Looking back I still can’t believe I was hit by a car less than 60 miles into the Trans Am.
Thanks to the kindness of total strangers I was able to get back on the road, but the first few days were the hardest part of the entire race for me.
I was no longer able to hit the daily mileage I had been aiming for, which was so frustrating after months of training. On top of that I was unable to camp out while generally trying to manage my pain, and quickly realised I couldn’t take the painkillers the hospital had given me, as they made me way too drowsy to ride. Nothing like thinking you have a puncture only to realise you had just been leaning halfway off your bike asleep. In the first few days back on my bike I was so fixated on catching up with the rest off the racers, and not being left totally behind… it was a race after all. All of this was mentally draining.
On on had I was so desperate not to give up, while on the other hand I just felt totally deflated. This was without a doubt the hardest part of the Trans Am for me. I went from being so excited to race, to jumpy, sore, and desperate to keep my moral up and get my head back into the racing mindset.
After only making it 50 miles the day before, I was keen to try and at least come close to hitting my daily mileage. I set off from Pacific City to Eugene riding 137 miles. Oregon is an incredibly beautiful state, and hope that one day I will get to go back and explore it more.
Shortly after setting off I cycled past a dot watcher who took a photo and waved me on encouragingly. It may seem silly, but I can’t emphasise what a difference this makes to see people following the race along.
I spent the morning cycling through quiet, beautiful forested roads not seeing another soul. By mid morning I was out on more exposed roads and the brutal heat set in again. I found myself stopping far more frequently than planned to guzzle slushies, gatorade, water…. Basically anything I could get my hands on. Around lunchtime I was starting to suffer when I spotted another rider, and my mood completely shifted. I had caught up with Thomas Camero who, if your were following the race is still out there riding. Thomas is frankly incredible. At 74, he has ridden the Trans Am before, and just loves meeting various people along the trail, seeing the country, and eating cake.
I can only hope I have as much energy as Thomas has when I’m his age. We stopped for a few minutes to chat, he was so upbeat and whether he knew it or not, it was the encouragement I needed to get my spirits back up.
That evening I found a B&B along the McKenzie River to get a good rest before tackling my first big climb, the McKenzie Pass. The McKenzie Pass is a mountain pass in the Cascade Range with an elevation of 5335 ft. We were lucky enough to be riding through before the roads open up to cars for the summer. The road takes you up through the pine filled forest. There was still snow on the roads in part and I jumped off my bike to lie down in the snow at one point to try and cool down. After climbing for well over an hour the trees suddenly stopped and I found myself in a lava rock field. It felt like I had cycled to the moon.
The descent was beautiful and coming down the mountain revealed an entirely new landscape yet again as the trees changed.
This was my first big climb done and I was buzzing – maybe I would still be able to do this after all. As I approached Sisters I spotted Olaf Sorenson, a well known individual amongst the bikepacking community. He took a few pictures and waved me over to chat for a few minutes. My energy was coming back and I think adrenalin was taking over, as I went from being totally unsure if I would even make it out of Oregon, to believing I still had at least some race left in me.
As I arrived in Redmond, night had fallen and I decided to book into the motel 6. I rode up to the hotel only to find another rider Doug, sitting outside smoking a cigar. We exchanged stories over footlong subs. I would see Doug on and off throughout the rest of my race – he kept me motivated to push myself and do proper miles, which if I’m honest was mostly because I wanted to stay ahead of him…
I was still to put a proper day in on the bike and this was starting to bother me. I had really wanted to hit higher mileage so decided the next day I would push from Redmond to Prairie City, 148 miles away.
Soon after setting off I encountered construction on the road. They had closed one lane, and traffic was taking turns using the available lane. As I pulled to the front of the traffic I found another rider waiting to get through. I was so excited to be catching up with people I gave him a big hug before realising I should probably introduce myself. Karl was a local who had decided to sign up for the Trans Am after seeing Inspired to Ride. He had spent many years working as a Pro team mechanic and had some amazing stories to share.
We rode together for most of the day. At one point I was running low on water so we pulled over at a service area to see if there was water and got chatting to a highway maintenance man. He told us we would be able to get water from the maintenance depo about 20 miles up the road, so we pushed on. The weather suddenly started to change and as we reached the painted mountains, I felt the pressure drop. Storm clouds started to gather overhead and lightning and thunder cracked across the sky. We picked up our pace and made a dash for the maintenance depo hoping we would find some shelter there. Just as we arrived and got into a shed the skies opened up. Hail the size of 50p coins was coming down so loud I could hardly hear my own thoughts. Karl and I spent at least an hour in the shed while waiting for the storm to pass. We eventually pushed on as the storm died down, only to be caught up by the highway maintenance man down the road. He had come looking for us to make sure we had been okay in the storm. Apparently tornadoes had touched down in the area and he had been worried about us ‘Crazy cyclists.’
