CycloFran

cycling adventures and beyond

Be your own windkeeper – riding the Trans Am Bike Race

I’ve shied away from writing up my experiences in the Trans Am 2014 for months now, mainly for two reasons: one, I’ve already written a detailed travel log in German and two, I tend to feel like my experiences are not as valid or important. I’m not included in any of the much-anticipated film coverage or in their pictures (even though I was the only other woman to finish aside from Juliana) and obviously coming in 10 days after the nearest placing person doesn’t exactly make it a photo finish. UPDATE: After finally seeing the movie I have to go back on that one. I WAS included. I got my 5mins of fame. And I didn’t even look too bad on my bike.
I did get a lot of recognition from people who’ve been following my story and my struggle – and I’m thankful for that.

However, I try putting this into perspective. 45 people set out in Astoria. Of those 45, only 25 finished the race. Many dropped out within the first week. Of those 25, only two were women, me included. The Trans Am was my first ever bicycle race and I had been sidelined with an Achilles injury for weeks before the start, which you can read all about in my post about failing in the World Cycle Race.
Considering a drop out rate of almost 45%, I feel pretty good about finishing the race! Some people dropped out because of injuries, some had mechanical issues, others couldn’t make ends meet with their time schedule and some found it quite simply too hard (there’s no shame in that).
I’m still insecure about my own “worth” as a cyclist, hence the preface – now let’s get to business, if you got this far, you probably really want to know what it’s like to cycle the Trans Am in slo-mo 😉 Watch out though, this is going to be a long one… and I switch back and forth between past and present tense, which I didn’t notice until the end. That’s a bit annoying, but just put it down to me not being a native speaker.

Disclaimer: I stole the idea of copying my Facebook statuses and commenting on them from Marcus Thompson, who finished in 15th place, taking 29 days. I met him briefly on the first day when 5 or so of us convened in a cafe in Manzanita to dry off and eat breakfast. After that I obviously never saw him again. I checked, he doesn’t mind me copying the idea. 

June 7th  – 100mi

When the sun finally came out the day got better… We are having a great time, currently lunching in Tillamook. It is amazing how far away the race leaders already are!

The first day was hard. As advertised we set off at 5am sharp, after Thomas Camero made a champagne toast. The film crew was already shooting their cast, Nathan made some last-minute announcements and then off we went. It started drizzling right away.
Tobi and I got separated early on. Lots of us had trouble finding the right route, the GPS track would constantly tell us we’re off route. I remember riding with Bruce Wylie and checking the map to see where we were supposed to go.. at some point we just decided to stay on the road we were on, which was the right choice.
I ended up finding Tobi, Anthony and Eric (I think) at a gas station in the first town we got to, Seaside. Got a quick coffee fix – as we hadn’t had a real breakfast – and then pushed on.

The beginning was much hillier than I had expected and truth be told, I wasn’t in any particularly good shape. But my tendons didn’t give me any issues and I worked through it.
I saw many of the other racers on that day, had breakfast with a couple of them in Manzanita. In the cafe we checked on Trackleaders and saw just how fast the leaders were opening up a gap.

160km, 1500m climbing. Dipped our wheels into the Pacific Ocean, now at our first campsite in Pacific City. Enjoyed the spa pool… Now FOOD!!

At the end of the day, we arrived in Pacific City. But not without trouble first: Tobi’s seatpost clamp broke. I’ve now learned that this is not an uncommon problem. Juliana had it, Marcus had it, I had it in the WCR… well, we weren’t anywhere near a bike shop. I cycled ahead to Pacific City (it happened a couple miles before town) to check whether there’s a bike shop. I asked around but all they could tell me was that there is an ACE Hardware store. Better than nothing. I headed there and asked for help.
The nice guy ended up drilling through his seat clamp and fixing a bolt with a wing nut to it. Not perfect, but it held.
We found a campground that had an indoor spa pool and a restaurant next door, didn’t hesitate to pay 35$ for it. Relaxing in the pool felt amazing.
Cynthia was staying in town and we texted with her, but I think she decided to have an actual breakfast the next day instead of getting up at 5am like we were planning to.

June 8th – 130mi

We’re in Corvallis eating burritos and stocking up on water. 150km done, but since it is all straight with a tailwind to Eugene we’re doing another 60km. It was baking hot today with lots of climbing, but we feel great.

Pushing to Corvallis was a chore. It got super hot during the day and the hills (yes, I had no idea that these were just hills, not proper climbs) were killing me. Tobi had to go all out to make it to Corvallis in time before the bike shop closed.
They fitted his bike with a new bolt – they didn’t have seat clamp that would fit I think – and tightened it to 8nm or something – and advised him to simply not change his position ever again. Luckily, Tobi had a professional bike fit before the race and marked the seatpost, so it wasn’t going to be necessary to change it (hopefully).
After the fix, we had dinner with Jason Stephens, who we had continued to meet at rest stops. We decided to push on towards Eugene since it was starting to cool off and the guys at the bike shop promised a beautiful road.

They weren’t wrong. I flew along this stretch while Tobi’s batteries were drained. I did a 27km/h average on this road, completely nuts. When I finally found the Armitage County Park in the dark I set up camp and had a snack of tuna and pasta salad while waiting for him. We fell asleep quickly and set the alarm for 5am again.

June 9th – 94mi

Had a great day yesterday doing 210km in 9hrs. Slept until 6 and are having breakfast after only 13km but we feel great. Muscles a bit tight but all tendons and joints are happy. McKenzie Pass today, aiming for Sisters tonight.

Well, as above.
I started feeling muscle soreness, but everything else was fine. I had no idea what McKenzie Pass would be like. I was about to find out. In retrospective I didn’t practice climbing nearly enough. Big mistake.

What a tough slog up up McKenzie Pass. It took us hours. But we didn’t give up and made it to Sisters. Will do only around 100km tomorrow as we have to visit the bike shop. Achilles is still excellent!

McKenzie Pass almost broke my spirits. We got to McKenzie Bridge late in the afternoon and had a big lunch. Then we stocked up on extra water and food and started up the mountain. I thought it was going to take a couple of hours, but five hours? Yes, it took me five whole hours to climb that beast. A few times I had to get off, and two times I bonked hard. The road started to sway before my eyes and I almost threw up. Instead, I sat down on the ground, ate a Clif Bar, drank some Gatorade, and waited for the world to become less wobbly. Then I got back on.
We talked for a long while on the way up. About all kinds of things, just not about how freakin’ hard this was. It helped take my mind off the fact that my thighs were exploding.
At least my tendon held up. It was one of my biggest worries going into the race.

I don’t have fond memories of Sisters, but that’s mainly because I was a crybaby and Tobi was cheap that night. Jason got a hotel room, Cynthia got a hotel room, and we slept in the city park. Yes, it was (almost) free, but I was longing for a shower and a bed so much. However, the CFO put his foot down and led the way to the park. I was seriously upset.
It didn’t help much that my mattress was losing air.
Oh well. In the end, I got a decent night’s sleep and there was a shower there, too.

