The three of us stopped for ice cream in the tourist trap that is Virginia City. A ghost of an old mining town, Virginia City now hawks its wares as a tourist attraction. That means there isn’t a lot there for a endurance racer, but they do have a great ice cream shop. A perfect spot for a rest and the frozen treat does wonders when you need to cool down.

Immediately outside Virginia City, the road turns up, up, up headed toward an unnamed pass. Why someone hasn’t given it a name is beyond me. I can think of some pretty colorful words to use if the State of Montana wanted my help. What a nasty hill! Scott was hitting his stride and had no issue powering up the climb. I was struggling and had to stop several times. In 2011, when I toured the route, I took pride in the fact that I never walked a step of the way, all the way across the country. I pedaled my bike no matter what. I took breaks, but I never pushed my bike. This time, racing meant a different type of game. When I needed a break, I stayed moving, pushing my bike up the hill. I didn’t like the idea of pushing, but movement was more important. The breaks had been few over the course of the race, but that hill outside of Virginia City saw its fair share of them… and then some.

Cresting the pass meant a long descent into Ennis. There were a few places where the grade was pretty steep, but the important part was that it was all downhill! Once in Ennis, the three of us grabbed food at a restaurant and supplies at a gas station. After a nice little break, we headed south out of town on Hwy 287. Next stop West Yellowstone!

Well, sort of. 🙂

The 75 miles of road from Ennis to West Yellowstone is a bit of a slog. The gradual ascent toward the caldera that Yellowstone sits on makes it that way. You gain roughly 1800′ along the way and there are few services, especially at night. We left Ennis about 7:30PM and watched off to the west as the sun set and a storm brewed. We were concerned that we would get drenched, but it never happened. What did happen was an amazing sunset through the thunder storm clouds. What a site!

Right about dark, we passed a roadside bar and thought we should fill up our bottles. The parking lot was full of pick-ups and I could only imagine that we would stick out like sore thumbs in our cycling kit. We leaned our bikes against the wall outside and headed in. It was almost like a scene from an old west movie, where the guy walks into a bar and the piano stops playing as everyone turns to see who walked in. Only this wasn’t a room full of good ole cowboys. This bar was full of 20-something year old guys who looked like they were looking for a reason to fight. We quickly asked the barkeep if he would fill our bottles and were told that we could fill them from a water spigot out back. There’s some hospitality for ya. Not! We exited, ran around back, filled our bottles and got down the road before trouble was made. Fortunately, we were able to get away without incident. Maybe it was all in my head, but that was the one time during the race that I felt like I was truly in a bad spot. No harm, no foul. Down the road we went!

Now after dark, we rode along and chatted. Soon enough, Gav’s surplus of rest, relative to our’s anyway, translated to him getting out in front and then ahead out of sight. He had mentioned that he planned to stop at a place that had cabins some miles up the road, but well before West Yellowstone. I think his thought was that we could share the expense and all of us get a room together. Typically I would have been game for such an idea, but as Scott and I rode on, we talked about it and decided to push and get a room in West Yellowstone. The thought was that maybe we could put a gap between us and Gav.

As we rode, it got late and it got cold. June in Yellowstone can see some pretty low temps, even snow. We were fortunate to not have precipitation, but the area was certainly living up to the billing of being colder. As we neared Quake Lake, we started to climb and we were right beside the river. I recall it being very dark out and the noise of the river seemed ominous. Yellowstone and the area is know for its bear population and my thoughts were certainly right there. Would bears be out around the river at night? Made sense to me. Much like climbing out of Hell’s Canyon, I just kept talking and singing. Anything to make noise actually.

The worst part was I was really getting tired. We were nearing 170 miles for the day and my sleep the prior two nights was less than stellar. As we rode on, riding along Hebgen Lake in the dark, I started falling asleep on the bike. Just nodding off here and there, but enough to scare the crap out of me. I didn’t want to crash. I needed to make it to West and I needed to get there as quick as I could.

The turn onto Hwy 191, which leads into West, was a big high for me. I was cold and tired, but it wasn’t far now! My memory from 2011 was that this stretch was all downhill and very short. Evidently my memory was fairly short because that wasn’t how this stretch of road went! Don’t get me wrong, it was not a big climb, but not the downhill of my memory. My lapses into sleep kept getting deeper and closer together. The glow of my headlamp was mesmerizing and I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. The 8 miles to town seemed more like 80. It just drug on and on.

Eventually, we saw the lights. YES! Like weary desert travelers finding an oasis, we rode into town at 2AM. Now we just had to find a room. No problem in a small town with 100 hotels, right?

WRONG!! Everywhere we went had their NO VACANCY sign lit. Tourist season had begun and everywhere was booked up. The ones that didn’t have a sign up, didn’t have a desk clerk either. Knocking on doors and going from hotel to hotel without luck, I was getting fed up. I just wanted a place to sleep. Eventually we came across a hotel that didn’t have their NO VACANCY sign on! We leaned our bikes outside and went in. We were in luck! She had one room left….. for $180!!!!! WHAT?!?!?!!? No way man! I was not going to pay $180 for a hotel room that I only planned to spend 5 hours in. We went back out into the street and kept looking. Surely there had to be another room.

We rode on down the street and around a few blocks looking for another hotel. Each one sported their sign showing no rooms. It was cold and late. It was now pushing 3AM. We needed to make a choice. Back to the one room it was.

When we walked back in, I figured the desk clerk would be smiling, knowing full well that she had us where she wanted us. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth. She was a sweetheart. Not only did she offer us muffins, but she knocked $20 off the rate because we were so late at night. She then told us about the continental breakfast and gave us our keys. Another story of hospitality. Yeah, I know, we paid big money for a room, but she didn’t have to offer us a break.

We were fortunate that the room had two beds. It wouldn’t have mattered as we were both exhausted, but the personal space was nice. Scott got a shower, then I got mine. I put on my rain pants, washed-out my kit and hit the sack. By now, we were getting pretty efficient at bedding down, even in a hotel situation so it went quick. The day was done. We had made it 191 miles and in the process had knocked another of the 12 Adventure Cycling maps down. Wanting to make the most of my $80 half of the room, I was out like a light.

TABR15- Day 7- Lolo, MT to Big Hole Pass

Have you ever been woken up badly? I don’t mean someone shaking you awake or a loud noise. I mean something a bit more shocking that just rocks your world and strips away everything that keeps others from seeing the rawest version of yourself. That happened to me in a park in Lolo, MT.

When I left you last, Scott and I had gotten to Lolo late at night, stopped at a gas station and asked the attendant if we could bivy up behind the store. His suggestion was a RV park across the road. He said, “They have a park next to the RV area where people tent camp sometimes. You just have to be careful that they don’t have the sprinklers on. hehehehe”

Hmmmmm

When we went to the RV park, we found a wide open field just over a chain link fence. With no place to hang my hammock, I laid my foam sleeping pad down on the lush, thick grass, and pulled my sleeping bag/quilt over the top of me. Scott was in his bivy snug as a bug and our bikes were locked together so they wouldn’t walk off while we slept. As it was heading toward 1AM and we were right at 1000 miles into the race in only 6 days, sleep was found quickly for both of us.

