2021 Trans Am Bike Race Day 5 Report
Thursday June 10, 2021: Given that I had hit the sack last night with the mind set of possibly taking a rest day, I had not packed my bags and I had not set an alarm. I woke gently from a very satisfying slumber at around 6:45am and just lay there for a few minutes.
Ok, so how the bloody hell am I feeling?
Mmmmmm……….pretty good actually.
The fatigue and stiffness in the body was still there but my mind felt really fresh. Exorcising the race from my thinking and all the associated urgency had really hit the spot. I felt properly relaxed for the first time in ages.
Rest day, schmest day…..I will be riding my bike today!
The decision had been made and with a minimum of fuss I expediently strapped on the lycra, packed up my bags and headed to reception to cancel the extra nights accommodation.
I was on the bike at 7:40am, another late start but hey, I wasn’t thinking about racing……….just yet. I was back in the game though and it felt damn good to be so. The extreme lows of yesterday were but a distant memory. The phrase “No decisions if you are tired, cold or hungry” had graduated from a saying in ultra circles that I had been vaguely aware of to one that would become a mantra for future inevitable challenges.
I was keen to get going but hadn’t had breakfast and the supplies I still had on the bike were probably less than I’d need for the 65 kilometres to the next services in Richland. Given yesterdays debacle I would definitely be erring on the side of caution until I could fully trust my decision making and my ability to cover distances in a predictable time frame.
I was on the industrial side of town, plenty of fast food and gas station options but my body was craving nutrients so I headed to a supermarket. I bought up big. Plenty of fresh fruit, juice, stimulants, snacks and 2 big bags of potato wedges. I consumed some quickly outside in the cold and jammed the rest into my bags.
Awrighty then, lets get this show on the road!
Out of town north on Cedar Street and then a right turn onto State Highway 86 heading east, a road that would be companion for the next 5 hours and take me to within sight of the Idaho state line. Up into the wide open expanse of the Oregon High Desert proper, the snowcapped Wallowa Mountains behind me and to my left, urging me onwards.
Bisecting the Oregon Trail
Not long out of town there is a short and sharp climb up Flagstaff Hill, at the summit of which the old Oregon Trail actually intersects with the Trans Am route. There is the National Historic Oregon Trail Center off to the left which is currently closed for refurbishment, on the grounds of which there are still miles of actual trail ruts.
How cool is that!
The views are quite spectacular up here. A wide open treeless expanse of rolling hills framed to the west and the north by the Wallowa Mountains, the “Alps of Oregon”. If you close your eyes, not that you’d want to do that for long riding a bike you can really get a sense for the journey that the tens of thousands of emigrants; farmers, miners, ranchers, business owners and their families made through this land almost 200 years ago.
If I could tap into even a tiny amount of their grit, spirit and sense of adventure I’d be doing well.
Having a Crack on State Highway 86
The first 15 kilometres of the day had taken quite the while, around 50 minutes. Yes there had been a bit of climbing but I was also taking it very easy, sensibly tapping away, trying to gauge what effort would keep me well south of the red zone.
However, as soon as the road started to trend downwards, a perfectly cambered, gently winding road that followed the path of the Powder River through beautiful scenery at around negative 2-5% (perfect for a large lad!), the adrenaline started to kick in and of course I gave it some. Into the drops, into the heaviest gear, giddyup horsey! Commonsense out the window. Yes I will never learn but this is the way I ride my bike. I fall in a heap when I feel shit and I have a red hot crack when I feel good.
Hey girls…..hey boys…..superstar DJ’s…..here we go!
Accordingly the next 5o kilometres to the little town of Richland flew by. I was all of a sudden making decent progress and for the first time in 2 days felt the call of Trackleaders. At least 6 dots had passed me over the last day and a bit and now that I had had a little taste of feeling stronger I wanted to know where they were so I could hunt them down, one by one. 🙂
(The racing element is a huge motivator for me. I really doubt I could tour this route).
