Trans Am Bike Race Day 18 Report
Tuesday June 20, 2017: Heather woke us at around 4 am. The poor thing looked really tired but as always she was sporting a smile. James had just gone to bed having just finished servicing our bikes. These guys were just amazing, both with an ironclad commitment to providing us Trans Am racers with an unforgettable experience. I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon that’s for damn sure.
Anyway, we ate a light breakfast, repacked our bikes and I bought a couple of extra tail lights which I attached to both seat stays. I envisaged a fair bit more night riding over the remaining part of the race as I was well behind schedule. My original goal was a finishing time of around 25 days but that was no longer realistic. I had just not really planned for how much the weather (ie the wind) and indeed the physical and emotional ups and downs would affect my daily distance. To be fair to myself though, how the bloody well could I have planned for it, when my previous longest race was the 620 kilometre Crush the Commonwealth from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, which I hadn’t even finished. There is a lot to be said for just having a go and finding out along the way. I’ll definitely be a lot wiser for my next Ultra Distance Race……..just don’t tell my wife 😉 .
My new aim was to finish by the end of June which would mean an average of approximately 270 kilometres (167 miles) per day over the next 11 days. It would be quite a push given my average over the first 17 days was only 233 kilometres per day. There would also be more climbing over the Ozarks and Appalachians through Missouri, Kentucky and Virginia than there was over the already traversed Cascades and Rockies but stiff shit, I could absolutely do it! I was race hardened and had never been fitter on the bike.
First things first though, a quick selfie with one half of the legendary hosts with the most, Heather Barringer.
And so with freshly laundered lycra (in a washing machine, not a Hotel shower, for the first time in almost 3 weeks), we hit the road. It was right on 6:00 am and the sun was just coming up.
At the risk of repeating myself…….Giddyup!
Operation Big Breakfast
Heather had recommended a good breakfast place near Cassoday, about 60 kilometres from Newton and so the early morning riding was dedicated to getting there as quickly as possible. I’d eaten only a small bowl of cereal at the Bike Shop in order to save room for a plate or 2 of American fried breakfast goodness. I hadn’t had a proper Diner breakfast so far on the Trans Am. This was going to be it.
But we couldn’t bloody well find it.
After a couple of hours, we actually stopped for a bit and Mike tried to find it on his phone. I must have been concentrating way too hard on what I was going to do to a plate of bacon, scrambled eggs, hashbrowns and pancakes, as I completely forgot to unclip as I was rolling up to Mike. A rookie error that can strike the most seasoned of cyclists but very rarely results in any more than a quick tumble, dust off and minor embarrassment. However on this occasion, as there was quite the drop off by the side of the road, my bike and I ended up somersaulting into a 3 foot ditch, in a maelstrom of trail mix, bike bags and “fuuuuuucks”.
In the process, I had bent my rear derailleur. What a shit show! Mike just looked at me like I had completely lost my mind.
You just gotta laugh although I wasn’t until my derailleur was manhandled back into its intended position.
Anyway, that little incident pretty much signalled an inglorious conclusion to “Operation Big Breakfast” and so we had no other option but to crack on towards Eureka. Firstly along a quiet country road, where progress was rudely interrupted by a recalcitrant herd of cows and then along the relatively busy, State Highway 54.
Finally Food in Eureka
Here’s a little bit of general knowledge for you. Eureka is Greek for “I have found it”.
Now as we rolled into the Kansan town of Eureka after close to 5 hours riding all I wanted to find was food and drink. I was keeping a keen eye out for a fast food restaurant and spotted a Sonic on the main street but Mike was keen for real food and got some directions from a local policeman to a Diner. Hey, if there’s someone in town who knows where the good food is at, it’s going to be the local constabulary.
But alas, yet again we couldn’t bloody well find the recommended place.
Back to the Sonic.
Fast food burgers and Cokes were briskly consumed in the heat outside the Sonic and we then headed across the road to a Gas station for ice cream as well as for snacks and plenty of water for the bike. The day really was getting hot and my cue sheet indicated limited services for the next 110 kilometres to Chanute.
