Why Do I Want To Do The Trans America Bike Race?
Now that I’m registered for the Trans Am and actively talking to people about my participation I am inevitably asked why? And it is a good bloody question as up until now I have really struggled to articulate exactly why I want to selfishly leave my young family behind for a month to ride my bike 6,730 kilometres across the US. So in the spirit of good old fashioned public self analysis I hereby dedicate this blog post to explaining my motivations.
1. I want a bigger challenge to REALLY push myself
I’ve been into road cycling now for around 5 years. It has become my thing. My hobby, my passion, my competitive outlet and my means of keeping reasonably physically fit. It is not something I can just do however. I need to feel that I am getting better at it, able to ride faster and longer. This is why every now and again I challenge myself by entering into Sportives or other similar events which really focus my mind and training efforts for around 3 months before the event.
These events do require a big physical effort on the day to finish but what I have come to realize is they really don’t require any huge hardship to complete. The course is closed and marshalled, mechanical assistance is provided, there are regular manned food and drink stops and a bus to pick me up if my bike breaks or I cannot physically go on. All I have to do is keep turning the pedals for around 8 hours and I’m done. Time for a beer and some story telling.
Hey, I’m not saying Sportives or Gran Fondos are easy or boring. Far from it. They are a shedload of fun, particularly with mates and I will absolutely continue to participate in them. They just represent a controlled environment for the masses. Every year 15,000 people enter and 11,000 people finish the Etape du Tour for example. I crave a bigger challenge is all. A challenge that will require me to push myself physically and emotionally, harder than ever before. A challenge that will also require huge levels of self sufficiency. A challenge that only a few dozen “crazies” finish each year.
I looked around for suitable cycling challenges and settled on the Trans America Bike Race which fits the bill perfectly. I will have to navigate the route, I will have to fix my bike if it breaks, I will have to ration food and drink in the remote parts of the race, I will have to carry my own change of clothes, toiletries and bedding, I will have to set up camp by the roadside or find a hotel for the night, and I will have to ride my bike for around 14 hours a day for almost a month. Now that should be a big enough challenge I reckon!
2. Do I have what is takes?
My first Sportive in September 2012, was a 185 kilometer (115 mile) ride around the outskirts of London that followed part of the 2012 Olympic road race route. This was around double my previous longest ride but I had a pretty good idea that I could finish. I just didn’t know how long it would take. The same has been the case for all subsequent Sportives or Gran Fondos that I have participated in.
With the Trans Am, even after putting away some pretty serious training miles I will have absolutely no idea if I will have what it takes to finish. The event is just so far outside my comfort zone that I simply won’t know until I’m doing it. The sheer act of having a go at something big with the certain knowledge that there is no certainty of success is a great way of finding out more about yourself.
Will I have what it takes?
3. An excuse to get in the best physical condition of my life
I ride my bike for many reasons but one of which is to keep my weight under control. I love my food and a beer and as my primary form of exercise cycling keeps my recalcitrant waistline relatively tamed. I say relatively as despite a big year on the bike (by my standards); 436 hours of cycling covering over 11,000 kilometers, I have only lost a paltry 7 kilograms and still weigh in at a rather portly (particularly for a cyclist) 98 kilograms (216 pounds). In fact despite ramping up the training over the last few months, averaging 17 hours a week on the bike my weight seems to have plateaued at this weight.
I have a cycling coach who is helping me prepare for the Trans Am and he has already warned me that there is “pain coming in 2017”. “Bring it” I say as I absolutely want to do the work necessary to be as ready as possible come June but also bring on the weight loss that should come with the increased training volume. I’d dearly love to get down to my “fighting weight” or should I say “climbing weight” (there is over 50,000 meters of elevation to cover in the Trans Am – the equivalent of almost 6 Mt Everests), of what I believe to be around 90 kilograms (198 pounds). I seem to remember I weighed close to this in High School when I was a good boy; ie pre beer.
Proper nutrition to fuel my training efforts whilst adhering to my weight loss goals will also play a part. This is most definitely work in progress.