June 10th – 38mi

The best part about Sisters was breakfast. We finally refueled while Tobi’s bike was in the shop. To be honest, in hindsight it was plain stupid for him not to really know his bike. He’d only purchased it a couple months before and only ridden it for a couple hundred km, if even that. He didn’t know how the disc brakes worked and it had never been in the shop I think. Yes, it was naive – now we know better. It had started creaking and making all kinds of other noises, plus the rear brake actually stopped working on McKenzie Pass.
It took two shops to figure out the brake (which is actually not an uncommon one – Shimano BR-CX77) and then the second shop managed to put a rear rack on his bike, too.
By then it was noon and we set off.

Only 60km today in dry, hot crosswinds. What a horrible road from Sisters to Prineville! Since it is 5pm and there are literally no services between here and Mitchell which is 85km and a mountain pass away, we are calling it a day and taking advantage of the time to wash our nasty clothes and get up real early to hit the pass before 8am. Getting up super early is so much better than riding late, me thinks…

Yeah, that road was ridiculous. Escaped near death a couple of times.
We sat in the McDonalds in Prineville and quite a few weirdos came over and talked to us.

Did I really write that getting up super early is better than riding late?? I must’ve been trying to convince myself of that.. I HATE getting up early, no matter the reason. Tobi LOVES getting up early. Seriously though, I can’t believe I publicly wrote this.

June 11th – 115mi

Baking hot today after a freezing 5am start. 140km done, heading for Mount Vernon 40km away – if I don’t fall off my bike. 

It really WAS freezing at 5am, and there was no breakfast to be found. We had bought some things the night before and breakfast consisted of chocolate milk and crackers. Overall the food situation was mostly horrible. It isn’t exactly ideal for performance or recovery to go to bed without dinner or start out without breakfast. We did both of these things quite a few times.

Ochoco Pass was on that day. I actually liked that one. Pretty gradual and it wasn’t too hot or cold.

This was lunch in Mitchell. We made it almost 180km to Mount Vernon where we were unexpectedly met by Christy who took us to her Bike Inn. Enjoying towels and a futon couch, Awesomeness!

Mitchell, oh Mitchell. A cute town, great food, peculiar locals. The pass after Mitchell – Keye’s Creek Pass – was horrible, so horrible. It was buuuurning hot and there was no shade anywhere. I really struggled on this one.
When we arrived in Mount Vernon, Christy found us and took us back to her Inn. There were some microwaveable food things and we ate most of them since there wasn’t any restaurant open anymore.

June 12th – 90mi

Woke up with a splitting headache and severe neck pain at 3am this morning – not from cycling, my very picky back didn’t agree with the futon. Had to resort to prescription painkillers and still cycled in pain for two hours. Then climbed three consecutive mountain passes, after which we battled into the meanest, most frustrating headwind I’ve ever witnessed. Bollocks! Splurged on a motel for the first time. Today wasn’t fun at all (except for the sweeping descents maybe) but I’m still glad to be here and doing this.

Oh god, this was a truly horrible day.
I don’t have a very bulletproof body, I have arthritis and a ton of other issues with my joints. My back tends to be picky about sleeping surfaces. On top of this, I always (!) sleep with an open window, even in the coldest winter, because otherwise I get a headache – guaranteed.
The futon was super hard and we kept the windows closed because of the dinosaur-sized mosquitoes. Well.. mistakes happen.

I actually cried from the pain, it was so unbearable. Tobi woke me up at 4:45am after packing up most of our stuff to let me rest a little more but then we had to leave. I took the strongest painkillers I carried (for emergencies like this), Novalgin, which unfortunately is a mild muscle relaxant as well. But this was my only choice.
For the first few hours, every little bump in the road split my head open.

The three passes after Mount Vernon aren’t horrible, but they are horrible when you’ve taken a muscle relaxant. Truth be told, I shouldn’t have been on the road like this. We were lucky that there wasn’t a whole lot of traffic.
Coming into Baker City the wind almost blew us backwards, so even though it was slightly downhill, it was extremely tough going.
We checked into a motel, did our laundry and then the real fun began.

No restaurants were open so we went to a bar that basically had fried foods they could prepare. Fine, better than no food.
While we were in the bar, we received a message from Jason. He’d continued past Baker City, and then his chain broke.. along with his chain tool! What misfortune. We tried finding someone who could pick him up but we were sitting in a bar.. none of these people could still drive. I realize now that helping him would have been a break of the rules, but honestly, at that moment we didn’t even think about that.
In the end, Jason managed to hitchhike back to Baker City. He would have to wait until 10am the next day until a bike shop opened. It was unfortunate for him, but it meant that there was a chance of seeing him again.

June 13th – 110mi

Day 7 was so much better! My body is really starting to catch up – muscles aren’t really sore anymore, no problems sitting in the saddle all day. We did 175km with 1750m of climbing today, got chased by thunderstorms, battled into fierce headwinds in Hells Canyon and climbed out of the canyon in the rain. Then raced down Brownlee Mountain HARD to make it to the only restaurant in town open and made it with 5mins to spare, luckily they still fed us. Got the very last motel room in ‘town’ and took a hot shower. Another long day ahead, but it is really starting to be fun! Frankly I am amazed that it is going this well. I barely trained after my Achilles injury and gained 5kg after the World Cycle Race, and Tobi, well, he rode about 800km in total in preparation for the race since he didn’t have any time at all. I’m pretty sure we were right not to go out too hard in the beginning, now we can build up on our mileage… 

Ohh, sleeping in a hotel for the first time was glorious! My body had started to adapt, which was great.
It was a crazy day. We met a couple of touring cyclists in Hell’s Canyon and I cycled along one of them, John, for a while. He told me about his former job as a Helicopter instructor and I told him about the race.
At some point in Hell’s Canyon there were people on the side of the road cheering for me! They actually said “Go Francesca!” – that was crazy! I didn’t stop, I was too confused to think of that, but it spurred me on for a long time.

We met Mike Norman at the Idaho border, which is right at the dam. He ended up overtaking us at some point, I think it was halfway up the pass when we stopped at the last place to get food. There, we asked about restaurants in Cambridge and the lady called to check their opening times. We had crossed not only a state border but also into a new time zone and subsequently lost an hour. Damn.
Mike set off and we did, too, into the rain.

Racing down that mountain was great fun in a way. Tobi was a bit knackered to I went for it. I had no idea whether Mike would make it, so I gave it my all, I REALLY wanted hot food that night!

The diner was still open and I saw Mike’s bike leaning against it. He had arrived there only 5mins before me. The lady was extremely nice and said that she’d been feeding racers all week.
We ended up getting the last hotel room available in town.

June 14th – 100mi

Cold morning, late start, long climb. But then on the long descent from New Meadows the sun came out – all better! Since everything is booked up here in Riggins we will have to continue past Lucile to camp. I was already looking forward to sleeping for more than 5 hours for once but at least we’ll get our 100 miles done.

It took forever to get going. We were at breakfast at 7am sharp but the cook was new and alone and food didn’t appear for a long time. This really is one of the things where you lose time. I wouldn’t do it like this again.

