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Exchange Rate

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On January 2, Nick and I met bikepackers from around the world in downtown San Diego to begin the group start on the Baja Divide. We met up with old and new friends, passed around GU Stroopwafels and started riding the route around 8:27AM. Day one on the Baja Divide includes a 3000 foot climb over Otay Mountain– the single longest climb on the whole route. We reconvened at Barrett Junction Cafe for a fish fry (thanks, Leon!) and camping. Though the ride was strenuous, everyone was smiling by the end of the day.

At Barrett Junction, Baja Divide riders screen printed their shirts with the Baja Divide logo (thanks, Holly!), helped each other with GPS problems (thanks, Rob!) and last minute bike issues. Riders received Revelate Designs peso pouches (thanks, Eric and Dusty!), an assortment of GU snacks (thanks, Magda!), and bottles full of Slime tubeless sealant (thanks, Joe!)

The Baja Divide route and group start are a gift– a gift to the bikepacking community and hopefully something that will benefit Baja California. Nick and I are very proud of this project and we are so grateful for all the help we’ve received!

On the 3rd of January, 97 riders rolled their bikes across the border into Mexico. Hector, from the tourism bureau in Tijuana, met us in the plaza in Tecate. He thanked us for making Baja California more visible to the bikepacking community and we took a group photo.

The exchange rate is good right now on the Baja Divide. We are all riding bikes, eating and sleeping, working hard and having fun, making friends and solving problems, speaking Spanish and English, and learning a lot.

Thanks Revelate Designs and Advocate Cycles for believing in us from the start. We really appreciate your support!

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Homecoming at The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage, AK!

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Thanks to The Bicycle Shop for hosting our event, Racing the Trans Am Bike Race, a fun evening of stories from my race. Nick and I rolled right off the plane from San Diego and into a group of over 100 of our best friends in Anchorage. We’re only here for two weeks before we head back to San Diego for the group start of the Baja Divide.

Five years ago Nick had to beg for a job as a mechanic in the middle of the winter and now we get to organize awesome events and help get more people on bikes. Only later did I learn that the owner of The Bicycle Shop– Mike Shupe– was friends with my uncle JV in junior high.  Anchorage feels like such a small town if you grew up here. It is so cool to see the explosion of winter cycling in Anchorage and to see the oldest bicycle shop in Alaska killing it!

Thanks to Mike Shupe, Kristen Shupe, Ray Clayton, Chris Wineck, Jamin Hall, Christina Grande, Zac Heinen, Rick, Roland, and Devon. Big thanks to David Henke for supporting the event with audio and video.

It is great to be home.

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Lavanya Pant receives the Baja Divide Women’s Scholarship

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Lavanya Pant got me laughing from the start. Her application was full of comedy and heart, adventurous exploits and profound insight. And then I saw her photography. She’s talented, she’s young and she’s committed to bicycle adventure. I see her as capable of uplifting others— inspiring people to try new things, to follow their hearts and be kind to one another. In a word, I fell in love with Lavanya Pant and I think you will too.  Please donate to the community-supported travel grant that we have established for Lavanya on Generosity.com. 

Lavanya Pant is 26 years old. This is her story, in her words.

I was born in India and lived there till I was 13. For 3 years my family lived in the remote towns and settlements of Bikaner and Barmer in the Thar Desert in Rajasthan where heat and power outages often forced us to sleep outside and I first developed an affinity for doing so. I taught myself to ride on my neighbor’s bicycle in New Delhi when I was 10. In exchange, I’d ‘let her play’ with my well-liked and not manipulative little sister. My parents migrated to Australia in 2003. Retrospectively, I am very grateful. I don’t think I would be riding around the world if we hadn’t. At the age of 13, in Australia I got my first bike. I rode to school everyday.

My first solo travel experience was when I turned 19. I saved up to go to Cuba, Mexico and the US for 2 months. In Isla Mujeres, I gave my neighbors 250 pesos to borrow their daughter’s bike for a day.  I rode the 13km perimeter of the island four times. I saw baby turtles, swam in pristine waters, and was joined on one leg by seventy-something Vietnam vet Jerry or ‘Captain Bananas’ from Florida who showed me Mayan ruins I thought had only existed on the mainland. I spoke to so many locals and had the time of my life. On returning from this trip, I took out an academic loan for a study tour to South Africa and Rwanda for 4 weeks. We met many genocide survivors, heard their heartbreaking stories and were amazed at how Rwandans couldn’t stop beaming with huge smiles and warm hearts despite their recent history. I hope to revisit Cuba, Mexico, Rwanda and USA on my bike one day.