Weight is one thing. Flexibility and core strength is another. My hammies have always been ridiculously tight and I shake like a San Andrean tail feather 45 seconds into a plank stretch so I am extremely mindful of improving these areas to prepare my body for the rigours of the Trans Am. Developing a niggle in the knee or lower back for example that gets worse and prevents me from completing the race is absolutely not an option! I’ll thus be engaging the services of a local trainer or Yoga teacher early in the New Year to get these injury preventing improvements happening.
Lean, mean and supple by June 2017…..Bring it on!
4. For the Grand Adventure
I absolutely love a road trip! Family holidays in Australia more often than not involved long car rides north, south or west of Sydney. We even did a few amazing multi week bus trips through the Northern Territory and Far North Queensland, other worldly compared to the hussle and bussle of the big city.
Moving to London opened up a whole new world of road tripping possibilities. I will never forget my sheer joy and excitement when my car sat nav lit up with the roads of Europe after exiting Eurotunnel (a train that you drive onto and that transports you from England to France under the English Channel). I was completely enamoured by the possibility (however logistically improbable and risky) of driving all the way across the European Continent from Calais in western France to far Eastern Russia, within spitting distance of Alaska! This hasn’t happened to date but my wife and I have pretty much driven through in and around every country in Western Europe.
For a long time I have also daydreamed about a road trip across the US as well, perhaps the home of the road trip given its place in popular culture.
And so now in the year 2017 I get the opportunity to realize those day dreams, albeit via non motorized means. The ultimate road trip adventure across the US, by bicycle. My view will not be muffled and sanitized from within the comfort of a car, rather I’ll be in and amongst this adventure; seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling every last inch of the breadth of the country.
This desire to see and experience unseen roads and scenery is a huge motivating factor for my participation in the Trans Am and will help keep me motivated whilst doing it, day in and day out.
5. To See the Real USA
Related to my desire for adventure is my desire to understand more about the US. Growing up in Australia I was significantly influenced by American culture in the forms of entertainment, food, fashion, sport…….and politics. (Yes America, given your involvement in World Affairs we actually give a shit who your President is).
Actually living in the US has really helped me understand the country in a lot more detail. Speaking with Americans, becoming friends with them, having my boys go to school with their kids, becoming aware of the subtle nuances of accents, phrases and humour not to mention getting into American sports, has further developed my understanding.
Yet my view is still somewhat limited by where I live (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and the places I have visited; 10 of the 50 United States to date of which most are either on the East or West coasts or on another planet in the case of Las Vegas, Nevada. There is so much more to see in the heartland between each coast, the “real US”. So much scenery, so much history, so much diversity and perhaps so much division as the recent election would tend to indicate. The Trans Am bike race will take me through 10 states, 9 of which I have never been to before. I will be cycling through parts of; Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Virginia.
I will be a lot wiser for the experience!
6. To Set an Example for my Kids
I recently read somewhere that kids “don’t do as they’re told, they do as they see”. Having 2 young boys, a 4 year old and a 2 year old I would absolutely concur with them not doing as they’re told, although withdrawing iPad privileges does tend to motivate compliance…..at least occasionally. The “do as they see” bit I had to think about, but upon reflection this is also absolutely true. A lot of their behaviour does come from mimicking others. I particularly see this with my 2 year old who really looks up to his older brother and copies a lot of his antics, both good and bad. I also see this in my 4 year old who drops the s bomb occasionally.
The point is that kids are lead by example, both positive and negative. I want to be a good dad, I want to be a good role model for my 2 boys. Although I will be away from them for nigh on a month, my participation in the Trans Am is a positive example I believe. They will see me training hard and getting fit, setting and striving to achieve a big goal.
They will also see that I am following my passion, my dream, letting nothing get in the way. A massive life lesson that can be taught through encouragement but only reinforced through action. I believe my 4 year old already gets it. He has said to me a few times; “Dad, I’m going to miss you on your bike ride but I’m glad you’re doing it”. He might not be able to articulate exactly why he is glad but I believe he just inherently understands that his Dad has decided to follow a big dream and that that is a good thing. Kids see the truth. Of course it is a good thing to follow your dreams, however big, as adults we just sometimes get waylaid by societal expectations and The Cubicle.