We leapfrogged with Mike on that day. In Riggings, we found out that everything was booked since it was Steelhead fishing season. My maps were a little outdated and Mike’s map listed a B&B a bit past Lucile. He called there and they told him they didn’t have rooms but would let him sleep in the office.
Since we weren’t sure that would work out for all of us, we decided to just find a spot to camp.

So we cycled out of Riggins and just before the 160km mark we found a hotel, Steelhead Inn, which wasn’t on the map. They had no rooms but are letting us sleep in the office with access to a shower, washing machines and breakfast tomorrow morning for a reduced rate. Mike, Tobi and I are enjoying it and we are hoping that Jason might make it here, too…

The lady at the B&B was very nice. It still cost something like 50$ I think, but for the three of us. Tobi was hesitant (seriously!) but I convinced him.
We took turns showering and doing the laundry. Jason didn’t make it and camped somewhere before Riggins.

June 15th – 110mi

Having coffee in Kooskia, being chatted up by a young chap just out of High School. Got a quick overview of the type of deer in Idaho. He’s excited to hunt Black Bears tomorrow. And you’re finally allowed to hunt wolves in Idaho! Oh, America, your hillbilly backcountry makes me bite my tongue so hard…

One of my favorite days on the whole trip! This was the day we climbed those switchbacks to Grangeville. It looked quite intimidating on the map, but to be honest, it was one of the nicest climbs. Mostly gradual switchbacks instead of the typical American direct ascent, and we met a woman (Hetty) with her two horses who was riding the Nez Pearce Heritage trail.
Kooskia was a strange town. But we got coffee and a piece of cake for under 5$ in the weirdest little cafe. The server was really obsessed with talking to us. As a European, I’m not excited by people hunting black bear and wolves. The obsession with guns eludes me. We politely listened and got on out of there.

The day’s end was in Lowell. We play our favorite game: Tobi is knackered and I have to sprint ahead to secure dinner. Gender roles reversed? In any case, Mike was in Lowell way before me. We had called ahead to book rooms since there was basically one place to stay there.
Jason ended up catching up and sharing a room with Tobi and me. Again, I guess we broke the rules: I had the foresight to buy a sandwich for Jason since we saw on the tracker that he wasn’t going to make it in time for dinner.

June 16th – 85mi

Cold, wet, wet and wet day. Made it to Lochsa Lodge after 66mi and warmed up a little, then pressed on to Lolo Pass. I was shivering and my hands froze to the brakes upon descending in the pouring rain, but then we were at Lolo Hot Springs where we had a room booked… Niiice! Still not pumped about this rain, will lose some more time since we are going into Missoula tomorrow. I don’t really care though, back here we are more about the fun and making friends!

We didn’t really want to leave the hotel! Actually, Mike was a little disappointed that we were actually going to leave instead of sitting out the rain 😉 But he was the best prepared with full rain gear and everything. We were jealous.
The sun came out a few times but mostly it was just miserable and cold. The Lochsa Lodge was a lifesaver! I stumbled in (to find Mike already there of course), tried to dry off my legs a little bit and ordered a Hot Chocolate. There was a gas fireplace going and we all tried to dry our socks a little bit. Tobi and Jason arrived a little later and we had lunch.
The weather wasn’t going to get any better and we didn’t fancy camping in the cold rain. The lady in the Lodge called the Lolo Hot Springs Lodge (which is where Billy Rice stayed while waiting for his replacement bike) to ask about rooms. They were super expensive. We still booked two.
The pass actually wasn’t too bad, it would have been nice without the near-freezing rain. It was close to zero degrees celsius and actually started to snow during the night.
Descending was oh so horrible. I couldn’t feel my hands anymore. I have literally never been this cold in my life. We arrived at the Lodge shivering, I could barely talk or walk and had to pry my fingers off the brake levers. Brrrr. Got into the room, jumped in the shower, put my bathing suit on and ran over to the indoors pool. Those hot springs were a lifesaver, too… My skin burned when I went in but I simply waited.
Later we bought some frozen pizzas from the lodge. As always – better than nothing. It was too late to go have dinner at the restaurant.

June 17th – 40mi

After falling short on mileage two days in a row (only slightly), we went for the ultimate sin and only did 40mi today, going into Missoula. Had our picture taken at the ACA HQ (plus free drinks, ice cream, WiFi etc.), bought some awesome panniers for Tobi, then headed on to REI to get some leg warmers for myself. Staying in a fancy hotel on bonus points and only doing 65mi to Darby tomorrow – instead of getting caught on the passes with 100% chance of snow, we will sit it out and wait for Thursday for which the forecast is great, sunny and dry! Plenty of time to make up for it – this is a marathon, not a sprint!

Got up, made do-it-yourself waffles, descended into Lolo. That was sort of nice, but still freezing. We then went to Missoula – none of us wanted to miss the ACA Headquarters and I really wanted to go to REI and buy some warmer things.

While we were all sitting at the ACA HQ, using the Wifi, eating ice cream, we decided to stay in town and refuel. Tobi managed to book a hotel room for all of us using bonus points and we did laundry in town. Ate a ton of food, cycled to REI without our luggage to get some things. Tobi switched his stuff to panniers.

We looked at the reports of people ahead of us. There were a few people ahead of us by only 1-2 days – Jason Woodhouse, Paul Gildersleeve, Angeline Tan and her friend, Derek Wilson. They all reported snow on the next pass. The forecast didn’t look promising: 2-4inches of snow the next day. But the day after it said sunny and dry, so we made the executive decision to NOT get caught in the snow! I would’ve made that decision even if we had been “racing properly”. It doesn’t make sense to put yourself in danger and lose time because you can’t really keep going in the snow.

June 18th – 65mi

Cycled from Missoula to Darby today – 100km uphill in 4:30h. Nice leg stretcher! Camping tonight – only wussies stay in hotels each and every night, I say! Tomorrow is going to be a long day, but the weather forecast is great. Racing for me isn’t about who can endure the most hardcore conditions, it is about being smart! 

Yeah well, I only wrote that because I WISHED I could have stayed in a hotel every night 😉 Camping there wasn’t too bad though.
Dinner was in a nice cafe and I had pizza. Jason chose the chicken strips. It was not a good choice.

June 19th – 75mi

A few pictures from today – Darby to Jackson Hot Springs. Great weather and Chief Joseph pass was actually quite easy despite looking intimidating on paper, or maybe I’m just getting stronger? Anyway, a good day! In Wisdom the lady at the only restaurant spoke German to us – she’s from Frankfurt! Small world! Absolutely loving the scenery here, I hope one day I can afford to stay at a Ranch around here and go horseback riding all day long.

We got up early, left without breakfast and decided to have breakfast the first chance we saw.
Mike left a little later (he had stayed in a hotel) and Jason also set off a little after Tobi and I.
This was a tough day – mostly for Jason. Apparently the chicken strips did not sit well and he became sick. We didn’t know this until we were waiting at the tiny restaurant in Sula (the last place to get food before Chief Joseph Pass) and Mike came along telling us that Jason had been sick and told him to go ahead.
We all waited for Jason. It was the only right thing to do. He had had so many misfortunes already, it would’ve just been wrong to leave him alone.

