2021 Trans Am Bike Race Day 9 Report
Monday June 14, 2021: Up and at em’ at 4:30am, on the road at 5:20am. I was in really good spirits, ready and raring to have a red hot crack. I put this overwhelmingly positive mindset down to a couple of things. I was hitting the road very well fueled, probably for the first time in the race. Pot noodles, microwave lasagna, fruit juice, jerky, tinned tuna, salad etc consumed en mass last night and for breakfast this morning providing the real food (well, almost) that my body craved. I was also jumping out of my skin with excitement at the possibility of replicating one of my best ever days on a bike, Day 9 of the 2017 Trans Am. A day that I will never forget and one that I wax lyrical on anytime someone asks me about my highlights of the 2017 race. The scenery of the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks literally blew my mind.
Did someone say Giddyup!!
My hotel was on the end of Main Street so with a minimum of pedal strokes I was heading out of Ennis, crossing the Madison River, heading due south into the valley on US Route 287. The Madison, a headwater tributary of the mighty Missouri River and renown for its blue ribbon trout fishing would be my companion all the way into Yellowstone.
It was yet another chilly morning, and would remain so until the sun rose above the massive mountain range (within which lies the Big Sky Ski Resort), to my left. The mountains casting quite the shadow across the road and into the narrow valley.
The early riding was frustratingly slow though, an unrelenting 1-2% gradient and stiff southerly headwind funneling down the valley, keeping my Yellowstone excitement at bay. I had to really fight the diminishing returns of pushing harder, instead focusing on a sensible effort in the aerobars while occupying my mind with the audiobook du jour; “The Essential Lewis and Clark”, while keeping a keen eye on Trackleaders which I had open on my phone. On the last refresh the dots of Sonny, Hunter and Lance were grouped together and on the move……hunting me down……or so I imagined.
I had a good 2 hours head start on them though.
The sluggish progress lasts around 3 and a half hours and then finally the road bends around to the east out of the valley and into a canyon, mountains either side providing some respite from the wind. Perhaps more importantly though, the beautiful yet monotonous scenery has now significantly changed, affirming forward progress and my getting closer to Yellowstone. The Madison River which has been in and out of view off to my right has now become a lake. Interestingly the lake, Quake Lake as it is called was created in 1959 when a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, the most powerful ever recorded in Montana, caused a massive landslide, essentially damming the river. Tragically 28 campers were killed.
There is a visitor center dedicated to the lakes history from near which I took the photo below.
From Quake Lake the route follows the northern and then eastern shores of the adjoining, man made, Hebgen Lake and then it is a straight shot south along the busy US Route 191 to the town of West Yellowstone, the gateway to the western entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
My earlier excitement to hit the park, which has been ever so slightly dulled by a tough 6 hours in the saddle, will have to wait though. There is admin to take care of in town first. I need to find a post office to send home the stuff I deemed unnecessary during yesterdays riding, plus I am in dire need of liquid refreshment. I am falling into the same pattern as the last few days where 2.5 bottles of water (I never quite finish the 3rd) to cover 5+ hours of riding just ain’t enough. The heat of the day is really kicking in too, so I need to fill the gap and ensure I have enough to get me to the next services at Old Faithful 50ks down the road.
I pedal off to find the post office I have just Googled which is not too far off route thank goodness. Nothing is that far off route in West Yellowstone actually. It is a small town but very much with a city feel due to the plentiful tourist focused businesses, fast food outlets, hotels, RV parks, tour companies and the like. A lot of traffic too.
From the post office I head back to the main street and the McDonalds sans my handlebar bag, sleeping bag and blow up mattress. I have a pang of regret…….shit, maybe I should have waited a few more days……..but I force myself to honour my initial instinct to shed some dead weight. I don’t plan on sleeping rough until after the Rockies anyway so my bivy, remaining clothes and some soft ground should suffice when required. Besides, I’m loving the decluttered feel of the front of the bike now.
I get my standard Macas fare but I barely touch the food, my appetite trumped by the thirst I just can’t seem to satiate. No refills either as the exits are locked due to some weird Covid related protocol…….or maybe bottom line related?
I ditch the uneaten food and jam the 2 cheeseburgers into my feedbags, branded Hoagies Haulers (by Reload Bags out of Philadelphia) but henceforth christened cheeseburger caretakers.
Yellowstone National Park
I’m feeling sluggish and would love to rest some more but I’ve burnt over an hour now and need to get going. I pedal over to a gas station and top up on all that I reckon I’ll need for the next 50ks. Not long later I am getting my photo taken at Yellowstone’s entrance and cheekily rolling past a lengthy queue of cars, pickup trucks and RVs to pay the $20 entrance fee payable by walkers, bike riders and skiers.
I am in Yellowstone National Park!
I am also in Wyoming!
The scenery is pretty standard for the first 30 minutes or so, just same ol’ pine foresty type stuff but then all of a sudden the view opens up and things take a turn for the garden of Eden / Jurassic Park. I am soon rolling past grazing bison, lush green river banks and geothermal hot springs, mud pots and geyser basins.
I am starting to really feel the heat and stop for a little while at one of the grassy river banks, on the Madison River (yep, the Madison is back!) to dangle my feet (shoes and all) in the cold, clear water.
Oh my God that feels good!
I then take my shoes and socks off and lay in the shade further up the river bank. I close my eyes but force myself not to fall asleep, which I could do very easily, instead watching a bald eagle in wonder as it circles high up over the river.
Oh how I could while away the afternoon in this heavenly place!
