Friday June 30, 2017: 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!
By the time I had wheeled my bike to the elevator and then out onto Emmet Street I had calmed down a bit and was a little more que sera sera about the situation. There really was no point beating myself up on the last morning of the race and besides I was only a days riding from seeing my family for the first time in over a month. The reunion would just have to be a tad later in the day is all.
Albeit a small example, this ability to almost switch off disappointment / find a silver lining and just get on with it was something that had improved out of sight for me over the course of the Trans Am. I had definitely become more resilient.
I was on the road at 6:52 am and as I pedalled through the very cosmopolitan centre of Charlottesville my mind turned to tracking down a good cup of coffee, but despite the early morning hustle and bustle nothing seemed to be open as yet. It was a lovely looking city, very obviously a University town and it was incredibly hard to reconcile what I saw that morning with the very sad scenes of racial tension played out on TV screens around the world just over a month later.
My mate Scotty rang about an hour into my days riding to wish me all the best for my last day. As I was halfway through thanking him for his support over the course of the race I heard a loud, high pitched ting coming from my rear wheel. It was undoubtedly a broken spoke but I kept on pedalling and chatting to Scotty, in denial to a certain extent. I’d had only one mechanical issue on the whole Trans Am (I’m still touching wood), a broken spoke in fact but that had luckily occurred just out from the Newton Bike Shop on Day 16 and after taping it up I didn’t have to ride on it for long. I’d packed a selection of spare spokes and got James to install one at Newton. Yorktown was still 300 kilometres away and I just didn’t want to deal with something that could further delay my finishing.
I was not in denial for long as having a spoke flapping in the breeze ain’t the smartest of options so I bid Scotty adieu and pulled over to the side of the road to tape it up. I then rang my wife to vent some frustration at the broken spoke and to inform her that my eta in Yorktown would be circa 9/10 pm. Empathising with my woes was far from a priority for her at that moment, however. She had a car to pack and 2 boisterous lads to keep under control and then a 650 kilometre drive in 4th July holiday weekend traffic to Yorktown, to tackle. My later arrival would inconvenience her more than me.
All of a sudden, it was not all about me.
The broken spoke obviously worried my wife a bit though, as when she had a quiet moment she, in turn, rang a riding mate of mine in Philly who allayed her concerns by essentially saying, “He’s lost a shedload of weight so a broken spoke won’t be a problem for only a days riding. If he was still fat though he might struggle”.
Dougie m’boy, you are the man!
Last Breakfast: Palmyra, 275 KM’s To Yorktown
I rolled into Palmyra just after 8:30 am. I’d been relying on a few skerricks of leftover trail mix and was in need of something more sustaining. I spied a large restaurant on the corner of the James Madison Highway but that was closed so ended up at a Supermarket on the other side of the road. I didn’t particularly fancy cold food but as luck would have it the supermarket had a hot food section down the back which had a lovely selection of hot breakfast staples. I got a large tub of tater tots and 2 bacon biscuits which I supplement with a container of 4 apple fritters, Gatorade, Redbull and water.
There were a few picnic tables outside in the shade and I headed over to consume my last breakfast on the road.
Short Butt-Break In Bumpass: 205 KM’s To Yorktown
The next 70 kilometres were pretty uneventful although an alternating side and headwind and rolling terrain were keeping a lid on easy progress. I was half expecting/hoping for an easy days riding to Yorktown but it was not going to be. I couldn’t even retreat into a world of tunes and podcasts as for some reason my phone wasn’t charging and I had turned it off to ensure I had plenty to coordinate my arrival time with my wife.
It was getting hot and I was not being satiated by my dwindling stocks of warm, plastic tasting water so when I spied a general store in Bumpass (yep, made me giggle), I rolled on over to replenish. I also grabbed a Coke and an Ice Cream which really hit the spot as I kicked back in the shade out the front, on the balcony to consume.