7. For The Kudos
Now I’m not referring to Strava Kudos here, although barring any mishap with my Garmin I will be uploading some serious gigabytes of mileage in June which may well attract a few thumbs up. No, I’m actually referring to the “Wow, that is bloody amazing!” type kudos that comes from doing something big.
Now, lest you think me a bit of a knob for saying this, I need to provide some context.
I am a stay at home dad and have been so since my family moved to the US almost 3 years ago due to my wife’s work commitments. It is absolutely the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Being so involved with my 2 boys as they grow up whilst building an extremely close bond with them both is something I will always be grateful for and a time I will never forget. I see them, I understand them. I get to share big wins and small wins with them every single day.
It is however a thankless undertaking that can be rather lonely, particularly for a bloke. Furthermore, the times may well be a changin’ but I still can’t help but feel a little judged by family, by friends and by society as a whole. “So when are you going to get a job Mark?”. The lady a few doors down that asks me every now and again how the “babysitting is coming along?” (it’s bloody well called parenting lady!). The loudmouth Dutchman at last years Etape du Tour who literally laughed in my face and yelled across a crowded Chalet to his wife “hey, this guy’s wife works while he stays at home and looks after the kids!” (no shit, this actually happened). The good mate who said I do “fuck all!” (he’s still a good mate but I had to set him straight).
I’m a lot more comfortable in my stay at home dad skin 3 years in but the old self esteem does take the occasional hammering. Training hard, getting fit, achieving a huge goal will most certainly massage my ego whilst getting me the kudos that I don’t get from my “day job”.
8. To Make my Parents Proud
Yep, I am a 43 year old man but I am still strongly motivated by a desire to make my parents proud of me. I believe this is a trait common in all of us.
My mum is a big reader, particularly of non fiction books about people that have done amazing things, particularly in the fields of exploration and adventure. As a kid, for her birthday or for Mother’s Day I would often times buy her a book on this topic. I remember once I bought a book about Kay Cottee, the first women to sail non stop and unassisted around the world. I know this book inspired her and filled her with awe and although me riding my bike across the US pales into insignificance next to Kay Cottee’s feat, I would love for my mum to be inspired by, to be proud of the efforts of her son.
My Dad sacrificed a lot for me and my sister. All parents sacrifice, it is the nature of the job but I know my Dad sacrificed his career ambitions and passions in order to ensure we had a good upbringing. I will never be able to repay him for this but if he sees me realizing my passions and achieving big goals then hopefully his pride will go at least par way to doing so.
….and yes I am a sentimental bastard!
9. Fodder for THE Book
I reckon I have a book in me. It might not be a very good book or become widely read but to me it doesn’t really matter, I just want to leave my literary mark in some humble way.
I just haven’t known up until recently what to write about. Although I like fiction there just isn’t a fictional story in me, call it a lack of imagination or whatever but I just don’t possess that depth of creativity. So non-fiction it is but what topic? I have considered writing introductory subject matter books on areas relevant to my past professional life; Sales, Marketing and Finance but have not been able to summon the level of passion required to fuel the time and effort required to make it happen.
If there is one thing that I am extremely passionate about at the moment it is the Trans America Bike Race. I also believe that the personal experiences of preparing for and participating in such a big event represents a great story, particularly for a relative cycling novice. I have been reading the blogs of two participants from last years race, Brian McEntire (mcentire.me) and Janie Hayes (jimmyandjanie.com) and their day by day accounts of the 2016 race are exhilarating reading. Their posts not only include extremely useful information for a rookie but they are telling a fascinating story of personal hardship, self discovery, adventure and triumph.
Thus I am using this blog (MamilCyclist.com) to hone my writing skills with the aim of writing a book about my own experience of the 2017 race.
10. I was Inspired by The Documentary Inspired to Ride
It was early 2016 and I had pretty much decided that I was going to do something big on a bike. I was researching all sorts of madcap cycling events and the one that stuck was the Trans America Bike Race, thanks in no small part to a documentary about the inaugural 2014 race.
