2021 Trans Am Bike Race Day 8 Report

Sunday June 13, 2021: My alarm was a lot more generous than it was the previous morning, rousing me at 7am vs 1am. I know which one I would prefer but I was instantly in an anxious state, like I had slept in and was running late for something. Bright sunlight streaming through the gaps in the curtains only fueled the anxiety.

For fucks sake calm yourself big fella, take it easy on yourself. You were on the road for 21 hours yesterday. You needed a decent nights rest.

True, that!

To warm up last night I had actually taken a bath in which I had nodded off a couple of times so by the time I had finally extracted my weary body from the exquisitely hot water and packed up it was well after midnight. 7am was a fair call.

I quick check of Trackleaders also allays any concerns. Out of the 3 other racers who had also overnighted in Wisdom; Sonny, Hunter, AT and LD, only LD’s dot was moving. It looked like he had been on the road for about an hour.

I had a target…….Giddyup! I had flirted with LG a couple of times way back on Day 3 but we never exchanged a word. It was time for us to hit first base.

I wheeled my bike out into the chilliness. The brightness of the sun almost knocking me over. Wow! Not a cloud in the sky. I doubt there could be better conditions for taking in the scenery of the Big Hole Valley……….maybe a little warmer perhaps.

Sunday June 13, 2021. Cheeky snap of my bike outside my hotel room pre hitting the road.

I pedal the 3 blocks into and out of the tiny town of Wisdom, retracing my steps of late last night. Left turn and I was back on route, onto the S-278, the road that would take me the 110 kilometres through the Big Hole Valley, over a couple of lumps and to my first planned resupply in Dillon. I should have just enough food and water to get me there.

I was feeling good. A week and 1,700 kilometres in and the body and mind were settling into the race. The earlier frustration and exhaustion dealing with the after effects of the pre race food poisoning was now well behind me. My body was sore and fatigued but there was a tangible sense of normalcy to it it now. I had my sea legs.

Roll on the adventure!

Not long out of town I thought I’d better take a photo. The scenery was just so spectacular. A vast, lush meadow surrounded on all sides by snowcapped peaks. The green, blue and white colour scheme really popping in the bright sunlight. There was a car parked up further on, half on the road, half on the shoulder, which I didn’t particularly want in the shot so I delayed stopping until I got past it.

It was a really weird place for the car to be stopped. I hope nothing is wrong.

Hang on a minute, there’s some bloke taking photos…….of me!

What the?!

Ahhhhhhh…….it must be Nathan……..Yeah baby!¬†

Sure enough it was race organiser Nathan Jones and his partner in crime, photography and road trippin’ Anthony Dryer. Nathan was crouched down by the side of the road taking photos of me. I lowered myself into the aerobars and gave the camera my best blue steel. The result is the first of the snaps below. I freakin’ love that photo! It tells such a story. The road. The mountains. The Adventure!

“G’day boys”! I yelled out to them as I ride past.

Before I knew it they back in their car, cruising next to me. Anthony now with the camera clicking away from the passenger side window. We chatted for a while. Turn’s out they had camped on the other side of Wisdom last night and had actually heard me as I pedaled past them, swearing like a drunken sailor. I had been screaming out in frustration at the seemingly endless approach into town against a stiff headwind.

How funny is that!

And then all of a sudden they were gone, returning back towards Wisdom to photograph the racers behind me.

It was a bitter sweet moment, amazing to catch up with these two legends but it was undoubtedly the last I would see of them on route. Nathan had mentioned in the pre-race briefing that he and Anthony only had enough spare time to be out on the road with us for around a week before having to head back to their respective realities in Portland.

We were on our own now.

Sunday June 13, 2021. Love this photo! Before seeing it I hadn’t realized how menacing the mountains were behind me. PHOTO CREDIT: Nathan Jones.

Sunday June 13, 2021. Chatting away with Nathan and Anthony. PHOTO CREDIT: Anthony Dryer.

Sunday June 13, 2021. Action shot. PHOTO CREDIT: Anthony Dryer.

Sunday June 13, 2021. Cruising through the Big Hole Valley towards Jackson, Montana.

The Chase is On!

I pedaled on, buoyed by my interaction with Nathan and Anthony, through the tiny town of Jackson and then onwards and upwards as the route gradually climbs out of the Big Hole Valley. Cattle ranching very much on display.

As the S-278 bends around to the north-east and the gradient steepens I spy a bike rider further up the road. I check Trackleaders. It is LD!

The chase is on.

I am 2 hours into the days riding and Dillon is still 60 kilometres away so I should really ride conservatively to ensure my remaining food and water last. However my competitiveness has been suitably triggered.

Game on.