When I went back inside to buy some snacks and cold water for on the bike I spotted a Trans Am visitors book and thumbed through it. Ahhhh, my old mate Chris Stellato who I hadn’t seen since way way back on Day 5, had been through the day before. I’d noticed on the race Facebook Page that he had actually finished the previous evening. Such an inspirational guy, what he lacked in training miles (his longest ride before the Trans Am was only 70 miles for crying out loud!!) he made up for with an iron will and discipline. Watch out for his flying dot in the 2019 Trans Am. He’s going to be dangerous with some training miles under his belt.
I hope to see you in October for the Natchez Trace 444 Chris!
Anxiety in Ashland: 155 KM’s To Yorktown
I was starting to struggle a bit physically and mentally as I rolled into the bustling town of Ashland at around 3 pm. I was getting low on energy and I was starting to lament the fact that I was going to be finishing very late. This was never about a grandstand finish with huge crowds but I ideally wanted to finish at a reasonable time so I could just kick back at the monument and savour the moment with my family and whoever else was hanging around. It would be great to have a beer with Mike and Rusell too!
At 3 pm with 155 kilometres still to go this “reasonable time” was just not going to happen. I started to ruminate about not waking up with my alarm. That extra 2 hours would have made all the difference.
Spotting “Giddyup Lane” lifted my spirits a little though. How could it not 🙂 .
Only a couple of hundred metres down the road from Giddyup Lane I spied a Sheetz. For any cyclist that has ridden the roads of central to western Pennsylvania as I had done a lot during my Trans Am training, you will understand the significance of this sighting. For all you others I’d better explain. Sheetz’s are a convenience store, fast food restaurant serving deli type food (hoagies in particular), and gas station that offer a maroon coloured oasis for the road traveller.
I hadn’t realised they were also in Virginia but regardless it was a strong indicator of my imminent homecoming.
I was due a break so I rolled up and leant my bike out the front, something I had done scores of times before during the Trans Am with no concern but on this occasion, it made me nervous as I headed inside. There were just so many people coming and going that you just never knew. How heartbreaking would that be getting your bike stolen so close to the finish?
My nervousness became outright anxiety as I walked the aisles. There were people everywhere, stocking up on food and drink for their respective travels, shouting to their friends, all full of frenetic summer holiday excitement. It was the Friday afternoon of the 4th July weekend after all. I had come from more peaceful surrounds and the scene freaked me out a bit. I just wanted to get out of there so hurriedly grabbed the old favourites of Coke, Gatorade, Gummies and a Magnum, cued, paid and then with relief headed out to the relative peace of the fresh air and the companionship of my bike.
It was my first real insight into a possible hard landing back into “civilian” life.
As I pulled out of the Ashland Sheetz, Ron Nelson, virtual race commentator would have been typing up his mid afternoon Trans Am update. I stumbled over his Facebook post below after the race. It provides a nice little bit of context to the closing stages of the race for us mid-packers.
Thanks for all that you do Ron!
Quick Nap: 121 Kilometres to Yorktown
From Ashland, the route then trends in a southeasterly direction into the outer suburbs and towns of Richmond, the capital of Virginia. I had only been back on the road for about an hour so, but I was starting to feel quite fatigued. It got to the point where I simply had to get off the bike and lay down for a while. I found a particularly comfortable spot on a grassy verge in an affluent looking part of Mechanicsville (big houses with long drive ways) and grabbed 15 minutes shut eye, hoping that the neighbourhood labradoodle wouldn’t feel the need to marks its territory in my near vicinity.
I felt better for it but still needed a boost so stopped at a gas station a couple of kilometres down the road for a couple of Red Bulls. Given the heat and humidity, I was also getting through my water stocks pretty quickly so made sure to replenish them as well.
Once out of the built up areas and into the countryside again I started to feel the comfort of the solitude and the peace and quite once again. The only sounds being the various familiar creaks and whirs emanating from my bike, my breathing and the wind gusting through the corn fields and my helmet. My phone battery was dangerously low so I wasn’t listening to any music.
