TABR16- Day 17

My last day in KS/first day in MO had only been just OK, and I don’t mean Oklahoma. The heat and humidity were killer, but in the end, I had to admit it and say that the root issue was I didn’t stay moving. Too many stops for too long of time. My plan leaving Ash Grove was to do the opposite. I would do my very best to stay moving with a goal of busting out a monster day through the Ozarks.

Enrico was up and out the door at 4AM. It woke me when he got up, but I wasn’t ready to go immediately. I slept another 30 mins or so and then began my day. I was on the road by 4:45. Leaving Ash Grove, it wasn’t long before I made Walnut Grove. I rolled on through with the intent to stop in Fair Grove. Yeah, that’s a lot of Groves, all within 30 miles!

The rolling hills at the edge of the Ozarks were all around me. This felt more and more like home as I honed in on familiar territory. The punchy climbs may have been familiar, but they still made my legs scream. I knew what lay in front of me for the day. There was nothing to do except attack and move forward.

I made a quick stop in Fair Grove at a gas station right as Enrico was leaving. I choked down some food and supplied up for the morning, then was off again.

Some 20 miles further down the road, I caught up with Enrico in Marshfield, but he went on when I made a quick stop for drinks. I was only stopped for a couple minutes and then headed out of town. I was now within 200 miles of my home town and had been on these roads many times before. The recognition of my surroundings helped to keep me moving.

Somewhere in the morning I started getting texts from friends wondering when I would make it to Farmington. I wasn’t really sure what I would do, so I didn’t give too many hard answers. On one hand, I wanted to see folks I knew and be cheered on. I imagined a group of family and friends coming out to cheer me on as I came through town. There had been a dozen or so that had done just that when I toured the route in 2011, coming out to ride into town with me. On the other hand, this idea made me think that I might get hung up, spending too much time with people and not stay moving like I wanted. Add to all this that I was now over 2800 miles into the race and literally exhausted in every fashion. There were parts of my brain that said I just needed to make it home and then I would be done with the race. After all, I had nothing to prove. I rode the route in 2011 and raced half of it in 2015. I had “been here before”, so why push on and be miserable for another week? Living only 5 blocks from the route, it would be really easy to just ride up to my doorstep, go inside, shower and go to bed, giving the ole Trans Am the proverbial bird and being done. “I’m finished!” The mental game was messing with me.

One of my friends and fellow cyclists from home, Dustin Washam, is a school teacher. It being summer, he was off work and available more so than other folks. He texted me and said he wanted to come out to meet me and ride into town together. I agreed that I would keep him abreast of the situation. Where I ended up for the night would all depend on how the day went. I had a very difficult section of the route with lots of climbing coming up between Houston and home. He said he understood that the plan could change on the fly and I said I would just have to keep him informed.

Just outside Marshfield, I caught up with Enrico again. We made our pleasantries and I went on ahead. I wouldn’t see him again the rest of the day.

30 miles or so down the road, I made it to Hartville. I had planned to stop here at Subway to eat. It was early for lunch yet at 10:30, but I knew there weren’t any other options for awhile. I grabbed a foot long cold cut sandwich, ate half and packed the other in my bags. I was on a mission and was only stopped for maybe 10 minutes tops.

The hills continued to increase in intensity as I plowed ahead. As the hills went up, the heat and humidity did too. By midday I was nearing Bendavis, where I knew there was a little roadside store. Horse flies were out and I kept having to swat them off my backside as I rode. It is one of the things I hate about summer in Missouri. I had one spot on my bum that felt like one had really gotten me. The more I felt the sensitive spot, I realized I had a hole in my bib shorts. When I pulled up to the store at Bendavis, I got off the bike and craned my neck around best I could to see, but it was no use. I just couldn’t make it. I then took out my phone and snapped a picture of my backside. Sure enough, I had a hole about the size of a quarter in my shorts. I was really concerned about it because I didn’t know if it would bust farther open. I only had one set of kit and had no intention of buying something new along the way. That could be a recipe for disaster and saddle sores with a new chamois I wasn’t used to.

I went into the store and bought some drinks and food. Further inspection of “the site” showed that I didn’t have a horse fly bite, but rather a pretty nasty little sunburn the size of a quarter on the lily white skin of my right cheek. This is an area that never sees the light of day and now it was exposed to the blazing rays of the sun as I stuck my rear out, hunched over my handlebars riding down the road all day every day. What could I do with that? I ended up asking the Mennonite woman who owns the store if she had any old cloths she would be willing to part with and explained my situation. She went to the back and produced a brand new wash cloth and gave it to me for free. The folks along this route are so nice! Once I was in a more private place, I shoved the cloth in my shorts so as to cover the hole and thus my skin that had been shining through. I would keep an eye on the hole in my shorts and deal with it later. I just needed to stay moving.

It was another 20 miles to Houston, over hill and dale. The scenery along the way was bucolic and brought me back to meeting three Englishmen as I came through that area in 2011. Good times!

In Houston, I went to Hardee’s to eat and cool off. The sun was baking at this point and I needed food. I ordered, ate and pondered what I would do while I sipped soda and cooled off. I ended up spending an hour there, but was ok with that. It was the heat of the day and I could always ride late to make up for it. While sitting there, I called my wife and made the decision that I would press on to Farmington that night. I figured I would get there in the wee hours of the morning and that might keep the folks who would come out to see me to a minimum, thus helping me to stay moving. I also texted Dustin and let him know. Then I was off again in the hills and the heat.

The ride out of Houston isn’t bad at all. It’s just nice little rollers that go on for about 35 miles. It isn’t until you drop into the Jack’s Fork River valley near Alley Spring that the Ozarks begin to rear their head in earnest. I have ridden from Farmington west to Alley Spring several times as training rides and knew all to well what I had in store. From there it would be 100 miles to Farmington with plenty of elevation gain.

I made it to Eminence a little after 6:00PM and went to a gas station there for food and drinks. I wasn’t really looking forward to the 30 miles ahead, but figured that my knowledge of it would at least prepare me for it. I left Eminence and got to it.

The 30 mile stretch from Eminence to Ellington that is what I would call the very heart of the Ozarks (on the Trans Am route anyway) isn’t epic climbing. Instead it is constant up and down on leg-breaking steep hills. The longest climbs are little more than a mile long, but the sum of them punch you in the throat. With my experience on the TA and knowing the long steady climbs out west and the steeper climbs of Appalachia, I can’t say that the Ozarks are the hardest part of the Trans Am, as some have suggested. I think you just get a break from the mountains of the east or west as you come across the midwest from either direction and most people don’t expect what the Ozarks have to offer.

As I rode into the evening, munching on hills for supper, I had one thought on my mind- I’m almost home. That was what fueled me in the nasty parts. The climb up from the Current River valley was brutal. I ended up getting off and walking at one point. My legs were just dead.

Somewhere between Eminence and Ellington, I got a text from Dustin. He said he would start riding at Johnson Shut-ins(JSI) and be heading my way. JSI is 35 miles from Farmington and I was 50 miles from JSI. I assumed he was driving to JSI and would come out to meet me, then ride back to his car. I texted him back that I would see him soon. I was excited to see someone from home!

I rode on to Ellington and stopped at a gas station for supplies. It was 9:00 and I had about 60 miles to Farmington. Being that time of night, there would be no services ahead. I loaded up, despite being very tired. I just kept thinking, “not far now”.

I left Ellington with a watchful eye. I had made a quick check of Trackleaders and knew that Andrej was up ahead. A few miles out of town as I passed a roadside park, I thought I made out in the dark a bike and someone in a bivy. I figured it was him. I never saw him after that, so I couldn’t confirm if it was or not.

Just up the road a ways as I descended a grade, I saw the headlamp of a cyclist coming from the opposite direction. I slowed and sure enough, it was Dustin! It was so cool to see a friendly face. He turned around and we rode together through the night, chatting about the race and what not. Much to my surprise, he had his father-in-law drop him at JSI and he intended to ride in with me, whether I camped for the night or not. Dustin had never bikepacked before and had borrowed a Viscacha seat bag from a mutual friend. He stuffed it with a bed sheet and an air mattress so he would have something to sleep on. I thought it was so cool that he wanted to get a bit of the flavor of bikepacking! I explained that the only reason I planned to stop was if I just couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. He said he was fine with whatever I wanted to do and we rode on into the night.