Even though I still had plenty of supplies on board I stopped at the Hitching Post convenience store on the main street. In my route notes I had highlighted a couple of possible services option over the next stretch but their opening days/hours were sporadic. The next bankable services was a gas station in Cambridge, Idaho over 100 kilometres further up route. I bought a couple of ice creams, a Red Bull and water to top up my water bottles, and sat out the front to consume quickly while I checked Trackleaders. Those 6 dots were now strewn out over the next 150 kilometres, the first (MA) was only 20 kilometres away.
But first I had to post a couple of postcards. In 2017 I had gone into the race with the aim of sending a post card to my family from each of the 10 states that the Trans Am route traverses, mainly to help out my eldest son who was in PreK at the time and doing a project on the US states. It hadn’t worked out though as post cards were few and far between ‘out in the sticks’ so this time around I had pre-purchased 10 post cards off Amazon. I pedaled back up main street (the post office is always close by in these tiny towns), posted a post card for Oregon and another for Idaho (I’ll be there soon enough) and then resumed my acquaintance with State Highway 86.
There is a tough 6 kilometre climb out of town during which I high fived a couple of touring cyclists who had stopped for a breather, and then a very fast descent. From there the route trends gently downwards in a north easterly direction for approximately 30 kilometres before abruptly coming across the extraordinary Hells Canyon, a deep gorge of the Snake River (the largest tributary of the mighty Columbia River) that forms part of the boundary between Oregon and Idaho and separates the Wallowa (Oregon) and Seven Devils (Idaho) mountain ranges.
I hereby pause for a moment of trivia: Hells Canyon, at 2,436 metres is the deepest river gorge in North America. Yep, deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona!
Hells Canyon brought my time on State Highway 86 to a fitting conclusion. The route then completely about faces and heads south along a section of the Snake River that has been dammed, forming the Oxbow Reservoir. The Snake River has actually been dammed in numerous places since the late 19th century to generate hydroelectricity, provide irrigation water and a means of transport for Idaho’s crops. and there has been moves to possibly remove several of them to restore the once tremendous salmon runs. Fishing tourism is very much on display though in the reservoir that I rode by, plenty of camp grounds and a few little boats out on the calm water.
1 State Down, 9 to go
45 minutes riding south on the Oregon side of the reservoir and then over a bridge into Idaho! It felt really good. A tangible sense of progress being made. The sun was also finally coming out and warming things up so when I stopped to take the obligatory selfie at the Idaho State Line I took the opportunity to free myself from the confines of my wind jacket and gillet.
Riding with the guns out tis always my preferred means of travel.
Onwards into my own private Idaho. It really was quite solitary out here. No interaction with any other racers except for the cursory wave to LD on Day 3, in 3 full days! Cell phone coverage had disappeared as well, so there was no way of even knowing where the next dot was. I felt a distinct pang of reminiscence as I came across the Gateway Store and Cafe about 10ks into Idaho. The place had been heaving with Trans Am racers when I stopped here in 2017. Russell Jones, Aaron Ehlers, Mike Benigni, Jen Colestock, ‘The Brits’ et al. What I would have done for another back slappin’ bear hug from Mike!
The Gateway Store was open but I still had plenty of food and just enough water on board so pedaled on past, keen to get the next tough 12k climb out of the way. It didn’t disappoint, taking a good 90 minutes of hard slog to finally get to the summit before the long descent into Cambridge on which I gave the throttle another good squeeze.
By the time I rolled into Cambridge I was feeling tired yet satisfied, 175 kilometres banked. I pulled into the Sinclair Gas Station to resupply and to rest briefly before tackling the late afternoons shift. The gas station was a hive of coming and going Cambridge locals. There was either something on in town that afternoon or just another end of the working day debrief held Monday to Friday at the local gas station. It was the most people I had seen in one place since the start of the race. It was actually all a bit overawing for me and I stood self consciously in the queue (I mean line for the benefit of the America readers) hoping that I wouldn’t drop any of my armful of provisions, attracting any unnecessary attention.
I assume of course that a be-cleated large, hairy, sweaty bloke dressed primarily in skin tight fluro pink attire clip clopping the aisles of a gas station hadn’t already attracted said attention.
