Being a rookie, I had massively overpacked. At Halfway I decided it was time to abandon some of my kit. Karl, who I had been riding with a bit over the last two days, decided he was going to scratch at Halfway and offered to mail my stuff for me once the post office opened so I could get going and try and beat the midday heat.
Even after losing half my kit (most of it being layers, my tarp/tent pegs/ rope, vitamins and other things I now deemed to be luxuries), my bike still felt like it weighed a tonne. Karl teased me endlessly about the weight I was lugging around and to be honest, he was right. I could have refined my kit down even further.
As I set off out of Halfway the route took me along Snake River. The winding river provided a good change of scenery and there seemed to be a lot more people around than the previous few days, including a few tourists (cyclists who aren’t trying to ride 100+ miles a day) and fishermen looking for salmon spawning in the river.
There is one memory in particular that sticks out the most for me that day. I could see something in the road ahead, I couldn’t quite make it out, but it appeared to just be leaves. So without really thinking about it, I plowed forward. To my horror it was not leaves, but hundreds and hundreds of insects. Cicadas had obviously hatched nearby and were covering the road. As I rode through they seemed to scream, guts flying everywhere. I just remember screaming, unclipping my shoes and tucking my legs up to avoid the insects. Of all the things to stand out I’m not sure why this has stuck with me… other than it was really gross!
Later that day as I left the shelter of the river the headwinds started. I had been warned that the headwinds could be intense along the route but honestly, I’ve never experienced anything like it. It felt as though I would go backwards if I stopped pedalling. I remember putting my head down and turning my music up, and just trying to switch off to battle through it. I wasn’t making as much progress as I had hoped, so I set New Meadows as my target for that night, only 103 miles away.
Exhausted from battling the winds all day, I finally reached a bigger town where I would be able to take a short break. Standing outside a Shell station with two bottles of water I found a fellow racer, Martin Walker. He was stuck in the town of Council with mechanical issues and was waiting for new parts to arrive. He had been watching my dot throughout the day and made sure I would be able to easily spot him as I passed through town. It was this generosity and encouragement from fellow riders that really made the Trans Am such an incredible experience. At the end of the day we had set out on an insane adventure and all of us wanted to see each other succeed. With my supplies topped up, I set off for my target.
I’m not sure what is near New Meadows but the town seems to just appear out of nowhere and has little more than a few motels, a gas station, and a Subway. It seemed as though its only purpose was as a spot for people to refuel while passing through. I stopped at the motel on the route to see if they had any rooms for the night and lucked out. The wind at this point was howling through the town and little dust twisters ran down the streets. I half expected a tumbleweed to roll down the centre of the road. I wandered over to the Subway, ordered 3 footlong veggie subs and then bought a whole pile of sugary snacks from the gas station. I wasn’t feeling great and was really struggling to eat enough food. I ate half of one of the footlongs and passed out.
I set off at 4:30am. The wind was so strong, that all the signs in the town were blowing horizontally. Those first few miles that morning were so demoralising. It was a long straight road out of the town. I kept looking back and could still make out the town in the distance. It felt as though if I stopped pedalling I would just move backwards.
Shortly after setting off, I passed the 45th parallel sign and had the sudden realisation that I had no idea where in the world I really was. Every day I was simply following a line on my GPS.
Around noon I reached White Bird, Idaho. As I turned the corner into the little town, a biker ran out in front of me to stop me before reaching the main road. Just as he jumped into my path, two bikes flew past doing wheelies and then skidded to a stop in front of a crowd. The smell of burnt rubber hung in the air. The bikers soon turned their interest to me, a crowd of about 6 men gathered around me asking about my bike, what I was doing out in the middle of nowhere alone, and tried to talk me into getting a few beers with them. It was the only time on the whole trip I felt unsafe and could see most of them had guns. One biker was holding onto my bike and they refused to get out of my path unless I paid the “hug toll.” I quickly realised most of them were drunk and that if I was going to get going again it was best to just be friendly and go along with it.
To be honest, they probably got a bit of a surprise, as by this point I had been cycling for a week in high 20c weather and even I could tell how awful I smelt.
After about 30 min they finally let me get on my way only to get a puncture 15 min up the road. I knew my wheel was no longer true and now I only had one tube left. I would need to find a bike shop soon.
Puncture fixed I began a beautiful climb out of White Bird with uninterrupted views for miles and plenty of switchbacks. On the descent heading into Grangeville, the road was full of massive 18 wheeler trucks.
I was still a little jumpy after being hit on day one, and this really unnerved me. For the most part, the Trans Am takes you through some incredible landscapes. However, I had not expected so much of it to be on major roads. I’m not sure if the truck drivers were not expecting cyclists to be on the roads or if they just didn’t care, but for the most part, they gave you no space, even when they had plenty of room to do so. As I was flying down the mountain (being on a fully loaded bike helps you pick up a good amount of speed) into Grangeville, it felt as though I could reach out and touch the trucks as they passed by. I eventually pulled over for a few minutes to let them pass and make sure that I was safe.