Jason was crushed and you could see that it was bad. We stayed with him until he felt better and told us to go ahead.

We all arrived in Wisdom within 1,5hrs or so of each other. Jason was better and we were all happy to be back together. The people I met really made the race special.

In Jackson Hot Springs, there’s a lodge that has a hot pool and a bar and you can camp behind it for pretty cheap. That’s what we did, it was a nice lawn. Towels were provided – always awesome – and the hot water was great for our sore bodies.

June 20th – 94mi

Saw this storm approaching and decided to sit it out rather than getting drenched and caught out in lightning on a flat section without shelter… Seems we made the right call, it is all around us now but moving fairly quickly.

Jason’s troubles continue: his rear wheel is acting up. There’s a bike shop of sorts in Dillon so we ride there and have lunch. He had to stay in Dillon to meet the shop owner at 4pm. We sat out a big thunderstorm at a McDonald’s. The storm almost caught us, but it moved over us while we were sipping coffee and afterwards we just trailed it.

The road past Dillon is pretty horrible and we were on it in rush hour. Not a great idea. Jason ended up getting run off the road and injuring his knee and ankle. While Mike, Tobi and I cycled to Alder which had a campground, Jason stayed behind in Twin Bridges. He dropped out the next day. We were sad to see him go.

June 21st – 97mi

No Facebook post that day. We cycled to West Yellowstone, which was a fairly hard day.
On our way, we meet Joanna from Australia. Most of the people who are reading this will know that Joanna was a cross-country cyclist who got killed in a car crash just a few hundred miles from her goal, Washington D.C. She was riding a heavenly laden bike and doing it on the cheap. She walked up most of the hills because her bike was too heavy to ride.
She asked us about camping in West Yellowstone and we told her that the town was pretty much booked up. This was true, we had secured a last-minute tent spot in an RV park. The other option was a campground about 20mi or so before town and we didn’t want to fall short that much. We told Joanna where we would be camping in case she wanted to join us.

She did show up at 11pm. Most of us were already asleep but Tobi was on “dryer duty” and met her.

June 22nd – 94mi

Still no Facebook post. No Wifi.
Cycled across Yellowstone park (which includes three passes across the Continental Divide, I had no idea!). I’ve been there in a car, on a bicycle it is horrible. Bad, bad roads with no shoulder, huge RVs, people stopping for wildlife sightings without a warning and a lot of climbing.
We managed to dodge a thunderstorm, just ran into a lodge when it suddenly started pouring. Whew!

Ended the day in Colter Bay. Tobi stayed a bit behind because he had a puncture, and as always he sent me ahead to scout for food and beer. Mike and I found a nice restaurant a bit above our budget, but decided to go for it. It was right by the campground and we weren’t going to eat convenience store food again.
Instead, I got pasta and Tobi arrived only half an hour later or so.

I managed to lose my wallet in the parking lot, but would only find out the next day.

June 23rd – 9mi (rest day)

Well, that day had some surprises in store.
I discovered in the morning that my wallet was missing. A disaster. I anxiously asked at the restaurant and I was lucky: the manager had found it in the parking lot in the morning. The cash was missing, but all my cards were still there. Really lucky!! Especially since I only had about 20$ in there.
Relieved we went for breakfast and set off.
Just a couple miles out of Colter Bay (up a hill of course, what else), we stopped at a scenic viewpoint. The weather was amazing. The Tetons looked their best. Tobi and I had visited Grand Teton National Park a couple years ago and absolutely loved it. I looked at those mountains longingly and told Tobi that I was a bit sad – I had originally planned to take a rest day here.

Well.. he told me that it wasn’t too late. I was shocked. Could this be the same guy that made me wake up at 5am every day and was always complaining that we weren’t doing enough miles?
It was tough to split up from Mike and we promised to try and catch him again. With a sad wave we watched him go, but we were excited to get a rest.
We cycled to “our” campground (Signal Mountain), which is on the Jackson Lake spur. The campground has a new convenience store next to it that carries beer, coffee, food, everything you could ask for. Found an awesome biker/hiker site, set up camp, slept for a while, ate a lot of greek yoghurt (for those poor muscles), then went to buy chips, ice cream and beer.

I’m going to spare you the details because they’re kind of private, but on that beautiful lake with the Tetons looming behind us, Tobi pulled out a diamond ring and proposed to me.
That beer almost slipped out of my hand and I was truly, honestly surprised. How did I not find a RING in our meagre luggage? Genius that he is he hid it in a 10 Euro-bill that he knew I had no reason to touch.

Well, the evening was quite awesome and we celebrated over dinner at the lodge.

Definitely *the* best day on the ride. Obviously.

June 24th – 140mi

Getting up is much easier when you’re floating on a cloud.. We went to conquer Togwotee Pass! This was definitely an awesome day.
The pass is harmless when you’ve just had a rest day and the weather is nice. It was quite fun. Might have been the diamond ring talking.
We hadn’t told anyone yet and I tried sending a text message to my friend Christina. Every time I hit “send” (while leaning on the aerobars climbing a mountain), the reception would go away. Nerve-wracking!

It isn’t easy going to Lander because of very little refueling stops. Had to resort to Clif Bars and pre-packaged sandwiches. The only reason we *really* want to make it is because that’s where Mike is staying.
Plus, we get caught out in a bad thunderstorm. On a high plateau with nothing around us – no trees, no high structures of any kind – that is dangerous. When it moves right above us we have to resort to lying the bikes on the road and hunkering down in a ditch until  the storm passes. A driver actually stopped and told us to get off our bikes immediately.
After that, we make for Lander, our longest day yet. We get there by 10pm and Tobi checks out whether there’s a bike shop. There is one but it won’t open until 10am. However, there is someone inside and Tobi is obnoxious enough to knock… Ed actually agrees to service his bike. So kind of him. I’m pissed because all I want it go eat and find a hotel.
He straightens out Tobi’s wheels and even gives my drivetrain a clean and tune-up.
When it’s all done, all the restaurants including McDonald’s have closed 🙁 Bummer. We resort to gas station burritos (yuck) and end up sleeping on Mike’s hotel room floor since our tent is completely wet from taking cover in the storm.

June 25th – 130mi

The last two days were a big push to Rawlins, doing 220 and 210km. Last night I broke through ‘The Wall’ for the first time, covering the last 50km in 1:45h despite a climb (and the rest of the day wasn’t exactly flat either). I thought of what Juliana said when I trained with her in Italy: climbing never gets easier, you only go faster. So I put my head down and pushed beyond the pain to the land of effortlessness. It was amazing. Today, I got to sleep in because we’re watching the Germany-USA game! Go Germany!!!

Yep, the push to Rawlins. Another amazing day. First we broke the news to people at home, then started out really late. Still covered a lot of ground. Totally got into the zone. Had to race into town to make it to McDonald’s a minute before they close. Phew. Shared a hotel room with Mike (who was already there of course).

