2021 Trans Am Bike Race Day 2 Report
Monday June 7, 2021: Up and at em’ just after 5am. Not as early as was the pre-race plan for “up and at em’s” but that plan was very much on ice for the time being. Given how crap I felt yesterday it was going to be all about managing the body……and the mind. The latter probably the most important. I had tasted moments of despair yesterday when it became glaringly obvious that I was going to fall well short of the planned daily distance. It was way too early in the race to be feeling such things. Time to calm the fuck down, substantially reduce my vice-like grip on The Plan and just ride my damn bike.
Thanks to a good nights sleep I was obviously thinking clearly. My head was definitely in the game.
How about the body?
Definitely fatigued and a tad stiff. Understandable given yesterdays 13+ hours in the saddle but there was definitely an extra layer of depletion remaining from Thursday nights food poisoning. Extra incentive to take it a tad easier and to simply ride on feel.
I walked my bike out into the chilly, overcast west Oregon Monday morning, to do just that.
The Willamette Valley
The terrain from Monmouth was flattish, gently rolling at worst which allowed me to settle into an easy yet productive rhythm. I was now heading south through the lush farmland of the Willamette Valley which would provide a few hours of respite from 2 mountain ranges, the Oregon Coast Range behind me and the Cascade Range in front of me.
I was in good spirits and spent a majority of the 35 kilometres to the University town of Corvallis happily chatting away on the phone with a mate and then my Dad who had stayed up well past midnight Sydney, Australia time for a debrief. It was really comforting to hear from them. Both had been regular voices of encouragement during the 2017 race. Plenty of “HTFU’s” from the former and “you’re up late this morning’s” from the latter.
From Corvallis the route picks up the first noteworthy river of the Trans Am trail, the Willamette River, the lifeblood of the fertile valley. It is the river that divides the city of Portland into 2 distinct parts, further north on its way to the mighty Columbia River.
Not long out of Harrisburg, the target destination for my first stop and resupply of the day, I passed 2 lady cyclists. They were very obviously tourers, bulky panniers front and rear, although their bikes looked more like Dutch commuter bikes. Not the most efficient of set ups and they both seemed to be really struggling against the slight headwind. I was tapping away easily on the pedals and flew past them, at least double their pace.
Wow, that’s gonna be a long ride. I wonder where they’re going? Surely not all the way to Yorktown.
I was hungry, the first time in days (a good sign) and decided to satiate it properly via a couple of 12 inchers and cookies from the Subway on Harrisburg’s main street. I made short order of the first whilst chatting away on the phone with my wife, but decided to take the other with me to eat on the bike. Whilst I was packing up the 2 lady cyclists rolled up and I chatted to one whilst the other went inside. Turns out they were mother and daughter. They were indeed touring the Trans Am route and had started in Astoria a week ago. The mother, who seemed the more experienced cyclist of the 2 by quite the margin expressed how incredibly proud she was of her daughter. No complaining, just pedaling away, getting the daily miles in. They were going to get to Yorktown however long it took. “Whatever it takes” she said.
I was really touched by their story. No fancy Schmancy bikes, gear and months of preparation, just bucket loads of heart, grit and a pure sense of adventure. These guys are the heart and soul of the Trans Am route, not us racers with our sleep deprivation, uptightness and GPS tracking.
Speaking of uptightness………shit……… I’ve been stopped for almost an hour. Time to get cracking.
Hup, hup, hup!
About an hours riding from Harrisburg, just past Coburg the route enters a part of Oregon where the name McKenzie pops up a bit. Firstly the McKenzie River, a tributary of the Willamette River, then the McKenzie Highway which leads to………drum roll please…..McKenzie Pass, the first big lump of the race which will take us up and over the Cascade Range.
Donald McKenzie, an early 19th century Scottish-Canadian explorer, fur trader and politician obviously had connections in the right places.
I was quite taken aback with the traffic on the first stretch of the McKenzie Highway from Walterville to Leaburg. In 2017 I had cycled through early on a Sunday morning and there was barely a car on the road but this time around midday on a Monday the road was a maelstrom of 16 wheelers. Unsurprising in hindsight given the areas central location to agriculture, logging and the cities of Eugene and Springfield to the south of the river.
By the time I rolled into the small town of Leaburg at around 1:20 pm I was more than ready for a quick break. I pulled into the Leaburg Store for ice-cream, local beef jerky and a nice little sit down in a comfy chair out the front of the eclectic convenience store.
I pulled out my cue sheet. I was still 60ks from the base of the 35k McKenzie Pass climb. What is a realistic destination for the day I wonder? Sisters? Redmond? Prineville?
Who knows. Lets just get over the climb and see what happens.
Back on the McKenzie Highway. Physically I was feeling flattish but there was definitely an excitement building within me. I was getting closer to McKenzie Pass with every pedal stroke. A physically taxing beast of a climb but a beautiful one that rewards you with the most extraordinary views of snow capped mountains over a moonscape of an ancient lava flow. It provides the first taste of wilderness and a tangible sense that the chord is being cut with life as it was before the race, to be replaced by adventure and a journey into self.
Not long after Leaburg the McKenzie Highway enters an area devastated by the ‘Holiday Farm’ wildfire which started on September 7, 2020 and subsequently scorched 173,000 acres of forest along the McKenzie River. During my route research I became aware that most of the scarce services along this stretch were still closed due to the fire but it didn’t really prepare me for the really sad scenes of burned out houses and charred forest. So much loss.