My partner Alistair and his friends got me into riding longer distances. In 2012, Al lent me his 3-speed Raleigh Twenty and I did my first overnight and off road ride on the Warrnambool-Port Fairy rail trail on the Victorian coast. I loved every bit of it, even my rattly Raleigh. The following year, we built a Surly Disc Trucker. I was suddenly so much faster and capable of riding dirt! But still unable to keep up with Al and his friends. Frustrated but inspired, I started a girls riding group called The Winona Riders. I was surprised at how many women were interested in riding and traveling by bike.  Al and I held a bicycle mechanics workshop and ten Winonas did our first dirt overnighter in January 2014 – 45kms into the Warburton ranges. We squeezed ten people into four small tents by the river, ate kangaroo burgers, giggled hysterically. Our title offset any danger of getting down or taking things seriously.

In the 2014-15 holiday period, me and 8 friends (including two Winonas), slow rolled through dirt roads and fire trails cutting through the middle of Tasmania. It was hard, hilly, remote and so much fun! We had a 3-day stretch with no resupply. One memorable day was when the Winona Riders beat all the boys to the top of the biggest climb of the route owing to good navigation and stocking up lots of Tasmanian cheese.

In July 2015, Al and I quit our jobs and bought a one-way ticket to Denmark. We rode dirt and pavement from Copenhagen to Athens. I got a real taste for riding dirt in France, Montenegro and Albania and want to progress to riding desert roads and more technical trails. This was my first experience travelling internationally by bike. The gradual process of breaking down physical and mental barriers between my environment and me was invigorating. Some things I learnt – people and animals are not scary, rain and snow is not bad and often fun, cleanliness and smelling good is not essential to making great friends, language barriers inspire creative interaction and can fasten ties better than strings of familiar words, gracefully accepting relentless hospitality is an important skill to hone, and caring for my body and things I own is essential but worrying about them unnecessary. Also, not to fall for government travel advisories and political hearsay about how dangerous the world is. And definitely not to believe self-imposed advisories on what I can and can’t do. Bike touring is one of few ways of travelling where I am constantly reminded of these facts. The more openly I interact with the people and places around me, the better I feel about the world and myself in it.

Now, I live and work in Tokyo and commute as much as possible and ride into the mountains on weekends. I did my first solo overnighter into the Okutama mountains from Tokyo in July. At the local izakaya, the other patrons bought me a round of beer and pickled plums (for ‘fatigue recovery’) when they heard I rode out there alone. This winter I plan to get to Shikoku or Okinawa islands and do a longer solo bike tour.

I have native proficiency in Hindi, Urdu and English. Recently, I started learning the Urdu script for a gateway to Arabic and Farsi. In the last 7 months in Japan I have gained intermediate proficiency in speaking Japanese and can orient myself in many situations. I can read the phonic scripts and love deciphering the forever evasive Kanji, which are hieroglyphics, that I don’t think I will ever master. In Montenegro last year, 15yo Selma from Berane taught me some of her favourite songs in Serbski. These songs are great lightweight souvenirs and ever since I have collected them in Hindi, Marwari and Japanese.

For the last 6 months I have been working in Tokyo and saving to buy a hardtail with plus size tires and bikepacking gear so I can travel through the Mongolian desert next year and hopefully meet Kazakh eagle hunters! The latter I have fantasised about since I was 16. I want to roll over sand and riverbeds and it seems like this is a necessary step in my riding evolution. I pay student loans in Australia and am enrolled in a mandatory Japanese pension scheme so currently I couldn’t have made it to Baja this year without the scholarship.

It is a thrill to feel supported and rewarded for adventure. Earlier this year I was in India, where some people did not approve of my bike travels. It was seen as irresponsible and rebellious. These attitudes are not surprising but hurtful and discouraging nonetheless. My younger female cousins were most supportive and I feel grateful for them….

A scholarship that supports women in doing what they love and giving them a platform to share those experiences will have a domino effect in inspiring courage and creativity in more women and potentially changing the attitudes of others.