From Grangeville, I headed through rolling farm fields into the Nez Perce Reservation. The scenery here was spectacular. It was hard to not just stop and drink it all in. But I hadn’t gotten very far the day before and I knew I needed to make up some distance.
I rolled into Kooskia around dinner time and stopped in at the Café for dinner. The waitress sat down with me, took my order, then asked me where I had come from. The reaction you would get when you told someone you had ridden from Oregon never failed to amuse me. My dinner came out and she had given me double portions of everything… I guess she could tell I was hungry. I wanted to tackle Lolo pass the next day and based on my maps it didn’t look like there would be anywhere to get food all day. A quick trip to the grocery store and I stock up on clif bars, dates, trail mix, peanut butter, and some buns. I still had some energy in my legs so I did another 10 miles along the Clearwater river before calling it a night.
When I woke up at 5 am, the next morning, it was already hot out. I had a solid day of climbing ahead of me… 4,423ft over 135 miles to be exact. I would be climbing almost all day alongside the river. It was beautiful but the heat was unbearable. I ran out of water around lunch time and started to panic, as I knew there weren’t any shops around but I kept hope that a nearby campsite would have water. My Garmin was telling me it was 37c. I decided to go lay down in the river for a few minutes to bring my temperature down. I walked into the freezing cold water and just floated there in all my kit. At this point, I seriously debated drinking the water from the river but was nervous that would just lead to other problems. I got back on my bike and carried on, watching people raft down the river, wondering why I was putting myself through this.
I reached a bit of a lookout and there was a car sitting there with the doors open and bottles of Gatorade sitting in the cup holders. I was so desperate for something to drink at this point all that was running through my mind at this point was to steal the Gatorade. I must have stood there staring at the drinks for a good 10 minutes. I have no idea if the owners saw me or not, I was so out of it. In the end, I somehow managed to refrain from robbing these people for their beverages and kept going at a snail’s pace. About 30 min later a biker past me slowed down and pulled off the road ahead of me. As I approached he waved me down. I can’t remember his exact words, but I think they were something along the lines of “holy hell, you must be dying out here. Do you want something to eat or drink?” I obviously was not going to turn this down this offer.
It was that little bit I needed to be able to keep going. An hour later, I found a spot to top up my water supplies properly. When I got off my bike, I realised that my skin was starting to blister… I had heat rash and was pretty convinced I had heatstroke as I was starting to hallucinate. It was pretty gross, so I won’t get too into it, but I started throwing up and was having to literally push the sweat that was trapped out of my skin.
After hours of climbing, the Montana sign finally appeared in the distance ahead, signalling the descent into Lolo. I had a quick snack and asked another cyclist to get a quick photo for me. I remember thinking that I just needed to get into the town because if I got there I would be able to get proper food and electrolytes. I used everything I had and as I rolled into town I saw a gas station and pulled in. I propped my bike up, went in got some food and a Lemon aid and then just lay down on the ground outside. I had properly bonked and could not move if I had too. I must have been lying there for about 10-15 minutes when a man came over and asked if I was doing the Trans Am.
Roger, it turned out was a keen cyclist himself, and had been one of the original people to ride the route 50 years ago, when it was first created. He asked me if I needed anything… and I did. My stitches from day one were due to come out. I had tried to take them out myself but turns out I’m a bit squeamish when it comes to that kind of thing. I asked him if there were any medical centers around. It turned out his son in law was an EMT and he offered to meet me first thing in the morning to take them out.
The next morning Roger, his two grandkids, Ethan and Andrew, and son in law, Cory, all showed up at The Days Inn. It was Ethan and Andrew’s first day of summer holidays and they had woken up at 5am to come meet me. They had seen Inspired to Ride and wanted to cheer the racers on. So over breakfast, their dad removed my stitches, and then we all set out together. They rode the first 5 miles of the day with me, along the cycle routes Roger had played an instrumental role in having built. Ethan and Andrew gave me an American flag bandanna and wished me luck with the rest of my ride. I spoke about trail angels in
I spoke about trail angels in part one of my Trans Am write up, and Roger and his Family were just another example of the incredible kindness you experience while out on the road. I had been feeling at my worst and meeting them really helped me to keep going. Plus what are the chances just as I needed my stitches out, there was someone there to do it!
I had also mentioned to Roger that I needed some more inner tubes and someone to look over my wheel. So unknown to me, he called up Red Barn Bicycles up the road near Hamilton. As I was riding along I got a call from the owner saying he could meet me at the McDonalds on the main street and he would bring tubes out to me so I didn’t have to leave the route.
I arrived at the McDonalds, ate three oatmeals and a hashbrown, and then called Chad from Red Barn to tell him I was there. He arrived, trued my wheel and sold me some tubes and off I set towards Wisdom, Wyoming, feeling confident in my equipment again.
To be continued….