Now most of you are smart enough to read the bold text above and see the omen. In my sleep deprived state, I was not. Oh, I heard what the guy said, but it went in one ear and out the other. One other thing to add, we noticed there were three or four concrete blocks laying at the base of the tree. Strange. Even if I had been at full capacity, I don’t think I would have picked up on that one.

So fast forward through the next couple hours.

All at once at 2:48AM, I woke up from a dead sleep to the sound of PSSHHHHHH…tic, tic, tic, tic and felt the water hitting my face. With a guttural sound that was a cross between a zombie moan and a crazed ax murderer, I jumped up, grabbed my sleeping pad, sleeping quilt and my helmet (which had my phone in it and was laying by my head) and took off at a sprint to get away from the invading deluge. How I managed to get away from the unseen whip of water and not fall or run into another sprinkler’s path, I do not know. It was a blind run, but effective.

When I stopped 50′ away and turned to watch, I could see under the glow of lights at the RV park and the moon that there was a row of sprinklers making sure that the grass stayed lush and green. This row was parallel to the fence that divided the RV park from the field and about 50-75′ away from the fence. The culprit head that had awoken me was less than 10′ away from the tree that had Scott laying under it and he wasn’t moving. My first thought was that he was just hunkered down and didn’t want to come out of his bivy. Then I thought about it a second and realized that his sleeping accommodations are waterproof, so he was probably just dreaming of pie or something. Frustrated at having been woke up so abruptly and mentally numb from sleep deprivation, I laid down again right where I stood, thinking that there was a 50-50 shot that the sprinklers that watered the area I was in now had already done there nightly duty.

As I laid there, I noticed my heart rate was through the roof. What a way to wake up! It took what seemed like 5-10 minutes for me to calm back down enough to drift off. I just needed to sleep.

All at once about 15 minutes later, I woke up from a dead sleep to the sound of PSSHHHHHH…tic, tic, tic, tic and felt the water hitting my face AGAIN!!! With that same zombie/ax murderer sound, I jumped up, grabbed my sleeping pad, sleeping quilt and my helmet and took off at a sprint toward the fence. Once again 50′ or so away, I stopped and surveyed the landscape and thought, “What pretty grass!”

NO!!!! That is NOT what I thought!!! I was furious. And jealous. Scott was still snug in his bivy, dreaming of pie. I however, was up running around like a madman in the middle of the night dodging the evil sprinklers! I thought, “well, I will fix this”. If your getting wet, MOVE!!! I walked through the gate in the chain link fence and on into the RV park. A lot of the park was covered in gravel, but I kept going and found a spot between three RVs that had a nice little spot of grass. Wet, frustrated and tired, I laid down again on my wet pad, pulled my wet sleeping bag/quilt over me and tried to calm down. After another 5 minutes or so, I drifted off. Finally I would get some rest.

All at once about 15 minutes later, I woke up from a dead sleep to the sound of PSSHHHHHH…tic, tic, tic, tic and felt the water hitting my face YET AGAIN!!! This time, when I stood up and looked for my escape, I realized that there were three sprinklers in a triangular fashion around me and no where to run but through them. You might think that I would just give in and play in them like a kid. Nope. I was pissed. If I couldn’t sleep, nobody would! I dropped my pad, bag and helmet in the gravel drive where the sprinklers weren’t watering and walked back over to the gate toward where Scott was. I saw the tent camper (that was missing his rain fly) walking across the grass to the tree. He grabbed a concrete block and went to place it on top of a sprinkler head. Genius!!

When I got over to Scott, I shook him awake. I noticed that another round of sprinklers was going to re-soak the area where he laid. I wanted my bike so I could leave, but it was locked to his and I didn’t know the combination. I couldn’t see it anyway because my light was on my helmet which was now 200′ away over in the RV park. My thoughts were that he needed to get moving to keep from getting sprayed by the sprinklers, but what came out of my mouth was, “Get up! You got two minutes!”

LOL!!!! Looking back now, I realize how hilarious this was and just how gracious Scott was that morning. He jumped up, turned his light on and unlocked the bikes. We grabbed our stuff and headed over toward where the rest of my things were in the RV park driveway. As we walked by the tent camper, I saw him sitting up in his tent indignantly. Between us waking him up two hours before with bright lights in his face, then the sprinklers soaking him in his sleep and me running around like a maniac telling people, “YOU GOT TWO MINUTES TO MOVE!!!!!”, he wasn’t a happy camper. He never said a word, but my guess is, if he had, they would’ve all been four letters in length.

As we packed up our wet gear onto our wet bikes, I fumed. Scott laughed. That made it worse! I got everything jammed into places on the bike and mounted up. Back across the road to the same gas station I went. I wanted coffee and to choke that idiot at the station. When I got there, he just looked at me and smiled. Poor ignorant fool. I gave him a mental stay of execution and stumbled to the coffee pot. With coffee in hand, I grabbed a pastry, paid for them and sat down at the same booth that I had been at a couple hours before. The only thing that had been accomplished in the time that lapsed was everything I owned being soaked and I got to run around the park playing in sprinklers.

As I gnashed my teeth and pouted, Scott came in and sat down across from me. Evertime he would catch my eye, he would bust a gut! After a few minutes, I just couldn’t keep up my hostility. We laughed together and I explained the events that had happened. The more I told him, the funnier it got and we both got the giggles. Picturing that poor tent camper sitting up in his tent like a wet hen all fluffed up just kept the waves of giggles flowing. As we ate breakfast and wiped laugh-induced tears, I looked out the window and saw a racer go by. Before we went to the RV park, we had been talking about how Tommy Chen seemed to be making a late night move toward Lolo Pass, but he was quite a ways back toward Kooskia. Had he rode all night and caught up? We quickly gathered our things and headed down the road. It was now right at sunrise and the race was still on. Time to make hay.

Being geared, I could put down more speed on the flats than Scott and his single speed. I wanted to catch up to Tommy. I wasn’t going to let him beat me! I got down in the aerobars and started pumping along at a good clip, leaving Scott behind. As I rode, I looked up track leaders on my phone. Things weren’t loading well and I couldn’t tell what the gap was between us or how far back Scott was. I just rode.

Several miles down the road, frustrated because I just couldn’t seem to close the gap on Tommy, I slowed down. Why chase somebody like this? Sillyness. I chilled out and enjoyed the morning ride. As I rode along, I called into MTBCast and told the story of the sprinklers. It had been an epic morning already!

Upon reaching Florence, I caught up to the rider, but it wasn’t Tommy Chen. Rather, it was Chris Hockett! Scott and I had mistaken Chris’ dot on Trackleaders for Tommy. Chris had made the push over Lolo Pass in the night and stayed at a hotel in Lolo. A much better option, I explained to him!!! He was headed to look for breakfast at a diner in the next town. I explained that Scott and I had already eaten and we would see him farther down the road. He rode on and I stopped at the next gas station I saw to use the facilities and supply up. While I took care of things, Scott rolled up and we headed back out together.