Safely outside I sat to eat, drink and ponder my next move. It was 5:30pm…….no……surely not…………it can’t be that late.
It took a while for the penny to drop………ah ha, I’m in a new time zone……Mountain time baby! Mixed emotions – that progress being made feeling combined with, damn I could really have done with that extra hour. Even though the realisation created a little urgency, it really didn’t matter. Regardless I would be riding into the late night tonight. After checking my route notes, the plan was to get to New Meadows (75ks away) or Riggins (132ks away).
Despite a pesky cross wind blowing across my bow from the left I made decent progress out of Cambridge through rather nondescript farmland. However as US Route 95 bent around to the left heading due north now, said wind went from pesky to pain in the arse. I refused to accept the slower progress and instead pushed harder to match the earlier pace.
Trivia Time: US Route 95 is one of the few US Routes or Interstate highways to cross from Mexico to Canada. I was unaware of this scintillating fact at the time but if I was, my riposte would have been along the lines of “Shouldn’t we bloody well be on a road that goes from west coast to east coast? This is the Trans America not the damn Tour Divide for crying out loud!
Yep, the Trans America Bike route does get a tad waylaid in Idaho.
Anyway, the wind wasn’t going anyway and common sense soon prevailed and I reigned in the effort accepting that this next little bit was going to be slow going. Frustrating but heh, what can you do.
My phone rang with an incoming video call. It was my wife and 2 boys! The first time I had seen them all together for over a week. It was so incredibly good to see them. Right when I needed a little pep up, which they amply provided with their beautiful smiling faces. Cell phone coverage held out thank goodness so it was a lovely long chat that brought me to the outskirts of Council.
US Route 95 actually diverts past Council but the Trans Am trail stays true to its ethos of supporting the small towns on route by heading directly through the little town known for its porcupine races (yep, you read that right), held each year during the 4th of July festivities. A resupply here was definitely a wise option given that the stretch from Cambridge had taken a little longer than expected. It was now pushing 8pm so odds are everything would be closed by the time I got to New Meadows. I was tempted by the Chinese takeaway on the main street but time was definitely of the essence so chose the gas station on the far side of town.
Into the Idaho Night
Back on US Route 95 now heading due north through more farmland for around 10ks and then the road bends to the north east and up into the mountains again. A very distinct change in topography and vegetation. I am in climbing mode, surrounded by increasingly dense forests which are sucking the remaining light out of the day.
I feel a little lonely but in good spirits, in need of a chat. It is too late in Philly to call my wife so I call Andrew in Korea where it is around midday his time. He had earlier texted me a message that I have just picked up that made me giggle out loud; “Christ, I go to bed all worried about you and wake up and you’re in fcuking Idaho”. It is a reminder how far I have come since the misery of yesterday when I had contemplating quitting.
“Hey man, I thought you were gonna stop at that Chinese in Council!”
The conversation doesn’t last much longer though as the damn signal drops, leaving just me, my bike and my thoughts…….and whatever else is lurking out there in the dark. I take out my earphones so if there is something out there, I can hear it coming.
After about 90 minutes of climbing through dense forest I do hear something. A subtle industrial humming type sound with the occasional metallic clanging which increases in volume as I pedal on. The forest clears somewhat and it soon becomes obvious what is causing the sound. It is coming from a huge timber mill that encompasses both sides of the road. All lit up, it is an impressive sight. Despite the late hour it is very much in operation, as am I although I’m getting keen to close for the day. Buoyed by the now friendlier gradient I put the pedal down to New Meadows.
I roll into New Meadows just after 10:30pm. Unexpectedly the convenience store, Browns Mountain Market is still open and I pop in to buy a sandwich and chocolate milk for dinner. I have no idea of accommodation options and ask the friendly clerk for a tip. There are 2 hotels in town, opposite each other just off the main street to the left. I chose the one that looks more open, the Hartland Inn, wisely as it turns out as the manager was expecting me! He had been keeping a keen eye on Trackleaders.
I had a lovely chat with him and another chap in reception for a while before turning in for the night.
It had been a good day.