This part of Virginia is littered with American Civil War battlefields and I pulled over to the side of the road to take a photo of a sign commemorating one of the battles between the Confederate and Union forces, circa 1862.
As I wasn’t using my phone I used my GoPro and the resultant video turned into a bit of short roadside diatribe. Consider it my first ever Vlog of sorts. Anyway, it provides a bit of insight into my mindset at the time.
Virginia Capital Trail
Just the other side of the Richmond National Battlefield Park the Trans Am Route turns left onto State Highway 5. This was quite a busy stretch of road with no hard shoulder and it took a couple of near passes at speed, a horn blow and a wildly gesticulating driver to realise that there was in fact a bike path I could use.
The bike path turned out to be the Virginia Capital Trail (VCT), an 89 kilometre bike and pedestrian path that runs from Richmond to Jamestown to Williamsburg.
It was great to get off that busy road, switch off that constant vigilance and just relax for the next 50 odd kilometres.
Last Supper: Charles City, 70 Kilometres To Yorktown
Still on the VCT I started to get rather hungry and stopped in at a Country Store and gas station in Charles City, yet another City that was far from a City. There was quite the Friday night vibe in there with a lot of the locals chatting away whilst they picked up their booze and food for the holiday weekend.
I wanted something quick so settled on a large bag of potato wedges and was generously served the equivalent of 2 bags by the friendly clerk. I must have looked like I needed them. Confirming the ‘take pity on me’ vibe I must have been exuding, a chap who I made eye contact with whilst holding the door, announced, “Wow man, you look like you’ve had quite the day!”.
“You mean quite the month!”
I felt at the time that this quick retort required an element of explanation but not wanting to get bogged down in a lengthy conversation I gave him the Cliff Notes version of my travels right there and then at the entrance to the convenience store. Out of all the “civilians” I had spoken to on the trip this guy was the most incredulous. He literally couldn’t grasp the concept that I had almost ridden a bike coast to coast across the US, unsupported. No doubt my wild man aesthetic assisted in convincing him that this had indeed actually occurred.
“Wow man. That’s incredible. Good for you!”
I ambled over to a grassy section bordering the gas station to sit cross-legged and eat the last meal of my Trans Am. Word of my exploits had spread, as a couple of mouthfuls in I was approached by the son and granddaughter of my new acquaintance. I noticed the rest of the family in a large RV watching on.
“I hear you’ve ridden across the county?”
No doubt it was the tiredness kicking in again but at the time I got the impression that they wanted something from me, some form of wise insight or parable from my journey, as a lapsed Hindu would a pilgrimaging Sadhu. If that was the case (although I doubt it – they probably just wanted to say hi), I failed miserably as all I could muster in between mouthfuls was a couple of mumbled sentences about it being a long ride and at this point I just wanted to get it finished, blah, blah, blah.
“Ah, I see, great. Good for you.”
It was quite a bizarre yet not unpleasant experience. I completely understood at that moment that us Trans Am’ers really were operating outside the norms of modern society. We were undertaking something quite rare, something quite special. Something that really intrigued random strangers to point that they would approach you out of the blue to further their understanding of what it was all about.
The Trans Am word is spreading.
These good people’s reaction also afforded me a glimpse into the enormity of what I was about to achieve. A goal that I had been dreaming of and working towards for almost 12 months, although I have a theory that a desire to achieve such a thing had been stuck in my subconscious for years, maybe even a lifetime.
Through necessity though, that goal of training for and then actually riding a bike such a distance had been carved up into manageable chunks. That next days riding, that next 30 kilometres. Get that done and move on to the next chunk, lest I get overawed by the sheer size of the task at hand. Easier said than done but for the most part, I had managed it ok.
As I set off from Charles City just before 8 pm however, I could allow myself an uninhibited glance at the finishing line, at the whole rather than just that next chunk.
Because I was only 70 damn kilometres from Yorktown. That’s why!