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Lavanya will ride the Baja Divide this February and March with Alistair and any Winona Riders and friends that can join.  She will ride an extra small Advocate Cycles Seldom Seen with Revelate Designs luggage, and will also be awarded with additional new equipment and support from Big Agnes, Specialized, and Adventure Cycling Association.  I really hope I get to meet her.

Follow Lavanya on Instagram: @lavlavish

 

 

 

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“Meet and Treat” at Interbike

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Come to Revelate Booth #21070 at Interbike at 4PM on Thursday, September 22 for a “Meet and Treat”. We’ll talk about the Trans Am and Tour Divide and eat snacks. I promise we’ll have chocolate milk.

The gas station tour of America

During the Trans Am I bought all of my food at gas stations and ate all of my meals while riding. Popping in and out of a gas station is much faster than navigating a full-sized grocery store, waiting for someone to prepare food or even buying fast-food. Time on the bike is miles. Over the 18 days of the Trans Am and two runs on the Tour Divide last summer, I’ve visited hundreds of gas stations. They are not all equal.

During the Trans Am I survived mostly on chocolate milk– full fat if I could find it. TrueMoo is not very good, but it’s better than Nesquick. Full fat Darigold is delicious. By the end of the race, I switched to regular whole milk. Almost every gas station in Kansas had hot pizza slices, easy to eat even when they’re cold. It’s hard to make really bad pizza. I ate a lot of cheese danishes– they never taste good, but they’re pretty neutral. During the Tour Divide I survived mostly on Fritos and cheese– cheddar if I could find it, but mostly individual packets of string cheese. It tastes like nachos. As far as potato chips go, I’d select Ruffles or Kettle Chips over Lay’s Original because they don’t crumble as easily. I got really sick of chips during Tour Divide and switched to Cheez-Its and crackers. I quit eating hot dogs after Tour Divide. I’ll also never eat another eggroll, corn dog, or taquito from a hot dog roller, although never is a pretty strong word. For nutrients, I drank lots of smoothie juices and tomato juice. In hot weather, I prefer PayDay to other candy bars because they don’t have chocolate and don’t melt in the sun. Yellow Gatorade only tastes good when it’s hot as hell outside. After burning out on Clif bars, I switched to Sunbelt granola bars, typically the oats & honey flavor. They’re greasy and taste like cookies. Cookies taste good almost all the time. Muffins make messes. A pack of nuts is good emergency food, but rarely appetizing. Ice cream is rocket fuel, but the downside is that you can’t pack it away for later. 

Gas stations are better in Mexico because they have fruits and vegetables.  

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“Lael’s Globe of Adventure” Women’s Scholarship for the Baja Divide 2016-17

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The Baja Divide route is complete and the website is live!

The “Lael’s Globe of Adventure” Women’s Scholarship is an opportunity and a challenge to get more women on bikes. Be brave, be open and do your best.

This is the best I can do to encourage and help someone ride the Baja Divide this year. I’m so excited that Advocate Cycles and Revelate Designs think it’s a great idea and are generously donating a bike and gear to make this happen.

From my experiences traveling and racing I’ve been overwhelmed with positive energy– from people telling me how inspired they were to take on new challenges, to get outside, to ride their bikes. People share my experience and make it their own. I’m trying my hardest, I’m doing my best and I’m happy. Let’s extend that to another woman. Let’s give her the opportunity to work for something, to push the pedals through Baja California, meet the people, camp in the desert, eat ceviche, swim in the Sea of Cortez, speak some Spanish, coast along the wild Pacific, get tired and dirty and dreamy. And then she can tell us about it.

The details:

The “Lael’s Globe of Adventure” Women’s Scholarship is available to one female rider who intends to ride most or all of the Baja Divide in the 2016-2017 season.  Named for Lael Wilcox and her adventurous exploits by bike, the applicant should possess an interest in international travel and global cultures, have some off-pavement bicycle touring experience (or substantive paved touring, bikepacking, or travel experience), and be willing to share her ride on the Baja Divide through writing, photography, visual art, or music. Thanks to the generous support of Advocate Cycles and Revelate Designs, the recipient of this scholarship will receive:

–Advocate Cycles 27.5+ Hayduke or Seldom Seen

-Revelate Designs luggage kit including Ranger framebag, Sweetroll and Pocket handlebar system, Viscacha seatbag, and Gas Tank top tube bag

-$1000 community-funded travel stipend (minimum amount)

-Additional lightweight camping equipment

The recipient will be expected to provide one substantial written piece to Advocate Cycles, Revelate Designs, and the Baja Divide website. The application deadline is November 11, 2016. The recipient will be announced on November 18, 2016.