The ride through Centerville and on to JSI was uneventful. We stopped at JSI to use the restrooms there and fill a water bottle from the water fountain. Leaving there, it was more of the same- rolling hills through the pitch black night. The only excitement we had was snakes on the road, trying to retain heat in the night. They didn’t bother me, mostly because I was a zombie at this point, but Dustin was none too excited about them. I found it funny and we kept riding.

Coming into Pilot Knob, I was absolutely smoked. My legs were spent and I was exhausted. The thought crossed my mind to bivy at the Fort Davidson historic site, but I was only 17 miles form Farmington and wanted to see my wife. We trudged on. I would make it.

As we rolled into Farmington, I saw another cyclists light up ahead coming to meet us. It was my beautiful bride! I was so happy to see her and what a trooper for coming out on her bike to meet me at 2:00AM!!! I love that woman! We rode on ahead and into town and I found my daughter waiting for us at a gas station. She and my wife had made a sign for me and Madi was waving it, flagging me down. There were hugs and kisses with my family and they asked what I was going to do. I said, “I need to eat!” The McDonalds at the edge of town that I thought was 24 hours was actually closed. The only other option was Steak n Shake across town. Madi drove home to go to bed while Jeneen, Dustin and I rode over to the restaurant.

Jeneen and Dustin sat while I ate. It was oh so good to get food and even more so to be sitting with my wife. Once I was done eating, Dustin headed for home. I thanked him over and over for coming out to meet me. He had ridden about 80 miles to come out with me. How cool!

Jeneen and I rode back to the route and on into downtown Farmington where the bike hostel is. I would stay there so as to be within the rules of the race. I really wanted to go home, but I never got any closer than 5 blocks away. Jeneen gave me a kiss and rode on home to get some rest. She had to work the next day after all and it was after 3:00AM.

In the hostel, I threw my clothes in the wash and grabbed a shower. Once the clothes were in the dryer it was off to bed for me. I had ridden a monster day- 245 miles and across the vast majority of the Missouri portion of the Trans Am. My Garmin Etrex always calculates the elevation gain a bit short as compared to other GPS’s, but it showed 11,477′ of gain on the day. I set my alarm for the morning and fell asleep fast, spent and happy to have made it to my home town.

Posted in Missouri, TABR16 | 7 Comments

TABR16- Day 16

Sleeping in my bivy behind the Toronto United Methodist Church, I was awoken by something on the ground near me, rooting around. Coming out of sleep, I first thought it was someone, then realized it was someTHING and my brain was thinking a dog. I sat up, turned my light on and looked around to find an armadillo scavenging around. Knowing they are harmless and that I had spooked it anyway, I laid back down and tried to fall back asleep. A short time later it was back. I shooed it on and slept again until my alarm went off at 5:30AM. I ended up with about 4.5 hours off the bike , which was about 4 hours of sleep with the interruptions.

As I got up and riding, it was still dark out. I was glad to be rolling out of town before anyone noticed me camped out in the church yard. I felt kind of like a thief in the night. I hadn’t taken anything, but I came in after the townsfolk were in bed and was up and gone before they got up. Not a soul had known I was there.

As the sun came up I warmed up and the legs were feeling good as I rolled along. The terrain was becoming more rolling hills, which felt like home and gave me encouragement. I was really looking forward to getting to my home state and I would make it there that day!

Just before 7:00AM, as I rode into the bright, early-morning sun, I noticed two riders approaching from the opposite direction. It was none other than Neil & Adi Coventry-Brown! They are from New Zealand and Adi was a fellow TABR15 veteran. It was great to see them just because I wanted to see them, but also nice to see fellow racers. Although there were 50-something others racing West-East, due to us all being strewn about on the route, it was rare to see anyone other than the few folks who were riding near. The three of us stopped to chat a few minutes, exchanged pictures and then carried on. It was a treat to see them!

I got to Chanute about 8:15 and stopped at a gas station for supplies and some breakfast. I loaded up the best I could and got back to riding quickly.

As I rode on through the morning, it was really starting to heat up. The respite from the heat and humidity we had the day before had been short. Things were setting up for another scorcher. I made the title town of Walnut about 10:30 and found a convenience store where I went inside to take a break in the air conditioning. I ate an ice cream and drank some cold drinks while listening to some locals chat. After about 30 minutes I hit the road again.

I stayed moving for the next couple hours despite my desire to stop in the heat. I knew I needed to stay moving in order to make a good day. When I got to Pittsburg, I decided to take another good break to cool off and eat. I found a mom & pop style diner on the main drag and went in for lunch. The owner was there, a old man of almost 80 years. He made conversation with me while I ate. It is always nice for me when I get to chat with folks. After a little over an hour, I gathered myself and headed back out in the heat. I stopped at a gas station for drinks and snacks as I left town and set my sights on the MO-KS border, just a few miles away.

In no time I saw the welcoming sign for the Missouri border. It felt so good to be “home”! I snapped a pic and called my wife to let her know I had made it to the line. Each little delineation was another goal marked off in my head and this one was a little more special to me than most folks, I would imagine.

The extreme Western part of Missouri is pretty flat, filled with nothing but farm land, which means one thing- no shade. The sun was baking the road and me. Only having made about 10 miles into my home state, I was feeling cooked. I came up on a farm house with a nicely cut yard and a pretty little shade tree near the road. I did what I had done several times along my journey when wanting to rest out in the open- I laid my bike down in the shaded grass, then laid myself down in the grass with my legs draped over my bike. If for whatever reason someone decided to come along and try to take my bike while I slept, they would have to roll me off of it to get it! I laid in the shade for about a half hour, cooling off a bit and trying to nap. Almost the entire time there were biting flies that wouldn’t leave me alone. I don’t think I ever really slept much, but eventually got tired of shooing flies and hit the road again.

Once up and moving, I was looking ahead to Golden City and the iconic Cooky’s Cafe. I wasn’t sure when they closed, but I thought I might be cutting it close. I got to town about 5:45PM and found them open. It made me happy to see! Cooky’s is a tradition for touring cyclists on the Trans Am. Despite the fact that I was racing and needed to stay moving, I still needed to eat and I planned to do it there. That would also give me the chance to eat some of their world famous pie. I leaned my bike up outside and went in to feast on a burger, fries, Coke and pie.

When I finished my meal, I came outside and started to take off, only to find that I had a flat. Upon further inspection, I saw that the valve stem had been ripped where it meets the tube. That really disappointed me as I felt like it didn’t just accidentally happen that way while my bike sat leaning against the building. I figure someone did it, but I didn’t see anyone around. I changed the tube out and pumped it back up. Then it was across town to a gas station to get supplies for the road. Night was coming and I would be going through some unpopulated areas. Likely any stores I would come across would be closed and I would need to have things to make it through the night.

Between Cooky’s, my flat and the station stop, I had spent way too much time in little Golden City. By the time I left town it was 7:15. I had spent an hour and a half there. Add that to my other stops for the day and I just wasn’t making great headway.

I rolled on into the evening and away from the sunset. I quickly got out of the flat areas and started hitting the hills. The hills weren’t really a problem and actually were welcome after all of the plains. What wasn’t welcome were the bugs! The amount of bugs that came out after dark was amazing. All sorts of flying things. So many that I had to make sure to keep my mouth closed while riding. That can be an issue when you are climbing punchy little steep hills and get out of breath!

As I rode on through the evening, I was contemplating what I would do for the night. My day hadn’t been as productive as I wanted it to be, but I was in Missouri. One part of me wanted to ride on late into the night and another wanted to stop, sleep and hit it hard the next day. As I rode through the spot in the road that isEverton, there were some young kids out in their pickups driving crazy. I hoped to make it through unnoticed, but that wasn’t the case. They drove by closely and smoked me out with their diesel smoke. If only I could get my hands on one of them….just once!!! I carried on out of town and a couple miles down the road, they came back around for round two. I was frustrated and tired. I made the decision to stop and bivy at the next place I could.

Remote Missouri highways don’t have very many places to bivy. The sides of the roads are grown up high with weeds, which means ticks and chiggers if you crawl off into it.I didn’t want any part of that. Most every spot where you can find cut grass is actually someone’s yard, so that doesn’t work well. The best idea I had was to find a park in a town or something like that. I rode on and was coming close to Ash Grove. I figured I would find something there.

