When our friend Nathan Jones (Race Director of the Trans Am Bike Race) sent out an email early this year about a new route including gravel across the US, my mind immediately went to planning stage. The attractions were it was a new route, riding across the US meeting amazing Americans in small town USA and specifically joining along for the inaugural race.
Personally, doing first time races or events gets my juice flowing. It’s the unknown; things going wrong and of course knowing it’s going to require patience and constantly improvising to solve problems. The highlights of the amazing 29 days riding across the US will follow and shed some light for those who may be interested in doing a self supported journey/event.
The race started in Portland, Oregon just like Trans Am (completed that event in 2016) and required a flight out to the Pacific Northwest. The first hurdle occurred with shipping my bike via Bike Flights and the bike did not arrive. After plenty f stress and long drives to different locations, logistics between UPS and a local bike shop we ere able to get the bike finally all set up (good news is that the team at Bike Flights understood their error and credited back the payment, but most importantly implemented a new procedure to their system to ensure against it happening with another customer – very well done!)
After some time in Seattle and Bend, Oregon for client meetings and enjoying the hospitality of great friends, it was time to get the nerves calmed down and start the race from Portland.
US State Highlights
Oregon Day 1 start – like always things go not according to plan. Went off course 3 miles into the event with a detour by not paying attention and then having to find a location to go to the bathroom on the middle of a park bike path (apparently breakfast did not settle in the stomach). There are few better places to ride than the mountains and valleys of Oregon.
Idaho – riding through the mountains with massive climbs always on the lookout for a storm approaching.
Hitchhiking #1 – Boise Idaho. A retired Coast guard veteran picked me up after seeing my predicament with a hitchhike. My rear tire was splitting at various across the tire for no apparent reason. After plugging and taping it, I made the decision to get to a bike shop as it would be at least 800 miles to the next bike shop. Better to get it fixed vs. dealing with a constant loss of air in the tire. Even though it adds time, it was the right decision.
Local Knowledge Sharing– one of the largest contingents of military veterans is in Idaho and met so many including an 80 year old local legend in Challis, Idaho who server during Vietnam and was a prisoner of war.
Idaho and Eastern Oregon is Onion Country
Getting into the routine – slowly, it typically takes me 7 days or so to feel better with the daily grind of miles.
Teton National Park is an eye-popping display of mountains and snow that just makes the miles go by very quickly. This was my third trip going through the amazing park and it never gets old.
Hitchhike #2 Wyoming – decisions to be made – convinced a fella from a town outside of Jackson to drive me to Lander Wyoming – 2 hours each way
Jackson mountain ascent and descent to Jackson Hole were special memories of going 2-4 mph going up and 50 mph going down.
Old Ghost Towns
Amazing people and the idea of a Driveway Party
Sleeping in a Cow pasture – mosquitos – that was about the end of camping for a while as a sleepless night just crushed your next days mileage goal
Staying in Garages
2 crashes – road rash
A short section in Iowa but the Wabash trail was superb with incredible views of miles and miles of cornfields.
It was a shame that we could not do the Katy Trail
St. Louis – "find the best route you can and just get through St. Louis", Nathan Jones along with dealing with the Stanley Cup Championship parade.
Riding on a newly Tarred road and tar embedded in my wounds.
The award for the most interesting place to sleep was in Missouri – slept on a plywood second floor of a commercial building under construction.
Illinois – short section, which were nice flat roads in the middle of farm country. Gravel sections
The generosity of the American people was evident again in Illinois when a family offered us shelter for another upcoming storm and offered pulled pork and potatoes meal while we waited.
Indiana – Flooding beyond, rerouting, but some great folks at the convenience stores – Weather beyond and at one point we had to take Route 50 and riding in the pouring rain at 5:00AM, it was time to pull off until daybreak
Ohio – First class trails and roads – even though the flooding was beyond and I ended up on a trail and had to walk the bike in the dark morning hours that quickly turned from above the knee to chest deep as I looked over to the left and saw a raging river. That clearly shook me up and all the electronics were now ruined.