June 26th – 62mi

Riverside, WY after the worst headwinds ever. Found a lovely cabin for the three of us and thought we’d totally earned a beer or two, luckily this hamlet of 56 inhabitants has a really nice bar/restaurant. Like my tanline? I need to get new shorts since mine are too big now… Might go for shorter ones next time, get a new line going.

Gusts up to 40mph. Sustained headwinds of about 25mph. Lovely! This day was a true struggle.
Luckily we all agreed to cut the day short and share a cabin on a campground.

June 27 – 110mi & June 28th – 100mi

Yesterday was ridiculous. Such strong headwinds, such bumpy roads, I yelled aloud in frustration. Add to this that my legs are weary, the thunderstorms and hail we got stuck in and the 2800m pass and you’ve got one hell of a day, we still did 177km though. 

Today isn’t much better. Hot sun, traffic, tired legs and the highest pass of the entire route. Had a slow flat 5km out of Silverthorne and decided to walk it as I’d used the last fresh inner tube on my first flat – yesterday. We’ll probably be a couple more hours to the summit and then get to Fairplay in the dark… Again… Another big push to Pueblo tomorrow. I’m longing for a good day to remind me why I’m doing this. It isn’t particularly fun right now.

My legs had started to be really weird. I basically couldn’t really stress my quads anymore, they just didn’t respond. I took electrolytes, ate well, stretched,.. nothing helped. I taped my thighs which helped a little bit at least.
The slog against the wind, the cracks in the road, it just plain sucked. I couldn’t even listen to music because the headphones kept falling out from the wind. We all rode far away from each other (we mostly did actually), so to each his/her own battle. We got stuck in hail once, which really hurt, and climbed an annoying pass (Willow Creek).

Climbing Hoosier Pass almost broke me again. I remember sitting in Breckenridge, crying. I basically pulled myself up hills with my calves by that point. Tobi gave me a little pep talk and convinced me to not stay in Breckenridge and instead go over that stupid pass. I ate Peanut Butter M&Ms all the way up. The altitude is crazy. I couldn’t stand up to pedal. The switchbacks become really steep close to the top, about 15% on the inside. I also couldn’t drink water while riding. Exhausting! When we arrived on the stop, I was truly, incredibly relieved.
We couldn’t get cell phone reception to see whether Mike had found a hotel for a long time, but when we got to the first town it finally worked and we found out he had a room in Fairplay with a second bed for us. Yay!

June 29th – 130mi

Despite what the tracker says, we’re in Pueblo, halfway across the USA! Good day today, 7:30hrs net riding time for 200km – well okay, a lot of it was downhill, too. We had a very long lunch break in Cañon City to try and wait until it got a bit cooler – but it was still almost 40 degrees celsius when we took off again. Ran out of water, which was rather painful – lesson learned! May take a slow day tomorrow, my legs are sore and I need to buy new shorts – mine are too big now!

My tracker stopped working around Breckenridge. I had changed the batteries and that’s what did it. So I took lots of photos and updated FB as often as I could.

It was a good day, fast riding, but some hard uphills, too. I had to walk them. My legs were done, the muscles simply didn’t respond.
In Cañon City, we caught up to the heat – 40 degrees celsius and more – and waited indoors for quite a while. Getting to Pueblo was then not too hard, but we ran out of water. Should’ve taken every opportunity to fill those bottles!
We had booked a hotel with bonus points and it was slightly off route, so we had to cycle a couple miles into the wrong direction. However, the hotel was worth it. Thanks to being a Platinum (or whatever) status member of that chain, we got upgraded to a Suite. A living room, huge bedroom, kitchen. Amazing.
I think all of us were like “are we really only going to spend the night?” and discussed right away whether it would be a good place to take a rest. We decided for it and Tobi went ahead and secured the room for another night.

June 30th – rest day

Rest day today to prepare legs and mind for the long haul across Kansas. It is 40 degrees celsius outside and we’re of course watching the GER-ALG game… What a nailbiter!!

We watched all the football games Germany played – except for the semi-final (of all games…) which we couldn’t catch. This cost us a considerable amount of time. I’m still glad we did.

After sleeping in (only waking to eat the complementary breakfast) we each did our thing: Tobi cleaned out our stuff, I cycled to a bike shop to buy new shorts, Mike did nothing. We all went to swim in the pool at some point and wrote a few E-Mails.

July 1st – 115mi

So the SPOT tracker won’t even work when hooked up to a USB source, sorry guys. We are currently in Tribune, KS. Flat roads are definitely an interesting change. You can see the next town’s grain elevator from many miles away and the road shimmers in the heat. Looks like we dodged another storm and the greatest heat by taking a day off in Pueblo, still Tobi takes UV defense measures like a red-haired person has to and I enjoy my new sunsleeves, too (and my new awesome shorts). Strength is up and we are making fairly good time, despite that whole lie that there is a ‘prevailing wind from the west’. Trying to make it to a nice place for Fourth of July. (…and the GER-FRA game)

What a shock to ride flat roads. Hadn’t seen any in a while. The first few hours were amazing. Then it started to heat up – and become boring. My legs started working again.
We never did experience that “prevailing westerly wind”.
We sent away some stuff – down vests and such – a little past Pueblo. It was just easier to go to a post office in a small town. There’s one every couple of miles.

Cycling past all the feedlots was horrible. Mainly because Cheeseburgers are one of the only options for food around here. At home I usually only buy organic meat. I can’t fathom how Nathan did this on a vegan diet. I think I would’ve starved.

It is only 6pm when we reach Eads and Tobi wants to push on, but there aren’t any options for food or camping for the next 50mi. So we stay.

July 2nd – 105mi

Kansas – I got blessed twice today… I said ‘Thank You’ like a polite person. I don’t want them to run me over with their harvest machines later. 

I’m an atheist and riding in the bible belt confronted me with religion a lot. Oh well. I got over it.

It was hot riding on the SAME FREAKING ROAD ALL DAY LONG. I’m not even kidding. You stay on SR96 for 500mi or so. It’s really really hard to get lost here.
We make it into Kansas early in the day. Finally! Another state! We had no idea how hard Kansas would be…

We share a hotel in Scott City and rest up for the next windy day.

July 3rd – 118mi

Made it 118mi to Larned, KS. Hot and windy during the day, then cool and pretty when it got dark. Fireflies lit up the fields but they also got caught in my hair and man, better keep your mouth closed at night. Yikes. Splurged on a motel room and are relaxing with a drink now. Sweeeet.

This year, I’m going to be doing a lot of night riding if the heat is as bad as last year. I loved the fireflies, but I didn’t have clear glasses (note: big mistake). We go by a really nice rest area in Alexander which would make an excellent overnight stop. There are picnic tables with roofs and an air-conditioned building with bathrooms and water. I’d definitely sleep in there.

July 4th – 56mi

Independence Day! No excuse not to pedal.
The wind is extreme today and really makes everyone’s day miserable. The heat does the rest. We watched a soccer game in the morning and started around noon.
All of these things combined lead to going off-route into Sterling. We enjoy a tailwind for 5 glorious miles and then settle at the City Park, which will have a big celebration and BBQ at night. The city officials are really nice and show us a good place to camp. We set up and wander around, drinking lemonade, eating fair food. Mike goes to call home, Tobi and I lie by the lake and become philosophical about America. The fireworks are nice. A good end to a bad day.