If you know of a place to share this opportunity, spread the word!

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Trans Am Bike Race 2016: Virginia

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The hills of western Virginia are mythical– exponentially longer and steeper than those in Kentucky or Missouri, they make you feel small. I am Sisyphus, rolling my bike up for eternity only to come back down to the base of another hill. The Trans Am Trail routes through nearly 600 miles in Virginia with more elevation gain than any other state. I honestly just want to be done.

I stop at the gas station in Haysi and drink redbull while the lady makes me two feet of omelet sandwich. The eggs look like yellow discs and taste like nothing. Accents are thick and my brain is fried and I really don’t want to be around people. I start feeling pretty woozy in the afternoon near Meadowview and stop at a white country store with an empty parking lot. Shelves are mostly bare and the strongest drink they have is Mountain Dew. I take two and fill my bottles. Signs in the parking lot announce that shoplifters will be persecuted and I have a hard time imagining what they could be stealing. I’m struggling to focus my eyes and I feel pretty wretched. I know I can’t continue like this for another two days. I need backup.

Just out of town, I push my bike across a construction site on Interstate 81 to a Love’s Travel Stop. I head for the trucker drugs aisle and pick out the most expensive caffeine pills I can find– there are at least four options. I buy a new pair of sunglasses and two 5-hour energies and get back on my bike. I can’t afford to ride unarmed. I need to finish this.

I stop in Damascus, looking for gu at the bicycle rental shop and don’t find any. At the top of the climb, I pump water from an abandoned house to fill my bottles. A few miles down the road a guy in a sedan pulls over. He offers me Gatorade and water and bananas. I just filled up, but it’s nice to have a friend in the woods. He tells me that Steffen has the look of fear in his eyes, like an animal being hunted. I tell him I’ll do my best to track him down.

I drink some whole milk in Sugar Grove and set in for the night. The sun sets over Rural Retreat and then I’m riding on a frontage road alongside I-81 in the dark. Just before 11PM I call it. The riding is easy, but it’ll be faster after a few of hours of sleep. I roll my bike through a lawn and into the trees across from the Fox Mountain Inn. I set my alarm for three hours and tuck into my bivvy. I’m so grateful for sleep. One more night to Yorktown.

I pack up at 1AM and start moving. I stop at the Radford Travel Station before sunrise. They have a short order cook fixing hot breakfast, but I don’t want to wait so I take some biscuit sandwiches to go. The riding is easy and I’m zooming. Outside of Red Mills an older guy stops to give me chocolate chip cookies that his daughter baked him. He’s driving back and forth between me and Steffen, giving us cookies and updating us on the other’s progress. He finds me again outside of Lexington and gives me a Klondike bar– the first ice cream I’ve eaten on the route. It feels like rocket fuel.

Outside of Lexington I meet a couple of young guy cycle-tourists. One of them tells me that the tourists along the route are keeping up with the race and cheering us on. I invite him to ride the hills through the night with me, but he’s looking forward to a break in town. Just as we’re parting ways he tells me,

“Lael, if I don’t see you again, I just want you to know that I’m really proud of you.”

It’s the nicest thing anyone says to me for the whole race. Riding away, I feel both like I’m going to cry and determined to get it done, to do something that people can believe in.

Climbing along signed Bike 76 Route, Nathan and Anthony wait for me with cameras at the top of a hill. The route sign points right and I start to turn and Nathan says it’s the other way and points left, so I turn left onto Interstate 81. Holy shit! It’s a divided freeway and 18 wheelers are honking at me cause they know that I’m not supposed to be there. Nathan and Anthony pull up in their Saturn looking sorry and tell me they fucked up and drive away. I don’t see them again for the rest of the day. I really don’t want to ride backwards on a one-way freeway. I see a concrete embankment sloping down to the frontage road that I’m supposed to be riding and shimmy down, using my bike brakes for traction.

It’s a hot afternoon. I stop at a church and kneel under a spigot and drench my whole body. The route turns to gravel along the Chalk Mine Run. A guy in a pick-up truck honks mean at me and then I see him pull into his driveway and then he sees me jump into the creek with all of my clothes on. I pass construction workers improving the roadway and one of them tells me that I’m all wet. Yep, I am.

