Always Finish on a High!

Reaching Astoria on the 27th was great but I still needed to get home to Seattle. Ever since we did our double metric century (200 km in one day), I’d been keeping an eye out for opportunities to beat this record. As it turns out, Seattle is about 210 miles (340 km) away from Astoria and it seemed like a potentially suitable candidate for my next challenge. I proposed that we try and cycle it in one day. Emily was cautiously optimistic while Colin declined my ridiculous offer outright. Since Lisa was with us in Astoria and she had a car, Emily and I decided that in order to give ourselves the best chance of success, we would attempt it as a supported ride.

If we managed to average 15 miles an hour (24 km/h) we would need to ride for 14 hours straight. We decided that averaging this speed would be feasible if we were unloaded but we would also need to find a way to resupply – food and water – without stopping. We wanted to keep our physical and mental momentum and not waste precious minutes in an already long day. On our rest day in Astoria on July 28, we practiced having Lisa hand us a sack of goodies (peanut butter and jam sandwiches, snickers bars, snacks, gatorade, soda) as we rode by. Emily would grab the sack while I handed Lisa our empty water bottles and shouted out what we would need at the next resupply point. Emily would then hand me my portion of the food and beverages as we kept on riding. Without spoiling too much, it worked like a charm!

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Coast to Coast

Reaching the Oregon coast and seeing the Pacific for the first time was the climax of my trip. Despite being elated to having reached the ocean, my exuberance was quite subdued. It could be that having cycled 7,000 km to reach this point tired me out enough to not have the energy to care more deeply. More likely, however, is that I simply got used to riding hard miles every day and the challenge of being on my bike for long hours at a time was diminished greatly since I started out in late May. As I chatted with a stranger next to the beach, I also realized that I didn’t really want the ride to be over. The tour had become something entirely different than I had expected – a journey of discovery much more than a physical challenge. My body was quite ready for a break, however, and I did look forward to reaching Astoria – the official endpoint of the TransAmerica Trail – the next day.

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Hidden Gem

As you might have guessed, Idaho was quite the pleasant surprise. Pristine pine forests covered the eastern part of the state. We followed the Lochsa River for over 100 miles as it winded and meandered its way through beautiful woods. We camped in national forests and bathed in hot springs and rivers. Coming down from Lolo Pass we were faced by what we thought might be some easy miles – a descent over 200 miles long. What we found instead were cyclists cruising uphill faster than we were going down. The head winds were quite strong indeed.

The pine forests soon turned to giant wheat fields. We observed the harvest in Kansas and now we got to see it in Idaho as well. The golden wheat then turned to rolling hills of sparse vegetation. The landscape soon changed again to pine forests before finally settling into the more familiar sagebrush countryside of eastern Washington and Oregon. The famous potatoes of Idaho, however, have eluded us. We think we might have seen one on the side of the road but, in retrospect, it might have been a rock.

Have a look at the gallery below for our progression through the wonderful state of Idaho. Beside Missouri, Idaho is the other state I look forward to exploring more – maybe on my bike.

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Goodbye Bear Butts!

I had visited Montana on a couple of occasions prior to cycling through it for a few days. I remember liking it then as well. This time around, I got to soak it in and it’s been quite beautiful. Well, anyway, I’m pretty tired as I type this so just take a look at the photos…
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How to Cycle America – Part 3

Part 1 – Navigation
Part 2 – Willpower

Food

Steam engines need coal, fission reactors need uranium, TransAm cyclists need food. This post is about what we’ve been eating as we cycle across America. Since I am now an expert on everything cycling, the following is your bible for how to eat on long-distance tours.

The oatmeal – it does nothing! We eat a lot of oatmeal in the mornings. It provides absolutely no nutritional value whatsoever. We eat it because it makes us not feel hungry immediately after… and because it’s cheap. During the first half of our tour, we would follow up on the oatmeal with a healthy dose of high-sugar gas station mass produced pastries. We have since moved to grocery store purchased snacks – cookies or pretzels. Granola bars are a staple of our diet throughout the day. For lunch, we eat peanut butter and nutella or cheese and turkey ham sandwiches. We tend to prefer the latter but often default on the prior due to cost. For dinner, we really like burritos – refried beans, grated cheese, bell peppers, salsa, and canned chicken wrapped in a tortilla. If we have access to a kitchen, we tend to make pasta. If no grocery store is around, we default to more peanut butter sandwiches. All in all, we’re hungry pretty much all the time. Based on various fitness device measurements, we estimate we burn between 3,000 and 5,000 calories while riding each day.

