2021 Trans Am Bike Race Day 12 Report
Thursday June 17, 2021: Yet again, an early finish called for a very early start. However, on this occasion I was ready and rearing to answer the call of the 2:30am alarm. I had even pre-packed my bike and laid out neatly all the required clothing that the weather forecast prescribed – pleasantly cool conditions in the early morning. Actually, upon reflection, “ready and rearing” may be slightly overdoing it. Ready – maybe due to a strong desire to get some good k’s in before the heat of the day kicked in, but rearing – maybe not. My condition more accurately summarised as sunburnt, dehydrated and half asleep, in addition to the standard lethargy, aches and pains from the previous 11 long days in the saddle.
In summary, my head was in the game, my body less so, but the body would do as it was told.
I had no appetite but forced a couple of slices of stale pizza down my throat, washing it down with juice and a caffeine tablet……or two. I then dressed and poked in my contact lenses.
Pitter patter, let’s get at er!
Oh no……..you must be fucking kidding me!
In my half asleep state I had not noticed the rear flat tyre until the moment I was about to wheel my bike out the door. As flaccid as a shed snakeskin.
It hit me like a punch to the gut.
Sun affected? In denial? Too tired? Just plain couldn’t be bothered? It had fixed itself? Who knows. Whatever the answer, despite nursing a slow leaking tyre for nigh on 10 hours of riding yesterday I had failed to address the problem.
My head was no longer in the game……..I’m way too tired for this shit!
In that headspace I literally could not face what needed to done. I took off my helmet, shoes and gloves. I then flipped my bike and took off the rear wheel, before promptly falling back into bed.
I lay on the bed for another 90 minutes or so. Sleep would have been ideal but I was too agitated for that. Instead I made a conscious effort to just calm the fuck down. Watching TV, aimlessly flicking through the internet (“Bike shops in Rawlins”)…….just taking my mind off bike riding for a little while, helped.
Soon enough common sense and a cooler head prevailed……..just fix the fucking flat you dickhead!
Which I did. The source of the slow leak soon becoming very obvious – a sharp piece of road detritus about 4mm long.
Before “hit the road take 2” I checked Trackleaders. Ah ha, a little mid pack congestion ay? Sonny was making his way into Rawlins. Two other racers had passed me overnight – Hunter was 35ks up the road and WW (Wade Walbrun) from Rhode Island was out amongst it, about 10ks behind Hunter.
Wade deserves a special mention. I had met him and his wife at the racer briefing way back in Astoria, the day before the race. His determination to put in a strong effort and finish was palpable after having to scratch in an earlier edition. He had a very strong start, being very much at the pointy end of the field early before developing the condition that we all dread, Shermer’s Neck . Refusing to let it beat him, he took a few days off the bike to recover and to adapt his bike so that there would be less stress on his neck. Whatever adjustments he made worked and over the last week he had sling shotted through the field, picking off at least 11 racers one by 1, yours truly being the most recent. An extraordinary effort!
There was plenty to go at then………although to be fair, I was far from feeling the racing vibe at that moment.
I exited the hotel just before 6am, ducked across the road to the gas station for the usual fare and then at long last I was finally pedaling out of Rawlins. I was a little on edge – please, please be ok rear tyre!
30 minutes into the day the rear tyre would get its first test – road works on Interstate 80. There had been a bit of chat on the race Facebook page about the roadworks on this highly trafficked stretch creating rather sketchy riding conditions but I had completely forgotten about it. If I had remembered I may have been motivated to put this section behind me last night when the road wasn’t as busy.
Sketchy is right!
Interstate 80 is the second longest Interstate Highway in the US which bisects the continent from San Francisco to New York City. In other words it is a major freaking road, in a different galaxy from that which is suitable for bike riding. Unfortunately it is a necessary evil for about 20 kilometres as part of the Trans America Bike Trail. 4 years ago I had felt exposed with massive tracks flying past me, but I had the benefit of a very wide, yet road detritus laden shoulder, as cover. This year though, the east bound dual carriageway was closed for road works, requiring the east bound traffic to utilize one of the west bound lanes. There was now bugger all cover, just a foot wide rumble strip between us bike riders and oblivion – the damn trucks weren’t slowing either.
To make matters worse the rising sun was still low in the east, thus making me even harder to see – the fluro pink can only do so much.
I put up with the ridiculous risk for 5 buttock clenching kilometres before pulling off the road.
I literally didn’t know what to do. My head was all of a sudden fried……again. I made a very poor decision and attempted to hitch a ride – pure insanity given that the only likely outcome was a massive accident if anyone was stupid enough to stop and pick me up.
It took 20 minutes before I finally saw reason – I’m gonna have to ride through the road works.