July 5th – 103mi

Good god, Newton Bike Shop is amazing! We were in dire need of some mechanical help and even though they weren’t planning on being open today they opened up the shop for us and are taking care of everything. Mike and Tobi are napping while I am trying to learn something. Also, thanks for the awesome blue dot watchers who came out to meet us in Hesston and Newton! In other news, we found a turtle on the road today that was way too big to pick up for fear of losing fingers. I had no idea there were so many turtles in Kansas!

Unfortunately, NBS couldn’t see us coming since my tracker was out and we didn’t read that they were planning to close on the 4th and 5th. We really didn’t think anything of it – we could’ve gotten a service at another town – but they came back from their trip to open up for us.
So after a great burger in Hesston we hauled ass to Newton. The shop was a great reprieve from the heat and I think Mike passed out on the bunk bed within 20mins of arriving. Tobi eventually did, too, and I stayed awake to talk to James.

They almost convinced us to stay, but we still had some juice left. So we continued to Cassoday which had a city park.
In Cassoday, while the park is pretty basic, we met a guy who let us shower in his home. I’m not sure whether I would’ve taken him up on that offer had I been a woman riding alone to be honest, but his grandkids were there and he was super nice. Even gave us beer while we took turns showering.

July 6th – 100mi

This morning we woke up to the gentle roar of motorcycles passing our peaceful park. We had breakfast with the crowd and then did a few side-windy hours into Eureka. By the time we were there it was 35 degrees and rising, and once we finished lunch and went back outside the 40 degree humid heat hit us like a baseball bat. None of us are great with heat so we went to the pool and took a nap in the shade. Finished up our 100 miles afterwards and it was a great 100k stretch really – the setting sun, cooler temps, fireflies, gently rolling hills… Now holed up in a cheap and run down motel in Chanute. Oh well, there is always something to complain about. 

There’s a big motorcycle thing once a month in Cassoday and it happened to be on the day we were there. It was fun to watch. Most of the bikers greeted us, too. They face many of the same problems as us on the road.

We cycled the Flint Hills. If James warns you about those hills and tells you that Kansas isn’t flat after all, don’t be afraid. They really are just hills. Just high enough to enjoy rolling down them. Plus, the scenery gets much better after Newton!

After lunch the heat was literally too much to bear. We couldn’t continue and it wouldn’t have been smart. The pool was okay. A little stinky and the loud music was ridiculous, but we still napped for a while and then pedaled on.
Couldn’t find any dinner in Chanute so we ate what we had (mostly crap). I’ve never been in such a run-down motel – not even in South America – but the sheets seemed clean so what the hell…

July 7th – 94mi

So, so hot. After a pleasant overcast morning it got so hot and humid I had to spray myself down with my water bottle which helps for, like, two minutes. Having a huge meal at a Chinese place in Pittsburg, KS – our last stop in Kansas. Tonight we will be sleeping in Missouri, finally! Just wait until the sun goes down, we’ll be flying again.

Missouri beckons! We rolled into Golden City after dark, filled up our water bottles at a local cafe that was already closed, and the found the city park. To our delight there is a shower. It is very basic, but it’s running water to wash away the grime and sweat.
A guy in an RV next to us warns us that there is a severe thunderstorm warning, so we set up camp right next to the huge gazebo. There are power outlets under the gazebo and we manage to set up everything in a way that our external batteries can charge over night without getting wet.

We should’ve just slept underneath the gazebo without the tent (ours isn’t free-standing) really.

July 8th – 85mi

Missouri is like the Rainbow Road in Mario Kart… Just without the shortcuts.
Braved a huge thunderstorm in the tent last night, it was crazy. The seams finally soaked through in the morning but we were lucky to be next to this huge gazebo. We road the rollercoaster for the rest of the day without any rain. It is fun but really hard on the knees. My Thermarest mattress is useless now, hoping to find a new one in Farmington the day after tomorrow.

That thunderstorm really was crazy, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced something like it. In the morning our sleeping bags started to get really wet and we rescued ourselves over to the gazebo. My sleeping mat popped during the night, so was now completely useless. An eventful night.
While Mike was still sleeping, we hauled over to Cooky’s Cafe in a break in the rain. Tobi got a haircut and beard trim at the Barber’s Shop next door while I ate all the pie I could. Really, eat pie at Cooky’s. You won’t regret it.

During the day, Germany plays against Brazil and wins 7-1. This of all games is the one we miss! We try to get updates online frequently and can’t believe our eyes when it’s already 4-0 the first time we check. Amazing!!!

We only cycled 85mi that day and found a hotel in Marshfield. That wasn’t easy. They weren’t bike friendly. The first hotel we tried told us we couldn’t take the bikes in the room – a no go. There was only one other hotel in town, a Holiday Inn, and we didn’t want to risk not finding anything, so the guys hid outside with the bikes and I – who had a jersey on that passes as a regular shirt – walked up to the front desk and asked for a double queen. Got a room, found the back door, stealthily carried our bikes into the room and then never left it again 😉

At this point the heat had really gotten to Mike and he was talking about taking a rest. That meant splitting up again but we couldn’t stay with him since our flight date was approaching…

One of the greatest things about this race is that it really makes you appreciate the small things. A decent shower, finding a bowl of pasta for dinner, sleeping in a comfy bed. Things we take for granted instead of being overjoyed every time. That and the amazing small-town hospitality are my favorite things so far. Never would I trade it in for a full-comfort, supported trip through big cities.

I really mean that. Of course that post had a reason. Angeline Tan, who had long since dropped out of the race (she decided on a more direct, easier route to the East Coast in Newton) did her race a little different than what the rules had in mind, including a film team with a van that trailed her. While she was posting about how much more fun cycling into big cities is, I discovered that what I really loved about the Trans Am was the tiny towns, the peculiar people, the hospitality almost everywhere we went. As long as we kept an open mind, other people did, too. Since I was lying in a comfortable bed at the time, it deep down made me appreciate that luxury.
I washed my hair twice that night 😉

July 9th – 112mi

Missouri is absolutely beautiful! Despite the fact that we haven’t found a single stretch of flat road we are really enjoying the ride here. 105km in the bag before lunch and luckily we asked the locals about a place to watch the game – good food coming our way and a big TV, too! If only we could have been here yesterday…

Mike stayed behind while Tobi drags me out of bed. Maaaan, I want to sleep in, too..

We want to watch the soccer match while waiting out the heat, so we find a place in Houston. It was a bit fancier than usual – but with our Berino jerseys we almost look civil 😉
Since our ultimate goal tomorrow is Farmington, it doesn’t really matter how far we get today. Still we cycle all the way to Eminence. I make the mistake of choosing a campground which is a 2mile ride down an unpaved road. Stupid. We regret that in the morning!