Another 30 miles or so, we made it to Hamilton. Scott had been having an issue  for several days with a pedal and needed something to tighten it with. I had a pair of tiny pliers in my fix-it kit, but he refused to use them. This is self supported racing after all! He headed to a hardware store for a wrench and I went to Walgreen’s to find some replacement lithium batteries for my headlamp and SPOT tracker. After our own stops, we met back up and left town at the same time again. On down the road!

Near 11AM, we found the city of Darby and stopped at a grocery store. It was getting warm and we were hungry. We went inside to grab supplies and upon returning outside, found Chris had caught up. Right on his heels was Gav! He had pushed late into the night and stayed in Hamilton. We had gotten past him as he slept in that morning. The four of us chatted and laughed. Everyone thought the sprinkler story was a hit. HAHA!!!

Scott and I rolled out first and went to the local post office. Each of us sent a few things home- maps we were finished with and little items that we didn’t need. Nothing of real importance or weight, but no need to carry things without a reason.

Off again, the road turned slightly up. Just an easy grade that was leading us toward Chief Joseph pass. Along the way, we came across the iconic stop that is the market at Sula. Another oasis in the middle of nowhere, the market has supplies and a diner, which is always a great idea in my book. I got there first and went in to order. The cheeseburger was great and I enjoyed the air conditioning as well. As I sat there, Scott rolled in and ordered. Shortly, Gav came in as well and said that Chris had ridden by, headed up the pass. The three of us finished our meals and rode out together.

As we climbed, we chatted, but soon Gav fell behind. The climbs were a bit harder on the flat-lander. Being from Southern Florida, Gav had made the comment that the largest hill he saw in training was 150′ of elevation gain… and that was the bridge over the bay! Scott and I climbed on and found Chris at the rest area at the top. Chris rode on with us as we started the descent into the Big Hole Valley and headed toward Wisdom.

As we rode, we talked about home and our families. We weren’t riding hard and it was a great time to get to know each other and share. Times like these are great memories. Soon, Gav caught up. He wasn’t much of a climber, but man could he descend! He flew past and I felt like a dog behind a rabbit. I found a few more gears and started to chase. Down into the valley we went and I was gaining! Not quick enough though. As we reached the limit of Wisdom and the route turned to the right, Gav made the turn and I went on into town. It was getting late in the day and I figured the one store in town would close soon. I wanted to make sure I had supplies for the next stretch toward Dillon as I knew it was remote.

Scott rolled into Wisdom and said that Chris had fallen behind. We grabbed supplies at the grocery store and went down the block to a bar and grill for pizza. I over-ordered and found myself struggling to eat what I paid for. Before I had to worry about it much, Chris came in. He was frustrated, having had what seemed to be a fluke mechanical. I can’t remember exactly, but I think it was a bent chain or chain ring. His chain wouldn’t stay on for him to ride. I gave him my leftover pizza and we wished him well. Scott and I headed out in the setting sun to ride down the Big Hole Valley.

The Big Hole is known as the “land of 10,000 haystacks” for the great quantities of hay they produce. This lets them feed the cattle that graze there through the harsh winters. In order to make this hay, the ranchers use flood irrigation with the snowmelt from the mountains in the spring. It just so happens that we were there in June and the flooded fields were a prime breeding ground for unbelievable amounts of mosquitos. As we left Wisdom, we noticed that the air was cooling off, so we stopped along the road to put more clothes on. Before we could get stopped, the mosquitos swooped in and started to carry us off! It was amazing!

I never came to a complete stop and chose to ride on. The mosquitos were resilient though and continued on in the slipstream of air behind me, biting me on the backside as I rode, even at 15 MPH. As I rode, I was tiring and wanted to slow, but every time I did, there was more mosquitos. Poor Scott was back there somewhere and I just knew that he was getting literally eaten alive. I couldn’t do anything for him though, so I  just rode on. When I go to Jackson, I made a beeline for the hot springs hotel and bar. I just wanted to get inside before I was drained of all my blood. On the porch, I realized that there weren’t any mosquitos in town. Weird.

Scott came in behind me and we got the low-down from the barkeep. He told us about the flood irrigation and mosquito breeding. He said that the irrigation was far enough away that the mosquitos didn’t get too bad in town, but right outside town, they were bad. Scott and I decided to push on and get past these little devils. We hoped that Chris got things figured out behind us! Imagine being stuck on the side of the road with mechanicals! They would find his bloodless corpse sometime later!

We rode on into the night and eventually got to the base of Big Hole Pass. I remembered this pass and the little road side park that was near the top. It was only near 10PM, but with the ongoing fatigue and lack of sleep from the night before, I was struggling. The plan had been to push on into the night and try to make the 60 or more miles to Dillon, but I talked Scott into stopping at the little park.

Looking back, stopping late at night for a nap on a pass in springtime in Montana might not have been the best idea. Temps were dropping and were expected to reach near freezing overnight. My sleeping quilt works fine to 45 in a hammock where the sides come up and the quilt doesn’t have to cover as much. Laying flat on the ground on a pad, the quilt wouldn’t reach on both sides. Putting on all of my clothes and laying as flat and still as possible was all I could do. As I lay there, I was freezing. Scott was cold too and broke out his his last line of defense, a mylar blanket, to add to his sleep system inside his sleeping bag. I remember going into another giggling fit as he spent what seemed like a half hour unfolding the crinkly, chip-bag material inside his bivy. I said something like, “are you about to get that?” Another great memory.

At one point, I considered asking him if we could snuggle up. I was just so cold. But my man card wouldn’t let me make the suggestion. Eventually, I drifted off, dreaming really strange things, which I think had to do with being so cold that my hands and feet hurt. The big Montana sky above and the rocks below mad me feel small, but I felt so big in my head, knowing I had ridden an average of 163 miles a day for 7 days straight. This was Trans Am Bike Race and I was doing it. Living it. I was racing and it’s all I wanted to do.

TABR15- Day 6- Grangeville, ID to Lolo, MT

My first shower and first real bed of the race had an amazing affect on my mind, body and spirit. When my alarm went off at 6AM, the short five hours of sleep weren’t enough, but I felt a bit more refreshed than I had the previous five mornings. I did have a bit of contention in my mind. Gavaskar and Scott had ridden on when I did not. I was concerned that I would “fall behind”. Of course, looking back, this was silly. Ride your own race, right? That is easier said than done. My brain was telling me a better get going!

A quick check of Trackleaders showed that Scott and Gav had bedded down just before Kooskia at about 2:30AM and were still down. Being just 25 miles ahead, I thought that if I  could hustle up, I just might be able to catch them before they headed out for the day. I got dressed, gathered my things and hit the road.