I rise out of the saddle to give chase. The goal is to catch LD before the summit which is on the cards for a little while but he soon answers the challenge and ups his pace and I lose the ground I had just gained. Either that or I am slowing down. Does he even knowing he’s being chased?

LD crests the hilltop and disappears down the other side……Round 1 to him.

I pull back and tap away less frenetically, calming myself, saving the effort until its use is much more efficient on the downhill stretch, where gravity will come to my assistance. I keep an eye on my Garmin and calculate I am between 5 and 10 minutes behind him by the time I too get to the top of the hill.

On the downhill it is balls to the wall. Full gas.

30 minutes of this insanity and still no sign of LD. I pull stumps on the chase. He is too strong.

Round 2 to LD.

Another half an hour later and I spot a rider sprawled out next to his bike about 10 metres off the road to the right. I roll over to say hi. It is indeed LD. He is taking a nap.

Finally I get to meet the famous LD aka Lance Donegon from Wisconsin. The accent is unmistakable – 7 years and counting in the US now so my ear has become quite attuned to the various sounds of this wide, diverse land. Philly and surrounds provides quite the education I can assure youse. Anyway, we briefly get acquainted before I hit the road leaving Lance to resume his mid morning nap.

Victory by knockout in Round 3 to MC………………….a legend in his own lunchbox ūüôā

I ration my remaining food and water for the next 40 kilomtres to Dillon. I ride sensibly on the uphill and give it some on the downhill. I know exactly where I will lunch, the Maccas on the far side of town.

Sunday June 13, 2021. Signs of Montana cattle ranching.

Sunday June 13, 2021. The last climb before the pleasant downhill to Dillon.

Sunday June 13, 2021. The view down towards Dillon, Montana.

Sunday June 13, 2021. My standard Macas order….

Dillon to Twin Bridges

It was quite a long break in the Dillon Macas. About an hour. My standard mid ultra McDonalds order not the most timely to consume; large Big Mac meal, 6 nuggets, a cheeseburger, a large chocolate shake and multiple Coke refills. No matter how many refills I had I just couldn’t seem to satiate my thirst.

The McDonalds was also humming with the lunchtime crowd, mostly tourists and given the scene I had created, what with my bike a table full of food and me clip clopping to and from the soda fountain I had attracted a fair bit of attention. Plenty of questions and conversations that were nice to have but hard to drag myself away from. There was one large group of dads and their sons from Oregon who had been to a local mountain biking race. They were incredulous when I explained what I was up to as were another table of tourists from just outside of Philly. There is a sort of suspended disbelief until I conduct a show and tell of Trackleaders.

“See, there we are in Dillon and thats my dot, MC”.

I finally managed to pack up and leave but needed snacks to store on the bike so headed across the road to a gas station. Also plenty of chit chat there, at the register and out the front. Dillon on a beautiful sunny Sunday really is a hive of activity.

I finally pedaled out of town onto Highway 41, keen to make up the downtime and keep ahead of the racers behind; Lance, Hunter and Sonny.

It soon became obvious though that I’d have to take it easy over the next 45 kilometres to Twin Bridges. It was getting hot, probably the hottest it had been thus far on the race and I was getting through my water way quicker than planned. I couldn’t seem to satiate my thirst. I think dehydration may be knocking at the door.

It was a thoroughly unpleasant 2 hour ride to Twin Bridges. Hot, thirsty work, made all the more unpleasant by a constant flow of fast moving traffic which included a lot of large semi-trailers. There was also no road shoulder for the last 20ks – not fun!

During that stretch I was also getting the shits with my bike bag set up. All of a sudden I had the idea that I was carrying too much stuff. The plan was always to send home some of the cold weather kit after Hoosier Pass in Colorado but in my current headspace that needed to happen as a matter of urgency.

I finally made it to Twin Bridge and rode down the Main Street to the post office. Of course being a Sunday it was closed.


My overwhelming emotion was frustration now. A far cry from the elation at catching up with Nathan and Anthony earlier.

Although I didn’t particularly fancy more off the bike time I needed more water for my water bottles and cold drinks to just cool down so I pedaled back down Main Street to the supermarket I had stopped at 4 years ago. Water, Coke and ice-cream hopefully the answer to my woes.

Whilst I was knocking back the above, sprawled out on the sidewalk in the only patch of shade on Main Street, opposite the supermarket, Hunter rolled into town. Another pang of frustration as these stoppages were now obviously undoing my earlier strong riding. It was actually great to see him though. It had been 7 days since our paths had last crossed and I soon calmed the fuck down and enjoyed the reunion. There was plenty to catch up on.

I actually thought I took a photo of the momentous occasion, or maybe it was Hunter??