July 10th – 87mi

We made it to Farmington, MO today and I was immediately welcomed by Brian and Wayne in the bike shop. The hostel here is AWESOME and we are going for dinner in a few. Tomorrow, we leave Missouri again, I am kinda sad. Absolutely beautiful state, even though the climbing is hard as hell. Such nice people, too, and mostly really courteous drivers. 
We did get chased by quite a few dogs today, including a pack of them. Better get used to it, I heard it gets worse in Kentucky. 
I’m glad to finally be having fun again. This rocks.

The hills right out of Eminence are awful, but we found a good breakfast in town. The people in Eminence were lovely.
The scenery in Missouri was beautiful. It is the state I’m most looking forward to riding again, despite the hills.

Brian had tracker-stalked me and caught me on a corner looking for the bike shop. He took the time to hang out with me at the shop and take a picture. What a nice guy! It was great to be greeted on arrival, it always makes you feel so special when people actually come out because they want to meet you.
Tobi headed over to Al’s Hostel and secured a double room for us. That hostel is nothing short of amazing. Really. If you plan on taking a rest day, take it there!

At night, Wayne and his daughter took us out to dinner and I enjoyed a pasta feast. I wish I could’ve gotten pasta every night, but unlike in Europe where it’s really a staple and something you can order in every restaurant, in the American midwest it is somehow uncommon. Maybe if they planted less corn and more wheat…?

July 11th – 100mi

We stayed at Al’s Place last night which is a cyclists-only hostel run by the city of Farmington. Hands down the best place to stay on the route! So amazing. Comfy beds and couches, a laundry room, kitchen, bike storage and everything. All within walking distance to great restaurants, the best sticky buns ever and an honest-to-good coffee shop. Had my first latte since Astoria! We loved it so much we decided to spend the day and nap. Left late in the afternoon and are putting in a night shift today! Riding is awesome in the cooler temps and with an amazing full moon above us.

Yeah, as I said, Al’s Place is amazing.
We went to breakfast with Jane, who was cycling across America with her friends (the “Girls with Grit”, check them out on Facebook! Their trip was amazing!), and Wayne. First we were planning to just go ahead and leave, but then we saw that Mike was only two hours or so from Farmington and decided to stay for the day, rest up, eat, drink coffee, wait for Mike and then head out in the evening.

And that is exactly what we did. Mike arrived quite early on and went on over to the bike shop to finally get the correct chain on his bike again, and then we all slept. Started out around 6pm I think. It was amazing riding.
Tobi’s bike started acting out again just half an hour outside of Farmington and he decided to turn around and get it fixed since the next bike shop would be far away. We agreed to meet back up in the evening and keep in touch, and I gave him our maps, relying on Mike and my GPS.

We get to Chester in the dark and Tobi catches us. After the mandatory state sign – we cross into Illinois –  picture we looked for something to eat.

Mike does a massive day today but he feels good riding in the cooler dark. We eventually stop at a campground at some lake and set up camp at 4am.

July 12th – 50mi

We have a conundrum. We really want to – need to – watch the Soccer World Cup final. Germany is playing, there is no way around it. The issue is: where will we watch it?!

For today, our biggest issue is heat again. We woke up sweating in our tents and tried to cool down with the cold showers they had at the campground. There was nowhere to get food, so we cycled to the next town, Goreville. There, we find Delayne’s, a real Trans Am institution. They, like many other restaurants (and sometimes even gas stations) along the route have been keeping a journal since the 70s. They also take pictures of everyone. Under a glass plated table there are many of them, and to my amazement we discover a picture of Joff Summerfield, who has cycled around the world on a penny farthing and whom I met during the start of the World Cycle Race. It’s a small world.

The waitress at Delayne’s comes to our rescue concerning the Soccer match. She calls restaurants in Marion, KY, and actually finds a burger place that is willing to put it on for us! This means that tonight, again, it doesn’t matter where we stay, since Marion is not very far away from us.

In the evening, we got into Eddyville, where I ordered a pizza at the gas station that was about to close. The guys are nowhere to be seen yet (yes, often times I was ahead of at least one of them!) so I buy a couple of things. When they got in 10mins later, they immediately ordered another pizza and the lady from the gas station told us that there’s a campground in ‘town’. We decided to stay. Mike went ahead since Tobi had a flat, and we ended up camping in the campground’s “cowboy church”.

July 13th – 90mi

What a day! We crossed into Kentucky, Germany won the World Cup and we are staying at a church! We were making good time after setting off again at 6pm in Marion but right after we left Dixon we could see a huge lightning storm ahead of us. 20km later in Sebree we checked the radar and saw that it was headed for us. We were 26mi short of our goal but there happens to be a church that hosts cyclists in their youth center downstairs. The pastor took us over to his house to meet his wife and have some ice cream, our clothes are in the dryer and I had a fantastic shower. Looking forward to a good night’s sleep in the chilly basement. Outside it started pouring rain 30mins after we stopped so it was the right call. I never thought weather would be such a big factor on our journey!

Jeez, that game was exhausting. I sat on the edge of my seat the whole time.
The church in Sebree is a gem. Don’t miss it.

July 14th – 97mi

No news on Facebook. We had a hard time finding a place to sleep and ended up camping on the porch of an old gas station. The owners were really nice and there were a bunch of touring cyclists already there.

July 15th – 120mi

I’m ready to be done with this… Grrr.

I had a major breakdown that day. After only 10mi or so we had yet another gas station breakfast and I was so on edge, I refused to eat (not sure why that was my reaction). I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I stood outside crying and Mike went ahead without us while Tobi taked some sense into me. This is one of those situations that I’m pretty sure could’ve been more dangerous, had I been completely alone. I’m prone to rash decisions. If you find yourself in that state of mind, call someone. Talk it over. Sleep on it. Just keep moving in the meantime.

I did and we did a really long day. It ended up being a great day and we splurged on another motel room. Ordered huge Lasagnas and ate them sitting on our beds while the laundry was in the machine. Awesome.

July 16th – 97mi

We did 120mi yesterday and still finished before 8pm, treated ourselves to a motel room and lasagna delivered to us – a good day! Then this morning, Tobi actually rode over to Walmart to buy fresh fruit, greek yoghurt and a few muffins for us, the best breakfast I’ve had on this ride. We are on schedule for our finish next week and hope to cross into Virginia tomorrow. Now lunching in Berea and then off to the (apparently) wild East!

Do you understand now why I married him? 🙂 We end up in Booneville (what a name) and camp behind the Presbyterian Church. Excellent spot to bivy, too, as it has a big gazebo, a shower house, water and power outlets.

July 17th – 118mi

The Appalachians are hard! Off the big roads the scenery is still very pretty, though the poverty definitely shows. Hills are getting longer and steeper. I wish it went by a little faster – this last week is a challenge. But when we’re through it we will have braved the entire trail without any shortcuts, without cheating and still have done almost exactly 100mi/day excluding two rest days. I feel good about that.

The Appalachians were definitely the hardest climbing of all of the trail. Compared to the Rocky Mountains, we climbed more every day keeping the same mileage per day. Unlike the Ozarks, where the rollers are steep but relatively short, the Appalachians feature steep, long climbs.

