2021 Trans Am Bike Race Day 7 Report
Saturday June 12, 2021: My alarm jolts me from a deep sleep at 1am. A deep sleep only recently achieved thanks to what seemed like a constant arrival of vehicles throughout the night. They must have also been taking advantage of the large roadside layby to camp. One had actually come way too close for comfort and the resultant vigilance had kept me awake for a lot longer than ideal.
Arrrrghhhh. I wriggle my upper body free of my sleeping bag to switch the damn thing off and then lay back trying to work out why the bloody hell it had been set for insane o’clock in the first place.
In my dazed and confused state no immediate answer comes to mind but it is irrelevant now that I am awake. The cold night is now very much top of mind and the only way to warm up in the short term will be to get on my bike and pedal. Besides, my air mattress has deflated and the rocky ground now giving my ribs a good examination will make it impossible to get back to sleep.
It takes a little while to extract myself from my sleeping “system” and as I struggle to pack up all the associated accoutrement, furiously blinking away in an attempt to separate my upper and lower eyelids (they had gummed over due to sleeping in my contact lenses), I giggle to myself at the ridiculousness of attempting this for the first time ever in the pitch black and near freezing temperatures of the Idaho mountain wilderness on the morning of Day 7 of the race.
Maybe I should have practiced this closer to home during my training?
Yeah, but that would have meant 1 more night sleeping rough!
True that…..I bloody hate sleeping rough. It only happens when I absolutely have to. Last night had been one of those times.
There was a silver lining to all this though – the results of my sleep system “test” were now in. As follows:
Bivy – Mountain Laurel Designs Event Sol Bivy. Can’t complain. Did the job.
Sleeping Bag – Sea to Summit Spark Ultra Light Sleeping Bag Liner. I had agonized over going with this or a bulkier/warmer version in the same product range but in combination with all my available clothing it kept me warm(ish). Not bad considering the very cold night.
Air mattress – Thermarest Uberlite Sleeping Pad. A Fail although to be fair I assume the issue was a slow leak that I hadn’t repaired from my last bike packing race.
Anyway, once I had finally packed up and jammed a breakfast of champions (squashed banana, a couple of handles of Pringle crumbs and 2 caffeine tablets) into my gob I wheeled my bike back to resume my arm wrestle with the never ending false flat of US Route 12, comfortable in the knowledge that I am undoubtedly the softest bikepacker in the game.
It didn’t take long to realize that I was way underslept, the double dose of capsuled caffeine not cutting through the fatigue. Loud fire up music to rouse me also not really an option as I preferred to be able to hear any encroaching fauna from the dark depths of the roadside. Memories of riding through these parts 4 years ago and chatting with a heavily armed bear hunter about his 400 pound quarry messing with my mind.
I needed some form of mental stimulation though so settled on an audio book that I had been dipping in and out of; “The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America.”
….given the moment, an interesting selection.
The tales of murder, magic and madness got me through the next 3 and a half hours or so of pedaling, before the pre dawn light finally gave me something to look at besides the narrow segment of road and road shoulder illuminated by the arc of my front light. Heavy cloud cover was evident and the Lochsa River which had been my companion since yesterday afternoon was noticeably absent, having silently bid me adieu in the dark as it bent around to the east and its source in the Selway-Bitteroot Mountain Wilderness.
I am climbing now, properly climbing. Up Lolo Pass. It is not an overly tough climb but in my underslept and underfed state it is a real battle. It does mean though that my least favourite part of the whole Trans Am route, the 160 kilometres false flat from Kooskia is now satisfyingly behind me. Just an hour or so to the suumit of Lolo Pass and then I’ll be cruising down the mountain to Lolo Hot Springs and a massive breakfast.
I have a hunger on me that would have me chasing the jockey after eating his horse!
But the weather has other ideas. Perhaps mother nature is a paid up member of PETA as she is intent on slowing me down. (yep, weak metaphor I know but I couldn’t resist). The heavy cloud cover has produced a light drizzle for a while now but as I approach the summit it is getting heavier and a cold breeze is picking up. Stupidly I left my down jacket on as my outside layer and when I stop briefly to put on my rain jacket, ideally over the top of it, I actually have to take it off as it is soaked through. By the time I reach the summit minus the warmer layer, and stop for the obligatory selfie at the Montana State sign (yippee) I am really starting to feel the cold.
I am in such a hurry to get down the mountain and to a hot breakfast that I stupidly ignore this change in weather and careen off down the mountain without bothering to put on the 2 other constituents of my wet weather kit; rain pants and water proof socks………It’s only 10k’s to Lolo Hot Springs…..without touching the brakes I could be there in 10 minutes.
The rain has become so heavy and there is so much standing water on the road that my lower half and gloves are soon soaked through. I am all of a sudden freezing cold and in a fair amount of discomfort. All I can do is slow down to walking pace to reduce the wind affect but that in itself is a painful endeavor as pulling the brakes on such a steep descent requires a lot of force and that, well……it hurts.