Right before I got to town, there was a guy on a bike that came out to meet me. Greg Hoffman had driven from Ozark, MO up to Ash Grove to come out and ride with me for awhile. Unfortunately he had no idea that I planned to stop just a mile down the road for the evening. I felt terrible that I wasn’t able to oblige him for longer, but it was what it would be. We rode into town and found a local couple who had come out as well. They were the keepers of the local hostel in the park in town and were a pleasure to meet. They gave me directions to the hostel and Greg rode with me up to the park.

The hostel was simple, but everything I would need and then some. I arrived about 10:30 and Enrico was there sleeping. I went out back to the shower house, got cleaned up, then went back in and spread my bedding out on the floor in the common room where Enrico was and went to sleep. It hadn’t been my best day by far at 169 miles, but I was back “home” with big plans for the days ahead.

 

 

Posted in Kansas, Missouri, TABR16 | 1 Comment

TABR16- Day 15

When I went to bed in Larned, the stage was set for a stormy evening. I set my alarm to leave in the night, but when I woke, the storm was still getting after it pretty good. I rolled over and went back to sleep. This happened a few times through the early morning hours until things started to clear up about 5:30AM. I got up, packed up, went across the street to a convenience store for some breakfast and then hit the road. I saw Enrico at the store as well. He left before me, but I caught up and passed him in just a couple miles.

The overnight storms had pushed through and left me with fantastic weather! Cool temps, gentle winds and blue skys were the order of the day. A cyclist’s delight! I rolled along eating up miles. I had my sights set on Newton, for several reasons, but mostly to replace my severely worn tires, particularly the rear. It was so thin that threads were showing on the tread and the tube was almost visible in a few spots. I should have swapped it out with the front in order to even out the wear some, but I felt it was too late for that. Being so worn, I was concerned about it not being safe on the front. I would much rather have it blow on me on the rear.

I was rolling and feeling good. The big meal I had the night before and the extra sleep I got trying to stay out of the overnight thunderstorms were paying dividends. A few miles before Nickerson, I caught up with Andrew Stevens-Cox. We made pleasantries and I rode on. I was on a mission!

A little before noon and about 72 miles into my day, as I passed under the Hwy 61 overpass just outside Medora, my rear tire gave up the ghost. I was a little more than concerned. I was still between 35 and 40 miles from Newton, where my tires I had shipped ahead were waiting on me. When I took the wheel and tire off and saw the gaping holes in the tread I wasn’t encouraged. The tube had poked through the holes and burst. I did the only thing I could think to do. I had about 3 feet of duct tape folded over on itself in my repair kit. I used it to boot the inside of the tire casing in the spots where it was missing worst. I didn’t have enough tape to go all the way around, but made due with it the best I could. I then remounted the tire with a spare tube and pumped it up. It held, so I took off down the road again thinking, “it just has to make it 35 miles”.

Immediately I recognized a difference in performance. The duct tape boots made the tire out of balance. A lot! It produced a thump-thump sort of bump with every revolution as I rode. It was super uncomfortable, but I just kept telling myself that it was better than walking!

I rode on, just praying my fix would hold. It made me quite nervous as I thought about it. After awhile I came to the determination that I had no choice and there wasn’t a point in getting worked up about it. I would just have to ride it out. If the tire went down on me, I would try to figure out another solution or walk to Newton.

I rolled straight through Heston and on to Newton, feeling every revolution of my wheel. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. A little bit of calculation tells me that my tire and wheel size rolls out at  762.7 revolutions per mile. That means it thump-thumped approximately 26,695 times in 35 miles and I felt each and every bone-jarring one.

As I came down the street toward Newton Bike Shop, James and Heather were outside waiting on me to get there. Knowing my thread-bare tires were done and I would be throwing them away, I came sliding in, locking up the brakes for fun. The rear tire just shredded! I didn’t care. I had made it to Newton!

Newton Bike Shop(NBS) was fantastic. Jay P and Mark had arrived just a bit before me. I didn’t bother with introductions right away though. First things first, James took my bike inside and Heather showed me the direction to the showers at the civic center just down the street. Once I was clean (and wearing their loaner clothes), my bike clothes were washed for me while I ate. After eating, I found the box of parts I had shipped ahead and was given the go ahead to use the shop tools to go to work. I replaced both tires, my chain and replaced the repair items I had used in my kit. I then gathered up anything I didn’t need, including some of the things I was carrying, like my cold weather gear, and boxed it all up for shipment home. For just $20 plus the cost of shipping my box, I was given quite a royal treatment. Something that doesn’t happen anywhere else on the route.

I am not sure how all the racers that were there came in, but the list of riders at NBS while I was there was significant. Jay P & Mark were already there when I got there at 2:15PM. While I was at the shop, the following came in: Enrico, Jason, George, Andrew, Michela and Stefano. That is a whole bunch of crazy, exhausted, stinky, tired and wild-eyed endurance racers in one place at one time! We all got some pretty spectacular service.

Quite a few guys planned to stay and sleep a bit at Newton. I knew if I stayed I would  quite possibly end up getting sucked into the cush that was there. It was nice, but I needed to be moving. I tried to be as nonchalant as I could as I packed up. I didn’t want a mass exodus going with me. I would rather let them all stay to eat and sleep awhile. 🙂

While I was gathering my things, Enrico started doing the same. Mark was having some terrible issues with Shermer’s Neck, a nerve problem for endurance racers where you can’t physically hold your head up. He was in pain and wouldn’t be able to carry on. Jay decided to carry on solo and was gathering his stuff as well. I thanked the Barringers, got the obligatory photos and took off right about 6:00PM. I was the first of the group out and planned to make tracks.

I grabbed some supplies at a gas station on my way out of Newton and put the hammer down, as much as a guy who has ridden 2500 miles over 15 days can. I knew Jay would be coming and I wanted to make as much ground as I could before he caught me. I had no elusions of staying in front of him, but I didn’t want to just roll over either.

It was about 40 miles to Cassoday from Newton and James had said that the little store there closed at 9:00. I kept the pedals turning and made it to the Cassoday store just north off the route a block or two at about 8:35. I grabbed a sandwich and some other supplies. I fully expected Jay and Enrico to pull up at any moment, but I never saw them. About 8:55 I hit the road again, excited that I was still out in front of them.

As I got back to the route, I noticed a couple tail lights of cyclists out in front of me. I assumed Enrico and Jay had caught up, but chose not to stop at the store! I stayed at it and eventually caught them a few miles out of town. Much to my surprise, they hadn’t skipped the store on purpose, but rather didn’t know where it was. My previous experience touring the route in 2011 had paid off for me this time and I had supplies when they didn’t.

The three of us rode on into the night staying somewhat near each other. I took the opportunity to ride near Jay some and chat with him. It was really cool to get to pick the brain of someone with such a rich endurance racing pedigree. We carried on and the miles ticked away.

The three of us rolled into Eureka about 11:30 and stopped at a gas station for food and drinks. We all ate and packed things on our bikes knowing full well we wouldn’t have any services for the rest of the night.

I was a bit amped up. There had been plenty of times over the previous two weeks where I felt the pull of the race, but being near Enrico and Jay took it up a few notches. We had all talked about plans for the night. Jay let on like he wouldn’t stop and just ride through. I liked the idea, but was a bit concerned about the ramifications on my body over the next couple days after that, knowing there was still 1800 miles left in the race. I grabbed enough food to last if I decided to ride through. The three of us hit the road again and rode out of town into the dark Kansas night.

As we rode on, I was starting to get tired. It was late, I had ridden nearly 200 miles and the more I thought about it, the last thing I needed to do was get in a pissing contest with Jay Petervary in the middle of a race. About 25 miles down the road, we came into the little burg of Toronto. It was about 1AM and the sidewalks were rolled up. There wasn’t even a dog out moving around. Everything was still. I had made my decision not to chase Jay, so I figured Toronto was as good a place as any to hole up for the night. I said my goodbyes and good lucks to the Jay and Enrico, then shut off my lights and started coasting, letting them go on ahead. It was a bit defeating watching them ride off into the night, but I had made my choice.

I rode around a couple streets until I found a church. I went around the back of the building, leaned my bike up and laid my bivy down right in front of it. It was pretty humid and warm in my bivy, but the mosquitos were out and I didn’t want to wake up a corpse having lost all my blood to the pests. The bivy would be a good barrier. I fell asleep quickly, having completed 204 miles on the day.

Posted in Kansas, TABR16 | 2 Comments

TABR16- Day 14

As always, the alarm came way too early, but the desire to have a great day overcame the magnet that seemed to hold my head to any horizontal surface. All the bad things usually take place in the afternoons and evenings: heat, winds, storms and more traffic. It is much better to get up and make hay as early as possible. I got up and hit the door running within minutes.