Ten months after the fire the dead trees along the McKenzie Highway were still being cleared and quite a few sections of the road were reduced to 1 lane. At one stop and go I had a lovely chat with the traffic control lady. Her 90 year old mother had lost it all in the fire and had had to move from her childhood home surrounded by nature to a retirement home in the city.
At the next stop and go I caught up with Sonny Rasmussen. It had been almost a full day between racer sightings and it was so good to see another rider, particularly Sonny’s happy smiling face. Via hand gestures and a text app on his phone (Sonny is deaf) he indicated that he was having knee trouble. Shit eh, I thought. Not good this early in the race, particularly this side of McKenzie Pass. The sign flicked green and we had to get going but at the next opportunity I pulled to the side of the road and waited for him, madly waving a large tablet container whilst filming his approach on my phone. Being very familiar now with the aches and pains of ultra endurance cycling I had packed ibuprofen and paracetamol in large quantities, both of which I had jammed into the one container along with around 20 brightly colured caffeine tablets. It was quite the pill collection, a little dodgy looking perhaps yet Sonny cautiously accepted a red one.
Into the Matrix we go.
The next 30 kilometre false flat to McKenzie Bridge flew by. I was starting to feel really good and put the foot down whilst video chatting with Andrew Shand. Remember the name – Andrew has planned to race the Trans Am every year since 2018 but injury, setting up Koreas first single malt distillery and global pandemics have rudely interrupted said plans. He’ll be ready to rumble next year though I’m sure!
Good conversation + Good beef jerky + a beckoning mountain + feeling good for the first time in days = “lets get amongst it!!”
Stopping at McKenzie Bridge, although the last services this side of the climb, was not an option. I was feeling too good and didn’t want to interrupt the flow. Besides I was now having a go at racing. According to Trackleaders Simone Bailey’s dot was not too far ahead.
Head down. Into the drops. C’mon!
I was a little overexcited and put in a ridiculous effort that I’d soon regret but it was fun while it lasted.
Soon later the route takes a right turn off the McKenzie Highway and onto the old road that signifies the start of the climb. The road soon morphing from a gentle gradient to a not so gentle gradient. Thoughts of racing no longer viable. Effort increases and attention alternates between The Essential Lewis and Clarke on Audiobook (very relevant given my current locale) and the infinitely slowly turning digits on my Garmin.
It is hard work and to force progress I promise myself a small break every 3 kilometres, rewarding myself with a couple of sips of Coke or water and a mouthful of the Subway sandwich which has kept surprisingly well.
A few cyclists and cars pass me going the other way. They are sensibly leaving the mountain whilst I do the opposite. It is not the norm for a cyclist to be climbing a mountain as evening approaches and I feel their glances but it gives me strength.
I am not normal.
I don’t want to be normal.
Most of the climb is through densely packed Douglas fir and red cedar forests which keeps light to a minimum. It has been getting quite dark and it is with a sense of relief when the road finally exits the tree line, making things less eerie although more exposed to a chilly wind. I stop to put on a few layers.
At 7:30pm I finally make the summit as denoted by a sign and the Dee Wright Observatory, an observation building constructed in 1935 of lava stones. The 35 kilometre climb has taken me almost 3.5 hours, the weather is closing in and I am pretty damn keen to get off the mountain. Photos must be taken though and despite Mount Washington and other noteworthy surrounding peaks being cloaked in clouds, the views were are extraordinary.
Sisters to Redmond
I made very short work of the 20k descent. Adrenaline a motivator but also a desire to get warm. It was getting damn cold up there but conditions quickly warmed up with the reducing elevation. By the time I rolled into the outskirts of Sisters I had a good sweat on although I did have the hammer down. I spotted Nathan Jones (race organizer) and Anthony Dryer who were by the side of the road taking photos of me and I flashed a broad smile and a “G’Day boys” at them whilst posing in the drops.
It was great to see them but I didn’t stop for a chat. I was feeling good and had just decided to push on to Redmond, 30 kilometres further down the track and thus wanted to keep rolling. But first a quick pitstop at the 76 gas station on the far side of town which I knew was open til 10pm. I had spent many hours preparing my route notes, including opening and closing times of services. An extra layer of detail that was already proving invaluable.
The riding out of Sisters was really enjoyable. Dusk was falling and the soft light was creating a lovely still ambience. It felt so much more peaceful on this side of the mountain. My Dad rang and we chatted for a while about the days riding and where I was going to stop for the night. 2 chats in one day with the old man. Back home in Philly I’d probably Skype with him and mum in Sydney every 2 to 3 weeks. Tough to coordinate with the different time zones and 2 boisterous lads running the household. Now that I was stuck on a bike on my pat malone for hours on end for the next few weeks it would be infinitely easier to chat regularly. It felt comforting to reconnect and to soak up their support.
The last 15 kilometres to Redmond was a decidedly less peaceful affair. A blustery wind picked up, bringing with it a light rain. It was pitch dark also and I had to really concentrate to avoid what was quite a lot of road detritus on the shoulder. It was a good first test of my new front light, a Sinewave Beacon, (not an affiliate link) which was working very well.
I finally rolled into Redmond at around 9:30pm, stopped at a gas station for supplies and then checked into a hotel just off route which I had booked in Sisters.
I was happy with the day. I had done what I had set out to do, managed my body and mind whilst chewing off a decent amount of kilometres. Hopefully I’d be ready to have a real crack tomorrow.
Chocolate milk. Gas station crud. Pack up. Slumber.