Things can go pear shaped pretty damn quick!
I have 2 options. Walk the next 8ks, or stop in the pouring rain to put on my rain pants and waterproof socks.
I stop, lay down my bike just off the road shoulder trying not to slip down the rather steep, rocky embankment – not easily achieved in cleats, and go rooting through my rear pack for what I need. There is no semblance of organisation to that which finds itself in my rear pack. Standing operating procedure for yours truly but made worse by having to pack up in the dark earlier. I track down the rain pants, one waterproof sock and then finally……the other sock.
How I put it all on without falling on my arse I’ll never know although I must say, taking my wet socks off and replacing them with dry, waterproof ones felt freaking fabulous!
Back on the road.
It was essentially too late for the rain duds but they did take the sting out of the wind, rain and road spray. Waterproof socks served me more satisfactorily by keeping my feet warm(ish) although water was soon pooling in my shoes.
Being wet was not the problem, it was the combination with the cold that was making things dicey.
Just gotta hang on to Lolo Springs!
Fuck my hands hurt!
Ah, thats right……the glove liners!
I had completely forgotten that I had packed merino wool liners for my gloves. My thinking of a couple of weeks previous when I was packing up pre flying our to Portland came back to me in a flash…….I’ll never need these……..I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Yet another pit stop and rummage around on the descent down that bloody mountain but I found those beautiful glove liners and put them on under the soaked through gloves.
Ahhhhhh…….thats better…..far from perfect……..but better!
30 minutes later I finally shivered my way into the restaurant of the Lolo Hot Springs Cabins, dripping water and mud all over the place. I clip clop over to the bar, the bar lady not taking her scowling face off me as I almost slip over right in front of her.
I give her a broad smile, apologise for the mess I have made and say cheerfully “Your biggest, baddest, hottest breakfast please.”
Her face softens and she smiled back. “Coming right up love.”
I doubt I have enjoyed a breakfast more, an omelet with the lot, toast and more home fries than even my appetite could find a home for. Multiple refills of hot, black, sugary coffee warmed me from the insides.
In between mouthfuls I checked my phone which had reception for the first time since yesterday afternoon, keen to catch up on the state of the race and in particular the progress of the lads who I met yesterday.
MH (Mike Healy) was somewhere very close in Lolo Hot Springs. I later read in his race report that he had had a very rough night on Lolo Pass, battling the cold and a lack of calories, finally making it to his hotel at 4am. A massive effort. Given that late finish he was probably still in his hotel room.
JG (Jeff Grissom) must have also roughed it near the Lochsa River somewhere and was currently approaching Lolo Pass.
There were also a couple of dots of racers that I hadn’t come across for days that were just down the road, an indication that my recent efforts were starting to pay dividends. I was catching up. I got a little pang of competitiveness but I knew in my heart that there was going to be no attacking going on today. I simply did not have the energy. The big breakfast was definitely restoring me but the ridiculously early start and lack of calories over the previous 16 hours had put me in a bit of a hole. Today was going to be all about tapping away within myself for as long as possible.
But to tap away I had to get back on my bike but I had been resisting that inevitable task. Coffee refills, stuffing around on social media, multiple trips to the bathroom to take care of business and vain attempts to dry my gloves under the hands dryer, my chosen methods of delay.
I eventually, made it stiffly back to my faithful steed. An 80 minute break – arguably too long but I really needed it.
It was still cold and wet out and as my clothes were still damp I was instantly shivering. At least I was still heading down the mountain so conditions should get warmer.
Sure enough it did get warmer and by the time I rolled into Lolo an hour and a half later, the sun was out and it was actually getting quite hot. Thawing out had also drawn out out my fatigue, not just a passing tiredness but a real need to get off the bike and lay down for a while. I spotted a Little League baseball field off to my right and pedaled over to it. I rested my bike up against the dugout and laid down on the grass. I felt my eyes roll back in my head and I was almost instantly deep asleep.
“Excuse me”…………….”Excuse me!”…………..”Hey!”
It took a while to work out what the bloody hell was going on. Some cranky sounding lady in a white pickup truck was yelling at me. She had actually driven from the carpark across the grass and pulled up to within metres of where I was sprawled out.
WTF….what…….was I snoring loudly or something……what is the problem?
She gave me some crap about homeless people being an issue in town and that I should move on. Shocked at the affront – 43 days and counting of ultra racing and this has never happened, I refused to engage. I was also half asleep and barely capable of speaking, so I just grunted at her and rolled over, the only passive aggression that I could muster.
“Don’t be surprised if the police come and say hi”.
Actually I won’t be……hospitality is quite obviously a strong suit in these parts!
I needed more sleep but that was impossible now. I was just so bloody angry. Best to channel it and get back on the bike. Besides I had been asleep for almost an hour. Downtime was becoming an issue. Maybe the rude lady had actually done me a favour by waking me up.
