2021 Trans Am Bike Race Day 13 Report
Friday June 18, 2021: Another 2:30am alarm, another similar reaction – where am I? What the fuck is going on?
One Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi……………9 Mississippi.
Ah ha……that’s right!
9 Seconds for the neurons to reconnect and for the penny to drop……The Trans America Bike Race baby! Day 13.
Motivation was high to put in a big day. My average daily distance had fallen off a cliff over the last 3 days – 191 kilometres vs 270 kilometres per day over the previous 3 day period. Decent excuses (well, sort of) for the 3 early finishes – bike maintenance delays, insane heat and the need to tend to my soul via steak and beer, but the stagnating output simply had to stop. An early start was mission critical to get back on form.
There was a complication to the “big day” plan though. Well, actually there were 2 – 2 bike shops that I needed to stop at in Silverthorne:
Gore Range Sports – I was very keen to get back to the peace of mind of tubeless tyres and had arranged with a contact of my local bike shop in Philly to have a suitable tubeless tyre waiting for me there.
Sun n’ Ski – the bike shop that I had stopped at in Lander 2 days ago didn’t have the required brake pads that I needed, but my man Ed had very kindly rung around bike shops on route and sourced a couple.
A piece of luck that both bike shops were in the same town but either stop was a possible banana skin.
As I wheeled my bike out into the cool, clear, deathly quite early morning I definitely felt an additional sense of urgency. In order to give myself the best chance of making these 2 stops as seamless as possible I would need to arrive at the 1st bike shop by mid afternoon at the very latest. It was 3am and Silverthorne was 200ks down the road. The time frame was doable but there was no margin for error / delay.
I had a solid incentive but checked Trackleaders for extra motivation as I pedaled out of dimly lit Walden and out into the blackness. There were 2 dots in town and 2 dots 100ks down the road in Hot Sulphur Springs.
Sonny, who had just arrived at the Antlers Inn late yesterday afternoon as I was leaving with a belly full of steak was still in Walden, as was AM – Alan Murphy.
Holy fucking shit!
I hadn’t seen Alan since way back on Day 1 but as I was connected with him via a Facebook Group chat I had heard all about his early mechanical issues and subsequent delays getting spare parts. He’d lost a lot of time over the first few days of the race but was now back with a vengeance, doing as Wade Walbrun had done – sling shotting through the field. Another extraordinary effort!
The 2 dots in Hot Sulphur Springs were that of Wade Walbrun and Hunter Shaak.
I was the only dot on the move.
The moment and the mood called for fire up tunes at volume 11 but loud music delivered via headphones is always a little freaky in the dark and so I settled on a new audiobook, Alexander Hamilton’s biography. His amazing life story up until his role in the Siege of Yorktown (yep, rather relevant), during the Revolutionary War got me though to dawn.
Just after dawn breaks the 1-2% that I’ve been battling ramps up a tad as the route exits the North Park Basin and climbs up and over the Continental Divide for the penultimate time – Willow Creek Pass at 2,951 metres.
3 hours of hard slog and then finally some downhill.
The first part of the descent is through burn out forest, part of the aftermath of the second largest wildfire ever recorded in Colorado, the East Troublesome Fire that ripped through the area in October last year scorching 193,812 acres and killing two people. A scene reminiscent to that I rode through on Day 2 along the McKenzie River in Oregon, although more remote and less built up here so minimal property damage to be seen thank goodness.
The second half of the descent down into the valley is quite spectacular as the sun finally rises above the mountains – steeply rolling green farmland framed by massive peaks. I may have let out a couple of “fucks yeah’s” as I hit the drops, squeezing the last few drops of adrenaline from the experience.
I am now in Middle Park, the second of the three large mountain valleys (or parks) in Colorado on the western side of the Front Range of the Rockies. I bid adieu to State Highway 125, the road I have been on since I crossed the state line into Colorado yesterday afternoon, and take a hard right onto the frenetic US Route 40. Plenty of traffic and no shoulder so I need to really concentrate.
Heading west now (the Trans Am route is far from a straight shot) following the Colorado River.
By the time I get to Hot Sulphur Springs I’ve been on the go for over 4.5 hours. I could really do with a resupply but there is nowhere obvious to do so, so I crack on to the much bigger town of Kremmling, 30ks further on.
I finally roll into Kremmling just over an hour later and pull into the same large, bustling gas station I stopped at 4 years ago. The temperature has been rising and I quickly extricate myself from my sweaty cool weather clobber and head inside to stock up.
125ks in 5.5 hours. I am extremely relieved at the progress – all is going according to plan.
I hastily consume the couple of armfuls of food and drink in a picnic area next to the gas station that has been set up for some temporary outdoor food stalls and then call Gore Range Sports to let them know that I’m on target for an early afternoon arrival.