As we were packing up out the front of the Gas Station we couldn’t help but notice a massive motorhome that was parked up in the forecourt. Big Motorhomes had not been an uncommon site thus far on the Trans Am. In fact I was sure I had spotted the Grizwald’s in Oregon and Yellowstone but this thing was huuuuuge.
It turned out that it was for a RAAM (Race Across America) age group racer from Monte Carlo. I hadn’t realized that the Trans Am route shared a section with the RAAM course. The RAAM racer was having a sleep while his 5 person crew busily restocked it and fitted a new saddle to his very aero looking bike. He was suffering terribly from a tender derrière according to one of the crew guys we chatted to. You really had to feel for the poor old boy.
In all seriousness though RAAM probably is, as it is billed “The World’s Toughest Bicycle Race”, but I just can’t see the point. An incredible test of human endurance but just so very clinical and sadly lacking in any semblance of adventure. Its pretty hard to take in the sights and sounds when you’re hallucinating, as well as the smells and tastes when you’re being force fed gels from a crewmember leaning out of an oversized motorhome. You might as well chain yourself to your trainer in your basement and get a mate to yell at you for 23 hours a day for 12 days and save yourself a whole pile of cash that you can then spend on getting into a worthwhile activity.
I could rant on but will spare you the Self Supported vs Supported Bike Racing diatribe……..for now anyway. Instead I will leave the last word on the matter to fellow Trans Am racer Jose Bermudez who’s extremely impressive palmarès; 4th in the 2017 Trans Am, 10th in the 2016 Tour Divide and 12th in the 2015 RAAM, mean that he is in an unrivalled position to express an unbiased opinion on each race and format. He does so via this really informative blog post; Comparing RAAM, the Tour Divide, and the TransAm Bike Race.
The irony is, that after reading it, RAAM is now on my Ride Bucket List.
But I massively digress……all packed and stocked up, Mike and I pedalled out into the heat of the midday sun on State Highway 54 sans support crew and motorhome confident that we would be ok without them.
A Casual Flirtation With Heat Exhaustion.
It was hot with the Celcius hovering around 40 degrees (104 fahrenheit). It had been as hot a few days earlier in the stretch into Pueblo on Day 14 and then again the following Day 15 through far Eastern Colorado. Both days I’d almost run out of water but it was the next 100 kilometre stretch from Eureka to Chanute where the heat really got to me.
I put it down to a few things.
Firstly, I didn’t drink enough water. Pretty stupid when you think about it but I was really worried about running out of water and thus started rationing water immediately. Although we were able to stop twice over the next 4.5 hours to Chanute and gorge on cold drinks it still wasn’t enough to make up for the short fall.
Secondly, I was pushing myself too hard. By rationing water I was essentially acknowledging that I was going to be under watered. The intelligent action therefore would have been to ride steadily, very much within myself. However, my ultra stubborn competitive instinct would simply not allow such a common sense approach. Mike was riding very strongly and I bloody well had to keep up with him. I refused to let him out of my sight.
Thirdly, I am a “big boned” lad whose body heat tends to climb rapidly while exercising. I really do feel the heat and when there is no way to reduce that body heat for hours on end (the occasional sip of warm water just doesn’t cut it), I can trend towards getting myself into a spot of bother. During my cricketing days for example, I was quite partial to the occasional warm weather wretch on a hot Sydney summers day.
Finally, I got quite sunburned on my face. I was wearing arm screens and a skull cap but sweated off the sunscreen on my face pretty quickly and failed to reapply.
So, long story short, the fact that I was feeling like crap when we finally rolled into Chanute was entirely of my own foolish design.
4th Dotwatcher Sighting: Corina Barclay Cox
I needed sympathy and it was ably supplied by dotwatcher extaordinaire Corina Barclay Cox who was waiting for us. We pulled over to chat and she gave us a bit of a run down of our food and drink options. I wasnt fussy, I just needed air conditioning and to sit down for a while so she pointed out the gas station opposite.
I wandered the aisles of the gas station, having no idea what to get. I was starting to feel a tad nauseous and dizzy so settled on just a Gatorade although the really friendly girl at the register suggested I should really be getting something more substantial. I must have looked as shit as I felt. No doubt she had born witness to many a heat affected Trans Am Racer.