The ride was peaceful and easy. It was dark, the road was flat, the traffic non-exsistant and the air was still. Quickly I was struggling to keep my eyes open. There just wasn’t anything to spark me into consciousness and keep me there. I plowed on doing all I could to stay awake and looking forward to a cup of coffee in Dighton.

When I got to Dighton, everything was all shut up. Frustrated that I couldn’t get coffee and couldn’t keep my eyes open, I opened up the maps on my phone and found a park a couple blocks away. I rode over, rolled out my bivy and went to sleep. At the time, my thoughts were that it didn’t make sense to sit and wait for the gas station to open when I could be sleeping. The better plan probably would’ve been to sleep there so I would be able to get in when they opened. Either way, I did what I did and slept in the park. After a couple of snooze buttons worth of time, it was 6:30AM and time was getting away from me. I packed up, went to the station for a shot of caffeine and got back on the road. Unfortunately I had wasted about 1 hour and 45 minutes on my respite.

Back on the road, I felt better and was rolling along, but not with intention really. After a few miles, Enrico caught me up from behind. Seeing that he was on a mission sparked me finally and I began to pick it up. I set out ahead and tried to maintain a good pace.

As the morning went on, the wind started pumping up out of the south/southeast at a good clip and the sun cranked up the UV rays. It was really getting hot and the quartering headwind was a challenge in the mostly flat and treeless landscape. I rolled fairly quickly through Ness City, making a short gas station stop and got back to moving right away. It. Was. Hot. Upwards of 100F.

I stumbled in to Greg’s Sports Pub & Grub in Rush Center about 1:30PM scorched and battered by the nasty quartering headwind. I knew that the turn in the route to the South just outside Greg’s was going to be a pill, putting me a bit more square up against the wind. I wanted to cool off and get some food to be fueled up for that task. The waitress got me a cold coke and said that I had made it just in time. It’s a small family run business and they close in the middle of the afternoon so that they get a break after lunch and before the evening rush. I figured more power to them for running their business how they want, but rather unfortunate for the folks behind me that would be coming through. Enrico came in the door shortly after that and they agreed to serve him as well, but we would both have to go soon so they could close. The two of us quickly finished our food and got back out into the afternoon sun. I left just behind Enrico. It was 2:15PM.

From Rush Center it was 19 miles due South. On the bright side, the terrain was beginning to have just a hint of rolling hills to break up the monotony. The bad part- I was headed pretty much straight into a nasty headwind and the temperature was right about 100F. It felt like riding an indoor trainer, at top speed, sitting in front of a heater vent….in the summer. It was just nasty hot and the dry wind felt like it was sucking the moisture from me faster than I could put it in. I was drinking as much as I could, but it wasn’t enough. Despite this, I caught Enrico up after a few miles. We leapfrogged a few times and I ended up in front of him. Neither of us were moving fast. We just couldn’t.

After almost 2 hours, I had made a whopping 17 miles progress across what seemed to be endless rolling hills of farmland. It was a struggle for every pedal stroke. To make matters worse, I ran out of water and I knew that it was 2 more miles south into the wind, then at least 5 more with a quartering wind to Fort Larned, a historical site where I MIGHT be able to get water. Beyond that, it would be another 7 miles to Larned. At the pace I had been maintaining in the wind, the ride to Larned might take as much as 2 more hours. Without water, that could be a death march. I was getting to a point where it was going to be an issue if I didn’t find some water pretty quick.

Like manna from heaven, a house appeared amongst some cedars on the west side of the road. I am pretty sure, in my mind at least, the heavens parted and the angels sang at that moment. I rolled up the driveway and Enrico was not far behind. I knocked on the door, but nobody answered. Enrico and I went around the side of the house and found a spigot. We let it run a minute to clear out the line, then filled our bottles and drank what we could. While we were getting the water, the homeowner pulled in the driveway. An older man with the typical farmer look got out of his truck and we went to meet him. He was perfectly fine with us getting water and added that we “must be crazy riding in this heat”. I concurred, thanked him for the use of his spigot and got back on the road.

Although I had water, the temperature and wind were relentless. The 7 miles to Fort Larned took another 45 minutes. By the time I got there I was scorched. I pulled up to the restrooms not far off the highway and went inside for shade. I ended up hanging out there for a half hour. I would’ve stayed longer, but the lady that was the park ranger on duty came through to lock the restrooms up for the evening and told me I had to leave. Reluctantly I got back on the road and limped in to Larned, another 7 miles down the road.

I got to Larned right at 6:00PM and found a Casey’s gas station. First things first, I got some cold drinks and tried to cool off. I then started to load up on food and drinks to push on and decided I needed to eat something more substantial. Just down the road was a Pizza Hut. I figured that would do. I leaned my bike up outside and went in to feast. I ate enough for two people and drank soda as fast as the wait staff could bring it to me, all in the comfort of air conditioning. It was bliss. While I ate, one of the managers came by and chatted me up. He noticed my garb and started asking questions, as he was a cyclist too. I told him a short version of what I was doing and he listened intently. He was fascinated to hear the story. We chatted a bit, then he wished me luck and went back to work. Once I finished my meal, I waited a bit for the check and soon asked about it, thinking it had taken a bit longer than it should have. The manager I had spoken with told me that he had taken care of the tab and I was free to go. I thanked him profusely and left. The people I met on this trip were just wonderful.

While I had been eating, I checked the weather and saw a big storm coming. At that point I decided that I had done about all I wanted for the day. I would end the day with only 120 miles, way short of the mileage I wanted, but I was ok with that. Despite my lack of miles, I had still put in the time. The wind and heat had just had their way with me. I could try to get more miles, but I didn’t want to tempt a nasty thunder storm after such a hot and difficult afternoon. I found the Townsman Inn just down the road, got a room, got my clothes cleaned and went to bed. Later the lightning and thunder came as well as an absolute frog-choking rain storm. I was happy to be inside.

Posted in Kansas, TABR16 | 8 Comments

TABR16- Day 13

I woke to my alarm after 3 hours of sleep on a gravel pile in Eastern Colorado. I was hungry and cold, but anxious to get the day going. I had made good strides the day before and needed to double down and have another good day. The bright side was that I was now in the flat area of the route and wouldn’t have the quad-crushing climbs of the Rockies to deal with anymore. I got moving and set my sights on Ordway.

I rolled into Ordway a little after 6:00AM and rode down the main street of town looking for a place to grab some food, but nothing at all was open. I got back on route and found a gas station at the edge of town. I scarfed down a couple burritos and some coffee, loaded up with snacks and drinks for the morning and headed back out.

My next stop was in Eads, the advertised halfway point of the Trans Am. I had made it half way! Of course, like most of the milestones on the Trans Am, there was nobody around at the monument and sign board in the middle of town. I snapped a quick selfie for proof, texted it to my wife and carried on. Before leaving town, I stopped at a diner to grab some lunch. I was 83 miles into my day and it was really starting to get hot out. I was ready for a break from the heat.

When I parked my bike, I noticed two other bikes there. Inside was the Italian pair, Stefano Gamper and Michela Ton. Stefano’s English was limited, so I had a hard time communicating with him. Michela’s was a notch better. We chatted a bit as they finished up their meal and filled bottles. I got my food and ate quickly hoping to get back out and stay close to them. I wanted to keep “race mode” in mind and not spend too much time stopped. Before I could finish my meal, in walked Enrico Comunello, another Italian racer. His English was pretty good and we enjoyed some conversation. I wrapped up my meal and he ate quickly. We ended up leaving about the same time.

Enrico and I rode near each other for awhile, chatting off and on, but overall, we were riding different paces so it wasn’t for very long.  We leapfrogged each other quite a bit. At one point during the day, near the tiny town of Brandon, the heat was getting to me and I was getting tired. I would have loved to find a place to rest in the shade, but the land was truly flat as a pancake and there were no trees for miles. As I rode through the little town, there was a grain elevator with a little scale house next to it for weighing trucks that haul grain. In front of the scale house was a small porch and what seemed to be the only square yard of shade for miles around. I rode over and laid down on the concrete porch, resting in the shade for a bit. I slept maybe 15 mins or so, just long enough to feel a little better and then got back to riding. In the mean time, Enrico had passed.  When I started riding again, I soon passed Enrico. I think he had stopped as well. This leap frog thing took place over and over again.