“Ok man. Be careful on Highway 9.” said a friendly voice.
I was starting to get a little relaxed kicking back in the sun but a quick check of Trackleaders soon had me scrambling to get back out amongst it. I had passed Hunter in Hot Sulphur Springs and I was only 15ks behind Wade.
Giddyup. Take 2.
I stiffly remounted my faithful and soon to be improved steed and pedaled on out of Kremmling on Highway 9, heading south now with some big bloody mountains in front of me and the Blue River, a tributary of the Colorado River off to my right.
It is a tough 70ks to Silverthorne, trending uphill the whole way. It is also a very busy road (hence the “Be careful”), with no shoulder for a substantial section from the Green Mountain Reservoir. There is a very good reason why the Trans Am route diverts around the reservoir on a quiet back road but for some reason my Garmin kept me on the busy section.
T’was a little sketchy with plenty of close passes.
It was with substantial relief that I finally made it to the large town, the gateway to the world class ski resorts of Keystone, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Vail etc, etc…
Pitstop 1: Gore Range Sports
I googled directions to Gore Range Sports which was not hard to find at all – just off route in a retail complex adjacent to the Blue River. I was met by the friendly, smiling faces of Dave, the bike tech and Jackson, the owner who was working on a set of skis. All the bike shops in this part of the world double as ski shops.
A bit of banter and then I was off to grab some lunch. The perfect crime – bike gets fixed while I use the time to do what I would have done anyway.
“Hey Mark! Before you go man, I need the valve.”
“No worries………hang on a minute……..oh shit!”
I remembered clearly Ed at Gannett Peak Sport in Lander giving it to me, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember where I put it. My head was fried at the time. It could be any damn where. I proceeded to empty the entire contents of my bags all over the counter…….crap everywhere but no valve.
“You got one in stock?”
“Nah dude, unfortunately not. Nothing that long.” Yet again my non standard set-up biting me in the arse. (I needed a valve for a tubeless tyre that was long enough for 60mm wheel rims)
Maybe Sun n’ Ski has one. I rang them. Sorry, nothing in stock. I rang the other 2 bike shops in town. Same answer.
Fuck it. Yet another wasted bike shop stop………..more woe is me!
“Don’t sweat it man. You have a good tubed tyre already. I’ll just throw some sealant in there……it’ll be bomb proof.”
Dave. The voice of calm reason.
So all in all, it turned out ok – far from a wasted stop. I achieved the peace of mind in regards the performance of the rear tyre I was after and I also had the pleasure of hanging out with two lovely, chill blokes for a little while.
Selfies, high-fives and back slaps……………………….”I’ll be back one day for ski season and a beer boys!”
Pitstop 2: Sun n’ Ski
Out into the hustle and bustle of Friday afternoon Silverthorne and the confusion of the bike path system. I got a little waylaid but finally found Sun n’ Ski. Lauren was waiting for me as she’d be checking Trackleaders which they had set up on a big screen at the front of the store.
More smiling, friendly faces……..I freakin’ love bike/ski shop people. They have the work – life balance well and truly stacked the right way and have the positive attitude to boot!
Lauren and I chatted for a while while the shop mechanic applied the new brake pads. She mentioned that De’Anna Caligiuri had been in the day before looking for sun protection clothing, sun sleeves and the like as she had got badly sun burned in the sweltering, shade-less heat of Wyoming.
“Any tougher she would rust” I said, “She is riding one hell of a race!”
“She certainly is.”
My bike was soon ready, I paid up and graciously accepted a couple of handfuls of Energy chews that had been left in the shop by brand reps. They were the less desirable flavours but hey, you never know when the calories may come in handy….
Now for the lunch that I didn’t get a chance for earlier. I’d been stuck in Silverthorne for over 2 hours and I was more than antsy to get out of Dodge but needs must. I spotted a Subway and rolled over to it.
I demolished a Footlong , a couple of cookies and a Coke whilst checking my route notes. Mmmm, lets see. It’s 3pm. The summit of Hoosier Pass is 47ks away – all uphill. There are accommodation options in Alma, 6ks down the mountain, Fairplay 10ks further on and then negligible options for the next 120ks to Canon City.
Fairplay it is. I booked a room.
Back into it.
Onto the bike path again pedaling south out of Silverthorne and Dillon, past the vast Dillon Reservoir to Frisco and then onwards, battling a ferocious headwind to Breckenridge. The wind was coming from the direction of the mountain I was due to climb and there were gathering dark clouds up there. A tad concerning – dark clouds on a 3,500m mountain means nothing good.