This last week really was a test of our endurance – not just physically.
Late at night we got into Lookout to stay at yet another church, this time indoors again. There were showers and I tried to untangle my hair with the conditioner someone left there. I ended up ripping out some strands. Ouch.
We eat some sandwiches and go to bed…

July 18th – 62mi

It is still raining. ‘Nuff said.

Well, another disappointing day. We wanted to get all the way to Damascus to stay at the hostel, but the weather had different plans for us. It was cold and rained all day long. We all got separated, though I found Tobi again. We ate a good lunch at a local restaurant in Honaker and then start up again at 5pm. Mike is having a hard time, too, we find out when we stop at a gas station in Rosedale. He got so cold and wet that he wanted to change and warm up. Unfortunately his sleeping bag got wet and he’s not really excited about continuing. Luckily, he isn’t far past another church to stay in and we agree to meet there.

The church is great, it has cupboards full of food for cyclists (soups, Mac’n’Cheese, things like that) but no shower. There’s forced air heating which is perfect for drying everyone’s shoes.

July 19th – 100mi

Showers pass! I could be all melodramatic about how my joints hurt during the night and how much I hate riding with thouroughly soaked feet (soaked everything actually) or how annoying the climbing was, but I’m not going to be a crybaby and suck it up instead. I picked up the pace for the last 40mi today and it was great. We’re sleeping in a hotel tonight, luckily. Note: when the receptionist recoils in shock, it is time to wash your clothes. We only did laundry once since Farmington…..

I really did try not to complain too much. Yes, I had hard times during the race. My arthritis is rheumatic and acts up when I eat too much meat. Unfortunately that was basically the staple of my diet (along with chocolate milk, orange juice, Sour Patch Kids and… french fries). So at night, my joints would usually hurt a lot.

I DID suck it up instead and we had the foresight to book a hotel again. Honestly, having a hotel room booked is a great motivation. This time it was a fancier place again (thanks to Tobi’s bonus points).
The receptionist literally took a step back when Mike and I walked in. Too funny. But our clothes really were disgusting. The hotel didn’t have a laundry for guests but there was a huge truck stop just down the road which had a Denny’s and washing machines. So I did the laundry wearing my down vest, bathing suit and causual shorts. I looked ridiculous. They still let us eat at Denny’s luckily.

July 20th – 110mi

Mike: “This race is like Groundhog Day.” Rise and shine!

This might be the best quote about the race ever. Because it is so true.

It was a long day and we went to Buchanan that has a motel near a gas station. We got celebratory hard lemonade and stayed up talking for a while.

110mi done today, about to pass out in the hotel after a good dinner and a beer. One more big-ish climb tomorrow and then it is practically straight all the way to Yorktown… At least thats what the map says! Cheers, good night.

July 21st – 95mi

Today was hard. More than 2000m of climbing with a stretch of 14% or more for several miles. I walked part of it but even that was like mountaineering. These are honest pictures, somehow I don’t look like a fitness model on the bike. This is what it looks like when you’ve just climbed a very steep hill and then stuffed gummy bears down your throat. We are in Charlottesville tonight, less than 200mi from Yorktown. Just booked our train to NYC on Wednesday so we better hurry tomorrow!

Oh god, just the thought of riding up Vesuvius again makes me recoil in fear. The maximum on that climb is 24%. It takes forever and both of the guys pass me. I catch back up to Tobi on the Blue Ridge Parkway which is nice but not as spectacular as promised.
We booked a hotel in Charlottesville, we now really needed that motivation, that promise of a good night’s sleep and a shower. Especially the shower.

July 22nd – 135mi

135mi done, 60 to go tomorrow. Spending our last night at a great church so we don’t even have to get out the tent! We are very excited to finish tomorrow. 

Are you familiar with “Graduation Goggles”? That feeling when something that was actually dreadful comes to an end and suddenly you see it in a different light?
Well, I wouldn’t say that the race was horrible, but on that day, after hoping for a week that it would finally be over, I was a little sad that it was actually going to be over.
We rode all the way to a church in Glendale. There’s nothing really after that where you could stay and wild camping is difficult in that area. We could’ve all cycled further, but we wanted to enjoy the last day.

July 23rd – 75mi 

We did it! This is the first thing I’ve finished in years. Right now I am beyond proud and happy, even though we are almost last to finish. It was a hard ride, but it was an amazing adventure and I loved every part of it in some way or another.

Well.. here’s how that went down.

First we rode the Virginia Capital Trail to Williamsburg. Next time I’ll just stick to the road. The bike trail kept switching sides or disappearing all together. We did stop a couple of times to read the historic markers.
There was absolutely no food to be found until Williamsburg – nothing was open in Charles City early in the day. So by the time we made it there, we were all a little cranky, though excited. We found a Starbucks in Williamsburg (A LATTE!! HOORAY!!!), ate something, I bought some yoga pants for the train ride later that day, and then we powered on to Yorktown.

As others have experienced, the Colonial Parkway is the worst road on all of the trail. I got so annoyed with it I rode standing up for a while. Seriously, what’s the point of even building a road when it’s like that? Could’ve just left it unpaved..

Despite that, we rolled into Yorktown. My heart was beating really hard. I was so excited to finish, I cried all the way up to the monument. We finally rolled up to it, all of us together, got off our bikes, hugged, and just sat there in awe. Had we really just cycled across all of the United States? Through the heat, snow, thunderstorms, wind, across plains, over mountain ranges? All within just a few weeks?

It didn’t really sink in for a while. We had to haul ass out of Yorktown and to Newport News after discovering that the “Yorktown branch” of the Bike Beat bike shop is not actually in Yorktown. It was a horrifying trip down the 8-lane highway but we made it in one piece. We had arranged for them to give us some boxes and then call a taxi that would take us to the Amtrak station.

While Mike and I went about disassembling our steeds, Tobi HAD to cycle over to Walmart to get some things.
When Tobi still hadn’t reappeared and the taxi was already there, Mike almost got a heart attack. I think he was close to ripping Tobi’s head off when he finally got in. We ripped his bike apart as fast as we could, stuffed it into a box, closed it, and stuffed all the boxes into the taxi. Tobi had 3 bags of stuff from Walmart with him. They contained comfy pants and sweaters, T-Shirts, wet wipes, water, food, Flip Flops, fresh underwear and so on. AMAZING!!! You can’t imagine how I felt when, after fighting with the Amtrak agents about whether or not our bike boxes could go on the train (we won), I went into the bathroom and changed. Into clothes that weren’t dirty. That weren’t made out of synthetics. I had never felt better in my life!

On the train, we got some celebratory beers and congratulated each other. We hadn’t exactly come in first place, but we had braved all kinds of things and we had battled the hardest enemies you can ever have: our own minds.

 

 

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  1. I’ve started reading this and one thing I won’t be doing is letting my wife read the section on McKenzie Pass. 😎 She’s already dreading it. She HAS ridden it before but she’s a few years older now (we’re 64 and 65) and she’ll be lugging panniers. Hopefully we’ll suffer a lot less since our pace will be about 90-100km/day. We’ll overnight at McKenzie Bridge and hit the pass fresh. I’ve ridden it several times and am looking forward to it, but I know it will be a real grind.

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