Am I There Yet, Am I There Yet?
Now that I had seen the finish in my mind I couldn’t get it out of my head. I just wanted to be there, NOW! Am I there yet, am I there yet?
I started to fixate on my Garmin, getting frustrated by the achingly slow turn over of the distance to destination field. It got to the point that I had to risk my phone battery and switch on some tunes in an attempt to get my mind off the finish.
The Colonial Parkway: 37 KM To Yorktown
About an hour later I finally took leave of the Virginal Capital Trail. It had served me well but after 50 odd kilometres I just wanted to put it behind me. The route then turned right onto Greensprings Road which lead to Jamestown, the sight of the first successful English settlement on mainland North America in 1607.
And then onto the Colonial Parkway.
Like the Blue Ridge Parkway I’d traversed the day before, the Colonial Parkway is also a National Scenic Byway and All American Road. Not that I bore witness to any of that famous scenery. It was pitch black by that time and the only charged and/or working lighting on my setup was my headlamp, which I only dared use on its second setting to conserve battery. My visual was thus a 1 metre in diameter patch of light about 10 metres in front of me, which I had to strain my neck to maintain.
The road was rough as guts too, what seemed to be ancient crumbling concrete, so given my poor visuals, I had to maintain a pretty slow pace to ensure I didn’t end up over the handlebars.
To further my frustration the occasional approaching car would not dim their high beam, no doubt perplexed by my sporadically moving headlamp. I would accept no excuses however and would let forth a torrent of screamed abuse and manic gesticulations as they passed. I was taking it personally.
In calmer moments I would chuckle at the fact that I could well have been screaming out “Get f@*ked!” to either Mike and/or Russell who must have finished by then and might have been getting driven back from Yorktown.
In other news, I also ran out of water.
Meanwhile, At The Yorktown Monument
Meanwhile, Team Croker had finally made it to Yorktown after an 8 hour slugfest from Philly in hardcore holiday traffic. They had checked in to the hotel, explored the town and had gone for a swim and had dinner, all the while keeping an eye on my dot.
At about 10 pm they headed up to the monument to wait……in the dark.
Looking For Water In Williamsburg: 22 Kilometres to Yorktown
By the time I rolled into Williamsburg just before 10 pm I was parched but apart from a couple of bustling restaurants, I saw nowhere to get water. I really didn’t fancy creating a scene in one of the restaurants so I continued on, into the dark.
22 Kilometres to go.
That last 22 k’s took about an hour. It was a blur of high beam induced anger, extreme thirst and paranoia that my last remaining light source would pack it in. Without my headlamp I would have had to have walked, it was just so incredibly dark.
There was no last minute epiphany or insight. All that had occurred over the course of the previous 28.5 days. I just wanted to get it over and see my family.
In it’s last task of the Trans Am, my Garmin finally directed me off the Colonial Parkway, onto a bike path, onto Water Street and then onto the Yorktown foreshore. It was getting late but there were quite a lot of people still out and about. The population of Yorktown is usually only 195 but it swells to many thousands over the 4th July weekend.
I spied a water fountain and despite my desperation to get to the monument I stopped to drink deeply from it.
Ahhhhh, that’s better!
I then, of course, missed the next turn but quickly recovered, up the very steep Comte de Grasse Street, left on to Main Street and then there it was, a very dimly lit Yorktown Monument. My final destination.
The video and the next few photos aptly tell the next part of the story….
Dotwatcher 9: Chuck Owens
Unsurprisingly I was a bit overcome by seeing my family again and it took me a little while to register that there was another person at the monument, welcoming me to Yorktown – Chuck Owens. Chuck, who doesn’t live far from Yorktown has assumed the role of welcoming every single finisher of the Trans Am to Yorktown, regardless of the time.
An incredible guy! Phil O’Hara sums up my thoughts about Chuck perfectly in his Facebook post below…
A Beer with Russ
And then like an apparition Russell Jones and his mate Andrew Shand appeared out of the dark.
