By the time I reached Yellowstone, days of cycling into headwinds had taken its toll, and the injuries I had sustained on the first day were starting to catch up with me.
I had kept my injuries and the pain I was in quiet, mostly because I didn’t want my Mum to worry. However, by this time my shoulder seemed to keep popping out of the socket. Both times I had used a wall to jam it back in. Just as a side note, please don’t do this. The pain is excruciating.
My plan on the Trans AM had been to camp in my bivvy bag most nights. However, after the accident, I had to change my strategy. My body frankly couldn’t take sleeping on the hard ground. At night when I had found somewhere to stay, I would climb into a shower fully dressed and stand under the freezing water until my body went numb. I would then take my arm warmers stuff them with ice and tie them around my shoulder to try and bring the day’s swelling down.
Months later when I finally got my shoulder checked out, I was told I had sustained significant muscle and ligament damage to my shoulder. At the hospital, after the accident, this had never been mentioned this to me. The reality is it wouldn’t have made any difference if I had known. I was so determined to keep going and had not been ready to give up on my goal. As a result, though, my shoulder never got the time it needed to heal, making it easier and easier for my shoulder to keep dislocating. To this day it still hurts if someone taps me on the shoulder.
As I cycled towards Yellowstone, the winds had finally started to die down, only to be replaced by torrential rain. It was demoralising riding along on the narrow shoulder, as the transport trucks flew past only feet away sending walls of water straight for you. To make things worse, I got two punctures within in sixty miles. My tyres now paper thin.
I think the combo of the weather and mechanical issues that day were a breaking point for me, but frankly, I was worn out and constantly on the verge of tears.
My elbow had swollen to the size of a small apple sometime after taking the stitches out, and I was struggling to keep any food or water down. Throwing up as I tried to keep cycling. I knew if I stopped I would not be able to get going again.
When I arrived in Yellowstone, I think it is fair to say I was feeling nothing short of awful. I checked the tracker and saw that a fellow racer and the man who helped me after I’d been hit, Joe was nearby. We had stayed in touch and had been texting each other through the race to see how one another were doing, so it was fantastic to catch up with him finally. I wanted desperately to pushed on with him into the park, but at this point, I felt like I was dying.
After only riding 80 miles that day, I checked myself into the cheapest hotel I could find in Yellowstone. It was something straight out of a horror film, complete with a locked door in the pine wood panelling and some sort of peep hole looking into the room. I couldn’t have cared less. I dropped my stuff on the floor, collapsed on the bed and slept for the next 14 hours straight.
When I finally came around, I decided it was my body telling me something, and opted to take a rest day to try and restore some energy. Plus I hadn’t cycled all the way to Yellowstone to not enjoy it!!
A day later I was still feeling rough, but Yellowstone in tourist season, was probably the most expensive place along the Trans Am route for me to have stopped, so I packed up and set off into the park. As I cycled into the park, the ranger warned me that the Buffalo were on the move and that were known to charge at this time of year as they had just had their young. I guess I looked nervous, so she told me not to be, “more people get killed by lightning in Yellowstone, than by animals.” I laughed and thanked her…. all the while thinking great, one more thing to worry about.
I was one of the first people into the park that day, so the roads were relatively quiet, and the tour buses hadn’t started to fly by yet. I was able to properly enjoy the beauty of the park and catch a glimpse of a few animals including bald eagles in the trees. Riding through Yellowstone was magical, the steam from the hot springs rising into the air created one of the most unique landscapes of the ride.
It was not long before I encountered a larger herd of buffalo with their babies frolicking around. Tourists were pulling over to the side of the road to take photos creating traffic chaos. The buffalo were so close I could have probably pet one, so waved down an SUV and asked if I could cycle beside them using them as a shield. It was incredible, and scary being so close to such beautiful animals. I pedalled onwards to Old Faithful. Once there, I pulled out my standard gas station lunch of nuts and Oreos and sat back and watched the 1000’s of Tourists stood with their cameras at the ready for almost half an hour, before the geyser went off.
On leaving Yellowstone, you are taken into Grand Teton National Park, which was without a doubt my favourite part of the Trans Am. The ethereal jagged mountain landscape towers over the roads, with wildflowers painting the meadows in vivid colours. The crystalline alpine lakes, and noisy streams cascading down rocky canyons to the foot of the range. I pulled over to take it all in when another cyclist came out of nowhere. I had crossed paths with the tour divide and riders were making their way through. I stopped and chatted with a guy called Dave Rooney for a few minutes only to learn he was from the same town as me in Canada… it really is a small world.
I still wasn’t feeling great, but the scenery had lifted my spirits and was happy to be on the move again. I decided to quit while I was ahead for the day and set my sights on Togowtee bringing my mileage to 130 miles for the day. There was a lodge a little over halfway up the 17-mile climb and figured it would be better to put some of the climbs behind me before morning.
There would be no service stops for about 80 miles from the lodge so stopped at a campground before heading up to buy some snacks. The guy behind the counter asked me where I was heading. I still got some amusement at this point seeing the look on peoples faces when I told them, Virgina. We chatted a bit longer, and he asked how far I would go that night. He immediately seemed a bit concerned about me cycling up Togowtee at dusk, but couldn’t figure out why. About 8 miles up a constant 6% climb I figured out why. I came around a corner and saw a giant neon sign on the road. It read:
Caution bears on the road. Stay in your car!
I immediately felt my heart rate jump. Here I was at dusk, with copious amounts of food stuffed in my pockets, looking around constantly trying to discern objects in the low light. Was that a tree stump or grizzly about to jump me!?! I devised a plan in case one came running out at me. Chuck my jar of peanut butter at it, (yes I was carrying peanut butter) and smash it back down the hill…. There was obviously no way I was going to be able to out-cycle a grizzly going up hill!
I climbed like I’ve never climbed before. When Togowtee lodge appeared before me, I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved. I walked in about to collapse with exhaustion. Shaking so much I couldn’t even get my wallet out of my pocket to pay for a room. The women asked me if I had seen the bears? Wait there were multiple bears?? Yeah, there a mother and two grizzly cubs she responded. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved to have somewhere to sleep inside…