Stayed at a fire department in thanks to Milford, OH and thanks to the great team there that allowed us to stay to get out of the thunderstorms and provide blankets, sheets, showers, and towels.
Another highlight was seeing Tour Divide Buddy Brent and he showed up to say hi during his road trip out to Colorado. This was instant energy seeing a familiar face.
West Virginia – A very short section and of course 3 major climbs of over 13% grades in the hot sun made the legs and lungs fell quite nice! After we descended to the Pan Handle Trail it was familiar country and all the climbing was basically over.
Montour, GAP to Cumberland, MD were in great shape. First time sleeping location – laundry mat at a campground and it was brilliant.
Maryland – Home stretch and all the worries of a flooded mud mess on the C&O were not an issue. Some mud but manageable for sure. We pushed hard to the finish and to the mass crowds at the Lincoln Memorial. It was a special finish on a beautiful day seeing a great friend from DC and of course Jan.
Friends: Shared plenty of conversation with some amazing people in the race – my good buddy and old friend Chuck Lee who at the age of 69 can just fly on the bike. Dennis from Eastern Pa – 68 years old and an animal on the bike, Darryl from New Mexico – we met on day one in the small town in Oregon in the rain sleeping in a shed & tepee to the end. Alissa (California), Sheri (California), Mike (Pennsylvania) and Richard (Canada) were others who I enjoyed meeting and riding some sections with over all the miles. Bikepacking attracts a great group of people from diverse backgrounds and enhances my personal memories of the journey.
Highlights of products and ideas:
- Dynamo hub was a great benefit for charging but most important there never is an issue not having a dead battery in a headlight.
- Spot devices continue to be an issue with tracking and the Spot X worked ok until it was completely ruined when submerged during my chest deep situation in the water.
- Back tires and saddlebags do float! When submerged in water – thank goodness they pulled me back up from the chest deep water.
- Club Ride cycling shirts are awesome and quickly dry when soaked.
- Item I never used – my puffy coat. Some colder days but with arm and leg warmers it would have been fine with my raincoat.
- Best new quick snack choice – mandarin oranges in the containers in convenience stores – they were cold and sweet. I ate probably 25 of them!
- Best new drink when falling asleep on the bike - Monster Coffee Drink – this was a new one for me and actually worked when falling asleep many times while riding and it kept alertness with the caffeine boost.
- The bike – Salsa War bird was a rock star. No issues at all with the mechanicals. Changed 1 chain, 3 back tires.
- Bar Yak bars for the cockpit worked great to hold everything and went through several crashes and no issues with the carbon fiber.
- Diet Bug repellent mistake – make sure you are not allergic to it as I had an allergic reaction and my entire forehead and skull swelled up and itched during our time in the cow pasture.
- Items that I took and never used – heavy socks for cold mornings, half toe covers for warmth, Buff, puffy coat.
- Ride With GPS worked relatively well for the course directions and would use it again for future events.
- $7 Lamont work gloves are my go to cycling gloves.
- Mistake – not checking the plastic shoe strings on my MTB cycling shoes and of course they snapped during the ride, but it was time for new shoes anyway and got a great pair at an Omaha bike shop.
- Cee Gees cushy aero pads reduce hand numbness and worked well by resting the wrists vs. just on the various positions on the bars.
- Plenty of animals seen on this trip, Eagle catching dinner right in front of the bike, bear, buffalo, horses and all farm animals, lovely dogs and the most interesting sound was the continuous chirps of quail through the Midwestern states.
This was trip #3 across the US (Trans Am, Tour Divide and Bike Non Stop) and even with the difficulties of the re-routes and storm misery it was a great experience for sure. The solitude, sights, sounds of the road from the seat of a bike is like no other. Meeting amazing people and learning new things of bikepacking with each journey makes the internal fire burn until the next adventure. See you on the road.