It was a gorgeous morning and the ride to Kooskia was a great one. The only caveat was the descent down Lamb’s Grade going down into the valley that holds the South Fork of the Clearwater River. It was SUPER steep and quite frankly, scared the crap out of me. There was lots of puckering and braking, but eventually I got to the bottom and got to enjoy the views along the river as I rolled into Kooskia.

When I got to town, Scott and Gav had gotten up and their trackers showed them at a dinner. I got there just as they were finishing up with breakfast. We quickly told each other’s stories and caught up on the news of the night. Short versions of the story were that they had camped along the road together. Scott said he was headed out of town to soft pedal up the long grade toward Lolo Pass. Gav was headed across the street to resupply and I ordered some pancakes. In normal fashion, I made quick work of the flapjacks and got to the grocery store across the street before Gav left town. The two of us took off in search of our little buddy Scott on the highway ahead.

Our search was fairly short. We caught up to Scott within the first 10 miles. The three of us rode next to each other chatting a bit and made quick work of the 20 miles or so to a small cafe and c-store that was to be our only chance for supplies along the gorgeous 90 mile stretch of road that takes you from Kooskia to Lochsa Lodge near the western base of Lolo Pass. Next door was a very small motel that Andi had stayed in the night before, but he was long gone now. Supplies were had by all and while I was in my “office” answering a call from nature, Gav hit the road. Scott and I then took off in search of our Ranger friend.

The stretch of remote highway that parallels the Lochsa River between Kooskia and Lochsa Lodge is one of my absolute favorites of the entire Trans Am route. As you climb the gentle grade, you get view after view of the river in all its glory, just a few yards to your right the entire way. The roiling mountain waters beg you to stop and take it all in, but that was not the order of the day. With a race to run, Scott and I trudged along past the pines and picturesque waters, eventually getting a bit too hot and running out of drinking water as the temps had risen and the day was getting long. The road that leads to Lochsa Lodge was a sight for sore eyes when we came upon it!

Lochsa Lodge is a bit of an oasis as there are few services in the piney woods of northern Idaho. When Scott and I got there, we dropped our bikes outside and headed into the lodge’s restaurant to fill up on food and drink. Gav was there and had just finished filling his tank. As Scott and I sat down to eat, Gav took off and headed out to climb Lolo Pass.

Almost immediately, Bradford Smith and Justin Chadwick sauntered in. This pair had been chasing Scott and I for days and had finally caught up! The four of us sat together and caught up on everyone’s stories. The two of them had started the race doing shorter days and slowly worked their way into longer ones. They were starting to hit their stride and it was obvious. Both of them seemed in great shape and great spirits. As we ate together, they said that their plan was to stop at Lolo Hot Springs, just at the eastern base of Lolo Pass.

When the food was gone, Brad and Justin headed out in search of the hot springs. Scott and I took a few more minutes to resupply at the little c-store at the lodge. Our plan was to climb the pass and make some hay on Brad and Justin, but that would mean pushing on in the night and we would need supplies to do so.

Loaded up on junk food and drinks, we went out under the dim light of the setting sun to climb Lolo pass. I decided as we went along that in honor of Scott, I wouldn’t shift my gears. Scott was riding single speed, which meant when the going got tough (read:steep) he simply had to crunch on through or stop and walk. He almost never did the later and in a show of support, I wouldn’t either. I set my chain to the closest gearing I could to his and proceed to take his instruction on how to climb with a single speed. As the climb intensified, my heart rate did as well, but following his guide, I found my happy place in the burn of my quads and continued to pump up the climb. In what seemed like no time, I looked up the road to see the visitor’s center at the top of Lolo Pass and the Montana State Line! I had done it! I climbed Lolo Pass in my 32-16 gear and no-dabbed it, which just means I never stopped or put my foot down on the ground. It was a small accomplishment within the race that I won’t forget!

After a potty stop at the visitor’s center and a wardrobe change to keep from freezing on the descent off the pass, we took the obligatory photos at the Montana State Line sign, then pointed our wheels north and downhill toward Lolo Hot Springs. Despite putting on extra clothes, the sweat that I made going up the pass kept me more than cool under the light of the early evening moon as we lost elevation. I just shivered and tried to ruffle my shoulders up to keep the cool mountain air from getting in my jacket around my neck. It was no use. It was just cold! Montana in June, particularly in the mountains, is simply cold at night. Suck it up buttercup!

After what seemed like forever, but was actually only 20 minutes or so, we were off the steepest part of the mountain and saw the lights of the lodge at Lolo Hot Springs. After a short stop to fill a bottle, it was off into the night to continue toward the spot in the road known as Lolo.

The stretch of road into Lolo was only about 30 miles, but with cool temps and a slightly downhill grade, there wasn’t much heat to be made from working the pedals. I found myself chilled and to make matters worse, it was getting late and the ongoing struggle to fight off the sleep monster was a losing battle. I just kept praying for a place to stop. When the lights of the truck stops at Lolo broke the horizon, I was a happy man. I needed to get off the bike!

We leaned our bikes against the outside wall of the gas station at the corner in Lolo at 11:30PM. The fluorescent glare was blinding after hours of riding in the dark and the country music that blared from the speakers overhead was an assault on my ears. We stepped inside and saw a seating area- a perfect spot to drink some coffee, look at the map and discuss options.

As we sat and warmed up over the steam of a truck stop cup of joe, the dialogue went something like this:

Scott- “So, what do you want to do?”

Me- “I don’t know man. I just want to sleep.”

Scott- “Well, we can find somewhere to sleep here, or move on and try to make Hamilton. That’s just another 30 miles. We could make that in about 2 hours.”

Me- “Dude, I just want to sleep. I can barely keep my eyes open.”

Scott- “We could bivy up behind the gas station here and get an hour or two, then push on. What do you think?”

Me- “I just want to sleep”

After I finally wore Scott down, we asked the station attendant if he cared if we bivy up around back. He said he didn’t care, but “it would be at your own risk as the deer like to run through there all night.” What?!? Last I checked, deer see pretty well at night and I am sure they wouldn’t stomp us in the dark. Obviously he didn’t really like the idea of us being back there. He then suggested the RV park across the road. He said, “They have a park next to the RV area where people camp sometimes. You just have to be careful that they don’t have the sprinklers on. hehehehe”

-Insert ominous raising of one eyebrow by me-

Choosing to ignore or at least not really listen to his second sentence, we hopped on our steeds and rolled out of the fluorescent glow, back into the dark and across the street to the RV park. Just as he mentioned, directly adjacent to the RV area and on the other side of a chainlink fence, we found a park area. It was wide open with 3 huge trees spread out more than 100′ from each other. There was no chance I would be able to hang my hammock, but there was plenty of very healthy and soft grass. We looked at each other and said, “looks good”. We found a man gate through the fence and headed out onto the lush grass.

Just off to the side, not far from the fence was a tent. In the bath of our headlamps, we saw that the tent had a bike beside it and that the tent lacked a rain fly. As we walked our bikes by, Scott shown his lamp down in the tent, thinking that it was a racer and we might know him. Nope! We did manage to make sure he wouldn’t be a friend though. He didn’t seem to happy to be awoken after midnight with a light in his face as he lay in his sleeping bag. Hehehe.

