Trans Am Bike Race 2016: Idaho

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Near the top of Brownlee Summit, I see a rider slowly swerving back and forth across the road like a staggering drunk. In a couple pedal strokes I catch up to him. It’s British Lee. He glances over at me quick and straightens out his form.

 “Hey there. How are you doing?”

“I’ve been sick. I made the mistake of eating a burger and chips at the bottom of the hill and it’s all come back up.”

“You’ve been throwing up?”

“Yeah.”

In this heat that sounds awful. I pedal past him and he climbs past me at the very top, showing renewed vigor. And that’s the last I see of Lee. It’s all downhill to Cambridge. I buy a large pack of Hostess coffee cake at the convenience store and the man at the register asks if I’m part of the crew riding to Virginia. He tells me there were some guys in here earlier taking pictures of a girl. He says there’s a storm brewing and I might get hit pretty hard between here and Council.

I ride into a headwind to Council as the light fades. My progress is slow, but the scenery is stunning– green flat expanses surrounded by mountains. Idaho has some beautiful farm country. In the dark I climb to New Meadows. The road winds through the woods of national forest. I’m alone in the trees. I feel the chill of passing streams before I see them. It’s humid and cold. The terrain flattens out before Tamarack. In the night, industrial lights beam through the mist and expose a massive logging operation. I’m alone with the cranking machines. I pedal through New Meadows and I don’t see a soul, just neon signs above closed stores and vacant motel lots. Everyone but me is asleep.

Out of town, the road turns to gravel. It’s flat and wide open. I push the pedals a few miles and pull off on an overgrown, abandoned frontage road. I lay my bivvy over the gravel and tuck myself in.

I wake up in the night, shaking with cold with no choice but to get up and pedal on. Once I’m moving, I’m warm, but a couple hours down the road my eyes start blurring and then closing. I can’t keep them from closing as I’m descending alongside a logging truck. This isn’t safe. I stop, lift my bike over a fence and lay down to sleep for another hour. Awake to my alarm and groggy, I stuff away my bivvy and get back on my bike to move, but a couple miles down the way I know I need more sleep. I pull over and lay down for another 45 minutes to sleep in a ditch. This time it sticks. I ride the rest of the way to Riggins, past rows of sports fishermen, in the early morning sunlight. I buy breakfast sandwiches and hot coffee at the store in Riggins and clean and lube my chain out front. A passing lady offers me her old newspaper.

The day heats up. I follow the Salmon River upstream to White Bird and fill my water at the saloon. The town looks like it’s designed for tourists, but there aren’t any here. I switchback up a tree-less pass,  gravelly at the top, and zoom down the other side to Grangeville. I’m urgent to get in and out of town and down the road. I chug a pint of chocolate milk and a pint of vanilla milk and I’m out of there. The farm roads to Stites are straight and rolling with sharp 90 degree turns. I’m making it, but I’m boiling hot. My skin is red and actually feels like it’s scorching and I start feeling desperate. I stop at a gas station in Kooskia and ask for sunscreen and they’re sold out. They direct me to the supermarket down the street. A checker there personally walks me to the sunscreen section and I’m pretty sure I look like I need the help. I buy a gigantic bottle, the only option, and it gets me through the rest of the race. Outside the store, I coat my entire body with a thick layer of white sunscreen and watch it immediately soak in. The road out of town follows the Clearwater River, winding and beautiful, it becomes a living nightmare. As I ride upstream, I really feel like I’m not getting anywhere as the same scene loops over and over. It is such a gradual climb. I watch the river wind it’s way 90 miles up to Lolo Pass, the division between Idaho and Montana.

Two thirds of the way up, I click my shifter to change gears and nothing happens and again, nothing. I thought the battery would last me another thousand miles to Kansas, but I guess I killed it on day 4 in Idaho. I stop, thinking I’ll pull out my seat post and swap the battery and while I’m standing there, Evan pedals up. We agree that Lolo Pass takes forever. I tell him about my dead Di2 and that I’m thinking about switching the battery. His died yesterday. He suggests that I ride single-speed to the top, it’s a mellow grade the whole way. There’s a restaurant up there, I could charge it for a few minutes and he could get some food. There’s a hotel at Lolo Hot Springs, on the other side of the pass, and I could get a full charge there.

Sounds like a good plan and I’m happy to have company to break up the monotony. We ride together into the night. Evan is full of stories and he’s easy to be around. After the sun goes down, the air gets chilly. By the time we make it to the restaurant near the top it’s dark and closed. I’m carrying loads of extra food. I give Evan a cinnamon roll and we head for Lolo Hot Springs. If they’re closed up for the night, we’ll descend to Lolo. We get to Lolo Hot Springs near midnight and there’s a light on in the bar. I knock on the window and a young guy opens the door. He’s cleaning up for the night. We ask about rooms and arrange to stay in a couple of cabins across the way. I buy a cinnamon roll as big as my face and pedal across the street to find my cabin. I’ve never slept inside during an endurance race, but with my dead Di2, I’m tethered to a power source. I’m so relieved to find a solution. I unlock the door to my cabin. The bed spread is folded open, like someone just climbed out. I plug in my electronic shifting, set my alarm and don’t hesitate to crawl into the warm bed. The sheets smell like cigarettes. It’s my first night in Montana.

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5 thoughts on “Trans Am Bike Race 2016: Idaho

  1. I am so impressed by Lael Wilcox and glad to have this detail of how it was going as she was coming into Montana. We drove from Portland to Missoula a few years ago so I have some memory of that amazing country. Thanks!

  2. Charles Nighbor says:

    Yes sun at high elevations is more intense than at sea level

  3. Eric says:

    Nothing Worse than stinking cigarette smell! “cinnamon roll as big as my face”, gotta love it.

  4. Michael Fenster says:

    It’s so fun to read your recounting of the events of the race. I recall noting some of your stops, and knowing which stores might be open at those times of day. I gotta say, the E – W ride from Lolo Pass along the Lochsa River is possibly one of the prettiest parts oft the Trans Am. The winding stream, a nice road, and they chose not to install above ground electric lines. Unspoiled beauty. I hope you find time to ride it in that direction some day. If it works out, I’ll ride along.

    FWIW, I had the best veggie omelette in Kooskia. I have not forgotten. But then we had that climb out of Kooskia. I told the doc friend in our group I now understand what GERD means: “Good Eating Re-Done.

    I’m looking forward to reading about the other parts of the ride. Thanks again for posting.

  5. Gordon n says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. It reads well, especially after all that dot watching

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