In Sheridan Lake I stopped at a gas station, more than anything just to get out of the heat. Soon after, Enrico came in. We both were getting smoked by the sun. Ice creams and drinks were the refreshments we chose and they were oh so good on such a hot day. It was funny to think that just 24 hours before I had been trying to stay warm in the mountains!

I left the station first and had my sights set on 15 miles ahead- the Kansas state line! I crossed into Kansas and was elated to knock yet another state off the list. I only had 4 more states to go, but still had over 2000 miles left!

As I made my way across the extremely flat landscape, I could see for miles and miles in every direction. Tribune, the next town ahead, was visible on the horizon for what seemed like eternity. The old joke about flat lands that “you can watch your dog run away for three days” comes to mind. There is literally nothing as far as the eye can see except for crops. Flat and tree-less also means that when the wind blows, it really gets after it! As I approached Tribune, that is exactly what was happening. A strong wind was kicking up from the Southeast, giving me a quartering headwind. There was nothing to be done about it but ride.

I stopped in Tribune at the truck stop there. I sat in the dining area eating, drinking and cooling off. Enrico came in shortly and loaded up on food and drinks. He was quick and got back on the road. I hit the road soon after and set out to catch up. I soon did, but not wanting to get too close, I stayed back, keeping him within a hundred yards or so. The wind was really starting to get difficult to deal with, but my shadow was getting longer and evening would come soon. Hopefully that would mean the winds died down as well.

About 10 miles outside Tribune I crossed the Central Time Zone line. It was another milestone to check off. Every little delineation counts. It would however mean that I “lost” an hour. Not a big deal in the grand scheme, but it can make a difference when you are trying to make it to small stores in sleepy towns where the sidewalks roll up at night.

I rolled through Leoti a little before 8:00PM, passing Jay and Mark, who had who had gotten in front of me a few days before somewhere. Enrico stopped in Leoti as well, leaving me to chase after the Italian pair.

As the sun set, the wind stayed steady, but didn’t build, so it was manageable as I chewed on the 27 miles or so to Scott City. I rolled into town about 9:30PM and had to make a decision. The little towns of Western Kansas don’t have a lot of businesses that stay open all night, so finding places for food and drinks would be a challenge. A check of the map showed Dighton 24 miles away and Ness City another 32 miles beyond that. I decided to get a room in Scott City, eat well, supply up and get an early start on the next day, hopefully pushing to Newton. That would be about 240 miles- a very doable chore in the flat terrain.

I found the Lazy-R Motel on the Eastern side of town and much to my surprise, the owner was out front. She had been watching the race unfold online and knew I was coming. She gave me a great rate on a room and pointed me in the right direction to go find food. She was a treat! I rode off to the Subway a couple miles away to pick up dinner, then grabbed supplies for the next morning at a gas station and headed back to the motel. It was a little after 10:00PM.

For the day, I had ridden 189 miles. I was a little disappointed with that because it was quite a bit short of my 250/day goal, but it had been a rough day in the heat and wind. I sold myself on the idea that it was ok because I would get an early start on the next day by going to sleep sooner. It was the best that I had to give for the day and thats all I could do. I ate, showered and called my wife, then set my alarm for 3:30AM and went to sleep about 11:00PM.

 

Posted in Colorado, Kansas, TABR16 | 8 Comments

TABR16- Day 12

My opinion of how the previous five days had gone was:

  • Really bad
  • Pretty good
  • Decent
  • Pathetic
  • Sub-par

Leaving Kremmling at 4:00AM, I fully intended on my day being above average, if not stellar. I was done with mediocre and bad. I really needed something to spark my race back to life. I hit the Kum & Go for some things on my way out of town and headed off into the early morning darkness.

Not far after crossing the Colorado River, I found the road construction that I had heard about. Racers and touring cyclists had been talking about how rough the area was. Some had called it gravel grinding and others had said it was full on off-road. It wasn’t smooth, that’s for sure, but I wasn’t about to let it get me down. I had no wind and a full day ahead of me!

I made it passed the construction and soon found the turn to go around Green Mountain Reservoir. As with my other trips through the area, this one didn’t disappoint for views. The lake was really low compared to other times I had seen it, but the mountains around it are spectacular. I took it all in and soaked it up.

The sun came up shortly and with it, the wind started to blow. Ugh! More headwinds were in my future. I came off the lake road and back on the highway to busy traffic and a stiff breeze in my face. I kept my head down, stayed on the aero bars and kept rolling best I could.

Soon I started seeing cyclists on the other side of the rode. They were in an event of some sort- may have been Race the Rockies. There were literally hundreds of them along the way, all riding down hill from Dillon and with a tailwind. Many of them wanted to wave, but eventually, it was just too much for me. If I was to reciprocate I would have had to have my arm in the air wagging constantly. Before long, I was getting frustrated by them. I don’t have a logical explanation as to why, it just was. I tried to ignore them and just ride.

When I got to Dillon, I started looking for a place to get food and settled on a McDonald’s just a block or so off route. I ate a huge breakfast and got back to the road. Right away, the route becomes a bike path that takes you from Dillon to Frisco and then Breckenridge. Normally this path would be a nice serene ride along the Dillon Reservoir. Not that day! It just so happened that the route for the racers I had seen earlier was the same path. The path is plenty wide for bikes to go both directions, but many of the hundreds of riders were riding side by side, way too fast and super rude. About a half dozen times I had riders almost hit me despite  their other racing friends continual cries of “RIDER UP!!!” as they passed me. Most weren’t paying attention. I was beyond frustrated.

In my sour mood, as I started the climb that goes up the dam, I soon saw chalk writing on the path in front of me.

GO Stephan GO!!!

GO Lael GO!!!!

GO Sarah GO!!!

Many of the top racers out in front had messages of encouragement drawn on the path. I found myself very jealous of those racers at that moment. As I rode on so frustrated with everything at that moment, I looked down just in time to see “GO Brian GO!!!” on the path….. WHAT?!?!? I did a big double take and emotion ran over me. Just then someone shouted my name. I looked up to see a man and his wife cheering me on!!! I was floored. They were from St Louis, in the area on vacation and wanted to make sure they came out to see me and Jason Kulma as we were “home town boys”. They gave me an apple and a water bottle and made my day. Sadly I can’t remember their names. It was such a special moment to me, I literally cried. To think that total strangers came out and cheered me on was just amazing. They probably will never know how much that meant, especially in that very moment when I was feeling the exhaustion and frustration of the race. Thank you!

With an uplifted mood, I rode on, still dodging the racers from the other direction, but with a bit less indignation. I made it to Frisco and continued on the path toward Breckenridge. Soon I saw Jason. He had camped near Green Mountain Reservoir and said he nearly froze! I was glad I made my choice to hotel in Kremmling. We chatted for just a bit and soon I was feeling the pull to go faster and rode on ahead. I still had big plans for the day and didn’t want to be encumbered by staying too close to anyone.

The ride to Breck was uneventful. When I got to town, I was specifically looking for a bike shop that I had stopped at the year before, as it is on the route. I found it quickly and went inside to buy two tubes and a new repair kit. Fully stocked up on repair items, I hit the road, stopping at a gas station for a super quick pit stop and supplies before leaving town.

Leaving Breckenridge in my rear view, I started the climb to Hoosier Pass, the highest point on the Trans Am and the last Rocky Mountain pass for East bounders. I attacked it with a vengeance, settling in with a big gear and eating the climb. Along the way, I passed Luke who had gotten by me riding through the night. I rode with a fierceness and intensity, digging deep in the well… probably too deep. In a 4300 mile race one should manage their resources. I wasn’t managing anything except competitive flame. I summited the pass right about noon. It was the first full day of my 44th year and I had never felt more fully alive. Mastering the mountain with nothing more than the power of my body and the will of my soul, I was now ready to descend from that peak and reclaim my race.

I descended the pass and made my way to Alma, where I grabbed some snacks at the general store. I then hit the road again, aiming to get out of elevation and well onto the prairie before I was done with my day.

The winds played a little havoc with me later on around Fairplay. It wasn’t a full-on headwind, but rather a quartering wind off my right side. I marched on and made good time to Hartsel. I had thought fully about what I would do when I got to Hartsel and stuck to my plan. First was a stop at the gas station for some select snacks and beverages, then quickly to the bar and grill for a big burger and fries. I got tripped up a little at the grill with some slow service, but overall I made it quick. Right before I left Hartsel, a check of Trackleaders showed Jason, Luke and Jimmy not far behind and closing.