We went over another 50′ or so and locked our bikes up together with Scott’s cable and combination lock at the base of a big tree. Scott got his bivy out and was snug as a bug really fast like. I, not having very good ground-dwelling capabilities with my hammock setup, proceed to layout my thin foam pad, lay down on top of it and drape my sleeping-bag-turned-quilt over the top of me. After we had hem-hawed around at the station, then made our way over to the park, time had slipped away and it was now pushing 12:30AM. As I laid there under the big Montana sky, I wasn’t very comfortable and I wasn’t very warm, but I was happy to have another state down and be at least 30 miles ahead of Brad and Justin. Gav and Andi had gotten away from us, but the race is long and there was time. At that point, I just needed some sleep.

TABR15- Day 5- Cambridge, ID to Grangeville, ID

My alarm went off at 5:30AM…WHAT?!?!? Didn’t I just go to sleep? Well, actually, that was about right. Four or so hours of shuteye seemed to be the norm and daylight was burning!

During the very short night and unbeknownst to me, Chris Hockett had rolled into the park and was bivvied up about 10 yards away. My alarm woke him and he immediately started packing up his things. I was surprised to see him up and moving so quickly. I didn’t know when he got in, but it was after me and I was dragging big time. Then I noticed Scott moving pretty good too. Yep, it was just me.

The two of them packed things away and headed out in search of a diner in town. From my previous touring, I knew there was a place just a few blocks away. After I stumbled around putting things away and I gingerly settled onto my saddle and mosied down the way to the diner. I found Chris and Scott there with a booth already and coffee in hand.

I ordered my breakfast- pancakes- and proceeded to be amazed. These weren’t your typical sized disks of flour, egg and milk. The waitress/cook (she was VERY busy and VERY adept at her craft, getting food out to the patrons as fast as they sat down) called these behemoths “saddle blankets”. The name fit the bill! They hung off all sides of the plate. I had two, plus eggs, sausage and hash browns.

During breakfast, Chris, Scott and I chatted. Chris had rolled into the park about 45 minutes after us. I told him I didn’t notice. He said I was snoring like a chainsaw. I was starting to see a pattern here. We talked about our families and lives “back home”. It was another great moment that I got to share with two great men.

The other guys had beaten me to breakfast, but I made up my time eating and was ready to go when they were finished. We ran across the street to a gas station, did the usual re-supply and hit the road. We were glad to get going as Trackleaders showed the Swiss Andi Buchs across the street from the diner in a hotel, presumably sleeping away. Andi seemed to have a penchant for hot tubs, ice cream and hotel beds, but then would cycle very fast through the day and end up in front of us. Everyday.

Down the road we went, hoping to put some distance between us and Andi. Twenty five miles ahead, we stopped at a gas station in Council for supplies and weren’t there 2 minutes before Andi rolled in. He had left Cambridge 30 minutes after us and made up that time in the short 25 miles. What a beast!

The four of us rode out, headed north and mostly uphill toward New Meadows. Along the way, the views were gorgeous! Pines, mountain streams and beautiful skies were the backdrop of our ride. It was wonderful…until I had a flat. It was my first flat of the trip in fact. We were just across the road from a little general store, so Scott went over to grab a Coke. Chris and Andi rode on ahead. I made quick work of my repair and grabbed a Coke at the general store as well.

Back on the road, Scott and I rode past a huge sawmill and then on to the little spot in the road that is New Meadows. I had been looking forward to this town as I remembered a Subway that was there on route. I was hungry. Scott wasn’t really. I stopped to eat and he did as well. In the end, it worked out well. We needed the energy and the break was nice.

After our lunch break, Scott and I headed out again, north bound toward Riggins, ID. The road to Riggins from New Meadows is a Jekyll & Hyde stretch of highway, winding downhill along side the rushing waters of the Little Salmon River. At first, the landscape is very green and lush with pretty meadows, wild flowers and stately pines. In this short 40 miles of highway, as the white water of the Little Salmon grows in depth and width, the landscape changes gradually as well. As you descend, what was once rolling green hills on either side of the river gradually turn to rugged, steep slopes and the brown sage and grasses of a parched climate. With the change in scenery, there is also a change in temperature.

As we rode, temps soared. We were also going down into a canyon in the afternoon again, so the downhill wasn’t much help. The afternoon surge of winds up the canyon meant another headwind and lots of pedaling just to keep moving, despite the declination of the road. We stopped at one point along the way to soak our feet and wash our faces in one of the ice-cold feeder creeks that we passed. The icy water was refreshing to body and spirit.

Upon reaching Riggins, the afternoon heat was cooking us and we were looking for a respite. A convenience/general store in town served that purpose well, giving us shade, cool and a resupply point. Lo and behold, Andi was there as well! He was busy working on his quest to eat his weight in ice cream as he crossed the USA. As I stepped up to the counter to pay for my supplies (read junk food), he found himself in a quandary.

When you are racing or touring by bike through the small towns that dot our map, most places take debit or credit cards, but it is a big advantage to carry some cash. Of course, cash turns to change in transactions and repeated transactions turn to weight. Andi had a zip lock bag of change and was trying to reduce his weight by paying for his second round of frozen treats with it. The issue was, being from Switzerland, the currency was challenging his brain. Much the same way little kids struggle when they learn to count money, he was confused that the dime, being smaller, was worth more than the nickel or penny! I couldn’t resist the chance to ride him like a rented mule. I did, in fact, help him get it right, but in the process said, “this is like trying to teach my kids how to count change!”

You may think I was being harsh on the foreigner, but he had this coming, plus some. I mentioned before that I was not exactly the svelte little cyclist that most were. In fact, I started the race at a stately 235lbs. More than once Andi had made good-natured remarks about the way the lycra stretched around my middle. One time at a resupply stop, when I had 24oz water bottle, a 20oz Mt Dew, a 20oz Gatorade and multiple packages of snacks jammed into the 3 pockets on the back of my jersey, stretching them to capacity, Andi made sure to point out that, in his words, “you as big in the front as you are in back!” Ha, ha, ha. Everybody is a comedian.

Andi, Scott and I hung out at the front of the store in the shade, charging our phones and waiting out the heat. A check of Trackleaders showed we weren’t the only ones doing so. Chris Hocket and Gavaskar were both in town in different spots, waiting out the heat. After a bit, the three of us decided to make some hay on the others and get moving despite the heat. Down the road we went again.

The ride to the little burg of White Bird was a nice one, continuing downhill and along the river. With all the feeder streams, the river had now become a huge, rolling throng, beautiful and mighty.

At White Bird, we realized that we were too late for the little store in town, so it was across the street to the bar & grill. We really didn’t want to eat, but we sat at the bar and ordered Cokes and had the barkeep fill our water bottles. Shortly, Andi took off to climb the pass ahead and within minutes Gavaskar came in. He had gotten some sleep during the heat of the day in Riggins and was ready to tackle the night after he got something to eat there at the bar. Scott and I took off and headed out with the setting sun to do battle with White Bird Hill.