However, the more interesting aspect of eating is the locations where we do it. Enjoy the gallery below to see some of the exotic places we’ve had meals in.

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Wild, Windy, Westerly Wyoming

Wyoming was a contradiction. The southern part of the state was the most desolate area we’ve cycled through. The high desert, full of sage brush and nothing else, was windy, cold, and quite wet. Rolling thunderstorms followed us for much of this section of the TransAm. The northern section of the state – Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks – was a human zoo; a cacophony of campers, trailers, and giant RVs. We saw more cars and people in Yellowstone than we did during the entire rest of our trip. The non-existent shoulders through the park made the ride particularly stressful. We had initially planned on camping overnight in Madison – a campsite in Yellowstone. Luckily, the site was completely full by 6.45 in the morning (before we even left our campsite in Grand Teton) which forced us to pedal out of the park the same day. We never thought we’d be so glad to leave a national park as we did when we exited Yellowstone.

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How to Cycle America – Part 2

Part 1 – Navigation

Willpower

Endurance athletes will often cite willpower as being equally important to physical fitness when running, swimming, or cycling long distances. I found this concept to be quite true on several occasions during the past few weeks on the TransAm. Both willpower and staying positive will help tremendously when, half way through your 90 mile day, a giant climb materializes in front of your bicycle as your body screams at you to stop pedaling. I have also come to the conclusion that a certain degree of masochism is, if not required, certainly complementary to having a strong mental game. The rush, or bike high, I get at the end of a particularly hard day is reward in itself and what I look forward to as I push myself to the limit.

Surrounding yourself with other positive thinkers also helps. There’s nothing quite like having someone constantly complaining about this ache or that hill to dampen your spirits. Conversely, encouragement makes all the difference when you’re soaking wet in a downpour, your stomach seemingly tying itself in knots of hunger, and the headwind is so strong you have to put your whole weight into each pedal stroke to make progress downhill. All in all, having something to look forward to and staying positive will get you the prize at the end of the day.

I experienced my own personal low while riding from Canon City to Guffey, CO. The same day that I struggled with a complete mechanical failure I also suffered through the most difficult climb of my tour. The climb itself was not steep but it was long – a real grind. For whatever reason, on this particular day, my body refused to cooperate and felt like it was hungover from shotgunning a dozen beers. My legs were screaming with every pedal stroke. My butt cheeks were on fire. Everything hurt and I wondered, after a while, if this is what people feel when they give up. A minute later, a thunderstorm hit and I was pelted with giant drops of freezing rain. Powerful gusts of wind smashed into me from impossible angles – angles wind should never be able to blow from. It was at about this point the peanut butter and nutella sandwiches I had for lunch began expressing their overwhelming desire for a second chewing. I wondered if crying would help as the ditch on the side of the road looked ever more appealing. Yet, despite all this, it never actually dawned on me to stop. I clenched my teeth and focused on convincing myself how good every pedal stroke felt. Emily and Colin had both gapped me a while before – both of them thinking my slow pace was due to intentionally not over-torquing my damaged crank and bottom bracket. Now, as I approached a small turn-off, I almost didn’t notice Emily frantically trying to attract my attention towards the office of an RV park. As I walked into the building, the owner asked me how I was. I replied that I’d been better before promptly passing out on a bench for 30 minutes. Upon coming to, and because I was visibly the weakest link in our group, Emily asked me what I wanted to do. My options ranged from paying $30 for a cabin at the very place we were at to saddling up and riding 20 uphill miles to Guffey, CO. I sat up and declared my intention to push on to Guffey where we arrived some two hours later. By now I felt much better and my awful afternoon turned into one of my greatest personal accomplishments of the trip.

Despite how my body felt on the way up to Guffey, perhaps my greatest feat of sheer stubborn willpower is my refusal to drink beer or any other alcoholic beverages on riding days. I simply feel better if I don’t drink the night before so I choose not to. My beers stat is from rest days or early tour exceptions.

Giving up is easy. Accomplishing something hard, against the odds, is something nobody can ever take away. What personal achievements will you take with you to your grave?

Sorin