Having had a very poor experience between Hartsel and Canon City last year, I was very focused on getting down out of the mountains before dark. I left Hartsel about 2:30PM with the hammer down and didn’t look back.

I got to Canon City about 6:00PM and was smoked. I had been riding hard for hours and it was hot down there!!! The heat was fine though as I had made it. Canon City is where I had DNF’ed the year before. Not this time!!! Finally I had put my demons from TABR15 to rest. I found a restaurant to get inside and cool off while eating. The food was sub-par at best, but served its purpose. I grabbed supplies before leaving town and rode off into the evening desert, happy to be out of the mountains and looking forward to what I planned to be my last Colorado sunset for the race.

I rode on in search of Wetmore and found it right about dark. I stopped for a nature break along the road and Jason caught me up. We rode on near each other for awhile, chatting off and on about the day.

In short order we were in Pueblo. Jason had plans to meet up with a Warmshowers host. I had no plan to stop. I had no interest in staying in Pueblo. Pueblo is the only place on the entire Trans Am where I have felt sketched out by my surroundings. It may just be me, but every time I have been there, I feel like I am seconds away from being mugged. I wanted to grab my stuff and go, so I did. I hit up a gas station, loaded up to the gills on supplies and rode on into the night, leaving the lights of the city behind me.

As I rode through the late evening, I was eating, drinking and watching the miles tick away. The further I went, the darker it got, until I was out in the remote areas of Eastern Colorado where the brightest lights are the stars. The road was merely a ribbon of dotted yellow paint on asphalt in front of me surrounded by my minuscule-in-comparison light shining a short ways out. My eyes got heavy and I started to fight sleep. I really had wanted to make a huge push, riding through the night to a sunrise in Kansas. With sleep looming, it didn’t look like that A goal for the day was going to happen.

In need of a place for a nature break, I found stockpile of rock chips along the side of the road. It seemed that the road would soon be receiving a new coat of chip-n-seal and this was the material for it. I went behind it for my business and afterward decided that the rock pile would make a great place to bivy. I climbed up on the pile of rock, rolled out my bivy and laid down. The sky was magnificent with billions of stars twinkling. It had been a monumental day for my race. I was out of the mountains, beyond where I had to stopped the year before and had made  240 miles on the day. That pleased me. I looked up in wonder at the big night sky, said a prayer of thanks and went to sleep.

Posted in Colorado, TABR16 | 8 Comments

TABR16- Day 11

When I went to sleep at 1:30PM in Saratoga, my plan had been to sleep the afternoon and then ride in the evening to try and minimize the effects of the winds on my progress. I was so sick of headwinds! It seemed like it was everyday. I got up with my alarm at some point in the late afternoon/early evening and the wind was still howling out of the south. I was hungry, so I went downstairs to the hotel’s restaurant and ate a big meal, then went back upstairs and went back to bed. I just didn’t have it in me to go.

Finally, I got up about 1:00Am. I had slept or at least rested and eaten for over 12 hours. I wasn’t real excited to get back out there, but I knew I should. I was beginning to get embarrassed for the amount of time I had spent down. Friends and family had been texting and calling, wishing me a happy 44th birthday, but also wanting to know what was up. I needed to get moving. I packed up, went across the block to the Kum & Go for supplies and headed out into the dark, cold night.

The winds were still blowing out of the south pretty good and progress was slow, but I had to keep moving. It was a slog for me to Riverside and I was cold in the night mountain air. It took me 2 hours to make the short 17 miles and I was already fighting sleep. Really?!?!? Frustrated with the situation and myself, I rolled into town. Across the street from where I was supposed to turn east onto Hwy 230, there was a community center and out front a teepee. I decided that would be a great spot and quickly opened the flap door, pulled my bike inside, rolled out my bivy and crawled in it for a nap. I slept almost 2 hours.

When I woke, the sun was coming up. I grabbed my things and quickly hit the road. It was cold and there was still a headwind, but I felt better about things and started to actually make some progress. I wasn’t breaking any land speed records, but progress is progress. By 10:00AM I made it to Walden, Co. I went to a restaurant on the main drag and ordered a big breakfast.

While I sat eating, in walks none other than Jason Kulma. Jason lives in Sty Louis, just 70 miles away from my home and he and I have done quite a few of the same events over the last few years. I was both happy and sad to see him. I was happy to see a familiar face, but if there was anyone in the race that I wanted to end up in front of, it would be him. I don’t mean that in a malicious way, just in a friendly rivalry sort of thing. This spurred me to finish my food and get going. As I was getting ready to leave, in came Jimmy Bisese, Janie Hayes’ husband. Jimmy sat with Jason and I hit the road.

I grabbed some things at a gas station on my way out of town and got going. Just outside of town I was met with more nasty headwinds. They were relentless it seemed! Fueled by competition and wanting to stay out in front of Jason, I stayed moving, making it across the valley to Rand and then up Willow Creek Pass. Crossing Willow Creek Pass was significant in my mind as it was the next to last pass in the Rockies. Next up- Hoosier Pass and then the mountains were done…for awhile.

A few miles after coming over the pass, as I passed a turnoff for a gravel road, I heard someone holler my name. It was JD, local bike mechanic and fellow TABR15 veteran! He had been coming out to meet all the racers and provide bike service if needed. I was in desperate need of some chain lube and he was happy to oblige. He also topped off my tires with his floor pump while we chatted a few minutes. It was great to see another familiar face! I didn’t stay long and hit the road right away, thanking JD for his help to me and all the other racers. What a treat!

Leaving JD, I continued on, making the turn onto US40 and then to Hot Sulphur Springs. When I got to town it was a little after 4PM.

I headed straight for a little roadside dairy bar that I had eaten at before. Sitting there was Luke Kocher and George Koefler. We chatted while we ate and discussed plans. Luke said he had ridden through the night and was exhausted. He was going to get a room in town and sleep for awhile. George and I both planned to go on. It was early still and despite the howling headwinds from the south, I needed to stay moving. The two of them left, I finished my food and then headed out of town.

The ride out of Hot Sulphur Springs was a slog. It is all down hill through the Colorado River gorge, but the winds were screaming up the gorge and there was zero coasting. Once out of the gorge and on the flatter sections beyond Parshall, riding was better, but the wind was something else.

I got to Kremmling about 6:15PM and had to make a decision. Kremmling is fairly high at 8000′ in elevation. It was pretty cool out that evening and I knew the temps would drop at night. I didn’t have the gear to bivy in the cold at that elevation and didn’t want to get stuck having to try to find a hotel room in the tourist traps ahead of Dillon, Frisco and Breckenridge. I decided to get a room at the Super 8 in Kremmling and get an early start the next day. I was disappointed that my mileage was so low. I had only made 148 miles on the day.

First things first, I went to the Kum & Go across the street and loaded up on food. Then I went to the hotel, checked in and started my laundry. Jimmy Bisese got to town not too long after me and stayed in the same hotel. He came down to do his laundry as well and asked if I wanted to have dinner and birthday beers at a Mexican restaurant across the street. I declined and said that I was going to sleep and get an early start the next day. I really regret not accepting his offer. It would’ve been a great way to celebrate my birthday and I know I would’ve enjoyed the company. I finished my laundry, ate my gas station burritos and went to bed.

 

Posted in Colorado, TABR16, Wyoming | 6 Comments

TABR16- Day 10

When I woke at the Rawlins Western Lodge, I was still very tired and very hungry. Much to my frustration and despite my plan, on my way to Rawlins I had ran out of food and went to bed without eating. As I gathered my things and packed up, I was starving. I was up early and made my way down the street to an auto parts store. My plan was to grab a tire patch kit there so I didn’t have to wait until a bike shop opened at 10AM. All they had was a car tire repair kit so I bought that and ditched everything but the cement. That would make sure I had a way to fix a flat until I could find a bike shop and get some tubes.

I then went in search of food. The closest place was McDonald’s and I wasn’t feeling real picky. I was surprised, but pleased to find fellow veteran racer Michael Wacker  there. He and I both raced in 2015 and DNF’ed. I was looking forward to seeing what he would accomplish in the 2016 race. I ordered big and sat down with him to eat. He was nursing a sore knee and was worried about the copious amounts of pain relievers he was having to take just to get by. He didn’t want to do permanent damage to his knee, so had made the decision to pull out of the race. I was gutted for him. What a difficult decision to make after all the planning for another year. Despite the somber mood of the occasion, it was a treat to get to share a meal with him. Once I was done eating, we said our goodbyes and I went my way.