Not so fast big fella…..you’re racing!
Back on the bike and another 2 hours or so of pedaling past an insane amount of slow moving vehicle traffic, rationing my warm, plastic tasting water, I finally make it to the Old Faithful historic district. The area, which actually took some finding as it is slightly off route, is a collection of hotels, restaurants and other tourist related malarky at the number one show in town, the Old Faithful geyser, world renown for its highly predictable eruption every 44 minutes to 2 hours.
There was no waiting around for any geothermal eruption for yours truly though. I needed food, drink, supplies, rest and the bathroom………for a variation on the eruption theme – gas station and McDonalds food induced………..(sorry, couldn’t resist).
All the above took another hour. It was now well after 4pm and I had only banked 170 kilometres with another 120ks to the accommodation I had just booked still to go. Options are few and far between out here and using my 2017 knowledge I booked a room at the Hatchet Resort at the base of the second highest peak of the race, Togwotee Pass.
Time to pull my finger out!
It took me a little while to weave my way through the road works affected traffic to get back on route but soon enough I was finally making forward progress. My earlier lethargy is still present but I banish it to the back of my mind and replace it with determination and a stiff resolve to get the rest of the days riding done. There is also some residual excitement left in me – the main touristy parts of Yellowstone may well be behind me now but the majesty of the Grand Tetons beckon. Hopefully I’ll catch them in daylight hours.
I pedal on into the late afternoon, plenty of climbing up and over the Continental divide a few times, then south past Yellowstone Lake and then Lewis Lake. The latter lake named after the man himself, Meriweather Lewis, commander of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Some of his band of merry explorers actually traversed the nearby Yellowstone River on the return journey from the West Coast instead of the tried and tested Missouri River, way further to the north.
Every now and again I catch glimpses of the jagged, snowcapped Tetons and they spur me on.
Not far past Lewis Lake is the most exhilarating descent. Its fairly straight, steep, about 8 kilometres long and very, very fast. Such a welcome adrenaline hit after a tough 14 hours on the go. Accompanied by the adrenaline was a profound sense of happiness. Pure joy. My senses tingling. I could almost taste the rich aroma of the dry pine forest.
I am tired. I am sore. I’m flirting yet again with dehydration. I am almost 9 days into yet another adventure of a lifetime, with weeks of adventure still to go. I am riding through some of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet.
I fucking love this shit!
As I cascade down that hill screaming like a mad man another emotion surfaces from the depths. A profound sense of loss, sadness and connection to 3 ultra distance cyclists that have ridden this exact same stretch of asphalt, before paying the ultimate price soon after.
This rapid swing in emotion has been brought on by a song in my playlist that just has just come on; David Beats Goliath’s, “Be More Mike”, a tribute to the legend Mike Hall…..
Tears start streaming done my face.
I think of Mike.
I think of Eric Fishbein.
I think about John Egbers.
They fucking loved this shit too!
They were squeezing that little bit extra out of life. Pushing themselves. They were living their dreams.
Mike, hit be a car and killed during the 2017 Indian Pacific Wheel Race.
Eric, hit by a car and killed in Kansas during the 2017 Trans Am.
John, hit by a car and severely injured on the same stretch of road where Eric was hit, in Kansas during the 2018 Trans Am, succumbed to those injuries a few weeks later.
Not fucking fair!
They will not be forgotten!
Grand Teton National Park
I ride on, full of gratitude. I feel strong. Mike, Eric, and John’s hands at my back.
Soon later I am exiting Yellowstone National Park via the south entrance at the Snake River. I have been in the park only 7 hours but yet again I have got my 20 bucks worth.
My memory is usually shite and there have been parts of the route thus far that I have completely forgotten from 4 years ago but I know exactly what lies in front of me. A short sharp climb, past the Grand Teton National Park sign followed by a short, sharp descent, and then…….
As the man in the pink and orange says, “Magic”.
I soaked up the view for a little while, vowing to myself that I would be back. Not as a Trans Am racer but as a proper tourist, road tripping with my family.
I had to keep the soaking up to a minimum though as time was marching on. It was past 7:30pm. Still 40ks to my hotel room.
It was a very, very good call as about 20 minutes later I rode up to the tiny gas station and convenience store at the entrance to the Colter Bay cabins and camp ground. I hadn’t expected it to be open but it was! Due to close in 5 minutes. It was a nice piece of fortune as I was pretty much out of food. I stupidly hadn’t been paying attention to my supplies.
I bought Redbull, Pringles, buffalo jerky, chocolate, gummies and skittles that would need to last me for the rest of the nights riding, dinner and tomorrow mornings riding. I was also out of sunscreen and bought the last tube in stock.
Back on the road, still feeling strong. The conditions were perfect. A beautiful, still, clear, dusk. I couldn’t resist a couple more photos of the Tetons, before they were no longer in my field of view and I was pedaling east, away from them. My attention, eyes and ears turned to the dense pine forest either side of the road. I had seen a grizzly and her cubs near here 4 years ago.
At around 10pm I finally pulled up to the Hatchet Resort, found my key which had been left hanging on a notice board out the front of reception and had a nice chat with a chap who had driven up from somewhere in Arizona for a job interview in Jackson – he was blown away by the whole concept of the Trans America Bike. He insisted on taking a photo of me and bike so he could spread the word. I then finally made it to my room, shutting out the Trans America Bike Race for another day.
Shower, dinner of champions (Buffalo jerky with a side of Pringles), Insta upload, sleep!
Repeat on the morn.