2021 Trans Am Bike Race Day 15 Report
Sunday June 20, 2021 (Fathers Day): Pre Sparrow fart, aka stupid o’clock aka very early in the morning (or is 2:30am still night? – Strava thinks so) on the first day of the 3rd week of the race brought with it a determination and focus that was very out of context for so deep in an ultra race. Rather than just tap away, riding time I had a real desire to smash the shit out of the day. To leave it all out on the road.
It all sounds a little trite but that was where my head was at.
Plenty of reasons actually but primarily I think it was a deeply rooted need to honor 3 fallen cyclists. Three cyclists whose memory and associated emotions were particularly visceral on Fathers Day. Three cyclists who had been rarely from my mind during the months of training and preparation for this race. If I could ride with real passion today I would be honoring their memories. 3 cyclists who lived and rode their bikes with passion.
The 3 cyclists were:
1. Samuel Ozer. Sam was a local kid that lived nearby to me in Philly who was hit by a car and killed riding home from his summer dream job at his local bike shop on Fathers Day 2020. He had just graduated from school and had his whole life in front of him. I was raising money to assist with the building of a useable memorial to Sam, called Sam’s Place at the school he attended that specialized in children with learning differences. Sam had transformed from a shy second grader unable to match sounds to letters to a leader among his peers with a passion for engineering and bikes.
2. Eric Fishbein: I met Eric halfway up McKenzie Pass on the second day of the 2017 Trans Am. From that first meeting I could literally smell the competitiveness on the guy. I got the impression that at 61, he was determined to prove to us “younger” guys who was the tougher cyclist. There was no doubt it was him. He smoked me up McKenzie Pass and I spent the better part of the next 2 and a bit weeks keeping a vigilant eye on his dot, trying to track him down, which I did once in Wyoming (but only because of a windstorm), before he pulled away again. He was hit by a car and killed at around 10:10pm on the night of Day 15, 50ks from where I was bivying by the side of the road. I found out about his passing the next morning, Fathers Day 2017.
3. John Egbers: I also met John on Day 2 of the 2017 race on McKenzie Pass, actually at the same time I met Eric. We had all stopped to push our bikes around the barrier that prevents vehicle traffic from continuing further up the mountain whilst conditions near the summit are still effected by snow. Eric had continued on but John stopped for a chat and to take a photo – me of him and him of me. We crossed paths a couple more times over the next week, in Idaho and Wyoming before he was forced to scratch due to breaking his wrist in a fall in Yellowstone. Over the next year we swapped a few messages and he was a regular contributor to a group chat of 2017 racer alum. We all watched with excitement and envy as he returned to the Trans Am in 2018 to take care of the unfinished business. We watched in awe as his dot flew across the country, well ahead of his planned schedule. We watched in horror as his dot stopped on State Route 96 in Kansas and subsequently moved in a straight line, off road and at 100+ of kilometres per hour to a hospital in Wichita. We found out later that he had actually stopped to pay his respects to Eric at a temporary roadside memorial and was later hit by a car only 15ks further up the road. He suffered horrendous injuries, put up one hell of a fight but passed away 3 weeks later.
It would be an emotional day, made even more so due to the fact that I would most probably be riding past the spots where both Eric and John had been hit, about 200 kilometres up the road in Kansas. I had been messaging with John’s wife Susie and was aware of a ghost bike and memorial for John between Leoti and Scott City but was unaware if there was one for Eric. I would be be keeping a keen eye out.
I was in a solemn yet inspired and determined mood as I left my hotel room and walked around the block to where my bike was hopefully still stored…..
It was thank freakin’ goodness along with 2 other bikes, that of Alan and Sonny. Alan and my cat and mouse caper was continuing. Sonny must have put in a few big days – it was great to see him back in the frame.
Like a thief in the night I wheeled my bike out onto Colorado Boulevard, Ordway and pedaled the few blocks, over the railway line to resume my battle with State Highway 96. Having first hand, not pleasant experience of the winds that rip through the high plains I had studied the weather app, Windfinder last night. It had forecast a gentle westerly (ie a tail wind) in the early morning before shifting to a stiff northerly to north easterly (ie a cross to headwind) later in the day.
As I commenced the journey eastward I could tell that Windfinder had been correct. There was a tailwind at my back………..Giddyup!
