On June 4th, 57 cyclists gathered at the Maritime Museum in Astoria Oregon for the third annual Trans America Bike race. The roughly 4230 mile, unsupported race across America would take us on an incredible journey through Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, and finally to Yorktown Virginia.
I had spent months training for the race. In fact I had even cut down my work hours to two days a week the month leading up to the race so that I could focus on training. The whole endurance thing was relatively new to me and I was taking it all pretty seriously. I had done a number of 24 hour races, and had ridden up to 400 miles nonstop, but I had no idea how I would manage doing this kind of distance daily. Just to make it that extra bit challenging, the race is completely unsupported, meaning you can access commercial services along the way, but there’s no support crew or team car tending to bike issues, handing out water bottles or preparing a bed for you to sleep in. You need to be totally self sufficient, finding a way to carry all your own food, water, and fix any bike issues.
I had decided to fly into Portland a few days before the race, to drink coffee, fill up on vegan cakes and to sort a few last minute bike issues (thanks again to TSA for removing all my Di2 cabling from my bike). After a few days of eating my way around the city, I was looking forward to just getting started. I stress repacked a few times, but the months of prep and fretting over what to take with me didn’t seem to really matter anymore. All that was left to do was start riding and figure it out along the way.
So as we gathered that morning to set off, I was both excited and terrified (more terrified, let’s be honest). At 8am everyone was ready to go and Nathan, the race organiser, yelled out ‘Let’s go to Virginia!” We took off in a neutral roll out along the waterways of Astoria for the first 5 miles. I could sense nervousness from the other riders, but everyone was incredibly friendly and in good spirits despite the daunting journey ahead of us.
It was so hot! I had not fully been prepared for 40c+ temperatures, ‘cause you know I live in London and if the mercury comes even remotely close to hitting 20c it’s a heatwave. This brutally hot weather would stick with me for the majority of the race.
The hot weather also meant locals were hitting the beach, bringing heavier than usual traffic to the Oregon Coast. Regardless, I was enjoying the scenery and my nerves were finally starting to settle down.
Around lunch I reached Rockaway Beach. The road was wide open and I had managed to pick up a bit of speed. As I approached a t-junction that led down to the beach, a silver car suddenly made a left in front of me. The next thing I knew I was on the ground screaming in pain. I don’t really remember much about being hit, just the excruciating pain through my left shoulder and arm. I could feel the blood gushing down my arm as I started to process what was happening. I could hear people talking to me, but couldn’t respond. I remember gritting my teeth as hard as I could, but not being able to contain my pain. It felt like forever, but when I was finally able to open my eyes, I realised two bikers had stopped and blocked the road around me with their motorcycles. The woman, whose name I never got, was trying to make sure no one moved my head and was trying to stop the bleeding from my elbow. I vaguely remember apologizing profusely for bleeding all over her leather vest, although she seemed pretty unfazed by it all.
The police and ambulance were there shortly, as well as two other racers, Joe Allen and John Kotrla. Typical cyclist, I immediately asked Joe to check on my bike to see if there was any damage. Joe told me everything was fine, although would later find out I had destroyed my front wheel. I was still shaking and half in tears at this point, so I think he was trying to make sure I didn’t freak out too much, which was definitely the right call. The sheriff put my bike in the back of his truck, while I was rushed off to hospital in an ambulance.
The whole way to the hospital I kept saying to the EMTs “this can’t be it, it can’t be the end of the race for me.” After months of training I was not prepared to accept I would only make it 60 miles.
At the hospital I had a number of x-rays taken of my shoulder, however when I say hospital this is probably a bit of an exaggeration… medical room might be better suited. After all, I was in a small town, that only seems to be known for cheese, and the radiologist had taken the weekend off. They told me they would examine the x-rays after the weekend and let me know the results. In the meantime they stitched up my elbow and put my arm in sling, and told me I would need at least 4-6 weeks rest.
The sheriff came into my room to see how I was doing and told me he had left my bike with my friends. A bit confused by this statement, as I definitely didn’t know anyone in Tillamook, I wandered outside to find Joe and John had pushed as hard as they could behind the ambulance and were waiting at the hospital to make sure I was okay. They had also been ringing all the bike shops in the local area to try and find me a new wheel. When they had no luck, they bought a $20 wheel so I would at least be able to roll my bike around with my busted arm.
I had known these two men no more than a couple of hours, and couldn’t believe they would pause their own race to help me out. It was my first experience of the incredible spirit of the ride and camaraderie of all cyclists out along the Trans Am. Yes it is a race, but we were all out there together doing something crazy and looking out for each other was most important.
After an eventful first day, I was in no shape to push on and my bike was unrideable, so wished John and Joe good luck as they set off into the evening, found a bed and breakfast, and contemplated what to do next.
Deep down I knew my shoulder was broken, but I was in denial. Looking back at the pictures though it seems so obvious, but after months of looking forward and preparing to do this, I couldn’t give up.
So I decided I was going to push on. I just somehow needed to get a new disc wheel, preferably with my dynamo rebuilt into it on a Sunday…not a tall order at all. I figured I would ask the internet for help and just hoped for some good luck.
Riders along the Trans Am, will frequently talk about trail angels. These are selfless individuals who take pride in the helping of others along the route. Jenny and Magnus Johannesson where the first trail angels I encountered. They had driven out to Astoria to watch the racers set off after seeing “Inspired to Ride”. I had spoken to them that morning and given them my instagram name to follow my progress. Upon getting home to Portland they found out about my crash and immediately offered to drive from Portland out to the coast to pick me up, bring me into the city to replace my wheel, and then drive me back out to Rockaway Beach so I could restart where I left off.
Basically they offered to spend over 8 hours driving around a total stranger on a very hot Sunday. I could not believe it. I’m not sure many people would want to be in a car for 8 hours let alone to help a complete stranger. But without them, I would probably have never been able to restart the race.
They made sure everything was sorted out quickly from replacing my wheel to getting a new pair of shoes (mine were destroyed in the crash). They were encouraging and shared fabulous stories that kept my morale up so I would be able to getting going again.
Kevin, at River City Cycles, rebuilt my wheel in a matter of hours, and Jenny and Magnus had me back on the road by 5pm the next day. I can not thank the three of them enough for making sure I even had the chance to keep going.
That evening I only made it 50 miles or so to Pacific City. I was sore, my shoulder was super swollen and a number of issues were coming to light… literally. The crash had also taken its toll on my dynamo, and I realised that my lights were now only partially lighting up. This meant I no longer had sufficient light to ride at night. On top of that I wasn’t really able to camp out in my bivy as planned, as sleeping on the ground was too painful. So by the end of day two, I was completely throwing out all my months of careful planning.
If I wanted to keep going I realised it meant riding during the day (and in some ridiculous heat), and camping as little as possible. It also meant I was not going to be able to keep the daily milage up I had hoped to do. I had always planned to try and ride about 140 miles a day, but after the crash I was averaging closer to 100-120 miles. It may not sound like a lot less, but over a 4000 mile race it meant it was going to take me a week longer than planned in the absolute best case scenario.
With all this running through my mind, I realised I just need to take it one day at a time, and do what I could. I shifted my goal from completing the race by July 4th, to just trying to finish it.
To be continued…