I walked my bike across the grass to the closed east bound lanes. The road was cut back and very rough but who bloody cares – I was safe. I really should have taken this course of action earlier. My decision making was noticeably taking a turn for the shithouse. Probably sleep related. A decent, stress free nights rest was an absolute necessity tonight.
After another hour or so of teeth chattering vibration I finally took leave of that Godforsaken interstate section and exited right, heading due south now on State Highway 130.
Not far on some movement from the bushes off to my left caught my eye.
Hang on a minute, that’s a Trans Am Racer……its…….its…….none other than Hunter Shaak. He had obviously bivy’d out there last night – you can take the boy out of the Marines but you will never take the Marines out of the boy.
“Hey mate, how the fuck are ya………getting your beauty sleep?!”
I waited while he packed up his gear and moseyed over.
Meaty high fives all around.
It was damn good to see him. Yep, I had been keeping a keen eye on his dot and indeed racing him and others hard but when you eventually come across another racer in person the racing aspect disappears – just 2 weary, battle-hardened bike riders / adventurers catching up in the middle of bloody nowhere for the first time in 4 days. Swapping stories.
We rode side by side for a little while catching up as best we could before single file became the safer option, before convening over the next 50 kilometres at the towns of Saratoga and then Riverside.
Hunter and I stocked up at the Trading Post in the tiny little town of Riverside which adjoins another tiny little town, Encampment which didn’t use to be so tiny. The area was a Copper Mining and smelting boom town of the early twentieth century, before cattle ranching became the dominant industry in da hood.
Having enough water on the bike was the pressing issue of the rest stop. We’d need enough to last the 80ks to the next services in Walden. It was getting damn hot / mid 30s Celsius so plenty was needed although what was practical to carry was another matter. We’d need to ration almost immediately.
Hunter was off first whilst I stuffed around applying sunscreen………badly. I was getting a little self conscious at my Rudolph Red snout and the geometrically perfect rectangles of sunburn on my balled melon. I caught up with him soon enough though and we rode 2 abreast for a while on the widish road shoulder. The tough riding conditions – heat, steady climbing and elevation (we were now well above 2,400 metres), soon dictating that we settle into our own headspace and ride out our own pace.
After 2 hours and 45ks of hard slog I finally made it to the Colorado State Line, overjoyed to finally have Wyoming at my back after 3 days in the Cowboy State. Yet again a widely varying experience, from the exhilaration of Yellowstone to the head messing, windy, shit roads and furnace like heat of the Wyoming Basin, the latter in which a majority of those 3 days were spent.
Shit roads absolutely but at least they had a shoulder. Literally at the State Line where Wyoming Highway 230 morphs into Colorado State Highway 125 the road shoulder goes from a safe 4 feet to a less safe 0 feet. 100% trust now in the drivers of the vehicles approaching from the rear.
Into Colorado’s North Park now, a high, sparsely populated basin flanked by substantial mountains and bisected by the North Platte River. Cattle Ranching very much on display.
Not long past the state line I start to struggle. Its a combination of the heat and a fatigue that I just can’t seem to shake. I need a nap……badly. There is nowhere suitable to nap though. No shade to speak of – 100% diminishing returns in just laying in the sun. Actually, thinking about it, there has been no road side natural shade for 3 freakin’ days! No trees to speak of since Togwotee Pass! The only flora has been grass or bushes.
For crying out aloud!
Thank goodness though I don’t have too wait long. As I crest a hill I spy some shade on the other side of a little valley where the road dips to cross the North Platte River and climbs up through a non descript clump of trees.
I pedal on enthusiastically but when I get closer it soon becomes obvious I’d have to carry my bike across some ridiculously rough terrain to get to the shade. I’m keen for a nap but not that keen.
40 minutes later as I roll into the little community of Cowdrey I spy some roadside shade on a patch of grass. It is pretty much someones front yard and Walden is only 15ks down the road but I don’t care. I just gotta get off the bike for a while. I wheel my bike off the road, lay it down and fall down next to it.
“Walden’s not that far…….”
Hunter rolls up.
“Yeah I know mate but I’m fucked. I need a nap………See you down the road.”
He pedals on while I lay in the shade, close my eyes and drift off to sleep.
I nap for about 20 minutes and then get back to it. A new plan now firmly planted in my head which revolves around steak and beer.
Mmmmmm Steak and beer!
I’m going to overnight in Walden tonight. It’ll be a very early finish but needs must. I gotta tend to my soul.
Thoughts of steak and beer motivate my effort for the next 15ks to Walden – a straight, up and down affair. The same stretch made famous in the documentary Inspired to Ride where those 2 characters on the balcony of the Antlers Inn watch Brian Steele as he makes his way into town.
Speaking of the Antlers Inn that is exactly where I went for Steak and Beer. Very local Ribeye washed down by a coupla New Belgium Brewing’s finest.