Change of Plans

I rolled out of Twin Bridges at around 4:30pm, 150 kilometres behind me and another 130 kilometres to bang out before I could hang up my helmet for the day. I had secured accommodation at the Driftwater Resort, an outpost of cabins and RV camping, located on the remote 110 kilometre stretch from Ennis to West Yellowstone. There were no cabins available but the lovely, friendly lady I spoke with (Rachel I think) told me I could sleep in the rec room.

Driftwater was an ambitious target but I had no problem riding into the late night. It was such a fine day, why not. Besides I remembered the terrain well from 2017 and apart from one big lump the rest was pretty flat. However, as the route bent around to the south-east the wind really picked up, going from a pesky cross wind to a block headwind.

The next 14 kilometres to Sheridan, despite trending downhill, took almost an hour.

The following 17 flat kilometres to Alder, took another frustrating hour.

The wind became less of an impediment from Alder as the route changed direction, trending due east now, but the damage was done. The Driftwater Resort was no longer a realistic option. I really didn’t fancy a well past midnight finish and so 10ks out of Alder I pull to the side of the road, cancel my driftwater arrangement and book a room at the same Ennis hotel I stayed at 4 years ago.

15 minutes later I roll into the 1860s gold rush town of Virginia City. After becoming a ghost town Virginia City was restored for tourism in the 1950s and the main street still very much has that mid 19th century aesthetic complete with wild west style building facades. The history of the place is the last thing on my mind though as I am thoroughly dried out and in desperate need of a drink. There doesn’t seem to be much open so as a last resort I pop into a cafe to top up my water bottles.

Turns out there is a bar next door that you can access via the cafe.

Should I?

Should I?

A friendly local at the bar resolves my dilemma; “Hey man, you look like you need a beer. Can I buy you one?”

Fuck it……beer o’clock it is!

I settle in at the bar and 1 beer soon becomes 2. I mean, I can’t have my new mate thinking that Aussies don’t return shouts. The cold beers are heavenly, barely touching the sides. A third is calling my name but the arrival of Hunter and then Lance snap me out of the impromptu summer sunday arvo session. Thank goodness. Their presence reminding me of a bike race that I’m meant to be participating in.

I say my goodbyes and stumble outside to the reality of the Trans America Bike Race.

Sunday June 13, 2021. Beers in Virginia City, Montana.

As I pedal out of town with Hunter and Lance I get a good sense for the value I have just absorbed from the 2 light beers. Turns out 8 days worth of ultra bike racing has transformed me into a 2 pot screamer.

The thought makes me giggle.

Halfway up the substantial climb out of Virginia City though, a devastating realisation comes to mind….

“Fuck…..I never paid for the beers!”

A second, equally as devastating realisation immediately follows:

“Fuck…….I’m going to have to go back and pay!”

It had been 25 minutes of struggle up the steep hill and I just couldn’t face wasting the effort. Luckily I had cell coverage so I Google and then call the bar, explaining the situation and apologising profusely. I couldn’t have them thinking that Aussies may well return a shout but then are prone to doing a runner.

With the reputation of the country of my birth hopefully restored I pedal on and we all finally reach the summit together. It is dusk now. The sky is still clear and the views are subsequently spectacular. I interrupt the insanely fast descent on a few occasions to take photos.

30 minutes later I roll into Ennis and over to a busy gas station and convenience store. I buy up big, a couple of plastic bags worth. I will need enough to satiate my dinner needs and to cover tomorrows 110 kilometre remote stretch to West Yellowstone.

I have lost track of Hunter and Lance on the descent. I wonder when I will see them next.

Sunday June 13, 2021. Spectacular views, looking down to the valley towards Ennis, Montana.

Sunday June 13, 2021. Spectacular views on the descent. Lance Donegon is the rider up the road.

Sunday June 13, 2021. Spectacular views, looking down to the valley towards Ennis, Montana. Take 3.

The Day According to Strava

  • Mark GIBSON
    Posted at 23:08h, 27 January Reply

    Remember going through Virginia City back in1992 during my first crossing of the US. Los Angeles to Philly in a 1979 VW camper van (combie). How you recall so much detail is beyond me.

    • Mark Croker
      Posted at 14:36h, 29 January Reply

      What a road trip! LA to Philly in a combi….in the 70s.

      My memory is crap but with Photos + Strava + Trackleaders it all comes flooding back.

  • Bill L Giffin
    Posted at 08:48h, 29 January Reply

    The second Sunday of the race got me to Twin Bridges. So you are ahead! My Taco Johns supper break in Dillon, turned out to be my breakfast the next morning. Between that and the headwinds, Monday did not feel very good. But the Sunday journey over Chief Joseph and through the Big Hole was awesome! Keep writing, I’m thoroughly enjoying it!!

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