Faaaaaaaarck! I had slept through my alarm. Either that or I had subconsciously turned it off. I had set it for 4:30 am to give myself a fighting chance of catching Mike and Russell and to arrive in Yorktown at a reasonable hour so as not to inconvenience my wife and boys too much. Bugger all chance of either happening now. It was 6:30 am. In a mad scramble, I packed up all my gear and headed out into the bright sunlight which only pissed me off more. It should have been dark damn it!
This was the 4th out of the 27 Trans Am mornings that I had shared with JJ. From a shed in Wyoming to a church in Kentucky, to an Airbnb and a hotel in Virginia. It was not a large proportion of the race, we had both ridden the race predominantly solo, but we had shared a lot of laughs and memories that would most probably last a lifetime. Although nothing was outwardly said to this effect it was undoubtedly going to be our last morning in each others company. I was absolutely committed to finishing on Friday (the next day!) while JJ was a whole lot more relaxed about the world.
Over a beer the previous night JJ and I had calculated the distance to the finish in Yorktown. The end of the Grand Adventure was now only 900 kilometres (560 miles) away. Shit eh, we were getting close. Despite the “wake up” call from my wife 2 days earlier and her request for an estimated finishing day, 2 hard days in the Appalachians since had knocked the concept of actually finishing back into the abstract. But now it was an undeniable short-term reality. 900 kilometres could be 3 days riding. Fact! The “holiday” was over. Time to head home and see my family.
The sanctity of the Buckhorn Presbyterian Church Sunday School resulted in an extremely peaceful and comfortable nights sleep that was rudely interrupted by 2 duelling alarms at 4:45 am. The sofa that was so very kindly offered up by JJ the night before (although it was only fair given he got the dusty old mattress in “The Shed” back in Wyoming on Day 11), was extraordinarily comfortable. Perhaps it was blessed? Although to be fair given yesterdays 2,900 metres of climbing interspersed with dog skirmishes aplenty, I could have slept anywhere.
Standard hotel morning start; ignore alarm at least twice, morning ablutions, adorn par dried lycra, pack up bike, demolish buffet breakfast, grab a couple of handfuls of breakfast pastries to store on the bike, check out and hit the road. On this particular morning, the later was achieved at 7 am although I proceeded to get lost trying to find the route and so only really started making proper forward progress about a half an hour later.
I slept well in intervals that corresponded with the gaps in the Sebree overnight train Timetable. I’d completely forgotten about the rail line which was only about a block from where I had pitched my tent, although with the earth shuddering effects of the coming and going freight trains, it felt a lot closer. Each passing earth tremor was heralded by the world’s loudest and longest horn as well. Despite all this though I felt well rested as I army crawled out of my nylon sarcophagus/tent at around 4:15 am.
I was up 5:30 am ready and rearing to make up for yesterdays disaster of an afternoon. Despite the rest, my emotional state was still rather frayed from the frustration of losing half a day’s progress and by the anxiety of not knowing whether my navigational problems would continue. As I was about 5 kilometres off route I set a course on my phone via Google Maps to a point on the Trans Am route from which point I would start using my Garmin. I felt like a defeated Ancient Roman Gladiator waiting for the crowd to pass judgement. Thumbs up (my Garmin was working correctly) and I could continue on my journey. Thumbs down (my Garmin was not working correctly as per the previous day) and my journey was over. I really did see it as black and white as that at the time. Which would it be?
The retelling of Day 21 will rely more heavily on memory than my previous and remaining Trans Am reports. I’ve been leaning quite heavily on the Strava data from each days riding, namely time, distance and topography to provide a basic outline for each ‘days play’ but alas no data exists for Day 21. I blame Garmin Edge 820 user error. The non-existent data is probably due to as simple a reason as me not pressing play at the start of the day or not saving the data at the end of the day. Although ironically Day 21 was also a day where my Garmin was at the very epicentre of numerous navigational cockups that had me fuming with frustration by the end of the day.
Lethargy and body soreness were my companions on the morning of Day 20. It was the sting in the tail from my increased effort over the last 3 days over which time I had averaged 295 kilometres per day vs the 233 kilometres over the previous 17 days. It was not a totally unexpected feeling but it did mean that I had a lengthier battle with the snooze button and I was a lot slower packing up. In fact I wasn’t on the bike until 7:59 am, my latest start (not including waiting around for the bike shop to open in Lander, Wyoming) since Day 8 in Dillon, Montana where I also woke feeling like crap.
Sharing a hotel room definitely fast tracks the old up, up and away routine. It’s a combination of, “I don’t want to inconvenience the other guy” and an ever so subtle “I don’t want to let the other guy get a head start on me”. We were mates riding our bikes across the country but we were also in a bike race. The only racing going on at 6:30 am that morning, however, was the one to get to the hotel breakfast buffet.