On the way out of town, I loaded up to capacity with supplies at a gas station. No more running out of food!!!

The portion of the Trans Am that I was on was my absolute least favorite. Rawlins is just ok. Then just a couple miles down the road is Sinclair, home to Sinclair Oil’s head quarters and oil refinery. The stench of crude oil being processed permeates everything. Then it is 13 stress-inducing miles on the shoulder of Interstate 80. In my opinion, it just doesn’t get much worse than that for cycling. I muddled through it and was glad to have it behind me.

When I turned off I-80 and started south toward Saratoga, I was immediately confronted with a nasty head wind. It took almost 3 hours to make the simple 20 miles from the interstate to Saratoga. Add in the lack of energy from the previous night’s blunders and I was beat when I got to town. To make matters worse, I was well aware that typically the winds get worse in the afternoon. I found a ice cream parlor/diner on Main street and sat down to eat, recover a bit and make some decisions.

While I ate, I found myself doing all the things a racer shouldn’t.

  • First off, I wasn’t moving or asleep. That is never good. In the words of Mike Hall, “if you aren’t riding, eating or sleeping during a race, there better be a damn good reason why you aren’t.” I try to abide by that mantra usually, but my best excuse I can give is I was broken. Winds, hunger, disappointment of not being where I wanted to be and just plain being exhausted were all colluding to make things rather difficult for me and I was succumbing to the forces that be. Granted, I was eating, but I made a production out of it and was basically just wasting time shoving food in my face because I didn’t want to go back out there.
  • Second off, I was checking weather and  Trackleaders like they were going out of style. I was watching forecasts to see when the wind would die down. I was watching a few folks just behind me. They were closing in and wouldn’t be long catching up. I was also watching a few just ahead of me. I figured they were in the wind and hating it. I didn’t want to be out there hating it. I wanted to make the best use of my finite energy.
  • That all led me to doing “math” again. I was trying to figure out how I could stay out of the wind and make the best use of my time and energy.

In the end, I convinced myself that my best move was to get a motel room in town, sleep the afternoon away while the winds were worst. I would then get up in the evening and head out, riding through the night in conditions more conducive to progress and energy management. I went next door to Hotel Wolf, got a room and went to bed. It was 1:30 in the afternoon and I had made a whopping 43 miles on the day thus far. I hoped to make up for that in the evening, but the fact remained that the day was a bust.

Posted in TABR16, Wyoming | 6 Comments

TABR16- Day 9

I spent the night in the no-so-elegant Wind River Motel mostly because I like it. The rooms are old and the furnishings are scant, but it just felt right for me to be there. That and the rate was super cheap!

I slept longer than I should have and once up, went across the parking lot to the Village Cafe/Daylight Donuts. I ate a huge breakfast plus a couple donuts and waddled to my bike for what I planned to be another big day. I was on the road by 7:00AM.

The ride was easy and before I knew it, I was in Crowheart. I stopped at the general store for a quick snack and was back on my way. I was trying to keep my stops quick and stay moving as much as possible.

In Fort Washakie, I was a bit taken aback when the reservation sheriff pulled out in front of me from a side road. There was no question he had seen me. I guess he wasn’t much of a cyclist fan. Oh well.

As I approached Lander, I was getting pretty excited. In 2014 Phil and Linda Cardinal came through my hometown touring the Trans Am. My wife and I happened upon them and spent an evening hanging out together at Country Days, a fair the city puts on the first weekend in June every year. Phil and Linda had since moved to Wyoming and we had stayed in contact via Facebook. They were coming to meet me in Lander, if just for a moment, and say hi! We texted a bit and it was decided I should look for them at McDonald’s.

When I got to the golden arches, much to my surprise I found race director Nathan Jones and his partner in crime Anthony Dryer in the parking lot. They were out on course, taking pics and video of racers and had backtracked from the front of the pack to catch some mid-pack folks. It was great to see them!

Inside McDonald’s I found Phil & Linda. We sat together chatting in a booth while I stuffed my face with burgers, fries and apple pies. All too soon, my food was gone and I needed to hit the road. We said our goodbyes and I went across the street to a gas station for, you guessed it, supplies. 🙂 Added to the extra food I had gotten at McDonald’s, my plan was the supplies would get me the 80 miles to the gas station at Muddy Gap, where I would supply up for the next push to Rawlins. I left Lander a little after 2:00PM.

Not far outside Lander I could see the sky turning dark to the south. I figured I would have to deal with a storm and a check of radar on my phone confirmed it. It looked like a pretty nasty little bugger too. I remembered Scott McConnell’s tale of being stuck in a storm in this very valley the year before. Granted he did it at night, but I had no intention of riding through it if things got dicey. I felt I needed to respect the mountain weather.

I rode on, crossing over the Beaver Creek valley, hoping I could make it to Sweatwater Station (where there is a rest area) before the cold rain hit. As I reached the base of the climb up to the Beaver Divide, I could tell that I wasn’t going to make it. The wind was picking up and the air turned cold quickly. I was still about 9 miles and a pretty good climb away from the rest stop. The storm was bearing down on me and I was in the middle of nowhere in a desolate part of central Wyoming.

The storm was nearly on top of me and I was looking for anything for cover. I noticed a guardrail up ahead. I figured that meant a bridge. Maybe I could get under it and have some cover? I rode up to it, leaned my bike against the railing and bailed off the side of the road to inspect what was there. It was a big concrete culvert, likely designed for drainage after spring storms and snow melt. There was also a gate in the adjacent fence, making me think that it was used for livestock crossing under the highway too. About 10’x10′, it was plenty big and I felt that it wasn’t going to be a danger of flooding. I went back up, grabbed my bike and ducked into my “shelter”.

At first, I was disappointed in my holing up. The wind blew a bit and it looked nasty, but not much else was happening. About 10 minutes later, as I was about to “man up” and head out into the fray, the rain came. Due to my limited perspective from the culvert, I hadn’t see the massive black cloud coming overhead that brought fat drops of icy rain. I got cold with the wind whipping through the tunnel and put on my warm gear. It absolutely poured for 10-15 minutes. Rain was coming down hard enough to make it difficult to see. I was very thankful for my hiding spot!

As the rain let up, the wind died down as well. After a bit, I got out and back on the road. All total, I stayed holed up in my spot for about 45 minutes. 45 minutes well spent in my opinion. I stayed safe and didn’t have to deal with wet clothes robbing body heat afterward. I finished the climb and the remaining few miles to Sweatwater Station, where I stopped for a quick nature break and to fill my bottles in the rest area. A quick check of Trackleaders showed that the pair of Jay Petervary and Mark Seaburg were closing in on my pretty quick. I really knew nothing about Mark, but Jay is an icon in adventure bikepacking races. If there was any way at all that I could remain in front of them, I wanted to make it happen.

I left Sweatwater Station with a vengeance, aiming to put down miles and do so quickly. Despite being exhausted with tired legs, I found the energy to push out near a 25mph average for the 15 miles to Jeffery City. As I rode, I decided to eat my food from McDonald’s in Lander. I didn’t plan to stop in Jeffery City and I figured just about everyone in the race did plan to stop there due to it being the only spot for supplies within a 80 mile stretch. A check of Trackleaders as I rode out of Jeffery City showed I was making a little bit of ground, but only just staying in front of Jay and Mark. I kept the “gas pedal” mashed.

I became a bit obsessed about wanting to stay in front of Jay. Then I realized the time of day. If I stayed hammered down, I would make Muddy Gap a little after 9:00PM. Would the station be open? I didn’t know, but I was about out food and had nowhere else to go. I kept pushing hard and had my sites set firmly on that station. Of to the south, big black thunderheads were soaking the mountains and providing a spectacular lightning show. At Muddy Gap, I would turn south and likely have those storms in my path. Then I felt the mush of a slow leaking front tire.

I tried to be in denial for a bit, thinking that if I rode with more of my weight toward the back of the bike I could limp the 10 miles or so to Muddy Gap, but soon enough I had to stop. It was a slow leak and I didn’t want to take the time to change the tube to only end up with the station closed when I got there, so I pumped the tire up and went back to riding. Just a few miles down the road and it was about flat again. I ended up having to stop and pump it up three times.