Mike had a drink then headed off to a Subway further up the road. Russell Slater was also there apparently but I just didn’t feel like moving. Corina hung out with me and we had a lovely chat although there were moments where I had to resist the urge to roll up in a ball under the table.
I stayed there for about an hour and slowly but surely felt myself coming back to life although by the time I rolled out I was far from 100%. Thanks Corina for the company and the Facebook photos. Next time we’ll get you on the other side of the camera.
The Fountain of Youth: Walnut, Kansas
Mike had texted me letting me know that he and Russell were just about to leave the Subway so I rode up to join them and a short while later we were back off and “racing”.
Speaking of racing we had just seen on the Facebook Page that Evan Deutsch had just won the race in record time. A superhuman effort that left us mid-pack mortals 2,800 kilometres in his wake, wondering if we were really part of the same race. Simply mind boggling!
The early evening was still hot and I took it really easy as Mike rode off in front. I still wasn’t feeling the best and was furiously shovelling fistfuls of gummies into my mouth to try and conjure up some energy.
I was riding near Russell and we’d done about 40 kilometres from Chanute when we came across Mike waiting for us by the side of the road in the tiny little town of Walnut, Kansas. It was 8 pm and the towns convenience store was closed but Mike had found a small public park with a water spigot.
I don’t know what was in that water but damn, I felt so much better after drinking my fill and dunking my head under it.
I was restored.
It is quite extraordinary the range of emotions you can encounter during a single day of a race like the Trans Am. The same goes for the body. My body had copped a battering from the heat that day but thanks to that water stop in Walnut and the reduced temperature with the setting sun, I was back in the game.
To celebrate I retrieved my GoPro to take some footage of the 3 of us as we powered towards our final destination for the evening, Pittsburg which was still a good 55 kilometres away, just before the Missouri border. Alas, long story short story I didn’t capture the intended selfie with Mike and Rusell, rather some bizarre sideon footage from which I was able to retrieve the following stills:
5th Dotwatcher Sighting: Johnny Web & His Mate
We got to Girard, Kansas at around 9:30 pm and pulled up at a Gas Station for a quick bathroom break and snack when 2 young blokes approached us for a chat. A couple of dotwatchers, Johnny Webb and his mate who I can’t remember the name of who between them and Corina in Chanute were very much part of the Easter Kansas Dotwatching Massive, aka the EKDM. A cracking bunch of humans!
It was our second dotwatcher interaction that day and my 5th thus far on the Trans Am and I couldn’t help but wonder at these guys who would drop whatever they were doing to come out and say G’day to us mid pack racers. It was really quite touching and indeed reassuring that someone apart from our family and friends actually gave a shit about what we were doing out there.
Anyway, we had a good old chat with these guys whilst munching on pizza out the front of the Casey’s Gas Station. Both guys were very much into cycling, an extremely niche pastime in those parts apparently.
Girard to Pittsburg
Johnny rode with us for a while his mate drove his car behind us, kindly lighting our way. Mike and I then powered on to Pittsburgh TT style.
Mike had received a message earlier from Russell Jones who was having a couple of beers with Aaron Ehlers and I believe JJ Simon in a bar on the main street of Pittsburg. Despite it being quite late, around 10:30 pm we were also rather “thirsty” and tried to track them down but couldn’t find the place they were at. Quite appropriate given our penchant that day for not being able to find suggested establishments. Instead, we debriefed over a nightcap or 2 at a College Bar and then my first ever Taco Bell before calling it a night at a hotel further up the road.
Another big day. Good progress was being made.
Day 18 Territory Covered and Stats
3D overview from Relive:
2D overview from Strava:
- Distance = 316 km
- Cycling (ie moving) Time = 12 hours and 34 minutes
- Stopped Time = 4 hour and 5 minutes
- Elevation = 1,123 m
- Money Spent = $100 ($60 on food/drink, $40 on accommodation, $0 on bike maintenance/stuff)
Keep reading…..Day 19.