Russell had finished a couple of hours earlier and had very kindly come out to say hi. It was so very nice to see him and meet fellow Scot, Andrew. We shared a beer and a good few laughs.
Boys – I’ll never forget you guys coming out that night. It meant a lot, it really did!
Russell – all the best with North Cape – Tarifa mate. I’ll be watching.
Andrew – I hope the back heals quickly and you can get back on the bike soon enough. Trans Am 2019 all the way with that core of steel that you will have by then.
That’s A Wrap
It was pushing Midnight by the time we finished up at the Monument. Chuck had hung around to ensure we were ok and then off he went to grab some sleep whilst keeping an eye on the next batch of dots that would be arriving from early the following morning.
I gently placed my bike in the back of my truck and Melissa drove the short distance to the hotel in Yorktown.
It was done!
But Wait There’s More
Unbelievably I still have more to say on the experience and now I have finished the Blog version, I will now be commencing THE BOOK version.
It will essentially be what I have already written, tidied up with some additional content including pre and post race happenings, kit overview as well as whatever else spills out of the old noodle. It might even get quite deep.
I’m compiling a list of people who may be interested in email updates of how the book is progressing. So should that be YOU please sign up HERE and indeed should there be anything you would like me to cover in the book, please do so in the comments section of this post below.
I hope to be a little more expedient with the finishing of the Book than I was with that of the Blog…….Promise 😉
Being my first ever ultra cycling event and indeed my first ever long distance touring type riding, my 2017 Trans Am was all about the adventure and finding out more about myself. The race element assisted greatly though in getting me out of bed earlier and pushing me harder at times than I otherwise would have without the competitive element.
I absolutely achieved the adventure and self-discovery bits and am also quietly pleased with my finishing position of 34th out of 54 finishers and about 120 starters.
I have a few thank you’s but first I would like to pass on my condolences to Eric Fishbein’s family. I only met and rode with Eric very briefly in Wyoming but I could absolutely tell that he was living the dream out there on the Trans Am course. I am so very sorry for your loss.
Thank you to my beautiful wife for gifting me the time to train for and participate in the most amazing life-affirming adventure.
Thank you to my family and friends for their kind words and constant support throughout the race.
Thank you to all those amazing people who donated to my Movember (Suicide Prevention) fundraising efforts. $6,317 raised so far. My fundraising page is still open should anyone still kindly wish to contribute. You can access the fundraising page by clicking. HERE.
Thank you to all the Dotwatchers (both on the course and virtual) and Trail Angels for their kindness, interest and support.
Thank you to all my fellow competitors for their inspiration, companionship and laughs. In particular (noted in order of when I last saw them in the race); Russell Jones, Clay Stark, John Richardson, JJ Simon, Christopher Owen, Mike Benigni, Russel Slater, Aaron Ehlers, Martin Cox, John J Egbers, Chris Stellato, Jen Colestock, Kenny Cherry and David Barstow Robinson. I hope to see you all again soon but if I don’t, know that you will all play starring roles in my memories of a lifetime and the associated stories I will tell.
Thank you to my Bike for carrying me with the minimum of fuss (ie only 2 broken spokes) the 6,800 kilometres from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia.
Thank you to all of you out there who have read and enjoyed my ramblings on the 2017 race and indeed your extreme patience. It has also been quite the journey – almost 7 months in the retelling!
Thanks to Mike Dion for planting the seed via your incredible documentary on the inaugural 2015 race, Inspired to Ride.
And last but not least, thank you to Nathan Jones for organising this beautiful race!
Day 28 Territory Covered and Stats
3D overview from Relive:
2D overview from Strava:
- Distance = 318 km
- Cycling (ie moving) Time = 12 hours and 38 minutes
- Stopped Time = 3 hour and 15 minutes
- Elevation = 1,747 m
- Money Spent = $50 ($50 on food/drink, $0 on accommodation, $0 on bike maintenance/stuff)