I lost a lot of time because of the storm but was still keen to hit my target. With about 40 miles left to go I got my first puncture of the ride. I pulled off the road and set about replacing the tube. However, because of my shoulder I could not get the tyre off. I eventually had to sit on the wheel and use my entire body weight to get the tyre off. It took me about 40min to do what should have been a simple task. This was the first time I really questioned if I should be riding. After all, if I couldn’t manage to do the most simple repair because of my shoulder, what would I do if something more major happened?
The sun was setting and I had to really move to make up lost time. As the sun set I started to worry a bit. The roads were pitch black and my dynamo lights weren’t working at all. I had my backup lights but they weren’t quite bright enough. I was cycling into potholes and even a small tree that had fallen on the shoulder of the road. That night really knocked my confidence and made me realise unless I could get my lights fixed, riding at night was not really an option.
After a really long day, I finally made it to Prairie City to be greeted by baby barn owls squeaking away.
There was a hotel that had closed up but had a number listed outside. I called and luckily someone answered. The woman who ran the hotel drove up 10min later in her pyjamas and gave me a room for the night. My shoulder was so swollen and sore that I felt dazed and exhausted. I left all my clothes on, turned the shower on as cold as it would go, and stood there under the freezing water until I felt completely numb. I hung my kit up to dry, set my alarm to 5am and went to bed. This would become my nightly routine throughout the rest of the race.
The next morning, I had a relatively late start. I wanted to eat a proper breakfast so waited until the town diner opened at 6am. After a giant bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar and hash browns, I set off for Halfway – 120 miles away.
Along the way I ran into Doug, John (who had helped me when I was hit) and Karl. Despite being with other riders throughout the day, the scenery and endless long roads made it feel quite isolating. I loved it. It felt like every hill I came over revealed something entirely new. The scenery was so far from anything I had even imagined. The best part of the day was after riding into Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America. It’s 8,000 vertical feet in the deepest portions and includes more than 215,000 acres of wilderness. It was so desolate.
Towards the end of the day, I made it into Richland with one final push up a cruel hill to Halfway. I grabbed a drink before tackling the climb and got speaking to some locals who raised horses. They told me that the area on the other side of the climb was often described as “Little Switzerland.” This could not have been more fitting.
The descent into the the town was beautiful. As I hit the outskirts of town, there appeared to be some kind of rodeo taking place with people in the stands watching cowboys lassoing calfs. I was starving and my mind was focused on one thing – food! It was 8pm and despite the fact it was a reasonably sized town everything was shut. I say it was a reasonable sized town, but I guess this is all relative. Halfway has a population of 286 but in comparison to some of the other towns I went through, this was a happening place.
I paced around town, and even banged on the glass of the grocery story trying to get the attention of the staff cleaning up inside. With no luck I had just about resigned myself to yet another dinner of Clif bars. I had noticed a man sitting outside earlier and became quite aware that he had been watching me wandering about town.
He slowly sauntered over to me and said “Hungry?” “Starving” I respond. He nods points to the bar “We got some burgers” I hesitate “You’re one of those vegetarians aren’t you.” This time, I nod. He kind of grunted and then said “Well we can’t have you starving. I’ll deep fry some stuff for you.” I followed him into the bar. He put a pint down in front of me and disappeared. 10min later he came back with the largest portion of chips and fried mushrooms I’ve ever seen. Despite being ridiculously hungry, it was way too much for me to finish. I took the rest with me for breakfast the next morning.
I had always worried about my food options on the Trans Am, being a vegan. However, within a few days I realised that it didn’t really matter. Just getting nutritious food in general was a challenge. Literally, any time I could get my hands on fresh fruit or veggies, I could feel everything in my body rejoice.
The gas station diet for me meant I primarily ate:
– Clif bars
– Various types of nuts
– Swedish fish (totally became addicted to these fish shaped candies…I still have cravings for them but perhaps luckily, we don’t them in the UK)
– Campbell’s tomato soup
– Ritz peanut butter crackers
– An absolutely absurd amount of Arizona ice tea. I think I have officially tried every flavour.
To be continued….