I gathered up all my gear and pedaled off onto the bike path, heading due south now into the Bitteroot valley, the snow capped Bitteroot Mountains that I had traversed yesterday and this morning now off to my right.
*NB I have since learned that on the other side of the baseball field from where I took my little nap is the Travelers’ Rest State Park, the namesake of a stopping point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The expedition camped there from September 9 to September 11, 1805 before crossing the Bitterroot Mountains, and again on the return trip from June 30 to July 3, 1806. It is also the only site that has yielded actual physical proof of the explores’ presence – latrine sites with traces of mercury and fire hearths.
And to think all I left was crumpled grass and a few pringle crumbs……………..Oh the irony!
Not much to report on the next 60ks along the bike path that runs parallel to US Route 93. I did keep a keen eye out hoping to come across Roger DiBrito, a dot watcher who had patrolled the bike path during the 2017 race to chat with and film the racers as they came through. It would have been nice to have his friendly, smiling face restore my faith in the local hospitality after my earlier dalliance with the feisty Frau of Lolo.
There are plenty of service options through this section but with efficiency on my mind I waited until I had pretty much depleted all stores of food and water before stopping at a Dairy Queen in Hamilton. I was hungry and very thirsty but the fast food restaurant selection was moreso infrastructure related – I needed air conditioning! It really was getting quite hot, conditions I never would have ever expected 7 hours earlier descending Lolo Pass.
Of course there was no in-restaurant dining due to the big bad Covid so I gathered up all my junk to eat in a little corner of shade outside, making frequent trips inside to top up at the soda fountain and linger in the coolness. All this whilst trying to avert my ears from the rather loud mask mandate and vaccination discussion emanating from a table of local mothers and their school aged daughters. Opinions on which I couldn’t have agreed less on.
Anti-Homelessness and anti-vax – no politics for a week and all of a sudden I was back in the “real world”. Fuck that, time to get back off grid!
But first another 10ks on the bike path and then 20 more back on the road before one last stop for provisions at the gas station and convenience store in Darby. Yep, it was turning out to be a day of many stops but this one was absolutely essential. My off grid desires were about to take a turn for the real. I’d need enough of everything to cover me for the rest of the day, into the night and probably the better part of tomorrow morning.
I bought up big, a variety of blood glucose spikers to accompany the current staples of lifesaver gummies, pringles and redbull. I was guilted into adding a very sad looking banana to make me feel better about my poor, yet necessary choices. It was quite the mission getting it all back on the bike.
I sat out the front for a while, knocking back ice-cream while chatting with the store clerk who had just moved to these parts from Arizona. I was yet again delaying the inevitable. I was feeling ok but there was a big piece of riding to be done, a chunk of which would be 15 kilometres up Lost Trail and Chief Joseph Passes.
14 hours and 215 kilometres behind me. A big bloody mountain and around 90ks to the tiny town of Wisdom and the last available hotel room, in front of me.
From Darby, it is yet another false flat averaging around 1% or so for 40 kilometres before the climb properly starts. Thence commenced a real battle with the mountain, named for the legendary leader of the Nez Perce Native American tribe, that lasted almost 2 hours. I thought it would never end. By the time I made it to the summit it was almost dark and the chill of the night was settling in. I was now at the highest point of the route to date at circa 2,150m (7,059ft). Serious Rocky Mountains action now – the elevation would not dip below 2,000m until the highest point of the race, Hoosier Pass in Colorado, 1,400 kilometers down the track.
I stopped to layer up at the summit. I’d need every last layer, including the infamous glove liners.
I ripped the guts out of the descent and the next 20ks, tunes blaring, fueled by adrenaline and a very strong desire to put the day behind me and get to get horizontal in a warm bed. I was also keen to grab a glimpse of The Big Hole Valley before it got too dark to see the extraordinary scenery – a massive open valley surrounded by a 360 degree view of snow capped mountains. The stuff of picture postcards. It had been a real highlight 4 years ago.
I made good progress but the effort was not sustainable and after 40 minutes or so I had to pull the reins……substantially!
I was now in the Big Hole…….in a big hole……in the pitch dark. I’d have to wait until the morning for the views.
The next 20ks to Wisdom took an agonizingly frustrating 60 minutes, the gradient trending downwards but a stiff headwind keeping my warm bed ambitions at bay for a lot longer than ideal. The whole time I was teased unmercifully by the lights of Wisdom and in particular a blinking red traffic / road works light off in the distance. No matter how hard I pedaled the lights never seemed to get closer.
I may well have screamed out a few choice swear words on that approach into town. A crazy man howling at the wind.
I finally made it into town and got directions to my hotel from a rather cheery lad out the front of the town pub. I was tempted to grab a quick beer but it was pushing 10:30pm (I had crossed back into Mountain time and had lost an hour) and was in desperate need of a good nights rest.
I was proud of the days effort. Not the most efficient or longest I had done distance wise but the longest I had ever done time wise – almost 21 hours.
I was back in the game!
…..or was I?
The Day According to Strava