The ride out of Vesuvius to the Blue Ridge Parkway is definitely the steepest of the whole route. I am standing up cranking in my smallest gear. The sky gets dark and it’s starts pouring once I get on the Parkway and it’s blowing wind. I cross paths with a young cycle-tourist and we look at each other in disbelief and we both start laughing. What the hell are we doing up here? I know that once I get down I’m almost out of the hills and I just want to get there. The rain lessens and the views open up. It’s spectacular to see the mountains drop off and to see so much of Virginia.

At the end of the Blue Ridge, a sign advertises aid to Trans Am Racers in Afton, a quarter mile off route. Bill meets me at the road and takes me to his place. His wife reheats half of a cheeseburger and makes me a turkey sandwich and Bill loads me up with energy bars and gu. I pump up my tires and lube my chain and I’m ready for the final push. Bill rides me back out on the route. The wind is still furious, but the storm seems to be dying and I’m happy to have some company. Bill points out the country store where Mike Hall drank milkshakes in the movie and sends me on my way.

I make it to Charlottesville around 9PM. I stop at a gas station and buy a pint of ice cream, a cheese sandwich, two slices of pound cake, yogurt covered pretzels, a 5-hour energy and a bag of potato chips. I’m loaded up good cause if I ever catch Steffen, I’m not stopping again. The soles of my feet are killing me. They’ve been wet since the creek before the Blue Ridge Parkway and they’re starting to burn. I hunt around the gas station, looking for socks. No luck. In town, I pass the campus bookstore, full of University of Virginia paraphernalia. Bingo! I buy a pair of XL shin high socks and sit in a corner of the shop to put them on. At this point, my feet are white and seriously shriveled. What a relief! I throw the old socks away, pop the cap off my pint of ice cream and eat it as I pedal down the road. It’s definitely messier than I envisioned, but tastes like a million bucks.

The road is narrow near Monticello and cars honk at me and I don’t care. I get really tired near Cuckoo and can’t keep my eyes open. I pull over in a farm field and set an alarm for twenty minutes and after twenty set it for another twenty and wake up after ten. I tell myself I’ll ride another ten miles, at which point I’ll sleep if I have to or I’ll go for it.

After ten miles, I feel fine. I chase a caffeine pill with a 5-hour energy and I start cruising. All I need is water. I fill up from a spigot at a gas station and then I’m ready. This is it. I’m going to chase down Steffen. It’s 2:30AM and I start riding hard. Just past a massive water reservoir, on the outskirts of Bumpass I see a bright light coming towards me. Immediately when we cross paths, the biker turns around and starts riding next to me. It’s 3AM. I’ve slept a total of six hours in the last three nights. Not everything is making sense. I look over at him, first thinking that maybe he’s a fan that has come out to encourage me in the night. But his face looks serious and his bike is all packed up like mine.

So I ask him, “What’s your name?”

And he responds, “Steffen.”

An alarm goes off in my brain. Holy shit! This is the guy I’ve been chasing for two weeks. And I start sprinting like mad. I’m no longer tired. I am so excited! We ride side by side on the rural Virginia streets. I push the pace and every time he catches up square to me, I push it a little harder. I’m riding super aggressive, burning through stop signs and cutting corners. My lungs are on fire and we still have 125 miles to Yorktown and I really don’t know how long I can keep this up, but I’ll keep going til I can’t. We continue like this for twenty miles until the road splits. I head to the right and Steffen calls out that the track is to the left. He slows up a bit for me to catch up and when I do he says,

“Let’s talk.”

I don’t want to talk. I just want to ride, but since he waited for me, I concede. We ride and talk.

He says, “We’ve been battling for two weeks. Let’s just finish this together.”

I say, “Together? No! This is the best part. It’s a race and I want to race to the finish.”

Then he says, “But, you’re losing.”

I shake my head. “No.”

He nods. “No.”