When I got close enough to the station at Muddy Gap to see it, I could tell it was a ghost town. It was 9:15PM and I had missed it. Come to find out, they had closed at 7 or 8, so the entire plot was for not. I wouldn’t have made it anyway. I sat down next to the gas pumps and opened up my front tire. I planned to patch it and save my last spare tube for an emergency. I had used my first spare when I flatted coming out of Kooskia, ID and hadn’t replaced it yet. When I opened my patch kit, the rubber cement was completely dry. Nothing at all. I was gutted. I scoured the inside of the tire to do my best to make sure there wasn’t a small thorn or piece of wire stuck in it, then put my tire back together with my only spare tube.

I now had no spares, no patch kit, no food, little water and about 50 miles to Rawlins across some of the more desolate parts of the route in Wyoming at night with storms looming on the horizon. It was now 9:30PM and the temps were dropping. It was shaping up to quite possibly be a really interesting evening.

All I could do was ride. I quit checking Trackleaders and radar. If someone caught me, so what. If the rain came, I would get wet. If I bonked completely from lack of food or I had a flat, I would walk. I had no choice but to just ride. I put my headphones in and rode across the dessert in the dark. On and on, just keep moving. Up and over a climb. Down into the Great Divide Basin. Then the climb out of the basin. I was hungry, thirsty and tired, but I just rode on.

Once out of the basin, I knew it wasn’t far to Rawlins, but all down hill. I was cold and ended up putting on everything I had. I even had my puff coat on with my rain jacket over it. As I started to see the lights of town, I was getting excited. I had made it! It was 1:30AM.

Upon reaching Rawlins, I was gutted again to find nothing open. Every gas station and restaurant was closed. Nothing to eat at all. Later I would have the chance to chat with Jay and he told me about a diner on the bypass that stays open all night. I had followed the Trans Am route through town and missed it. Dejected, I went to look for a hotel.

I stopped at the same one I stayed at in 2015, Rawlins Western Lodge. The door was open, but to my surprise, there was a note that said they were closed and would be open at 10AM. There was also a note that said that if guests needed someone, to push a doorbell button there. I needed a room and wasn’t going anywhere until I had one. I pushed the button…and then again….and then again. Finally the woman came to the desk, sleepy eyed. I had obviously woken her. I apologized and said I need a room and asked if they had vacancy. She muttered things and began checking me in. In her frustration, she said something to the effect of, “can’t you read?”, referring to the sign that they were closed. I said, “do you want my money or not?” She finished the transaction and gave me a key. I thanked her and found my room down the hall. I felt bad about the way I reacted to her, but she had been a bit rude. In the end, I guess I was at fault for ignoring the sign. It is easy for me to get snippy when I am exhausted and hungry.

After having wandered around town looking for food, then the checking in process, it was getting pretty late. There was guest laundry facilities just down the hall from my room. I put my clothes in then went to shower. I came back then and put clothes in the dryer and set an alarm to get up and get them when they were done. Then I went to sleep “for real”. What a day. I finished the day with 210 miles. I was good with that, thinking that the next day I would be in Colorado!!!

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TABR16- Day 8

After a disappointing day 7, I woke at the Driftwater Resort to my alarm at 4:00AM with renewed vigor. Day 8 would be a much better day and I was going to make it happen!

I gathered everything and hit the road quickly. It was a cold morning, but I was prepared with the kit I had. I made pretty quick work of the route along Quake and Hebgen Lakes, then made my way into West Yellowstone for a super fast breakfast at McDonalds. I ran across the street to a gas station for supplies and a nature break, then headed for Yellowstone. I spent a total of 15 minutes in town. I was bound and determined to get as far as possible into the park before the throng of people came.

Being the 100th anniversary of the national park service and the fact that it was Yellowstone on a Saturday in June, I figured the park would be crawling with tourists and traffic jams. I have traveled through this part of Yellowstone 3 times prior to this trip, so I had no desire to see anything except for the miles flying by. I went through the west gate about 8:00AM and after paying my fare, didn’t slow down until Grant Village. I passed right by every spot to stop and see something, right by all the traffic stopped to look at buffalo (I just rode on the small shoulder right passed them) and right by the buffalo themselves as they stood in the road. I was a little sketched out by the beasts being that close, but I figured as long as they were there, the cars couldn’t get by and I would have smooth sailing on the other side.

At one point I needed to pee REALLY bad, but I was climbing one of the passes in the park and the traffic was too heavy to just stop and go along the road. I decided that at the next little pullout, I would go up in the woods and take care of business. When that next pullout came, I started to slow down, but noticed a bike in the woods just a few yards off the road. Upon further inspection I saw the bikepacking bags on the bike and a bivy on the ground. I knew then it was a racer, so I never put a foot down, kept riding and tried to be as quiet as possible so as not to wake them. Every person I could pass made me feel a bit better about my debacle from the day before. Later I would look at Trackleaders and see it was Lee Fancourt taking a nap.

I made the 51 miles from West Yellowstone to Grant Village in right at 4 hours. I was super pleased with that given it was through the park with traffic and several significant climbs. I resupplied there and tore off again, aimed at getting over Togwotee before the night was over.

As I came out of Yellowstone and into Tetons, the weather was beginning to turn. Clouds were moving in and there was a bit of cold rain. The mosquitos were atrocious as well! I stopped at the station at the turn to Colter Bay, then headed off again. Just up the rode about a mile I came across two young guys who were obviously touring and had one of their bikes turned over changing a tire. I stopped to make sure they were ok and found they weren’t. The new tire they were installing was super tight and they had been trying for an hour to get it on the rim. I put the tire on for them and asked if they needed help airing it up. They blushed and said no, so I left them be and headed on. Later, when I got home after the race, they got in contact with me as they came through my home town. Come to find out I had punctured the tube with the tire levers while putting that tire on and they had to do it over! What a dope! They were good sports about it all and just grateful that I stopped to help. They mentioned I was the first racer they met as the others wouldn’t stop. That made be feel good. It is a race, but sometimes you gotta let it go.

My view of the Tetons was obscured by clouds as I rode passed Jackson Lake. No matter. I kept rolling with intent. Soon I made the turn at Moran Junction and headed East for Togwotee Pass. As I passed the Hatchet Resort at the base of the climb, cold rain began again. It set in and made things a bit nasty. I was fine with it. I was staying warm by climbing. The digital highway sign stating “Stay in your car!!!! Bears on the road!!!” didn’t help though. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to combat that. I just made as much noise as I could, singing and talking to myself as I climbed in the rain.

Half way up the pass (or so), I stopped at Togwotee Mountain Lodge and went inside for some food. I knew at this point that I would make it over the pass that night, but I wasn’t sure I would get to Dubois in time to get any food, so it was a no brainer to me. I wasn’t going to go through the same thing that I did in Twin Bridges. After a quick meal, I headed back out into the rain and fleeting light of day to finish the climb. It was only 7:00, but with the clouds and rain, it seemed pretty dark.

The remainder of Togwotee was fairly uneventful. Toward the end of the climb, the rain stopped. I never saw a grizzly, but it wasn’t for lack of watching. At the top, I stopped and put on clothes for the descent. It was cold and wet and I was a bit sketched by the curvy, wet road in the earliest, steepest part, but it was uneventful as well. I did have a few times where there were deer very near the road on my way down. That always makes me nervous, thinking they may run out in front of me. Nothing doing. They would look up as I passed, but then return to grazing. A few miles down, I stopped at Lava Lodge for a cup of coffee to warm up. It was a short stop, but a nice respite from the cold of coming off the mountain.

The sun set and I finished the ride into Dubois, pronounced DO-boys. Just ask the locals. As I came into town, I was pleased that I stopped at Togwotee Lodge for a meal. Nothing was open. I passed by a couple of chain hotels at the western edge of town and headed for a particular mom & pop place that I have stayed at before. The Wind River Motel is a 1940’s era place. Not much in the name of accommodations, but it suits me fine. As I was pulling in the lot, the old lady that runs the place was shutting the lights out in the office. I rushed over and she was gracious enough to rent me a room. I thanked her, did our business, took the key and found my room for the night.

In the end, I made 188 miles on the day. Not an earth shattering amount, but not bad considering it was through the parks and over the second highest pass on the route (9658′). Much better than the day prior. I went to sleep, pleased with my come back and anxious to make more headway the next day.

 

Posted in Montana, TABR16, Wyoming | 4 Comments