White Bird Hill isn’t a proper name in my opinion. This climb is a proper pass. One of the best things about it is the switchbacks that continually give you amazing views of the valley below. It is truly striking. Unfortunately we started climbing about 30 minutes too late in the day to get the best views of the sunset. It was still amazing though.

As we climbed into the darkness, we chatted and time ticked away. It was about 11 miles and 2 hours or so to climb the pass. At the top, we stopped to suit up in our cold gear, as the sweat we produced climbing would certainly freeze us out on the descent. It was about 10 miles of downhill to Grangeville. Along the way, we had a truckload of punk kids go by and harass us with a laser pointer, shining it in our eyes. After 5 days of riding, my patience was almost non-existent and I was furious. If they had stopped, I could not have claimed responsibility for my actions. When they came back by again, I thought better of my anger and in reflection, got concerned. You truly never know who or what you are dealing with and I certainly didn’t need to provoke the unknown.

We carried on without further incident and got to town about 11PM. We found a convenience store, the only open place of business with food at that time of night in Grangeville and parked it for a break. A Bomb burrito the size of my head coupled with chocolate milk and chocolate Hostess Donettes fixed me up. Scott went for healthier fare, or at least somewhat healthier in terms of gas station food. As we ate, we checked Trackleaders for Gavaskar. We knew he was behind us and by himself, which concerned us with the truck full of hooligans that we had encountered. They hadn’t done anything other than blind us with the laser pointer, but there had also been two of us. Strength in numbers is a real thing and we hoped that he would be ok by himself.

Shortly Gavaskar rolled in, smiling as usual. We asked if he had seen the truck. Negative. Then we got to joking about the fact that he is an Army Ranger and a rather large black man. Facts are that he looks scary enough that I can’t say I would want to meet him in a dark alley if I didn’t know him and that doesn’t even take into account that the man probably knows 500 ways to kill you with a toothpick, but would only need one! Needless to say, he was plenty confident that he wouldn’t have any issues. The more I thought about it, I probably should hang out with him more! There is protection in numbers after all!!!

The three of us discussed what we planned to do. Scott and Gavaskar wanted to push on. At this point, it was nearing midnight and I hadn’t had a shower in 5 days of cycling. I told the other two, “you see that big yellow sign across the road? I’m staying at the Super 8 tonight!” We said our goodbyes and I went across the road to find a bed, shower and clean clothes.

When I walked in the lobby of the Super 8, I was SOOO looking forward to a shower! Imagine my disappointment when the desk clerk said they were full! And I had just let my security blanket of friends leave! It looked like I would be looking for a camp spot until the clerk said she would call another small motel across town. When she hung up the phone, she said I was in luck! They had a room! She gave me directions and I set off in the night to find my oasis.

When I got to the Downtowner Inn, I found a 50’s style motor inn. The Hispanic clerk was an absolute angel and gave me free access to the hotel laundry facilities. I went to my room, stripped down to nothing, put on my raingear and took my clothes to wash them. While they washed, I showered and got a good look at the mess that was my near-saddle sores. I could tell that the remainder of this trip would be managing this area to keep it from becoming a real problem. Uncomfortable is one thing, but the skin wasn’t open yet so I wasn’t in terrible shape.

When my clothes were finished, I grabbed them and headed to bed. It was the first time in over a week that I had been in a real bed and the first time in 5 days and 833 miles that I was able to go to bed clean and out of my bike shorts. Heavenly! I fell asleep quickly somewhere around 1AM, with my alarm set for 6AM.

TABR15- Day 4- Sumpter Pass in OR to Cambridge, ID

Lying in my hammock at 5AM near the top of Sumpter Pass with the dawn sun gleaming through the pines, some 30 miles to the west of Baker City, OR, I awoke to the sound of my alarm, opened my eyes and noticed several things that were contrary to what I thought they should be at that particular point in time:

  • Despite the quite high temperatures we had experienced in the previous 3 days, I was chilly! In the dry of the high desert, temps had dropped quite a bit overnight. I’m not sure what the temp was, but my guess was in the 40’s. Much cooler than the upper 90’s we had the day before.
  • Despite the fear I had of bears, the bear-y feeling I had when I went to sleep just 5 hours before and the crap ton of convenience store food in my pockets, I had, in fact, NOT become a bear burrito buffet over night and there was no sign that any sort of mammals had been anywhere near me as I slept. One caveat- I DO NOT suggest sleeping with your pockets full of food in bear country. It worked out this time, but isn’t a smart move.
  • Despite the cold and lack of other mammals around besides myself and Scott, there were actually a lot of other animals, in particular the flying kind. Birds you say? Nope. I could’ve went for some of those. The mosquitos were thick! Thank God I had a bug net around my hammock or I might have ended up a bloodless corpse on top of that beautiful mountain!

As I lay there, I started contemplating how I was going to get out of my hammock, go through my gear to put on my cold weather gear and then get going without loosing too much blood. The mosquitos knew I was there, they just couldn’t seem to find a way to get to me through the bug net. They clung to the outside of the bug net like starving little vampires in wait, knowing that I couldn’t stay in there forever. That meant I could see them and the anticipation was killing all of us. I did a mental check of all I needed to do and where things were or needed to go, then dove out and went straight to work. Scott did the same. Quickly we had our cold gear on, which made the possible biting spots fewer. We then slammed our kits into their respective bags and hit the road.

Unlike the day before, this time we didn’t have any climb at all to get over the pass. If memory serves, I think we were actually right near the top. Without the aid of cycling to heat us up, the early morning descent was a chilly one, but oh so beautiful. The sun was highlighting the browns and blacks of the pine trees and the bright green grass was such a contrast that it was stunning.

Not far along the way, we were cruising along downhill at a good clip. Out of now where, less than 50 yards into the woods to our right, a herd of elk got spooked and started running parallel to the road. 30 or more of the huge beasts handily bounded between the trees, running from what they thought was a threat and giving us a show as they went. Suddenly, we were fortunate enough to see and hear a young calf. When the adults began to run, he had been caught off guard and seemed to have a hard time keeping up with the melee. Bleating loudly for his mother, he chased the herd. As they all ran along, the road curved back to our right and toward the herd, giving us an even longer look at these magnificent animals as they ran. After what seemed like a quarter mile, the herd veered to their right and away from the road. Scott and I marveled at what we had seen. Neither of us had been able to get a photo as we were in the middle of a descent, but the mental pictures were priceless. Yet another early morning treat on the Trans Am!

On down into the valley and alongside Phillips Lake, I realized that nature was knocking and I would not be able to make it to Baker City for our planned breakfast stop. At a turn off for a boat ramp, I spied some facilities and decided to take the opportunity. Although a primitive vault toilet, it was a bit better than digging a hole. While stopped for my business, I got a text from my wife. She had gotten up and according to Trackleaders, I had been sitting still for 8 hours or more. She was concerned that something had happened. I reassured her that I was fine and that my Spot tracker batteries must have died. I proceeded to then change the dead batteries. I hadn’t noticed that the little light on it had stopped blinking.