Then I take off and I don’t look back. Six miles down the road I realize I dropped him and the realization that I could actually win this race sets in. Then the battery on my electronic shifting dies. Oh no! First I think I might just singlespeed to the finish, but the terrain is pretty flat and I know I’ll ride much faster with gears. It’s still dark and I stop at the Sheetz gas station in Ashland, so I can work under the light. I roll my bike around to the back, so Steffen won’t see that I’m having a mechanical problem if he catches me. I remove my seatpost to get to the battery. I can’t seem to pull the battery out of the post, so I just unplug the cord, plug it into my spare battery and shove both batteries and the cord into my frame. I can’t get my seatpost wedge to tighten, so I pedal away standing up feeling pressed to get the hell out of there. I tighten the seatpost wedge down the street at a bank and then I’m home free.

98 miles to Yorktown! I ride a solid, fast pace and I’m focused. I watch the road like a hawk, looking for debris, telling myself over and over “No mistakes and no flats.” I’m going to win this race! The day heats up. I stop to pee twice and fill my bottles with water and that’s it. The track is flat. Some folks wait along the side of the road to cheer me on and take my picture. The road surface gets pretty rough twenty miles from the end with small stones embedded in concrete. I don’t care and I don’t slow down cause I just want to finish. I make a couple of turns through phony colonial Williamsburg, past revolutionary reenactments and children marching with flutes and snare drums and then I’m back on the Colonial Parkway. Just out of Yorktown, there’s a construction detour, so instead of following the track I navigate through town, following signs to the Victory Monument. And then I’m done!

At 11:10 AM on June 22, after 18 days and 10 minutes, I arrive at the Atlantic Coast. A small crowd waits and cheers me in. Nick is there, Nick’s sister Katya is there and Jen Barr is there. I couldn’t have better company. Someone sets out a camping chair on the foreground of the Victory Monument. I sit down, take off my shoes and tell my story.

Two hours later, Steffen rolls in. He stops in front of the monument, pulls a blueberry muffin out of his framebag and eats it, face first. Once he’s finished, Nick gives him another muffin.

Eight hours later, Evan rolls in. I am so happy to see him!

Two days later, Kai rolls in. We bring him donuts and coffee and beer and gatorade.

Three days later Kai, Nick and I take the train to New York City. The Trans Am is over, but we’re still riding bikes in America and drinking chocolate milk.

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Trans Am Bike Race 2016: Kentucky

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Photo: Trans Am Race blog, Nathan Jones and Anthony Dryer

Evan and I ride up the hill away from the ferry. We pass a big bellied man sitting on the porch drinking a Mountain Dew. I wave and he doesn’t wave back. We stop at the gas station in Marion. It has a full breakfast buffet in the hot case– biscuits, home fries and strips of bacon, breakfast sandwiches, fried eggs and fried apple pie– in the next two days I find this is the norm in Kentucky. I pack a couple of biscuits for later. Kentucky is rural and hilly. Trump signs are posted in lawns and home made Trump signs dangle out of trees and there’s no shortage of confederate flags. We pedal right through Whitesville. We’re headed for Bardstown– the bourbon capital of the world. The day passes like much of the rest of the days. Fifteen days in, it feels like this race might not ever end and the end definitely isn’t in sight. We pedal through the heat, past white Baptist churches. Above ground swimming pools, giant trampolines and rusted car bodies decorate yards. Evan drinks lots of sweet tea and I drink lots of chocolate milk and the sun sets. Still on the road after midnight, our headlights illuminate the towering bourbon storage structures on the outskirts of Bardstown. The night is quiet and the buildings are spooky with narrow windows stacked seven across and eight high– like some kind of prison apartment complex for ghosts. We ride into the lights of town, turn left at the McDonald’s and check into the Bardstown Parkview around 1AM.

We get moving after 6AM. It’s Sunday and most everything is closed. We find a Circle K at the edge of town to buy food. I’m not sure when we crossed into the Bluegrass region, but we’re there. I’m ready to finish and aim to stay on the bike. Evan says the climbs get longer and steeper after Berea. A couple waits for us in a church parking lot before town with juice and water. We fill our bottles. They watched Inpsired to Ride and are thrilled to see racers pass through their hometown.

