Photo: Trans Am Bike Race blog, Nathan Jones and Anthony Dryer
Within minutes, the sky clears and the wind changes, sweeping around behind us. It’s a ripping tailwind and we’re flying easy at 20 miles an hour. We see the bright lights of Leoti and then we’re past it. The 24 mile countdown to Scott City takes just over an hour and we make it there at 2:30AM. Do we dare stop? The wind in Kansas is unpredictable, liable to change at any time. We know we have to sleep sometime. We pull into the Lazy-R and bed down for five hours with a plan. We’re riding to Newton tomorrow.
The Newton Bike Shop is the only official support station for the Trans Am Bike Race. Support is allowed because help is equally available to all racers. Just after the midway point of the route, it is the perfect place to get bike service. During the race, the Newton Bike Shop is open 24 hours a day. James and Heather tirelessly welcome racers, feed them, service their bikes and send them down the road. Getting to and through Newton is a milestone. I plan to swap my tires, chain and cassette there. It’s a necessary stop and a lot of help, but stopping at all makes me anxious. By sleeping in Scott City, we’ve timed it so we’ll make it to Newton the next night to sleep for a few hours while James fixes our bikes.
Out of town in the morning, the wind is still blowing our direction. The riding is flat and fast and feels like a gift. The people in Kansas are exceptionally nice, the drivers are courteous and the cashiers bless us for visiting. There is a beauty to the prairie with it’s wide open spaces and little development– especially when you’re riding with a tailwind.
We make a 90 degree turn at Rush Center and as fierce as the cross wind feels, I know it’ll be at my back in twenty miles. Back down at low elevations, it’s cooking. Apart from the heat, the rest of the ride to Newton is a breeze and we get there before 10PM. Heather waits for us on the main street and James greets us at the door of the shop. We roll our bikes in and are motivated to get everything situated. Heather gives us loaner clothes to borrow while she does our laundry. She says we probably want to take a shower right away, but the shower at the rec center is closed, so she’ll drive us to their house. She leads us to a Suburban and drives us across town. It feels strange. One moment I’m in the middle of a bicycle race across the country, obsessing over every minute of efficiency and the next I have my seat belt buckled and I’m talking to Heather about air conditioning at the hostel. Evan is in the back seat and his knees are killing him. We shower and head back to the shop.
We talk to James about bike work and he’s set to service our bikes while we sleep. Heather sits us down to huge plates of chicken and rice, sliced vegetables, garlic bread and juice that her daughter prepared. It’s my first and only sit down meal for the whole race. James tells us that Steffen packed up in a hurry and left 30 minutes before we arrived. He had no idea how close we were. We really might catch him.
Evan has arranged to have a knees massage and I tuck myself in to a bunk bed in a dark, windowless room in the back of the shop. Heather tell us not set alarms. She’ll wake us up in five hours.
It’s nice to put on clean clothes in the morning. I ask James to straighten out my seat. It’s been crooked for days, but I haven’t wanted to take the time to straighten it out. When he’s tightening it, he notices a lot of play in the seat post. I ask him if that’s going to be a problem and he says no. I buy a bunch of gu and Heather finds me some chapstick and changes the batteries in my Spot. James wants us to sign a 76 Bike Route sign and his hat and he weighs our bikes. We say goodbye to the Barringers and the webcam and we holler on the way down the street. We’re over halfway! The next major obstacle will be the ferry to Kentucky– days away.We’re past the freezing nights of the Rockies. Our bikes are serviced and we’re ready to go.
The route out of Newton is hillier. The wind is lighter, but still favorable. In the early morning, the sun is already really hot. We stop frequently for water, even packing extra bottles because it’s so hot. There really isn’t much happening in Eastern Kansas. Coming up to Chanute, a girl calls to me from the side of the road. It’s Whitney Ford-Terry. She’s a tour guide for Adventure Cycling and is leading people east to west on the TransAmerica Trail. She offers me her water and when I decline she insists, telling me to drink it all. I’m getting to my afternoon boiling point and it’s nice to have company. My skin has blistered and is peeling for the second time. I ask her if she can ride with us and she comes along for a couple minutes, but can’t stay long. We part ways, but I know I’ll see her in Missoula next month for Adventure Cycling’s 40th Anniversary party.
We stop at a t-shirt printing shop and ask for water. I soak my t-shirt in the bathroom sink and run the water over my head and neck. We stop again at the gas station for drinks. It’s blazing. We stop 26 miles down the way in Walnut and slug cold cans of iced tea. I feel like I’m losing my mind. I buy a bacon cheeseburger from the hot case, telling myself I’ll eat it on the road and it’ll bring my brain back. On the road out of town, I start hearing my bike creak. Louder and louder it creaks with every pedal stroke. I step off and tighten the axels, but the sound remains.
Evan calls the bike shop in Pittsburg. They close at 6 and might be there until 6:30, but can’t promise anything because they’re planning on going for a ride. It’s already a quarter to 5 and we’re 30 miles away. We hammer to Pittsburg, racing the clock and get there by 6:25. I’m gasping for air and thrilled to make it. The shop is a big empty room with a few bikes and some dusty accessories. A man and his teenage son stand in the service area. The son is suited up for a ride and the man agrees to look at my bike. I roll it to the service area and he tells me to go ahead and take a break and eat my sandwich. After checking out the bottom bracket and the cranks, he finds the problem. He rocks my seat back and forth on the seat post and says I’m lucky it didn’t snap off while I was riding. He takes a seat post off another bike to replace mine. It’ll take about 40 minutes and Evan and I walk to the gas station to resupply.
The sun is going down. It’s 109 miles to Marshfield, the next major town and my bike is not ready to go. At the gas station we decide our best strategy is to sleep here for a few hours and head out in the dark. A night pursuit sounds invigorating. I go back to the bike shop to wait and Evan pedals down the street to find a motel. When I get back, the shop owner is measuring the seat post length and seat angle. He tells me to elevate my legs, so I lie down on the floor and stretch them up the wall. The shop owner was the head mechanic for Danny Chew for RAAM and once set up Danny’s new bike 36 hours before the race. He cares about the details and I trust him. He asks if he can fix my front brake while he’s at it and machines a piece of plastic to stop my chainring from rubbing my frame bag. I’m so grateful. I pay the man and ride to the motel to find Evan.
Just a few miles from the state border, we set the alarm for 1AM. The real race starts tomorrow in Missouri.