Back on the road, I decided to “stretch my legs”. I was feeling really good and somewhat rested after a solid 5 hours of sleep. I set out to make up the distance between Scott and I before Baker City. I hit it pretty hard over the next 15 miles or so and caught up to Scott just as I reached the edge of town. It felt good to turn it loose a bit.

In Baker City, we found a great place to have breakfast and ate like kings. Well, kings that hadn’t had a meal in a few days anyway. 🙂 Wait staff always assume you are nuts when you order food, but very rare are the occasions that I haven’t put all of it away.

Before we left town, Scott needed to stop by a bike shop and have some adjustments made to his steed. I took the chance to use a floor pump to check tire pressure and charge my phone. We left there and stopped at a gas station on the way out of town to resupply. Then it was down the road, into the desert proper to the east, headed toward Richland, Halfway and Hells Canyon.

The road from Baker City to Richland is about 45 miles of mostly down hill highway through a striking change of landscape compared to what is just to the west of Baker City. After the miles and miles of pine trees the day before, we were now in scrub land. Not a tree as far as the eye could see and soaring temps. Glad it was downhill! As the road seemed to drop and drop, eventually it began to follow along side a little river bed into what I would define as a canyon, but others may call a big wash. Snaking back and forth along the bank, the descent gave me a chance to watch the landscape and notice that there were some really nasty clouds forming behind us. The warm air in the lower areas ahead was rising rapidly to meet the thunder head behind us and creating a mighty head wind for us. With that, the thunder head was building and looked to be gunning us down, in search of a place to soak us and sling lightening bolts.

Scott and I beat feet hard as we could go! Richland wasn’t far ahead and there was a cheeseburger at some diner calling my name. The chance to get some shelter and eat would be one I would gladly take advantage of. The descent into Richland was a little dicey at one point as we turned sideways to the wind that was now howling. We seemed to roll into town just in time and took the first stop we could find, a little diner on the left.

Once inside, we ordered food, charged phones and talked strategy. We didn’t want to be out in a massive thunder storm and the radar looked rather ominous. As we talked and ate, we saw Andi Buchs roll into town! He came inside and started his tale. We just KNEW that he had been soaked on his way and had a massive headwind. In fact, we were wrong! He had left Baker City right ahead of the storm and the winds had actually pushed him all the way to Richland. He said he had made the 45 miles in 2 hours! I must say, I was a bit jealous!

We soon realized that the big storm just wasn’t going to amount to anything. The lightening and thunder we had heard behind us was all bark and no bite. The storm fizzled and we made the decision to head on toward Halfway. The way there was blocked by a pass, but as grandma would’ve said, that’s only a hill for a stepper. 🙂 Off the three of us went went up the climb and in no time it was behind us.

Down the other side, Scott and I went off route the mile to the town of Halfway to grab more water. Andi rode on to try to track down Gavaskar, who was out ahead.

Back on route, we started down along another wash, this time headed into Hells Canyon and the Snake River. Unfortunately it was afternoon. Something that Thomas Camero had told me came to mind at that moment. If at all possible, go down into a canyon at night or early in the morning as the cooler air falls into the canyon and pushes you in. In the afternoon, the warmer air that has been cooked in the bottom of the canyon all day comes rushing up the washes to get out. We were doing it all wrong, but it just had to be that way. We weren’t going to wait to go down there until after dark, so we just fought the wind. It was rather frustrating to be going down hill and having to pedal nearly hard as you could just to maintain 8mph, but we made it.

At the bottom, just before you get to the river, there is a mercantile. I stopped to eat and fill bottles. I knew from the time that it was that there wouldn’t be another open stop until morning. While I sat, Scott, who had fell behind me, came rolling in. He supplied up as well and we took off together into Hells Canyon.

The ride along the river/reservoir was a pretty one in the light of the sunset and then twilight. Very serene. We got to Brownlee Dam and the Idaho/Oregon border right after dark at around 9PM. We stopped for the obligatory border photos under the light of camera flashes and headed on along the east side of Brownlee Reservoir. About 9:45PM, as the road turned away from the water and up a wash, we began climbing our way out of Hells Canyon.

*Flashback*

When I toured the Trans Am in 2011, I made the climb out of Hells Canyon in the morning. Although I didn’t make much of that climb, you can read about that account here. To fill out the details, I had camped at Brownlee Reservoir State Park the night before. As I climbed up the narrow, two lane, winding road with no shoulder, I distinctly remember being weirded out by the situation. On the left side of the road, there was a bluff wall that went up. On the right side, immediately next to the road was super thick blackberry bushes. The berry bushes blocked from view a noisy mountain stream that tumbled along toward the canyon bottom. All the way up the road, I saw bear scat littered about on the pavement at regular intervals. I never saw a bear, but their, “signs” made me very glad that I wasn’t going up that road in the dark.

Back to 2015, Scott and I were climbing that very same road…at night. Let’s just say I was a little more than skittish! I kept talking, whistling, singing- anything to make noise. The last thing I wanted was to surprise a bruin along his way at night. The climb went on and on. At one point, I was out in front of Scott and I thought he was behind and on my right. I just about had a stroke when I suddenly saw something move and heard something on my left! Just Scott, coming up and around. Jeesh!

We finished the climb and realized that it was really getting chilly. As we crested, we pulled over and added our cold weather gear to our ensembles. Down the road we went in the dark and I was freezing! After having gotten sweaty on the climb, every piece of clothing I had wouldn’t keep me warm in the dropping temps. Adding to that, I was really getting sleepy. I caught myself several times on the descent into Cambridge, having fell asleep while riding. Each time it would scare me awake, but only momentarily.

One strange note: I remember seeing all kinds of cats eyes in the ditches along the way on the road to Cambridge. I thought it strange as I figured they would be easy prey for any wild animal. Who knows, maybe I hallucinated them.

Rolling into Cambridge was a huge relief. It was right at 1AM and I needed some rest. We found a city park where they allowed cyclists to camp and set up shop under a pavilion. Scott rolled out his bivy and I strung my hammock up between two of the posts that held the shelter up. In what had to have been seconds after getting in my hammock, I was out. It had been yet another “short” day (right about 145 miles), but it was no matter. I was down for the count.

TABR15- Day 3- Ochoco Pass to Sumpter Pass

A mere three and a half hours after laying down in my hammock alongside the road on the west side of Ochoco Pass, I awoke in the dark at roughly 4:30AM to a strange sound. It was a hollow, almost thrumming noise. As I got my wits about me, I saw the lights and low profile of John Williams’ fiberglass-covered recumbent bike (called a velomobile) go by on the road. Immediately I felt like the race was getting away from me in that moment. Too much sleep! Need to move! Then I realized I was exhausted and thought better about getting up and moving. My alarm was set for a half hour later and I wanted to sleep. So I did.