The hills out of Berea are so green, and Evan was right, they’re monster climbs. I ride standing up for most of the afternoon, feeling really good. Evan is tired, trying his hardest to stay awake and hang on to the pace. He hasn’t been sleeping well, but he keeps a positive attitude and we’re going after it. The last time I see him is on a descent. I pass through a traffic light and the light changes colors and I figure he’ll catch me in a couple minutes, but he doesn’t. I call him from Booneville because I haven’t seen him for an hour. Reception is spotty and he doesn’t answer, so I leave a message. He calls me back an hour later and leaves a message that he was falling asleep descending next to 18 wheelers. He stopped at a gas station to slam a couple Mountain Dews and plans to make it to Hazard to get some solid sleep. I’m back on the bike and now I’m alone for the first time since Wyoming. And now I know that I’m on the hunt

I stop at a mountain shop near Buckhorn and buy a Monster Coffee. I want to stay up for a while. The shopkeep asks where I’m coming from. He says he remembers seeing the first bikes come through forty years ago when he was a teenager. I tell him about the race and that I’m chasing down the leader. He asks if I’m riding about forty miles a day and I say that I’m riding about 240 miles a day and he says I must really want the win. Yep, I do.

I ride back out into the evening past Chavies and past the Holiday Inn in Hazard. There’s an Arby’s across the street and hot food actually sounds good, but I feel the pressure of time and the need to stay on my bike. I’ll save my stopped time for sleep. I get off the main highway and ride into the sleeping communities of Dwarf, Fisty, Emmalena and Carrie. Into Hindman around 11PM, I don’t hesitate. I pull into the schoolyard, set my bivvy out next to the deserted building and go to sleep. I set my alarm for two and a half hours– I’m cutting sleep to the finish, counting down the nights to Yorktown. I dread sleepless nights, so I don’t force myself through them. A short sleep is better than none at all.

Riding by 2AM, I’m gaining miles. I stop out front of the Dollar General in Bypro to buy water out of a vending machine. Nothing will be open for hours. Around 6AM I pick up some hot case breakfast and then I’m pushing for Breaks Interstate Park. It’s greener and steeper than ever before. In the early morning hours, I ride into Virginia. Finally, the end is in sight.

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Trans Am Bike Race 2016: Illinois

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Photo: Trans Am Bike Race blog, Nathan Jones and Anthony Dryer

On the other side of the bridge we pass a statue of Popeye and enter Chester. Evan and I each pack two feet of breakfast sandwiches from Subway, our blond friend heads home to Farmington and we ride into the farm lands of Illinois. Southern Illinois is just as hilly as Missouri. The riding is rural and fun. We rollercoaster our way to Wine Hill, past Shiloh Hill to Campbell Hill. We wind past deserted store fronts in Ava and stop at a gas station on the outskirts of Carbondale, near Southern Illinois University to load up for the night. We ride through the woods of Giant City State Park past Spring Arbor Lake, then Little Grassy Lake, then Devils Kitchen Lake. It’s a perfect warm evening ending a hot summer day. I imagine the Bikecentennial riders of ’76 camping and swimming on their big adventure. It’s the first and only time I’m nostalgic for their trip– so many young people crossed the country that summer.

We pass through Goreville in the dark. Out of town, on narrow Tunnel Hill Road, drivers line up behind us, blind to the oncoming traffic. They’re courteous, but It’s unnerving to be followed in the dark. It feels like being stalked.

We ride the hills of the Shawnee National Forest. My headlight illuminates road signs for steep descents. I watch the curves of the route on my GPS and pray that there is no debris in the road. Up and down we ride to Elizabethtown. It’s quiet and well lit and still. Past midnight we find the historic hotel on the shores of the Ohio River. We roll the bikes through the grass to the back porch, our private entry. I plug in, shower, pull the felt blanket over my head and fall asleep.

We’re out just after 5AM to ride the ten miles to Cave-In-Rock. We make it there five minutes before the first ferry at 6. Nathan and Anthony meet us at the dock to ride with us across. I eat the last six inches of egg sandwich while we wait for the ferry to board. It’s a free ten minute ride across the Ohio River. A couple in a Sedan wait for us on the other side and welcome us into Kentucky. It’s an early morning, but they wanted to see us off. We sign a poster and start pedaling uphill. Fifteen days into the race across the country, only two states stand between me and the Atlantic– the two hardest states, Kentucky and Virginia.