To delay the inevitable I decided on a coffee. No better place on the whole Trans Am route to get a good cup of coffee than the cosmopolitan main drag of Breckenridge, Colorado. I followed my nose to Clint’s Bakery & Coffee House on Main Street and the resultant Flat white, brownie and oat-bar could not have hit the spot better.
Awrighty then, enough pissing about. Its 5pm. Time to climb the bloody mountain.
I couldn’t put it off any longer. I gingerly (saddle sores were starting to rear their ugly heads) mounted my bike and commenced the battle with Hoosier Pass. I couldn’t help but notice that my chosen late Friday afternoon activity was in direct contrast to that of the Moncler and Canada Goose adorned tourists. A fish out of water until the next Trans Am racer passes through. A quick glance at Trackleaders indicated that that would be Sonny. Hunter had passed me during my sabbatical in Silverthorne.
As I pedaled out of town back on Highway 9, with the gradient already biting, it started to rain……..of bloody courser it did!
With the rain and the traffic it was a pretty unpleasant climb but extremely satisfying once I reached the summit just under 2 hours later, 2 minutes faster than my 2017 effort. It is a significant milestone in the context of the race. Not only is it the highest mountain but it also the last crossing of the Continental Divide. All downhill now to the Atlantic Ocean and to the finish in Yorktown.
I began the descent completely under dressed for the conditions, a little over excited to go very fast. The excitement was very soon stifled though by the rain, road spray and cold and I needed to stop twice within a kilometre of the summit to don my rain duds, gloves and to tuck the hoodie of my rain jacket under my helmet.
Memories of Lolo Pass came flooding back.
The first 5ks of the descent was damn uncomfortable. There was a lot of standing water on the road and my lower half was getting soaked through. I was also getting very cold as all I could do was ride the brakes to keep my speed down, for safety’s sake and in a vein attempt to not get so wet.
It was with significant relief that the road flattened somewhat and I could increase my effort. Thoughts of a warm shower……or maybe even a bath and a hot meal spurring me on.
I was really giving it some when I became aware of the deep growl of a diesel engine approaching from behind. Not an unfamiliar sound, no doubt emanating from a raised pickup truck with an altered diesel engine. Both indicators of significant personality deficiencies……in my opinion.
On this occasion my prejudice was spot on.
His (another assumption) first act of aggression was multiple revs of the ridiculous engine, no doubt meant to scare me.
Not scared but the fuckwit had my attention.
His next was to pull up next to me and to yell something incoherent. Even if I could speak Dickhead I still wouldn’t have been able to hear it – the combination of engine and road noise made it impossible. My first instinct was to flip the bird (yes, not the best idea) but I was flying along at circa 40km/hr on a very wet road and needed all hands on deck and my full attention on where I was going.
His third was to to pull up in front of me and to “blow coal” – ie pump his accelerator to produce thick plumes of black diesel smoke.
I’d seen this all before (to be fare though, quite rarely) but on this occasion a car was also overtaking me behind the truck, so the black smoke not only temporarily blinded me but also the car driver. The car driver hit the brakes, as did I. I fishtailed and came very close to running up the back of the car……at significant speed.
A very close call. The closest I have ever had on a bike.
I was filled with an incandescent rage and mashed the pedals ferociously in a vein attempt to catch up with the piece of human trash, while screaming blue murder. I didn’t catch him obviously. Lucky for him. I am not a fighter. I have only ever thrown two punches in anger, both of which didn’t even connect with the desired target but I was so fucking angry that I was capable of anything in that moment.
What a C U Next Tuesday!
Not long after the incident I rolled into the old gold mining town of Alma. Still Furious. I kept a very keen eye out for the raised pickup and its very obvious dodgy black paint job. So incredibly true to stereotype. No such sighting but I did consider popping into the local police station but on reflection knew that that would be a complete waste of time.
It took me quite a while to calm down but thoughts of a hot bath (yep, I had decided – hopefully the hotel would have one) and a hot meal eventually took over, motivating my effort to Fairplay, which I eventually rolled into just after 7:30pm. My hotel was on the far side of town, and as luck would have it right next door to a Chinese Restaurant. I was soaked through and shivering with cold but the bath would have to wait. I needed food.
The restaurant was packed with quite a few people waiting to be seated and I created quite the scene, dripping mud and water all over the place. I got to talking to a lovely couple who were on a road trip, all the way from Florida. They were more blown away than most when I told them what I was up to. They wanted to hear more and invited me to join them when a table eventually became available but I graciously declined. They incredibly kindly insisted on paying for my food though.
Consider my faith in humanity suitably restored.
My takeout took forever but it was worth the wait, as was the bath. I even combined the two – eating Chinese food in the bath is quite the unsung luxury.
What a day!