If you’re interested and want to get an idea of the race then I’d definitely recommend tracking it down on Amazon or your streaming service of choice. It is actually currently on Netflix in the US. For a taster check out the preview here.
11. The Time is Right
I was originally looking at doing the Trans Am in 2018 instead of 2017. For no distinct reason but I generally felt that I would need the extra time to train and to sort out a plan for me not being around for a month. I was figuring on needing a bit of time convincing my wife that doing the Trans Am was a good idea also.
I knew I wanted to do the race. Indeed I was watching snippets of Inspired to Ride all the time and couldn’t stop thinking about the race. But I was actually coming up with reasons why I couldn’t do it the following year in 2017.
This mindset changed completely after a brief chat with a lovely elderly lady who lives next door. We chance by each other quite often, particularly in the spring when it is getting a bit warmer and she is out gardening. I can’t remember the exact detail of the conversation but I recollect that I was waxing lyrical about the Trans Am and what an amazing experience`it would be (told you I was obsessed) and she pretty much said to me “Just go and do it. Have no regrets”. T’was a massive waking up call, a carpe diem type moment and so I started challenging my rationale for delaying that extra year.
Upon analysis there was absolutely no justifiable reason why I couldn’t do the Trans Am in 2017. My domestic obligations as a stay at home dad was obviously the biggest hurdle but when I really thought about it even this could be temporarily outsourced. Our regular baby sitter who gets on really well with the 2 boys could essentially up her hours and either my mum and/or my mother in law could pop over from Australia to help out. Yes, a large financial outlay for all so I don’t mean to be flippant but practically speaking, doable.
Time for training was also not really a barrier. At this point there was over a year to the 2017 Trans Am. I already had a coach who was helping me prepare for the 2016 Etape du Tour, so instead of turning into a sloth after this race as i traditionally had done, we would simply get stuck into a new training plan. Plenty of time to prepare once the goal had been set.
My beautiful , loving and supporting wife didn’t need much convincing. She just intuitively saw what it meant to me and gave me her blessing.
2017 was to be the year. The time is right!
12. To Raise money for Charity
Pretty selfish motivations for completing the Trans Am up until this point, which I make no apologies for. But my participation is not completely without altruism.
The sheer size of the event; a 6,800 kilometre self supported bike race across America serves as a great platform to raise money for charity. But which charity should I choose? Again, cause for thought. Whatever charity I chose to raise money for I had to have a really deep, almost visceral connection with. A cause that would innately motivate me to raise a decent sum of money for and that would ideally have a global focus. Having lived in Australia, the UK and USA I wanted my personal networks in each country to also feel a personal connection with the charity.
The charity I ended up choosing and that ticked all the above boxes was the Movember Foundation, which is the only charity tackling men’s health on a global scale. It has one goal: to stop men dying too young by focusing research and service provision in 3 areas; Prostate Cancer, Testicular Cancer and Mental Health including Suicide Prevention.
I am particularly interested in the work they do in the area of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. In Australia, UK and USA, suicide is either the biggest or second biggest killer of men my age. This is not only a fucking disgrace it is also heartbreakingly sad. The odds are unfortnately very high that anyone reading this post have been affected by suicide in some way. In my personal network I am aware of 4 people who have lost a family member or a close friend to suicide.
Also, a significant proportion of us have been personally affected by Mental Health issues. I for one have suffered and continue to suffer from bouts of depression and anxiety. Whilst I have never considered myself suicidal I absolutely empathize with the suffering, despair and loneliness that could lead to such a drastic and final course of action.
My fundraising goal is $6,730 (USD), $1 for each kilometer I will pedal to complete the Trans America Bike Race. I’d greatly appreciate any contribution, however small to this extremely worthwhile cause. To do so please visit my Movember Page which will be live until the end July 2017.
So there you have it, 12 motivating factors for my participation in the 2017 Trans America Bike Race. What would motivate you to do this kind of event?