Just a bit later, it was up and at em’ and down the road toward the pass and on to Mitchell, OR. We warmed up quickly as we finished climbing the pass and I was surprised that we caught up to John. Although his rig was extremely aerodynamic, it was very heavy in comparison to our road bikes and the climbs really slowed him down. After summiting the pass, the ride was fantastic, flying down the east side of the pass into the very small town. One of the best things about it was the “town draw” I was feeling- I knew I was going to get a good meal!

On the way down, John flew by at an amazing rate of speed. So fast! Over 60 mph. Scott and I continued on and rolled into the one horse town, looking for the small diner we knew was there. Outside the diner was John and his velmobile. We went inside together and ordered breakfast.

I remember that meal being one of the first times I felt insecure. At this point, the three of us had ridden 425 miles in a little over 2 days and none of us, or our clothes, had seen any soap or water. I didn’t notice the smell of myself, but I did notice the other guys and I am sure the waitstaff at the diner were hoping we would make quick work of our meal and hit the road!

Mid-meal Bryan Heselbach came in and ordered breakfast. The four of us ate, chatted and talked about the heat. Central Oregon is always pretty warm in June, but this year it was especially so. The day was early, but we knew the heat was coming. Better to make hay while we could and not sit too long. Soon enough the sun would be high in the sky and we would be looking to find cover somewhere or risk our blood boiling our brains.

After eating, one by one, each of us hit the can and did our own version of “doctoring” our business. That’s a very nice way of saying the heat, sweat and friction of sitting on a bike saddle for long days does a bit of a number on the specific area where body meets said saddle. Of course this was a topic of conversation, albeit possibly not the best fodder for breakfast table talk. The others seemed to be doing ok. My business was in a state of near failure, quite frankly. I didn’t have any open sores, but was struggling to keep things as clean and doctored as possible so as to prevent further irritation. It seemed to be a losing battle, but a battle I would continue to wage, none the less.

While I was playing Dr. McEntire, Bryan gathered his things and hit the road. I wouldn’t see him again the remainder of the race.

As we started to leave the diner, Bob Hedrick rolled into town. We had a quick chat and off Scott and I went, John in tow as well.

The climb out of Mitchell was a hot one. Mitchell is down in a hole and smack in the middle of the high desert of Central Oregon. The heat starts early in the day and is relentless. We made the climb and started a very long descent into the John Day Fossil Beds. Miles and miles of easy riding were a great reward for the climb and it was so nice to not have to push it.

Me being a larger-than-most cyclist, I really didn’t have to work to maintain speed on the down hills. Soon enough, I was shocked to see Bob Hedrick come into view of my helmet mirror. Being a little guy, he was working hard on the down and I thought it strange. Why make such an effort to go so hard downhill in such a long race? Soon enough, he went past and I watched him continue to make ground away from me. I wasn’t worried. I would catch him later. 🙂

Once down into the flats, it was smoldering hot! The refuge of the Dayville Mercantile called my name. The miles seemed to drag and I was really very hot. Finally I made it to Dayville and saw the humongous hanging pots of flowers that surround the old-west style front porch. I leaned my bike up against a hitching post and went inside for cool drinks and convenience food.

Bob was there and Scott wasn’t far behind me. Very shortly, John rolled in and right behind him was Andi Buchs. Bob grabbed a few things and left, leaving the four of us stinking cyclists to chill on the couch in front of the swamp cooler. We took full advantage of the time, charging phones, using the store wifi, eating, drinking and laughing. We were all feeling the wear and tear of the road and heat, but the camaraderie we shared made up for all of it. Moments such as these are what I remember most fondly about the race.

The road from Dayville to John Day proved to be a brutal stretch. It was so hot and no shade was to be found. Drinks turned to hotter-than-bath-water in our bottles and sweat did little to cool you down. The heat was oppressive. Taking a break along side the road only proved to make you hotter because you didn’t have the movement of air. All we could do was keep trudging along.

Rolling into John Day, it was late afternoon and the heat combined with lack of sleep and 3 days of cycling meant that I was falling asleep on the bike. I looked for a place to nap, but didn’t get picky at all. Beside the 4 lane road, literally less than 10′ from the drive lanes, I found a small patch of beautifully manicured grass that was calling my name. I laid down next to my bike, in the sun, set my alarm for 20 minutes, closed my eyes and tried to nap. Scott was near doing the same. As I laid there, it was a monumental struggle to try to sleep! I just couldn’t do it. So strange to be so tired and yet sleep eluded me.

Finally I found rest and within what seemed to be a minute, my alarm woke me. I sat up, feeling a bit rough, but more awake and noticed Scott was gone, but his bike was there. When I stood up, I saw him 25 yards away, washing his face in a creek. I stumbled over to do the same and let him know my frustration of not being able to sleep. He said, “Dude, you were asleep and snoring like a chainsaw in less than 2 minutes!” I guess perspective is hard to be found when you are truly tired. 🙂

Before leaving town, we grabbed supplies and drinks at a small coffee shop on the main drag. A shot of iced coffee and a soda gave me a jolt and I was ready to go.

Scott and I enjoyed a great ride to the small town of Prairie City. The sun relented and the evening was gorgeous.

In Prairie City, we stopped at a gas station to refill bottles and found Gavaskar. We all rolled out together and set to climbing the pass before us just outside town. As we climbed, the sun set and the view was absolutely amazing. Just at sunset, the three of us pulled off at the big covered wagon commemorating the journey of the pioneers. Another awesome moment to share the Oregon sunset overlooking the valley with these two great friends.

We turned our lights on and headed back out, continuing the climb up the pass. Once over the pass, it was a screaming descent down toward Bates State Park. There were times the descent was a bit sketchy as our lights found many deer along the sides of the road in the dark. My fear was that one of them would run in front of us, but they never did.

At the bottom of the pass, we found the artesian well along the side of the road that has aided travelers for years. We filled our bottles and enjoyed the cool night air. So much better than the heat of the day! Refilled, we rode on into the night and started climbing again up Sumpter pass.

Gavaskar rode on ahead as we climbed. He had said he planned to make Baker City before stopping. Around midnight, Scott and I decided to do another side-of-the-road stop and crash for a few hours. It was just so hard to keep my eyes open. Scott rolled out his bivy and I strung up my hammock in a place that felt very bear-y. I was a bit nervous, but so tired that I wasn’t going to complain too much.

Once inside my hammock, I nestled in quickly. It had been a short mileage day (only about 140), but the heat had taken it out of me. I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep. My fear of bears wasn’t going to keep me awake. Still in my bike clothes and with no shower after 3 days and 530 miles, I closed my eyes and started to drift. At that moment, I had a scary thought, realizing I had an opened and rolled up bag of Lays potato chips in my back jersey pocket. I probably had a few other morsels in there as well. Maybe a Payday candy bar? I was basically a burrito- in bear country, in a hammock with food in my pocket- and I didn’t care. After the last 3 days, I just wanted to sleep. So I did. In less than 3 minutes I was out.