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Trans Am Bike Race 2016: Missouri

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Photo: Trans Am Bike Race blog, Nathan Jones and Anthony Dryer

Outside in the dark of the night it’s so hot that I feel like I can’t breathe. The sun won’t come up for another five hours. It feels like we’re capturing extra time– every minute on the bike counts. This is the beginning of a huge day. We need to get most of the way through Missouri– our next obstacle is the ferry from Illinois to Kentucky. We pedal through the deserted streets of Pittsburg and are soon on farm roads. It’s blustery, but mostly the wind is in our favor and it starts to rain. Evan pulls over to put his rain jacket on and I holler that it’s not even cold out. I don’t want to stop, but he’s right. We put on our jackets and it starts raining harder. It’s nice to have a friend in the dark. Flat farm roads start rolling pretty quick. Up and down like a rollercoaster, we pedal into the sunrise. We make it to Ash Grove at 6AM just as the gas station is opening. An old timer finds us to give us a little encouragement. I down a couple cans of cold coffee and he says that’s probably not the breakfast I was hoping for. He says Steffen slept just down the way and he’s been rooting for me the whole time and he hated seeing Sarah beat me. I put on some sunscreen and we hit the road.

I buy slices of pizza in Fair Grove and the day starts heating up. It’s 100 degrees before noon. We fill water in Marshfield and knock on a door in Hartville to ask for water. The woman says nothing and points us to the spigot out back, next to an above ground swimming pool. I kneel under the water and soak my whole body.

We ride into Texas County near Bendavis. All of the buildings are whitewashed and look like they’re from a hundred years ago. We stop at the town store in Bucyrus that looks closed, but it’s not. I go to the bathroom in the back to rinse my shirt. The sink is stained blood orange and the water smells like iron and it dyes my t-shirt red. The lady behind the counter is in a long dress with plated braids. Her two sons stand next to her quietly. I buy bottled water and potato chips. She’s kind and smiling and asks where we’re from and then has us write it down in her ledger because her sons love to look up these far off places. They followed the race last year, but haven’t seen too many people yet this year. I tell her they’ll be coming and with heat like this they’ll definitely be stopping. She reminds us that the heat index is 107°.

We step back out into the furnace to ride to Houston. It’s a climb to a high point and a big descent. Crossing a bridge, I hear the hissing of my tire losing air. I pull over to check it out and find a piece of glass. It’s a small slice, so I pump some air into it to limp to the gas station in Houston. When I get there, Evan is packing some gatorade on his bike, just about to pedal back to find me.

I buy some super glue at the gas station and apply it to the outside of the tire in an attempt to keep my tubeless set up. Air bulges through. Evan is really overheated and hangs out inside the air conditioned gas station while I work on the flat. I just want to get rolling again. One local man offers to get a tire for me off a bike he has at home and another offers to get his air compressor. I’ve got what I need. I take the tire off the rim, clean it, boot it and install a tube. I buy a packaged egg salad sandwich and some cheez-its and we head for the Ozarks.

The heat has taken its toll. Evan feels awful. Into the Ozarks, the hills get steep, leaving me in my lowest gear standing and cranking on the pedals. It’s green and lush and into the evening it starts cooling off and I start feeling really good. I’m excited to be in this race. I want to get to the ferry. I start calculating, if I push through most of the night, I might be able to make the last ferry tomorrow night. I’d need to make 240 miles in 22 hours. I know I could do it, but I do need to sleep sometime and descending these steep hills in the dark is no joke. We’ve already got a plan– a good one. We’ll sleep in Ellington for 4-5 hours, make it to Elizabethtown tomorrow night and ride the remaining ten miles to Cave-In-Rock on the following morning to make the first ferry at 6AM. I realize we both could be missing a big opportunity here. We’re working so well together. Our best chance at catching Steffen is to ride together, to help each other through the nights and keep a good pace.

“Let’s do it, Evan. Let’s go catch him.”

The first step is getting to Ellington. We make it there by 11PM, check into the motel. I plug in my Di2, take a shower and get to sleep. I sleep deeply and wake up disoriented with bags under my eyes. It’s quality sleep.

We climb to Pilot Knob in the early morning hours and resupply at the gas station. I’m relying mostly on chocolate milk and try to eat sandwiches before the heat of the day. We detour a mile off route in Farmington so that I can buy tubes at the bike shop. A tall blonde rider meets us a the bike shop and catches us in the hills out of town. He’s a smiley guy, born in Anchorage and has lived in Farmington for the past 20 years. He hammers a couple pedal strokes uphill to move out of traffic and it gets Evan laughing. There’s no way either of us are moving that fast.

Out of the hills, we ride through a valley. A long bridge takes us over the muddy Mississippi River to Illinois.

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Trans Am Bike Race 2016: Kansas

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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.

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