I made very good progress for the first couple of hours and decent progress for the next hour or so as State Highway 96 bent around to the north east and the tail wind became more of a cross wind. My slightly reduced speed far from bothered me though as I was riding towards the most beautiful dawn. I don’t think I have seen or felt a more beautiful one. Every pedal stroke brought me closer to the new day, another one of adventure and of gratitude for the freedom of doing what I loved. Riding my bike. I thought of Sam, Eric and John who were not able to ride their bikes anymore. I thought of my beautiful boys and my wife who I missed terribly and from whom I craved a big fathers day hug.
I may well have shed a tear or two.
For the last section into Eades I became engrossed with Trackleaders. I had passed Hunter, yet again whilst he was sleeping. I had to chuckle – this daily pattern was getting ridiculous. It was Wades dot though that had my attention. Over the last couple of days I’d given up trying to catch up him, his lead north of 100 kilometres. From what I could see he had overnighted in Eades, but as I was getting closer and closer to that town, his dot hadn’t moved.
Bugger me, I’m gonna catch him!
I powered on, head down, arse up. Literally in racing mode. Fire up tunes spurring me on.
As I rolled into Eades at around 6:45am I looked around wildly to see if I could see Wade. Being so early, and a Sunday I knew that none of the limited services in town would be open so I headed over to the bathroom block of the town park to top up my water bottles. I was in a hurry but not in a hurry enough to stupidly neglect what was an absolute essential thing to do. The next services weren’t for another 100ks.
There was a cyclist there, not Wade but an eastbound touring cyclist whom I chatted with for a while. With our water bottles we toasted each other for having made it half way. Eades is the halfway point of the Trans America Trail. The conversation sucked the “urgency” out of the situation. I’d rest and eat up for a while before having another crack at WW.
(A subsequent check of Trackleaders history indicated that I had come within 5ks of Wade. Did I interrupt your breakfast mate?)
A 20 minute break and the chase was back on. I was having trouble refreshing Trackleaders but from what I could estimate I was now about 15ks behind Wade.
And about 15ks it would remain for the next 3 hours. I pushed as hard as I dare but he was too strong. I called it at Tribune at the 24 hour gas station. Time to pull my head in, soak up some air-conditioning and get a descent meal into me.
The chase had been fun while it lasted, had squeezed some pretty decent productivity out of me (190ks in 7 hours, including stops) and had occupied my mind during some intensely monotonous scenery.
….but your ears should definitely still be burning WW! 🙂
From Tribune more straight road, telegraph pole counting monotony to Leoti which only took another 90 minutes but my earlier exertions were starting to catch up with me and I needed another stop. It was getting hot too so ice-cream, Coke and air conditioning were on the cards.
The next 40ks to Scott City were the most emotional I have ever spent on a bike. A stretch of Kansas State Route 96 where 2 Trans Am legends were tragically hit by cars and killed in 2017 and 2018. I stopped at Johns memorial, a beautiful tribute in a very peaceful location, out the front of a bakery. I sat there for a while and balled my eyes out.
I did look out for signs of a memorial for Eric but couldn’t see anything. Does anyone know if there is one??
Lest we forget.
It was with significant relief that I finally put the Leoti to Scott City stretch behind me and I rolled up to a gas station in Scott City for a break and to resupply. I was glad I got to pay my respects to John and Eric but it is a part of the Trans Am route that I never want to ride again.
I holed up in the gas station for a good half an hour, chatting with the clerk and her boyfriend who had taken a break from barbequing up a storm on his smoker to come and see her………awwwww young love. Having just acquired a hand-me-down offset smoker myself I grilled (pun intended) him for some expert tips.
On the way out I bumped into some west bound tourers, a husband a wife – lovely people.
The next 38ks to Dighton broke my will. Windfinder got it bang on. The friendly winds of earlier in the day had mutated into a cross to block headwind. It was still very early, just after 5pm but I had had enough. I pulled into a gas station, bought enough stuff for dinner, breakfast and the next mornings riding. There were 2 hotels on the main street of the small town. I got the gas station clerk to pick one for me. The Historic Heritage Hotel it was.
A solid day. An emotional day. As there was still sun streaming through the window I couldn’t really say that I had left it all out on the road, as I had set out to do but I hope my days riding still did Sam, Eric and John, proud. I had definitely ridden with passion today.